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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December, 2003, 15:10 GMT
Guantanamo Bay: Are the detentions justified?
One of Britain's top judges - Lord Justice Steyn - has condemned the detentions at Guantanamo Bay as "a monstrous failure of justice".

The judge said in a speech in London that al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects were being deliberately held beyond the rule of law and the protection of any courts.

He said the quality of justice envisaged for prisoners at Guantanamo failed to meet minimum standards for the conduct of fair trials.

Do you agree with Judge Steyn that Guantanamo is "a monstrous failure of justice"? Do detentions without the trial make the world safer?


This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

SUGGEST A DEBATE
This topic was suggested by Charles from Kenya
Is the selective decision to hold trials only of British and Australian prisoners at Guantanamo Bay fair?

I've long been concerned about the prisoners in Guantanamo bay. The US decision to invent a new classification for them, and refuse them their rights under either the US constitution, or the Geneva convention is indefensible. I do not dispute that there is much intelligence to gain from some of them, but their classification should be as POW's, not "Enemy Combatants" and the Geneva Convention rights should be adhered to in full.
Louise, England

No matter what these people have done, they are human beings who deserve protection under the United Nations charter on Human Rights. The US and Britain would have been among the first to point accusing figures if this was happening in another country. These two counties should be told to "Do unto others what you expect others to do unto you".
Lawrence Wurah, Ghana

I believe the detentions are justified for as long as needed. We are facing the most dangerous times in history and no holds should be barred to defeat the extremists that threaten our freedoms. Our children's futures depend on our strength now!
Peter Koza, New Jersey, USA

In this sense the US is making a parody of itself: keen on introducing democracy in Iraq, but turning a blind eye concerning Guantanamo. If it continues like this, the US will end up being the 21st century's Roman Empire, rushing to conquer the World in the name of freedom while having a downslide towards complete - economical and moral - fall.
Mary McCannon, Hungary

Detention without trial merely aids the destruction of a free and democratic society
Julie, Australia
If they are innocent, let them go. If they are guilty, punish them. But for heavan's sake, prove it one way or the other in a court of law! Detention without trial merely aids the destruction of a free and democratic society where 'innocent until proven guilty' and a 'fair trial' are basic tenets, and surely destroys the very culture this "War on Terror" was invoked to defend?
Julie, Australia

Perhaps the U.S. government knows something we don't know which would justify the prisoners continued detention at Guantanamo. If it does, then out with it NOW. Let us have a trial NOW. And we want to know why some have been released without an explanation. Don't get me wrong, I do not believe the government should be obliged to justify every split second move, but, please, let it try and be a little more convincing as to its democratic label. Or perhaps it should revise the definition of democracy.
Michael Zino, Portugal

The situation in Guantanamo Bay is shocking. The USA has invaded Iraq, although even Condoleeza Rice and others in the administration admit that Iraq had nothing to do with 9.11. So why should we assume that the arrests of those held without charges or representation in Guantanamo are a danger to the world and the USA specifically? Some have been released already and a few were not charged with anything. What a disgrace to our once honourable nation for our leaders to sanction such imprisonment and destruction of human rights regardless of the countries of origin of the accused. Prompt, fair, and public trials of those suspected of crimes should happen and quickly.
K. C., USA

We have found ourselves in a dangerous world, with dangerous people who don't clear tracks. Our laws have not yet sufficiently adapted to this new threat, and so Guantanamo becomes necessary. An absolute belief in full human rights under all circumstances is good a principal in general, but people's lives come first.
Sebastian, England

So you are sitting at home with your family eating dinner and suddenly the door bursts open and you are taken away. You cannot see your family, friends and they cannot contact you. No reason is given, no evidence is provided and no lawyer to defend your rights. More importantly you don't know how long you are in for. Who is kidding who here, look between the lines. Just because I point a finger at you and say that you are bad person does not mean that you are. Give these people the basic human rights or you must lower yourself to the level of a terrorist.
Ruzy, Australia

Guantanamo Bay is wrongly holding people who were made prisoners through the crime of naked, blatant aggression by the U.S. and U.K. Their chief executives Bush and Blair should, for reasons of honest justice, be put in Guantanamo Bay prisons, and subjected to the rigors of harsh punishment for their crimes against humanity by aggressing against Iraq twice and Afghanistan once.
Ramzan Panjwani, Karachi, Pakistan

The detentions are a failure of law, not justice. Justice and law see eye to eye rather rarely. They are a failure of law to deal with the extraordinary problems posed by terrorist. In a world where 19 people who could not have been proven guilty of anything in a court of law can kill 3000 in a day of violence, extraordinary measures are called for.
Nate, USA

I'm sure the detainees would have been tried or released by now if the United States had signed up to and recognised the War Crimes Tribunal. Their choice to refuse to recognise it as a legitimate body means they can continue to treat the detainees however they feel they want to without fear of legal accountability.
David Howe, UK

If these detentions are justified, then so is any detention of any hostage by any group, including American and British hostages. America and Britain are setting a dangerous precedent here. But so be it - others can now take the law into their own hand too.
Bilal Patel, London, UK

These prisoners were captured in the battlefields of Afghanistan. They are not subject to civilian laws (innocent until proven guilty, access to lawyers etc). They are simply POWs and should be held until the war on terror is won.
Scott, UK

Anything that prevents another 9/11, Bali or Istanbul attack is justified
Bryan, UK
Anything that prevents another 9/11, Bali or Istanbul attack is justified. Those under detention are suffering the consequence of belonging to a terrorist organisation. They should have thought about it before they joined. The situation is far from ideal but it is better than watching hijacked passenger planes crashing into office buildings. The Geneva Convention did not foresee today's terrorist threat and cannot be used to tell us how to act in the present situation.
Bryan, UK

There seems to be some doubt as to what the status of the detainees are: POWs, "Illegal combatants", alleged terrorist criminals awaiting trial. In which case, Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention applies, requiring a competent tribunal to determine their status. This has not happened.
Ric, UK

People keep saying it's OK because these people are guilty! Totally untrue... the reason it's taking so long to get these people to trial is because there is virtually no evidence whatsoever! In fact, a number of detainees have been released without charge (after two years!). Without fair and open trials, how can any guilt be established. It can't!
Baz, UK

I think that it is a disgrace that human beings are treated in such a manner. The US and all who condone this illegal and inhuman action have a lot to answer for. It makes a mockery of the principles of freedom and fairness so lauded by the US administration when talking about other countries. Funnily enough when such action is taken by Saddam Hussein and other dictators we call it human rights abuses! Is there one law for Bush and Co and another for the rest of the world? The guilt of the prisoners should at least be proven before punishment id meted out.
Fiona, Ireland

The very fact that they are being held there proves the US has been lenient. I feel they should have been spared no quarter and shot where they were found. I despise all this popular tripe about making terrorists into the victim. How long did the Brits keep German prisoners during WWII. How many of them had lawyers? Got to see there families? Received trials?
Kim, USA

Yes detentions without trial do make the world a safer place
Shaun, England
Yes detentions without trial do make the world a safer place. I think that they should stay in America because the laws over there are much more strict, if they are sent over here for trial all they would get is a slap on the wrist and then they would be let go and that is plain wrong. if they had some part in 9:11 they should be locked and the key thrown away or better yet let them explain to the families of those who died why they did it!
Shaun, England

Of course they are not justified. There is no such thing as an illegal combatant and Bush knows this otherwise they would be held on US soil.
John Lilburn, UK

The concept of having to prove a person's guilt sometimes results in nasty people walking free, but rather that than a totalitarian state. And once you start detaining "undesirables" without trial or access to family or lawyers, you're free to expand your definition of "undesirables".
Kaz, Briton in US

What is the point of going to war to uphold and defend our values if we then abandon those same values? One of the objections to Saddam's regime was his treatment of those who oppose him - so how are we any better if we also subscribe to imprisonment without trial? What hypocrites we are!
Norman, Scotland

Maybe Judge Steyn is just miffed that he and his legal cohorts are not getting their fat fees for defending the indefensible, paid for by us taxpayers.
John, France

The detentions are entirely justified and are, in fact, remarkably lenient. The inmates at Guantanamo Bay are neither criminals, nor are they prisoners of war. Under the Geneva conventions, they are classified as "spies and saboteurs," and as such are provided with no, and I mean NO, protection under the law.
David Szondy, USA (British)

The prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are war prisoners and should be treated as such. I cannot believe a nation that calls itself civilised has allowed this medieval treatment of prisoners of war.
Dimi, New Zealand

How is the US going to compensate those who were released?
NK, Canada
Lord Justice Steyn is an expert in his field and I have a lot of respect for him. I can't say the same for Bush and Rumsfeld. How is the US going to compensate those who were released? They must have been released because they are not guilty. So were they kidnapped? Is kidnapping criminal?
NK, Canada

Most of these are not you're average person. They are hate filled brain washed individuals who only want to kill and maim western people (not only Western people it now appears) - many of these who are freely writing to this newsgroup from their cosy armchair. Of all the people in the world to be sympathising with and fighting for their rights - these people come way down my list. I think this comes with the territory for the life they have chosen.
Anon, UK

Wholly justified....if those in custody are really guilty. If yes they deserve to be treated like animals in cages, if not the US has a lot to answer for.
Matt, Germany

The detentions are illegal, immoral and unjustifiable. Not only is it a violation of human rights, but it makes a mockery of our ideals about justice, innocence until proven guilty, and the rule of law. If there is evidence against these people then they should be tried and treated accordingly. The current methods being used to detain them are medieval, and make us no better than the people we profess to be fighting against.
Keith, UK

Quite simply, NO. Judge Steyn as absolutely correct without any question. The Bush administration is taking is back to the stone age - might is right is their rule.
Peter W, Norway

The US has behaved in accordance with relevant standards
Jeff, USA
Let's look at the facts. These people have been detained as prisoners of war. Applying standards of criminal justice to prisoners of war is entirely inappropriate and smacks of political grandstanding. The US has behaved in accordance with relevant standards relating to the detention of prisoners of war. End of story.
Jeff, USA

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty
de, UK

I wonder whether the US is guilty of kidnapping these people. Whatever the US accuses them of, they were in Afghanistan. So the US takes them, flies them around the world, imprisons them and then says they will stand trial for fighting against the US. I always thought that is what enemy soldiers did; fight against you. And if fighting for a country not your own is a crime, why did we allow Poles, Czechs, Australians, Dutch etc to fight with us against the Nazi's during WWII?
Paul, Germany

The detentions are certainly not justified. They fly in the face of so many of the human rights agreements that the US is signed up to and claim to be fighting for. Imagine the outcry if this were US troops (or civilians) being held in this way.
Jamie, UK

The US had never been part of the international law. The detentions in Guantanamo Bay is only one of the many examples. What about the War crimes tribunal? Kyoto agreement and the ABM treaty? There is always two sets of law, one for the Americans and the Israelis and another for the rest of the world, especially who oppose them!
Srinivasan Toft, Denmark

Some of the people that were "detained" in the concentration camp have already been released. Simple question: were they guilty or not? If they were - why were they not convicted and jailed? If not - when will the US compensate them the way the US courts voted for Iraq to compensate US POWs in the first Gulf war?
Pavel, Bulgaria

If one of the UK's top judges has ruled the detentions as unjustified, who are we, "Joe Public" to argue with him. He's the expert.
NM, UK

It sets a hugely dangerous precedent for the way that captured prisoners worldwide may be treated in the future
Nick, UK
The US government's decision to arbitrarily seize individuals, and hold them in a virtual concentration camp without legal representation or any apparent chance of a full and fair (ie jury) trial, completely discredits their stated commitment to human rights or international justice.

If the US is to persist in using legal technicalities to deny these people their Geneva Convention rights, and also to go against what many people, both in the US and elsewhere, would regard as fair and just, they should bear in mind that others may well choose to hold captured Americans in the same way. It sets a hugely dangerous precedent for the way that captured prisoners worldwide may be treated in the future. The international community should exert tremendous united pressure to resolve the situation, and not just do grubby, unjust, deals to resolve the treatment of their own nationals.
Nick, UK

The attack on the twin towers was "a monstrous failure of justice". The detainees at Guantanamo Bay are lucky to be alive.
John M Johnson, UK

I think that some of the detentions probably are justified, but not without a fair trial and conviction.
Chris Q, England

I am glad Lord Steyn has chosen to speak out. There is absolutely no legal basis, legal justification or legal provenance for any foreign nation to abduct civilians from another country and hold them in isolation with no access to legal, humanitarian or family support, thousands of miles away from their homes.
Brennig Jones, UK

The detentions may be unjustified in a legal context, but do we really want these religious extremists back in our country? These so-called 'Britons' were prepared to kill British troops, which means they have forfeited their rights as British citizens. They hate everything a free liberal democracy stands for and yet expect that very country and ideal to protect them when things do not go their own way.
Philip Shorter, England

No! However guilty these people may be, they are still entitled to a fair and proper trial. How would you react if the police arrested you without charge? You'd soon complain about your human rights, wouldn't you.
Adrian Smart, UK




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Guantanamo Bay detainees
10 Oct 03  |  Americas
US chaplain faces fresh charges
25 Nov 03  |  Americas
The 'Australian Taleban'
04 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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