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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 17:30 GMT
Guantanamo scenes recreated at protest
By Alex Kleiderman
BBC News website

Guantanamo protest
Protesters dressed as guards gave 'orders' at the event
More than 300 protesters gathered outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, central London to mark the fifth anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Dressed in orange jumpsuits, masks and goggles, the demonstrators recreated scenes from some of the first news coverage to emerge from Guantanamo in 2002.

The protest calling for the camp's immediate closure was one of a series organised by the human rights group Amnesty International in cities around the world.

The Bush administration contends Guantanamo fulfils a role in its "war on terror" and conditions have improved.

But Amnesty International's director Kate Allen, said Guantanamo has set an "appalling example" throughout its existence.

"We are here to show our abhorrence at this icon of lawlessness," she said.

"If there is evidence against anyone in Guantanamo, they should be charged and brought in front of a court. Otherwise they should be released and Guantanamo should be closed."

Protesters 'guarded'

The garden in the centre of Grosvenor Square served as a dressing room for the protesters who picked up the Amnesty International badged jumpsuits as they arrived for the event.

After changing, they stood in a line stretching a quarter of way around the garden, before filing out in front of the US embassy.

Guantanamo protest
More than 300 people took part in the protest

Penned in by crowd barriers - to represent the early open cages at Guantanamo which earned the site the name Camp X-ray - the protesters lined up in rows nine deep in front about 50 film crews, photographers and journalists.

Three demonstrators were dressed as US guards and 'patrolled' the pen, shouting out commands like "assume the position" and "hands behind you" in impersonated American accents.

The 'prisoners' were ordered to kneel down and stand up on several occasions and some people would be singled out and told they were being "made an example".

Five minutes from the end, the protesters started slow clapping and began chanting: "Close Guantanamo Bay".

For one man, the scenes brought back some unwelcome memories.

Former British detainee Moazzam Begg has been campaigning for the camp's closure since his release two years ago.

He maintains he was wrongly held by the US after travelling to Afghanistan on a humanitarian relief mission.

"Seeing people dressed in orange and in that number, reminds me of the time I was dressed in orange," he said.

"The reality of all of this is Guantanamo remains open after five years and people are still languishing in that most notorious of all the world's prisons without any hope."

However, as the fake jailers hovered among the protesters, Mr Begg said he had come across "good, decent guards" at Guantanamo.

"I spent a lot of time in solitary confinement and had conversations with a lot of them," he said.

Opinion split

The hour long display was also observed by Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather, who constituents include the family of a UK resident still held in the camp, and Amani Deghayes, whose Libyan-born brother Omar, 37, from Brighton, has been detained since 2002.

Among some of the protesters, opinion was split as to whether the US government would take notice.

Stuart Phillips
Mr Phillips said his view had changed as he found out more

Lawyer Kerry Smith, 31, from London, said Guantanamo had contributed to anti-US feeling.

"There are still hundreds of people detained in the most awful conditions," she said.

"It's just a blot not only against America but anyone who stands with them.

"Maybe someone will start thinking about it - maybe not in this administration but the next."

Software engineer Khalid Akram, 37, from London, said the recent US action in Somalia runs the risk of further radicalising moderate Muslim opinion in the same way Guantanamo has had an impact.

"I hope there are some people who are thinking very carefully," he said.

"Guantanamo is past the point of being ridiculous and something should be done about it."

Recent university graduate Stuart Phillips, 25, from Kent, said his opinion changed the more he read about Guantanamo.

"Five years ago, after the Twin Towers were bombed, I may have initially thought it was a good thing," he said.

"But I didn't realise what was happening."


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