One of Britain’s most senior judges today condemned the US for its “monstrous failure of justice” in holding prisoners at the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Law Lord Johan Steyn will say in a speech in London, released to Channel 4 news, that the prisoners are being held illegally.
“The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts, and at the mercy of victors,” Steyn will say.
Nine Britons and two Australians – David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib – are among 660 detainees being held without charge at Guantanamo Bay as “enemy combatants”.
Their treatment has appalled human rights groups who believe the prisoners will be deprived of a fair trial.
“The procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce prisoners to confess,” Steyn’s speech said.
“The blanket presidential order deprives them all of any rights whatsoever. As a lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of American democracy and justice, I would have to say that I regard this as a monstrous failure of justice.”
The prison was set up in January 2002 to hold combatants captured in Afghanistan and also houses others suspected of association with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, accused by Washington of carrying out the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and a host of other bombings.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush failed last week to reach an agreement on the treatment of the British citizens.
There had been speculation Bush would use his three-day state visit to London to announce that Britons, mostly seized in Afghanistan, would be repatriated for trial.
But the two leaders said discussions would continue, with Bush adding that the prisoners were being treated in a humane fashion.
The detainees have no access to lawyers or to family members, and their long incarceration in legal limbo has outraged many.
A US federal judge has ruled that foreign detainees are not entitled to appeal in US courts against their detention without trial or charges because the base is not US territory, although the US Supreme Court is to hear an appeal on this.
Australia’s Attorney General Philip Ruddock yesterday announced that the US had agreed to a range of Australian requests for any trials of Hicks and Habib.
Key agreements included open trials, a presumption of innocence, a standard of proof of beyond reasonable doubt and that prisoners would have the right to remain silent.
They would be represented by US military officers, but could have an Australian lawyer – subject to security clearance – as a consultant.
If sentenced to jail, arrangements were being worked out for them to serve their time in Australia.