Cherie Blair attacks legality of Guantanamo detentions

Cherie Blair has mounted a fresh attack on the legality of some of the Bush administration’s decisions by challenging the legal basis of the imprisonment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Downing Street conceded yesterday that she did make the criticisms, in a lecture to law students at Harvard University, for which she was not paid. But it said her remarks should not be interpreted as political.

In a previous lecture, she criticised the US administration’s refusal to sign up to the international criminal court.

Downing Street said Mrs Blair’s latest remarks should be read in the context of her role as a human rights lawyer, not as the wife of the prime minister.

But the Tory chairman, Liam Fox, said that in the week before the US election she had “put herself in a potentially embarrassing situation”. “There are times when a prudent silence is wise,” he said.

Mrs Blair was reported to have criticised the arrest of a gay couple in Mr Bush’s home state of Texas for defying a ban on sodomy, and said a supreme court ruling against the ban was “a model of judicial reasoning”.

The ban was backed by Mr Bush when he was state governor.

She described the supreme court’s decision to give legal protection to two Britons at Guantanamo Bay, as “profoundly important” and a “significant victory for human rights and the international rule of law”.

The court struck out President Bush’s claim that foreign prisoners were not entitled to the protection of the courts and therefore had no right to challenge their detention.

Her only reservation was that the court did not go further and give the detainees more international protection.

Two British detainees, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, were held at Camp X-ray. They were freed in March after being arrested in Afghanistan and held without charge for more than two years.

They allege that heavy-handed treatment was systematic.

A No 10 spokesman said: “These were in no way political opinions.

“She is a high-profile international human rights lawyer and she was expressing a view about the use of the supreme court in the American justice system and used these as examples.”

Mrs Blair was last attacked from the left for her legal opinions by the former cabinet minister Clare Short.

Ms Short claimed Mrs Blair had assured her that the war against Iraq was legal.

She says in her autobiography: “Cherie gave me a cup of tea and was very friendly but firmly assured me that Tony would not contemplate breaking international law.

“I was left with the impression that Cherie was involved in discussion of the issues and very supportive of Tony.”

Last November, at a human rights conference at Georgetown University in Washington, Mrs Blair defended the international criminal court.

She said that although the court had “flaws”, she was “convinced the ICC with independent prosecutors putting tyrants and torturers in the dock before independent judges reflects the postwar human rights aspiration come true”.

She said that “the US appears unwilling to see there are various safeguards built into the statute which ensure that all states have nothing to fear from the court”.

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