Peter Hain became the first Cabinet minister explicitly to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay last night. Hours earlier three Britons detained at the US prison on Cuba were given the go-ahead by the High Court to begin legal moves to seek their freedom.
Under the ruling the three detainees, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes and members of their families living in Britain, can seek a court order requiring Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, to press the Americans for their release.
The case could be heard as early as next week after yesterday’s ruling by Mr Justice Collins.
During the hearing the judge remarked that the United States’ idea of what constitutes torture “is not the same as ours and doesn’t appear to coincide with that of most civilised countries”.
He added that he had heard on BBC Radio’s Today programme about a UN committee report recommending that the Guantanamo detention facility should be closed because torture was still taking place there.
The report, which was ordered by the UN Commission on Human Rights, called on the US Government to refrain from any practice “amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” at Guantanamo.
It said that all detainees should be brought to trial or released “without further delay” and the facility closed.
Mr Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said on Question Time, on BBC1 last night that he would prefer that the camp were closed down.
When asked if this was government policy he said: “That’s what I think.” Asked if the Prime Mininster agreed, he replied: “I think so, yes. We’ve always said that Guantanamo Bay was something that shouldn’t have happened.”
William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, used a speech in the United States yesterday to say that the country’s loss of international goodwill through the existence of Guantanamo and pictures of Iraqi detainees being abused, could eventually prove as costly as the “sharpest of military defeats”.
In the High Court yesterday Rabinder Singh, QC, for the three detainees, said that Britain and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, would “undoubtedly condemn” many of the practices at Guantanamo Bay.
He said that the detainees’ case arose out of what had been described by a law lord as the “utter lawlessness at Guantanamo Bay”, where people were being detained indefinitely without trial.
He added that the question was how the courts of this country should respond to that lawlessness.
Nine British nationals who were detained there have been flown back and released without charge. The three detainees in yesterday’s case are long-term residents of Britain but not citizens.
Mr al-Rawi, 37, an Iraqi who had lived in Britain since 1985, and Mr al-Banna, his Jordanian business partner, who was granted refugee status in 2000, were detained three years ago in The Gambia — “far from any theatre of war”, Mr Singh said. They were alleged to have been associated with al-Qaeda through their connection with the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada.
But counsel said that Mr al-Rawi’s contact with Abu Qatada was “expressly approved and encouraged by British intelligence”, to whom he supplied information about the cleric.
Intelligence operatives had told Mr al-Rawi that, should he run into trouble, they would intervene and assist him, counsel said.