London – The Attorney-General this evening launched Britain’s most outspoken attack yet of the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, demanding the closure of what he described as an international symbol of injustice.
At a keynote speech in Whitehall, London, Lord Goldsmith QC said that the US policy of detaining terrorism suspects without trial at the prison camp in Cuba was ‘unacceptable’.
“It is time, in my view, that is should close. Not only would it, in my personal opinion, be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many – right or wrong – of injustice,” he said.
“The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol,” he told a terrorism conference organised by the Royal United Services Institute.
The camp, which opened in January 2002 to hold prisoners taken in the US invasion of Afghanistan, has been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International. Many of the 490 men held at the facility have been there for three years without trial.
Lord Goldsmith, who is responsible for advising the Government on the law, has previously voiced concerns over whether the indefinite detention of so-called enemy combatants is legal or fair. He is now the most senior Government minister to publicly call for its closure.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has described the camp’s continued existence as an ‘anomaly’ but has never demanded it be shut down.
When pressed on the BBC’s Question Time in February, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said: “I would prefer it was closed, yes.”
Foreign Office minister Kim Howells said in March that the camp should close if it was thought to be undermining the cause of democracy.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said of Lord Goldsmith’s speech: “Some might say that these comments are too little too late. We say that it is never too late to do and say the right thing.
“Nonetheless, the plugging of this ‘legal black hole’ will mean nothing if it is merely replaced by other secret Guantanamos all over the world.”
Amnesty International’s Kate Allen said: “Lord Goldsmith’s comments on Guantanamo Bay are welcome, but the real test is whether the UK Government is prepared to put serious pressure on the US administration to see that the camp is closed and that all prisoners are released to safe countries or brought before proper courts on the US mainland.”