LONDON, March 5 (AFP) – Former British hostage Terry Waite, who was held in captivity by Islamic extremists for almost five years in Lebanon, said Friday that the United States was using terrorist methods in its treatment of detainees at a prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
“You do not defeat terrorism by adopting methods of terrorists,” said Waite speaking alongside the families of British and French prisoners at the launch of a campaign for Guantanamo prisoners to be treated in accordance with international law.
“I know what it’s like to have no rights,” Waite told a London press conference the day before he and other representatives of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission take their campaign to New York and then Washington.
“My family know what it is like to have no information about me, even whether I am alive or dead,” Waite said.
“There are many families around the world who are in this same position now because of Guantanamo Bay,” he said.
Five British detainees who are set to be freed by US authorities from Guantanamo Bay will be back in Britain next week, Maxine Fiddler, the sister of one of those to be released and also a member of the commission, said earlier Friday.
“All that we know is that the Britons are being brought home sometime next week,” she told BBC radio, adding she had not been given a specific date for her brother’s return.
The five are among nine Britons, and a total of more than 650 prisoners, at the isolated US naval base where US President George W. Bush’s administration has been holding non-American suspects in its “war on terror”.
Guantanamo “detainees have been hooded, shackled and, I understand, kept in cages which in itself amounts to mental torture,” Waite said. “There are reports that they have been subjected to very severe hardship in order to extract information.
“I was blindfolded, shackled, kept in solitary confinement and interrogated,” he said.
This “should not be happening in a civilised nation”, Waite said. “I have no truck with terrorism and what happened in the United States on September 11 was a terrible tragedy.
“But I firmly believe that if you are going to deal with this problem you should follow due process,” he said.
“Some of these people may be guilty and some of them may be innocent,” he added. “None of us will know unless they follow due process.”
The delegation, which includes actors and leading human rights activists Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, novelist Margaret Drabble and family members of European detainees, will submit letters to Bush at the White House on Monday.
It will also lobby US legislators and appeal to the public about the prisoners’ plight, dividing their time between New York and Washington before flying home on Thursday next week
The team is also planning to meet Democratic Party presidential hopeful John Kerry, who has criticised the US-led invasion of Iraq.
“Our message is very simple,” Corin Redgrave told journalists: “America has given the world a model of democracy which is founded on the rule of law, on fundamental human rights, including the right to fair trial, the right to silence.”
“Guantanamo offers an alternative model to the world, a model where no rights are sustained.”
Waite, 64, was held from January 1987 until November 1991 – much of the time in solitary confinement – by a shadowy group calling itself Islamic Jihad.
He was kidnapped while trying to negotiate the release of Western hostages in his capacity as a special envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican church.