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Guantanamo Bay: Suicides

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the recent suicides in Guantanamo Bay.

My Lords, we are very concerned about the deaths of the three detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention facility and await the results of the investigation into those deaths that has been promised by the United States Government. We note the serious concern that has been expressed by the President of the United States.

My Lords, are the Government aware that they are tainted by association with an overall strategy that is demeaning the objective and that will arguably be self-defeating? How can we ensure that the likes of Guantanamo are closed and that the prisoners who are guilty are not made martyrs, while allowing for a steady release of the remainder?

My Lords, we have made it clear that the circumstances in which detainees continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay are unacceptable and that it should be closed. I think that people know our view, and I do not accept that we are tainted, because we have expressed our view. The handling of detainees has to be consistent with our objectives, including preventing further terrorist attacks, undermining the work of those who recruit terrorists and upholding respect for human rights and the rule of law. More than 310 detainees have been moved from Guantanamo back to their home countries or their countries of origin, and many more are being considered for the same arrangements. But those arrangements must not pose a threat of their being treated inhumanely on their return.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a wide range of opinion in the UK that thinks that many human rights are being violated in Guantanamo Bay? Have our Government made it clear enough that they think it ought to be closed?

My Lords, I can confirm that the Government have made it clear on a number of occasions that the circumstances are unacceptable and that Guantanamo Bay should be closed. I fully associate myself with the views that have been expressed by the Government on this occasion.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that British Ministers, while visiting the United States, will take every opportunity in private and in public to insist that the United States is as subject to international law as all other states? One of the most distressing things about the Bush Administration and the neo-conservatives who have advised them is a strong belief that international law applies to others but cannot override the sovereignty of the United States. This is a clear case in which the Geneva conventions have been flouted by the United States although there are others in which the United States appears to regard international law as applying to others but not, on a reciprocal basis, also to the United States.

My Lords, as I said a few moments ago, we have made the point that the facility should be closed and have frequently urged that international law should be respected. I do not know that anybody in the United States could be in any doubt about our view on those matters.

My Lords, the Americans have a right to keep some rather terrifying potential or alleged killers under guard, but would not the friendliest advice to them be to move Guantanamo to the mainland? The idea of trying to evade some of the standards of human rights by keeping the prison beyond American sovereignty has clearly failed, and there has been a terrible backlash against American opinion throughout the world. Is not the way forward to move Guantanamo to the mainland, observe the new ruling of the Supreme Court that military tribunals are not adequate and ensure that the prisoners there have a right to a proper trial under due process? Is that not the best advice that we could now give?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a vital point. There are people being held who plainly pose a very serious risk to the security of all of us, including those of us in this country. It is worth recalling the events that set in train the current position. Nevertheless, it is for the United States to consider how to handle and to try those people. I commend the sagacity of the Supreme Court in ensuring that a way will have to be found for a robust and lawful trial to be applied to anybody charged.

My Lords, is there any reason to suppose that the interrogation of those remaining unlawfully detained could be of any value to counter-terrorism today?

My Lords, I have no means of knowing whether the United States feels that it has obtained the information that it requires, and I shall not speculate on that. However, whatever methods are used, whatever form of imprisonment is used and whatever form of trial is envisaged, they should accord with law and with international law.

My Lords, I am confident that Her Majesty's Government wouldnot contemplate keeping anyone in the same circumstances as Guantanamo Bay. When did we make it clear to the Americans that the place should be closed?

My Lords, the Prime Minister made it clear some time ago. My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General has made it clear in the House and elsewhere. I think that the United Kingdom Government’s view has been well known for a long time. I repeat—I ask noble Lords to understand—that there is a desire in general to make sure that some extremely dangerous peopleto all of us, including those in the United States, are processed in a proper and legal way but that they are also subjected to the proper rigours of law for the acts that they have committed.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the American authorities have asked for eight former British residents to be accepted back into this country? Will the Government deal with that request promptly, given that most of them have families here?

My Lords, I am not aware that the United States Government have asked us to receive those people who had residence here. However, I know and I think that the House knows that we made vigorous representations on behalf of all of the United Kingdom citizens who were held in Guantanamo Bay. It is a measure of success that they were returned to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I do not accept that there has been extraordinary rendition, especially in relationship to Guantanamo.