Gitmo-UK? 80 to 90 Afghans held at British base without charges
May 29, 2013
British troops in Afghanistan are holding 80 to 90 people, some for up to 14 months, without charges. In response to lawyer allegations the facility is a Guantanamo-style prison, the UK has said the prisoners will be returned to Afghan jurisdiction.
The prisoners, Afghan nationals suspected of crimes or having links to insurgents, are kept in detention at Camp Bastion, the largest UK base in Afghanistan, housing some 30,000 troops. Normally British troops are supposed to hold prisoners in custody for no longer than 96 hours, but under exceptional circumstances longer detention is possible.
Apparently there are almost a hundred such exceptional cases currently. Lawyers acting for eight of the men say some of the prisoners have been held without charge for up to 14 months, arguing that it could be amount to unlawful detention. They also say that the situation has been kept a secret from the public.
In response to the legal furor, UK Secretary of Defense Philip Hammond has pledged for the detainees to be
returned to the Afghan authorities "within days."
"The UK could have trained the Afghan authorities to detain people lawfully with proper standards and making sure that they are treated humanely," Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, told the BBC.
"Parliament has not been told that we have this secret facility," he added.
UK Parliamentary officials found out about the camp themselves from press reports.
"I found out from the news outlets, but I do understand that it has been on the Ministry of Defence website for some time that there were people who were being held there," British Labour MP, Barry Gardiner, told RT, going on to say:
"They’re being held without charge, but not without an end to the process," in comparison to Guantanamo. "I don’t accept the parallel with Guantanamo, but I do agree that it is a very distressing matter that these men have been in detention for so long and it has not yet been brought to a judicial conclusion."
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the detention of the prisoners and their number, but not the time of their detention. He said Ministry of Defence did nothing wrong in the situation and denied the allegation that the government failed to report about the prisoners, saying both the current cabinet and the previous one informed the parliament.
Earlier the MoD defended the imprisonment at the base.
"The UK's temporary holding facilities at Camp Bastion are regularly monitored by the ICRC," the MoD said in a statement, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross, adding that the detentions "are legal under the UN mandate and comply with all applicable international obligations."
The secretary explained that the prisoners in question pose a threat to British troops if released, and that "protecting troops, whether it is from being murdered on the streets of London or the fields of Helmand province."
But the MoD cannot hand them over to Afghan authorities because of the actions of their lawyers, Hammond said.
"What Mr. Shiner didn’t tell you is that last year his firm started proceedings against the department precisely to prevent us handing them over to the Afghan judicial authorities because of concerns of treatment of prisoners in the Afghan system," he told BBC Radio 4.
In November last year Hammond issued a temporary ban on transfer of prisoners to Afghan detention after a farmer claimed that he had been tortured in a prison after being captured by UK troops and handed over to Afghani judicial.
Official Kabul is sensitive about detention of Afghans by the US-led military coalition and wants to see all of the prisoners under Afghanistan’s control. The handing over of the Bagram Prison from the US to Afghanistan, which had been delayed several times, was a major irritant in relations between President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Obama administration.
The lawyers have launched habeas corpus applications at the High Court in London, with a full hearing due in on July 23.
'British Guantanamo another blow to Cameron’s credibility’
There’s enough grounds to compare the secret British prison in Afghanistan to the infamous US Guantanamo detention facility, as the UK is holding people, they consider dangerous, in custody without having any legal grounds to do so, Jim Brann of the Stop The War coalition told RT.
The activist believes that by explaining that the handover of detainees to the Afghan authorities is prevented by the 1984 torture convention, the British government has "caught itself in a bind of its own making."
"The only real difference [with Guantanamo] is, unless they are forced by pressure, they’ll keep them as long as possible because they say they can’t hand them over and they don’t want to let them go," he said. "The only difference is that because it’s limited to the Afghan war and because British troops are supposed to stop being there in a combat war at least within a year-and-a-half. Then I suppose the British government would say: well, it must come to an end a year-and-a-half from now, in which case it’ll hand them over to the Afghan authorities, in which case it’ll put itself in danger of violating the torture convention."
The fact that British MPs had no idea of the Afghan prison’s very existence "means that the parliamentary committees haven’t done their job because sufficient questioning would have discovered the facts about these detainees."
"But, certainly, the defense secretary hasn’t mentioned it and there’s this rule in Britain called Parliamentary Sovereignty, and the parliament is supposed to be sovereign. So, that’s where the issue of contempt of parliament comes from," Brann added.
The activist stressed that the prison issue is yet another blow to the credibility of David Cameron’s government, which can now only "keep their fingers crossed" hoping that the opposition won’t use this trump card against them.