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Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am sure that the Foreign Secretary is aware that there is also concern in American legal circles about the treatment of people in Guantanamo Bay. Some feel a sense of rage that within great democracies that generally obey the rule of law, individuals can be locked up for two years, during which time the authorities have been unable to formulate charges or the basis of a trial that would sustain itself in front of what we recognise as proper legal process.
Mr. Straw: I understand the hon. Gentleman. We must appreciate, however, that the United States saw itself as literally in a war situationas, indeed, did the rest of the civilised world. In such situations, people are detained without trial. We did that ourselves during the last world war. These matters are difficult and uncomfortable, but they occur where civilisations and countries feel themselves to be under great threat. That is simply a reality.
That said, we have made progress in respect of the detainees, five of whom are being transferred to the United Kingdom to be dealt with in accordance with the normal processes of the law. I can promise the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue our efforts satisfactorily to resolve the position of the other four, although I cannot say when that will happen.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): While I welcome the extremely belated forthcoming release of these men, is it not a fact that the United States has no jurisdiction whatever by which to have detained them, or anybody else, in Guantanamo Bay; that it is utterly characteristic of the Bush regime to behave in any manner that suits it, regardless of international law; and that my right hon. Friends must not allow this Government to be tainted by association with such conduct?
Mr. Straw: I understand my right hon. Friend's remarks, but he will forgive me if, in the interests of what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) described as patient diplomacy, I do not fully subscribe to them.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman echoes my point about war situations. However, what happened in France in 1945 took place after a war had finished. Let us be clear that so far as the United States is concernedand us, toothis has been verging on a war situation with al-Qaeda and its related terrorist organisations. Let it not be forgotten that less than three months ago, at the end of November, both the British consulate general and the HSBC bank in Istanbul were bombed, with a severe loss of life among British citizens and representatives, as well as Turkish citizens and others. That was a result of terrorism by al-Qaeda and its related organisations.
We are therefore in this very difficult, unique situation, and in such circumstances new measures are likely to be used. Our view is clear, and we have made it clear all the way throughit is that of course people should be detained in accordance with international law. The United States Government are clear in their own mind that there is a legal base for the detentions at Guantanamo Bay. Our position is also clear in that any trials that take place must take place in accordance with internationally accepted standards and norms.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that although the United States accepts that there is a legal position for these people to be in Guantanamo Bay, no other country in the world accepts that situation? It has created a new class of people captured on the battlefieldunlawful combatantsthat is not recognised in any of the international agreements.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that while he may find the attitude of the United States understandable, many of us find it, if understandable, unacceptable? The Government must vigorously pursue this important matter. Although I welcome the release of the five prisoners, it has taken us two years to free people who have been held with no legal status, contrary to all the rules of international behaviour.
Mr. Straw: Of course I understand, to use the same verb, the very strong feelings of my hon. Friend on this issue and the fact that he does not accept the position as described by the United States Government. There is a great debate about the international legal basis for the detentions at Guantanamo Bay. I simply remind the House that the situation was not unusual: it was unique. Therefore, it is not surprising if the conventions and treaties that are the basis of much international law did not anticipate such circumstances.
Mr. Straw: The United States Government are very well aware of the strength of feeling of the British peoplealthough that variesand of the different strains and strands of that opinion. I have discussed the matter on numerous occasions with United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and with many others inside the United States system. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has discussed the matter on several occasions with President Bush and the United States Government. It has been discussed at every level between Governments. The United States Government are aware of the feeling that exists, and I am sure that they will become more aware of it when the contents of this statement and my answers are drawn to their attention.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): In order to keep a sense of balance, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should always bear in mind the shock that was felt throughout the whole of the United Statesit was certainly not confined to President Bush and his circleover the outrage on 9/11? On the Friday of that terrible week, I went to a huge demonstration in Philadelphia, where political views of all kinds were expressed over the terrible and wicked events that had occurred.
In welcoming what my right hon. Friend has said about the four detainees, is it not important for the United States to appreciate that those of us who do not minimise the dangers of terrorism, and who understand only too well the constant danger to all the democracies, remain very uneasy over the way in which these detainees, not only those who are British, are being held; and that domestic and international law should always be applied, even when it is dealing with those who are responsible for the most terrifying crimes against humanity?
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): The Foreign Secretary should know from correspondence with me about the case of my constituent Mr. Bisher Al-Rawi, who is detained in Guantanamo Bay. He had lived in the United Kingdom for 19 years, from when he was a child. His family are all British citizens but he holds an Iraqi passport. So far, the Foreign Office has refused to make any representations for Mr. Al-Rawi. Will the Foreign Secretary reconsider that? Does he recall that Mr. Al-Rawi was not arrested as a combatant but detained while on a business trip to the Gambia? Given the unusual circumstances, is the
Mr. Straw: I am happy to see the hon. Gentleman. There are five individuals in Guantanamo Bay who are not British citizens but were British residents before their detention, and his constituent is one of them. Their legal position is difficult. We simply do not have a right in international law to make representations on behalf of those who are not British citizens. That is standard and accepted practice. [Interruption.] Well, that is the case. Although I understand the point that is being shouted at me from a sedentary position, I have outlined what happens to be the case. That standard is accepted in all diplomatic relations. However, some organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, may be able to help. I am willing to meet the hon. Gentleman and, following that meeting, to decide what further action we can take.