Saturday, February 3, 2007

Speak up, Mr. Harper – Guantanamo is a disgrace

It is astonishing and bizarre - as Ahmed Jaballah, son of hungerstrikers Mahmoud Jaballah, and NDP Immigration Critic Bill Siksay remarked in a press conference that took place in Ottawa yesterday* - that these six former foreign ministers decided to make NO mention of the fact that Canada has its very own Guantanamo North, the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre. There, Mohammed Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei are held without charge in indefinite detention under threat of being rendered up to torture in Egypt and Syria, under conditions that have been qualified as cruel and unusual and as psychological torture. The men at Canada's Guantanamo are currently on yet another hungerstrike, which they say is their one way of making their voices heard in a situation where literally all power - from the ability to dial a phone for themselves to the ability to defend themselves from the ever-present threat of being shipped to torture - has been arbitrarily and indefinitely stripped from them.

All the more bizarre as Mr. Pettigrew in fact met Ahmed Jaballah, his mother Husnah Al Mashtouli, and Mona El Fouli (married to Mohammad Mahjoub) in December 2005 - when Mahjoub was already over 5 and a half years in arbitrary detention.

- Comment by Mary Foster.


Speak up, Mr. Harper – Guantanamo is a disgrace


Special to Globe and Mail - Feb 2, 2007

As former Canadian foreign ministers, we are deeply concerned by how the U.S.-run detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, flagrantly violates human rights, undermines the rule of law, and sends a signal to other governments that it is acceptable to abuse the rights of their citizens.

Many government leaders, United Nations human-rights experts and organizations such as Amnesty International, have called on U.S. President George Bush to close Guantanamo. Canada has played a key role in defending human rights, but, so far, the Canadian government has been notably silent on this matter.

We urge Prime Minister Stephen Harper to speak up. He must press the U.S. government to deal with Guantanamo detainees, and all other detainees held in the "war on terror," in a manner consistent with international human-rights standards. He should appeal to the U.S. to respect the rule of law and close Guantanamo.

More than 770 men have been held at Guantanamo since January of 2002. Only a handful of them have ever been charged with a crime. None have had a fair trial — instead, they face blatantly unfair military commissions. None have a right to a lawyer of their choice. None know when or even if their imprisonment will end.

The cruel and degrading treatment of Guantanamo detainees appears to be widespread and officially condoned, if not specifically authorized. In interviews with released detainees, Amnesty International has found numerous and credible reports of torture and ill-treatment. There have
been more than 40 suicide attempts by detainees — a signal of the despair that results when people are denied their most basic human rights; in June of 2006, three men apparently succeeded in ending their lives.

Today, Guantanamo holds more than 400 detainees, including Omar Khadr, a Canadian. Mr. Khadr was a minor when he was apprehended by U.S. forces in Afghanistan more than four years ago. At Guantanamo, he reports being ill-treated and threatened with transfer to countries to be tortured. He is currently before one of the military commissions.

The U.S. government says that Guantanamo is needed to "fight terrorism" and "protect security," and that the response to "terrorist" threats cannot be bound by previously agreed international laws.

But abusing human rights in the name of "security" undermines the very values that the "war on terror" claims to defend. It also sends a signal to other countries that it is acceptable to disregard human rights — in recent years, there has been a disturbing increase in serious human-rights
violations carried out in many countries under the name of "fighting terrorism."

The quest for genuine human security must be rooted in international human-rights standards: basic and hard-won standards for the just treatment of all people, everywhere, all the time and under all circumstances — no exceptions. This is especially true in times of danger and public anxiety when governments use so-called "necessity" to justify the abuse of some people, often those who are already the targets of discrimination.

The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled against U.S. government policy for the treatment of detainees. In response, the government further undermined the detainees' human rights: Those designated as "enemy combatants" will be barred from the fundamental remedy of habeas corpus, whose very purpose is to prevent illegal detention. In addition, judgments against detainees
can be based on secret evidence that can be obtained through cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or torture.

Senior U.S. government officials, meanwhile, persist in branding current detainees "killers," "terrorists" and the "worst of the worst," even though none of them have been convicted of any crime.

Sixty years ago, the world's governments proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." Governments got it right. They committed themselves to a historic vision of equal rights for all. They promised there would be no exceptions.

Canada has played a leading role in making this vision a reality. It is now time for the Canadian government to speak out against the disgraceful abuse of human dignity and justice at Guantanamo.

We join Amnesty International, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-run detention centre, in asking Mr. Harper to press Washington to take the following minimal steps toward closing Guantanamo:

Release detainees immediately, unless they are to be charged and tried under recognized international standards of justice.

Do not send detainees to countries where they may face human-rights abuses.

Ensure that the ill-treatment and torture of detainees stop immediately.

Forbid the use of evidence obtained under torture or ill-treatment.

Permit UN and other international human-rights experts full and private access to detainees.

Joe Clark, Lloyd Axworthy, Flora MacDonald, Bill Graham, John Manley and Pierre Pettigrew all served as Canada's foreign ministers.