Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, May 06, 2006

  Perplexed about our approach to the rule of law

The Observer tomorrow reports some encouraging news. The British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is set to give a speech this week in which he will urge that the infamous prison at Guantanamo be shut down.

The decision by the government's chief legal adviser to denounce the detention centre in Cuba as 'unacceptable' will dismay the Bush administration, which has continually rejected claims that the camp breaches international laws on human rights.

But Goldsmith will tell a global security conference at the Royal United Services Institute this week that the camp at Guantánamo Bay must not continue. 'It is time, in my view, that it should close.' ...

'There are certain principles on which there can be no compromise,' Goldsmith will say. 'Fair trial is one of those - which is the reason we in the UK were unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantánamo Bay offered sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards.'

Although privately some senior ministers believe Guantánamo should be closed down, no one has so far condemned the camp in such open and trenchant terms.....

Goldsmith's speech will be welcomed by human rights groups and senior members of the judiciary who have long campaigned for the government to use its influence to persuade its ally to close the camp. The former Law Lord, Lord Steyn, now chairman of the human rights group, Justice, said last month that 'while our government condones Guantánamo Bay the world is perplexed about our approach to the rule of law.'


Goldsmith's willingness suddenly to speak out may be part of the general revulsion among Labourites against Tony Blair's close ties to George Bush. That was brought to a boil this weekend by Blair's demotion of several ministers, especially Jack Straw, as I commented in my last post. A report in tomorrow's Sunday Independent underlines the point I argued on Friday, that the White House was behind the demotion of Straw:

Jack Straw's fate was sealed in a phone call from the White House to Tony Blair last month, according to the former foreign secretary's friends.

They say President George Bush was furious that Mr Straw said it was "nuts" to use nuclear weapons against Iran, an option reported to be under active consideration in Washington.


Goldsmith was pushed around pretty fiercely by Cheney's gang in early 2003; in what must have been a demeaning meeting in Washington, they twisted his arms to declare that an invasion of Iraq would be legal. To his shame, Goldsmith eventually did adopt that position--after declaring, for about a year, that there was no legal justification for an invasion. So perhaps he has decided that the revolt against Blair taking shape just at this moment provides the right occasion to strike back at the Bush administration.

This will not solve the central problem, that the Mister Bush, Mister Cheney, and Mister Rumsfeld hold the rule of law and the most basic principles of human decency in contempt. But at a minimum, public pressure from the Attorney General in Britain would be a major incentive to reopen the debate in the U.S. about Guantanamo.

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