The remaining British inmates of Guantánamo Bay prison have been released at last. Feroz Abbasi (age 24), Richard Belmar (age 25), Martin Mubanga (age 32) and Moazzam Begg (age 36) were yesterday flown from the Cuba camp to an RAF base just outside London.

But they won’t be getting their home comforts back just yet. Having already been detained without trial for three years, they were immediately arrested under the British Terrorism Act 2000.

Along with its vicious little brother, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, this nasty legislation allows the arrest and indefinite detention of any person, regardless of whether there is a scrap of evidence against them or not. Under these Acts, a person can be locked up and the key thrown away solely on the basis that the Home Office thinks they look like a bad sort. “Muslim” seems frequently interchangeable with “bad sort” for the purposes of these assessments. Rather like it is to the American security services.

Best of all, there was no point arresting them at all. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, “ruled out any prosecution on the basis of material gathered during interviews in Guantánamo Bay… He told The Independent that his officers would have to obtain an admission from the four suspects or find other evidence before the men could be put on trial in this country.”

As well as being idiotic from a crime and punishment perspective, this move is also in contravention of the recent House of Lords ruling, which stated that detention of such “suspects” without enough evidence for charge or trial is illegal.

Returning to Britain would be hard enough for them even without having been arrested. Their anonymous lives destroyed, these men now have to find some semblance of a normal existence. Clinical psychologists working in Guantánamo have expressed serious concerns for the mental health of the prisoners. Professor Ian Robbins assessed the British inmates released earlier and concluded that they exhibited “signs of post-traumatic stress disorder”. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture are sufficiently convinced by allegations of Guantánamo ill-treatment to be providing post-release care to the four men. The founder of the charity, Helen Bamber, has gone on record saying she believes they have been tortured.

And as well as recovering from the mental and physical abuse described by so many Guantánamo prisoners, these men have to contend with the cruel glare of the British tabloids, and the creeping sense of guilt at having got away while former cellmates remain incarcerated.

Remember, these are men against whom no charge has been brought and no proper evidence found. These are men who used to be labelled “innocent until proven guilty” by the judicial system, until post-9/11 Western governments realised they could harness public grief and fear to find a way round that inconvenient legal and moral principle.

It is expected that the four men will be released within the next few days, and will be granted the “freedom” to hide away in remote safe houses until the media gets bored of the story. But this is no consolation to them, to their families or to anyone who feels that justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of Blair’s Bush-worship.

Because, let’s be honest, this whole story is a farce. It looks a lot like our ex-Guantánamo foursome was arrested on arrival for the sake of appearances. Rather than risk humiliating the American authorities by being seen to dismiss the men as harmless, the British government is engaging in a pantomime of arrest and questioning, as though it is seriously worried they might pose some threat. That way, it looks as though the men weren’t illegally arrested, illegally detained, illegally tortured and left permanently scarred by the very killing machine with which their own government is proud to be in cahoots.

This transatlantic sycophancy has got to stop.

Britain’s collective psyche has numerous failings: pomposity, arrogance and a xenophobic superiority complex, and that’s just for starters. But ask a group of older Brits what they perceive their nation’s greatest values to be, and common sense and fairness will rank highly in their answers. It’s a shame this self-image is such a laughable myth.

Blair must stop scampering to serve Bush and big business, and start acting in the interests of the people who are forced to pay for his bombs. Or we must replace him with someone who will.


Internment without trial (Liberty)

Released prisoners: press release (Amnesty International)

About Guantánamo Bay (Amnesty International) (WARNING – harrowing content)