Shame on America

The treatment of prisoners captured by the US Army in Afghanistan needs to be exemplary. It's easy to be principled when times are easy - but it's what you do when your back's against the wall that really shows whether your principles really go to the core... or are only skin deep.

The United States has undergone a terrible trauma. Tens of thousands of Americans are the victims of a monstrous crime. Americans feel that their back is against the wall, and they are relentlessly and determinedly showing us all just how much they believe their own rhetoric about freedom and the rule of law.

Suspected terrorist prisoners are being kept from legal representation to which they are entitled if they are civilian criminal suspects. They are being denied Red Cross visits to which they are entitled if they are military prisoners. The US government seems to have invented a third category for them, one where they may be kept indefinitely incommunicado and then summarily executed after a perfunctory military tribunal.

What goes around comes around. If the United States flouts the law, then that encourages other regimes to follow suit. How will America respond in future when its own citizens are kidnaped and summarily executed? Unless they respect the law now, how can they expect that the law will be observed by their adversaries.

We in Europe must speak out against this dangerous precedent. Already several British citizens are being illegally held prisoner by the Americans. If we do not stand up to defend their right to a fair trial, then we have sacrificed our own rights. Who will stop them from coming from us, if they decide that we too are a threat?

Twenty-five years ago here in Britain, the IRA embarked upon a vicious campaign of bombing civilians on the mainland. Enraged by these murderous crimes, our police sought out the killers. Once they had found the people they believed responsible, they forced confessions out of them. Twenty years later, a series of re-trials revealed the lies that desperate police had used to secure the convictions of these innocent men. The lessons learned in this terrible episode are directly relevant today. It is vital that those responsible for the terrorist attacks on America be caught. If we get it wrong, then not only will the wrong people be punished, but the guilty ones will remain at large, free to kill again.

The prisoners from Afghanistan must be charged, if they are to be held. If charged, they must be given a fair trial with the opportunity to defend themselves in public.