British actor Corin Redgrave called on the US to follow its release of five Britons detained in Guantánamo Bay with the return of all the estimated 660 people held at the US Navy base in Cuba.
Redgrave, co-founder of the Guantánamo Human Rights Commission, came to the United Nations headquarters in New York yesterday with relatives of three detainees, including Azmat Begg, father of British detainee Moazzam Begg, to demand justice for all those being held.
The call came a day after the United States sent the five Britons home. One was released immediately by British authorities and the other four were freed late last night.
The US Supreme Court will hear arguments next month from lawyers representing foreign-born “enemy combatants” being held incommunicado in open-ended custody at Guantanamo Bay. At issue is whether the prisoners can challenge their detention in US courts.
US Attorney General John Ashcroft said that designating the detainees as enemy combatants “is a vital part of the war on terrorism” that the Supreme Court should reaffirm.
Redgrave, the relatives, and Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, a civil liberties legal group that represents several detainees in the Supreme Court case, want immediate action – and the closure of the Guantánamo military prison.
“It is a total denial of human rights,” Redgrave said of the US policy. “Our message is therefore very clear. Every detainee in Guantánamo must be repatriated forthwith to their countries.”
If there is evidence, the detainee should be tried in a proper court with due process and punished if found guilty, he said, but if there is no evidence he should be freed.
“We are very, very, confident that sooner rather than later … they will be free,” Redgrave said.
Mr Begg said he promised his son’s young daughter: “I am bringing your father back somehow.”
But so far, he said, his voice cracking, he had had no success.
Ratner said President George Bush’s administration appeared to be playing favourites by releasing detainees from countries that had supported the United States in Iraq and elsewhere, like Britain.
“Those who are friends of the US are getting out, but the French “because of their position in the war, got nobody out,” he said.
Redgrave, brother of actresses Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, said it was also “a paradox” that while Britain had been actively negotiating for the return of its detainees, four Britons remained at Guantánamo.
US officials have said they have wide legal latitude to interrogate the detainees for an extended period since national security was at risk.
The relatives and civil rights activists started their US campaign in Washington, where Redgrave said two senators - whom he refused to identify - pledged support, and others promised to raise the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ratner stressed that Guantánamo was also an international issue because the detainees came from 44 countries and international laws, including the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were being violated.
“Shouldn’t the 44 countries come together through the United Nations and say, ‘No! No longer should we have such an international prison camp’?” he asked.
French lawyer Jacques Debray read part of a letter that French detainee Nizar Sassi had sent to his family through the Red Cross: “He said to them: ‘You know here, the only rights we have is to have no rights.’”
Andre Gerin, the mayor of Venissieux, near Lyon, where Sassi lived, said he came to the United Nations “to question the silence and the indifference of the French authorities”.
Rabiye Kurnaz, mother of detainee Murat Kurnaz, said her son, who was born in Germany but carries a Turkish passport, left Bremen two and a half years ago and she has not heard from him for two years.
“If he did something wrong, just give him a fair trial.”