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Gitmo Injustice Dealt Blow - Clark Govt Silent

US Supreme Court deals blow to Guantanamo injustice. Clark government stays mum.

By Keith Locke

From the outset , it was a travesty of justice for the Bush administration to try and create a totally different legal system for the Guantanamo Bay inmates - a system that deliberately denied them the legal protections usually available under civilian or military justice.

For years, the dehumanised status of the Guantanamo detainees has been reflected in reliable reports of their torture and mistreatment. Thankfully, the US Supreme Court has now struck a blow to the White House by ruling that President Bush's entire legal framework for dealing with the Guantanamo detainees is a violation of existing U.S. law, and of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of war prisoners.

The decision is a useful reminder that since 9/11, the courts have been a key line of defence against politically inspired threats to our freedom. In December 2004, the British Law Lords ruled that the Blair government could not use immigration law to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely and then last year the Law Lords also ruled that evidence that may have been gained by torture could not be used in the trials of suspected terrorists.

In New Zealand, the Supreme Court ruled that Ahmed Zaoui was entitled to bail, despite an obvious will among many politicians to lock him up and throw away the key. And in a clear message to those wishing to throw him out altogether, the Court of Appeal established that this he could be legally deported only after the SIS could prove that a recognised refugee such as Zaoui posed a very high risk to New Zealand's security.

Unfortunately, neither the mistreatment of the G uantanamo prisoners nor Bush's plans to try them in kangaroo courts has caused a peep of protest from the New Zealand government. Despite the international clamour about the treatment of the Gitmo detainees, and despite European condemnation of the US torture policy of rendition, and despite the violations of international law involved, New Zealand has stayed resolutely silent. Despite being urged by me on several of occasions, the Clark government has refused to convey any public expressions of concern to the White House.

In fact, when I challenged Foreign Minister Winston Peters on this point at the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee a few weeks ago, he indicated rather lamely that other countries were much worse on the subject of human rights. True, there are worse human rights violators on the planet - but in the post 9/11 world, the behaviour standards of the world's only superpower have obvious implications for the rest of us, which is why the rendition policy and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib have got, and deserved, such condemnation elsewhere.

The reality though, is that there is very little difference, if any, between National and Labour on security, intelligence and related immigration issues. Both major parties support our involvement in the Echelon system via the Waihopai station (under the cover of the secret UKUSA intelligence agreement ), and both have only reluctantly extended human rights protections to their fellow parliamentarian, Ahmed Zaoui.

The draconian measures being mooted in the current Immigration Review (the proposals include the wider use of secret evidence) show how little concern Labour has about civil liberties won during the course of centuries of struggle against the rule of tyrants and petty dictators. All in the name of combating an anti-terrorism threat that is of only limited relevance to New Zealand.

I don't believe it is necessary for New Zealand to go down the same route as America, Britain, and Australia - all of whom have been part of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and who are now suffering the security consequences of that mistake. Wisely, we did not support the Iraq war. We have not made the same enemies in the Islamic world - indeed, many of them are our valued trading partners. Therefore, we hardly have the same need to join in the trashing of our civil liberties in the struggle against a terrorism threat that has been to a large extent self inflicted, and that has not been directed at this country.

It is disappointing that the Clark government hasn't had the gumption to be more vocal about Guantanamo Bay . Because, when it suits, Labour strongly supports multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations. By and large, it uses the UN umbrella as a virtual pre-requisite for its own military involvements.

Logically then, it should be rushing to defend the UN Convention on Torture and the Geneva Convention from being violated by the Bush administration. Its silence is not only shameful, but tacitly condones the erosion of global support for these necessary rules governing human behaviour. In point of fact, the government is pushing ahead instead to tighten up our anti-terrorism laws.

In the name of combating the flow of funds to terrorist organisations, the government is proposing to scrap its own (and our court s') ability to investigate, on a case by case basis, whether an organisation has been accurately designated as a terrorist front. It also intends to scrap the ability of our courts to remove an organisation from the list after say, a three year period of monitoring.

The outcome in the Guantanamo case shows that the power of the courts should be extended, not curtailed if we are to strike the right balance between personal liberty and national security. It is now up to the Bush administration to put up or shut up.

It should try these people in open court or release them, if the evidence isn't there to make the case. Chances are though, the White House will try to change the law and make it obey to its own currently illegal intentions. And on past experience, it would get away with it without a word of protest from the New Zealand government.


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