One of the less worthy reasons cited for going to war in Iraq is that it would increase Britain’s influence in the White House. If this was on the Prime Minister’s mind when he ordered British troops into combat, he has proved pathetic at exercising his advantage. Earlier this week the Foreign Secretary announced that the remaining four Britons held at Guantanamo Bay, the US military base in Cuba in which prisoners from the Afghan war of 2001 have been detained, are finally to be returned to Britain. Five other Britons were released last March. The legal basis on which these men, along with 680 other Muslims, have been held is dubious to say the least. The US declines to treat them as prisoners of war or as civilian prisoners, either of which classification would compel their captors to behave in accordance with certain standards of behaviour. Rather, America asserts the right to detain them without trial until such time as the war on terror is concluded. Given the logistical difficulties of declaring an end to hostilities with an abstract noun, this could be a very long time indeed.
It is inconceivable that Tony Blair, who made great play of incorporating the EU Charter of Human Rights into British law, considers the treatment of the British prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to have been satisfactory. Indeed, in July 2003 he told an angry House of Commons that ‘any commission or tribunal that tries these men must be conducted in accordance with proper canons of law so that a fair trial is both taking place and seen to take place’. He dispatched the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith to Washington to raise his concerns. Yet when Mr Blair turned up in Washington himself with the promise of raising the issue with President Bush directly, his resolve seemed to melt.