Exactly three years ago, I attended an event with Clive Stafford-Smith, the Director of Reprieve who has worked with the prisoners at Guantanamo. I asked him how many of them he thought were innocent:
During the Q&A session, I ask him if he thinks there are any genuine terrorists at the camp. He says there were probably about two or three to begin with. Now there are probably about fourteen, he thinks. The rest have very tenuous evidence against them. Even if some had fought for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in 2001/02, that does not mean they were Al Qaeda operatives, or that they were a genuine threat to western interests.
Now, while I am sure that Stafford-Smith’s claim is based on hard legal analysis, it nevertheless has an anecdotal air when he tells it. As a long-time activist against the death penalty, and therefore a regular critic of the US Government, it is easy for politicians to pigeon-hole his complaints. In the cynical merry-go-round of political debate, it is easy to dismiss such claims as the exaggerations of someone trying to win the argument. A dismissal of the well he would say that wouldn’t he? variety that is tricky to argue against, without sufficent airtime and column inches.
Well, here is some more evidence to back-up Stafford-Smith’s claim. British journalist Andy Worthington has been compiling The Guantanamo Files, a list of all 779 men who were incarcerated at the prison:
… at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism
And the British Government – a Labour Government, ostensibly on the side of the poor and marginalised around the world – provided succour and support to the Bush Administration as this prison was established and maintained.