Three times now the BBC has rung me up to suggest that I might take part in a program about prisoners at Guantanamo. When I then explain that in general terms considerations of public security have priority for me over civil rights for the internees, the BBC hastens to tell me that my opinions are not going to be broadcast. The program has to be “rebalanced” in the rather comic term with which the BBC people fob me off.
But consider how difficult it is to pass sensible judgments on the guys in those orange jump suits. Bisher al-Rawi is a 39-year-old Iraqi who has lived in London since childhood. In 2002 MI5, the British intelligence service, tipped off the CIA that he was an extremist, and had flown to Gambia in West Africa. The CIA arrested him there, and in an act of “rendition” took him to Guantanamo. At the same time they picked up a friend of his by the name of Jamil al-Banna. Released, al-Rawi claims that all along he was working for MI5, and that he feels badly let down by an agency that should have supported him. How is a member of the public to know whether that is true or an inventive lie? The only clue is that the British government is not seeking the return of his friend al-Banna, which would be the case on a presumption of innocence or wrongful detention.
Consider also the case of Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who says that he happens to have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan for religious studies in 2001 – which was mistimed, shall we say. Since 2002 he’s been in Guantanamo, and now he is using the American courts to prevent a planned deportation to his native Algeria. He’d rather stay in custody, he says, on the grounds that he’d certainly be tortured or even killed in his own country. Once again, there’s no way of knowing whether or not he’s hit on a fable contrived to exploit human rights concerns in order to hide the reality of his deeds.
As we scratch our heads over these cases, and many more of the same morally and culturally baffling kind, the authorities tell us that one in ten of the men released from Guantanamo have been caught committing jihadi violence once again.