Five British prisoners detained at the U.S. Naval base In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arrived home Tuesday and were promptly taken into custody by British authorities. The United States says it is now up to Britain to determine if they pose a security risk. Meanwhile, in Washington, a leading civil rights group is once again raising questions about the plight of the detainees being held in Guantanamo.
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, says the detention of hundreds of enemy combatants at Guantanamo violates America's basic notion of fairness. More than 600 enemy combatants are being held at Guantanamo, suspected of links to al-Qaida or the fallen Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
Mr. Romero told the National Press Club here in Washington that hundreds of detainees languish in what he called a legal limbo at Guantanamo Bay. He also described the detentions as fundamentally lawless and undermine American values of fairness and legal due process. "To be clear, this is not about the innocence or guilt of Guantanamo detainees. Our concern is about the basic due process right that must be afforded to all persons, citizens and non-citizens alike. We must not create an island outside of the law where people can be held without rights," he said.
Mr. Romero's speech comes on the heels of efforts by some international celebrities and human rights activists to rally support for demands for greater legal rights for the Guantanamo detainees. British actress Vanessa Redgrave and Terry Waite, who spent close to 5 years as a hostage in Lebanon, made similar appeals in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.
But U.S. officials continue to defend the detentions as a matter of national security. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about the detainees by reporters at the Pentagon. "The goal is to take these people off of a battlefield and keep them away from killing other people. And that has been accomplished. That has been a good thing for two years. That is not a bad thing. Second, the goal was to interrogate them, find out what do they know," he said. "Are there are other terrorists running around that we could information about? Do they know where caches of weapons are? Do they know information about techniques or approaches?"
There is renewed international attention on the detainees because some of them may soon face military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.
Secretary Rumsfeld says 105 detainees of various nationalities have been let out of Guantanamo Bay so far. A few of them were detained upon arrival in their home countries but he says the vast majority, 88 at last count, have been released, including Russians, Afghans and Pakistanis.