Now that David Hicks has returned to Australia, most of us will have forgotten about Guantanamo Bay. Indeed, virtually Westerner detainees have now been released.
Those remaining are largely from Middle Eastern or other nominally Muslim states. Some were as young as 14 when they were arrested. Some 6 years on, most still haven’t been charged. It goes without saying that Guantanamo Bay is a huge blot on the reputation of the United States, especially with some of its closest allies in Asia (such as Indonesia). But opposition isn’t just coming from the third world.
It’s worth recalling in May last year, UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith called for the United States to close the detention facility. His comments echoed those of his predecessor who suggested that any pressure Britain could bring to bear on the US would send “a powerful signal to the world that Britain supports the international rule of law.”
Our own government’s commitment to human rights isn’t as strong, despite Attorney General Phillip Ruddock wearing his Amnesty International badge at any available opportunity. Australian (and indeed other Western) journalists have also shown a disgraceful degree of silence at the treatment of one Guantanamo detainee, al-Jazeera reporter and cameraman Sami al-Hajj, held at the facility since June 2002.
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One only need compare the relative silence over al-Hajj to the prominent and active campaigning for the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston who was held by Palestinian extremists in Gaza. A Sudanese national, al-Hajj has been held without any charges being laid against him. US officials are believed to have kept him in detention with a view to extracting some kind of statement linking al-Jazeera to al-Qaida.
Al-Hajj has suffered massive weight loss and severe depression. One US psychiatrist who has worked with Sudanese refugees in Darfur has compared al-Hajj’s condition “to that of Darfuri women in Sudan whose mind suddenly experiences an irreversible decline after enduring months of starvation and abuse”.
It remains to be seen whether Australian journalists will rally for the release of their Sudanese colleague. In this regard, perhaps we at Crikey can start the ball rolling…