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Editorial: 20 years on, Guantanamo's legacy still poisons international and domestic politics

PRISON rights campaign Cage’s launch of a platform to close the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp is a fitting way to mark its 20th anniversary.

Guantanamo survivor Moazzam Begg points out that the legacy of the camp lives on “in the countless policies which have stretched the boundaries of state power and repression beyond recognition.”

Though our political elite won’t admit it — Tory and Labour leaders have closed ranks in defence of the knighthood for Tony Blair, who after George W Bush is the figure most associated with the war on terror — there is a reason over a million people have called for him to be stripped of that honour nearly 15 years after he left office. 

There is a wide understanding that the consequences of his actions are still with us — in violence and instability across the Middle East, in the shattering of international law, even in the impunity with which the holders of high office can get away with brazen lies — something we may hope the current scandals engulfing Boris Johnson might put an end to.

Guantanamo Bay was a torture camp set up specifically to deny its inmates their legal rights. Even its site is illegal, territory “leased” from the sovereign state of Cuba against its will. 

Joe Biden is the second president to have promised to shut it, yet admits that clauses in his monstrous $770 billion military budget make it almost impossible for him to do so.

Guantanamo’s prisoners came from over 40 countries, as the US cast the net of “extraordinary rendition” far and wide. Bounties for “suspected terrorists” predictably resulted in entirely innocent people being caught in it.

There has never been a reckoning for this grotesque kidnap and torture project, in which Britain was involved, despite then foreign secretary Jack Straw’s 2005 dismissal of this as a “conspiracy theory.”

As Cage points out, those described by Bush as “the worst of the worst” “were in fact fathers, sons, grandfathers, doctors, engineers, religious men, businessmen, artists…” 

The only thing they had in common was that they were Muslims, and the spread of Islamophobia that accompanied the war on terror claimed many more victims of racist harassment, abuse, even murder.

As racist abuse of east Asians rises amid the new cold war on China, we see again the impact that propaganda about our supposed enemies can have here at home.

Closing Guantanamo matters, and not just for the 39 people still held there.

The war on terror was launched at the height of US power — after the collapse of the Soviet Union, before China’s economy grew to the point Washington began to fear it. 

The imperial arrogance resting on that unchallengeable armed might has led it to keep breaking international law: presuming the right to draw up “kill lists” of foreign citizens on foreign territory, not even bothering to deny outrageous murders like that of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani while he was an invited guest of a country supposedly allied to the US. 

Biden, accepting defeat in Afghanistan, has called time on the “forever wars” — but closing Guantanamo is part of forcing the US to recognise again the existence of international law.

In Britain too it has its significance.

The militarist consensus of the Tory and Labour front benches is not shared by the public, whose openness to a different kind of foreign policy was clear following Jeremy Corbyn’s bold challenge to the war on terror’s assumptions in 2017. 

The Blair knighthood is part of a wider bid to rehabilitate a disgraceful period of untrammelled military aggression, and the debates around the fall of Kabul last summer showed that whatever Biden thinks, the “forever wars” are still all the rage at Westminster. 

Well done to Cage for using this anniversary to remind us of the urgent need to close Guantanamo, to seek justice for its victims and accountability for the politicians who helped supply them.

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