Law Societies call for Guantanamo closure

The Law Societies of England & Wales, Scotland and 31 other bar associations have signed a joint letter to president Bush calling for the immediate closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The letter condemns Bush’s “profound disrespect for the rule of law,” which it says “has become an inconvenient afterthought.”

Law Society president Andrew Holroyd said: “Events in Guantanamo are of serious concern to everyone who supports the international rule of law.

“The military commissions are only authorised to try non-US citizens, and we feel that it is inherently unfair to have one justice system for American citizens and another for so-called ‘enemy combatants’, particularly when such a system has no basis in international law.”

The letter is also addressed to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, and urges the Canadian government to repatriate and offer a fair trial to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was arrested at the age of 15 and who has spent the last five years in custody at Guantanamo.

Khadr is now the only citizen of a Western country remaining in detention in Guantanamo, after pressure from the British, French and German governments led to the removal of their citizens in the camp.

The letter states that any Guantanamo detainee who has committed criminal acts “should be tried by a properly constituted court operating under rules that guarantee a fair trial”.

“We must not tolerate the continuing denial of principles underlying the rule of law,” it continues, “we have seen the result recently in Pakistan of continuing down that road.”

Holroyd added that it is “a principle of customary international law” that children are accorded special protections in all criminal proceedings or prosecution for participation in warlike acts, and that Omar Khadr should therefore be treated in accordance with international law.

Other bar associations to sign the letter include the national law societies of Canada, Australia, Germany, Finland, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden.