Goldsmith's US trial concessions are a sham and he should resign
When it was first announced that two British citizens, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, were to stand trial before a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, it appeared that at long last Tony Blair would do something to stand up for their human rights. The government came under parliamentary pressure, with 200 MPs of all political parties, including senior Tories and Labour loyalists, signing a motion calling for the men's repatriation to this country. Government ministers Chris Mullin and Baroness Symons were authorised to say that vigorous representations would be made and the government dispatched its most senior law officer, Lord Peter Goldsmith, the attorney general to the US for talks.
Now, however, it appears Tony Blair has done a u-turn and is not to stand up to the US government at all. The "concessions" announced by the attorney general yesterday - that British citizens will not face the death penalty and that a British lawyer may be allowed on to the defence team as a "consultant" - cannot disguise the simple fact that the proposed trial will breach all international norms.
It will be in front of judges who are military officers. They will be wearing the same uniforms as those who have held Feroz and Moazzam captive for over 18 months incommunicado and in conditions which can only be described as inhuman and degrading.
Detainees are incarcerated in wire cages 8ft by 6ft 6in, with no privacy and with the lights on all night. They are allowed out for exercise only twice a week for 20 minutes in a small, enclosed exercise yard. These are conditions which would challenge anybody's mental health. During this time the detainees have been intimidated and coerced into speaking to interrogators without a lawyer being present. The situation is already one of grave abuse of human rights.
After 18 months of doing nothing about this, despite pleas and even court proceedings in the UK and US brought by the families, it finally appeared that the British government would have to do something. The attorney general will have been well aware that military commissions that are not independent of the US government (George Bush is head of the US armed forces) cannot satisfy the basic requirement for a fair trial as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 14, to which the US is a signatory. It is inconceivable that he will not have pointed this out to US officials and asked for a fair trial in a civil court. His representations have gone unheeded.
What should happen, and should have happened long ago, is for the British government to make formal diplomatic protests. The Pakistani government has done this and has secured the release, with no requirement for domestic court proceedings, of 30 to 40 of its nationals. A Pakistani passport is a better protection than a British one against US abuses.