Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament 1999 - 2019

Rights of Guantanamo detainees

Delivered in Plenary - March 9th 2004

Mr President

September 11, the attacks on the twin towers in New York, opened up a new chapter in the concept of war - namely, an asymmetric, large-scale attack by a well-organised and well-resourced, fanatic, international, Islamist grouping affiliated to al-Qa'ida, with no respect for the traditional rules and conduct of war as we know them and very difficult to formally classify under the Third and Fourth Geneva Protocols of 1949. Therefore, all the demands made by this resolution to treat the detainees either as innocent bystanders caught up in American crossfire in Afghanistan or common-law criminals subject to due process are legally not sound, and not necessarily desirable either - particularly if we are to protect Europe's security and people from further attacks. Also, the state's first duty is always to protect its innocent citizens from future attack from any such terrorist groups.

The US would not waste valuable public resources detaining those who pose no security risk. Indeed, after exhaustive enquiries, many have been returned home, including three juveniles - one who in an interview to the British press testified to the humanity of his captors and was grateful for formal English-language instruction on the base. The rest - including the EU citizens involved - are undoubtedly dangerous or a source of ongoing useful intelligence and should either be tried for war crimes, if appropriate, at standards compatible with international norms or held in humane conditions as illegal combatants for the duration of the war, with Red Cross and consular access, until Mr Osama bin Laden is captured and formally surrenders his terrorist network and their declared war on the West.

I do not accept that habeas corpus applies in emergency situations like times of war or national emergencies, so its inclusion is totally inappropriate. No prisoners of war during the Second World War were allowed to have a fair trial - everyone knows that they were detained for the duration of war. Furthermore, historically, citizens of any country - and the UK in particular - who in times of war went abroad and fought against their own armed forces or their allies were potentially indictable for treason, historically a capital offence and even today a very serious offence. Therefore, the Liberal motion before us today will not be supported by me, as its primary purpose is to bash the United States of American in its global war on terrorism.
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