THE conditions in which prisoners are being held brutally and illegally in an American concentration camp on Cuba go to the heart of the “war on terrorism”, and mark the Blair government for its betrayal of the basic rights of British citizens to the interests of a foreign power.


Shafiq Rasul, from Tipton, near Birmingham, is one of five Britons being held without charge and in contravention of every international convention at Camp X-Ray.


A man well over 6ft in height, with a thin frame and a normal weight of less than 11st, he has lost 3st and is described by his brother as “seriously emaciated”. His family believes they glimpsed him on television, on February 21, shackled to a stretcher.


In this state, he was interrogated by agents of the British security service, MI5 – which itself contravenes the Geneva Convention on prisoners-of-war. At the same time, the Foreign Office claims it does not know the circumstances of the five men’s arrests.


This brings to mind the evidence of a British official, Mark Higson, at the arms-to-Iraq scandal inquiry in 1994. Higson described a “culture of lying” pervading the Foreign Office.


All 194 prisoners on Cuba, it is now becoming clear, have committed no crime. That is true of all but a handful of the 400 captured in Afghanistan many of whom do not belong to al-Qaeda.


In three months of investigation by an army of FBI and other police officers, not a shred of evidence has been produced linking them to the attacks of September 11 or identifying them as “terrorists fighting America“.


Yet, in the House of Commons, ministers have defamed them as “among the most dangerous men in the world”, echoing almost word for word the statements of Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence.


This is the man who has admitted setting up an office in the Pentagon with the sole function of lying to foreign governments and foreign media about the “war on terrorism”.


Acting for the family of Shafiq Rasul is Gareth Peirce, the solicitor and fighter against miscarriages of justice who was portrayed in the film In The Name Of The Father.


She says: “Given that [Shafiq] was so clearly emaciated, it means that we are letting loose our agents on to those detainees for the purpose of interrogating them in wholly unsafe circumstances and acting parasitically on the backs of wholly unlawful detentions by the Americans.”


Another British solicitor and human rights campaigner, Louise Christian, represents 22-year-old Feroz Abassi. She is threatening the British Government with legal action for collaborating with the US in Feroz’s “illegal interrogation”.


She has been told by the government solicitor to delay her application for a judicial review by the High Court because Tony Blair and his ministers have yet to decide what to do.


IN other words, they are asking the Americans how they should act on the human rights of British citizens against whom there is clearly no case. Recently, an Algerian pilot, Lotfi Raissi, was released from Belmarsh prison after five months on remand and without any terrorism charge being laid against him.


The bogus reasons for the “war on terrorism” are unravelling by the day, as is Blair’s complicity with its crimes of violence in Afghanistan and denial of rights. The original purpose of Camp X-Ray was as a piece of grotesque theatre for the ever-manipulated American public.


In releasing deliberately provocative photographs of cowed men in chains, the Bush regime believed it could distract public opinion from the debacle of its “war” in Afghanistan, in which its war machine failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden or a single senior member of al-Qaeda.


Even the Taliban leader Mullah Omar got away. All they got was the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, a relatively minor functionary.


The price of this American disaster for the people of Afghanistan was, according to a recent study at the University of New Hampshire, at least 5,000 civilian lives.


For all the posed photographs of American troops against desert landscapes, hardly any of them have seen combat. Instead, impoverished people in dusty villages are killed from the sky.


Not even the cost of an American B52 bomber has reached the Afghan people in aid – in spite of “pledges” by America and Europe and the “we-shall-never-desert-Afghanistan-again” windbaggery of Blair.


In spite of a public relations drive to prove that the American-installed regime in Kabul is radically different from that of the Taliban, the main changes are a return to a bloody civil war and feudalism and the renewal of the heroin trade.


As for the human rights of the long-suffering population, the new government will, like the Taliban, impose sharia Islamic law on its people. Judge Ahamat Ullha Zarif says that public executions and amputations will continue, but there will be one variation: “For example, the Taliban used to hang the victim’s body in public for four days. We will only hang the body for a short time, say 15 minutes.”


Judge Zarif made clear that the ultimate penalty would remain in force for adulterers, both male and female. They would still be stoned to death, “but we will use only small stones”.


This is the regime whose leaders have a bodyguard of British soldiers. And still the Americans bomb – while famine sweeps the north and west of Afghanistan in the wake of the American attacks.


On February 12, a World Vision Health and Nutrition Team reported from the North West that “numerous groups of women and children are scavenging the valley fields for weeds, roots and grass to eat”.


The French aid agency Medecins sans Frontieres says that more and more people are becoming malnourished. “The food system is not working,” said a nurse, Jenny Andersson. “Although the World Food Programme has been providing food for more than 300,000 people, it simply isn’t reaching the people that need it.”


NONE of these horrors has been addressed by the American or British governments, the principal partners in the Washington-bribed “coalition” claiming responsibility for the Afghanistan disaster, which Jack Straw calls “our vindication”.


It is not surprising that, even as ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic stands trial in The Hague, the Americans are pressing for an end to war crimes trials altogether. This means that the Bush administration is afraid that the process might slip out of its control and become a permanent fixture, encouraging the setting up of an International Criminal Court, which Washington opposes.


It fears that such a body might act truly judicially and order the arrest of “our” war criminals – that is, American and British politicians and officials who have ordered, or aided and abetted the bombing to death of thousands of innocent men, women and children and have run or collaborated in the running of a concentration camp like that in which emaciated men who are held and interrogated in breach of international law.


In his play Ashes To Ashes, Harold Pinter uses the images of Nazism and the Holocaust, while interpreting them as a warning that the totalitarian actions of western politicians seeking dominance over other human beings are no different, in principle and effect, from those of fascists – and terrorists.


The reality behind the Prime Minister’s pretensions as a “war leader” become clearer every day.

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