British actor Corin Redgrave, co-founder of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, came to the United Nations Wednesday with relatives of three detainees to demand justice for all those being held, a day after the United States sent five British detainees home from the U.S. military's prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. One was released immediately by British authorities and the other four were freed late Wednesday.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next month from lawyers representing foreign-born "enemy combatants" being held incommunicado in open-ended custody at Guantanamo Bay. At issue is whether the prisoners can challenge their detention in U.S. courts.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that designating the detainees as enemy combatants "is a vital part of the war on terrorism," that the Supreme Court should reaffirm.
Redgrave, the relatives, and Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil liberties legal group that represents several detainees in the Supreme Court case, want immediate action - and the closure of the Guantanamo military prison.
"It is a total denial of human rights," Redgrave said of the U.S. policy. "Our message is therefore very clear: Every detainee in Guantanamo must be repatriated forthwith to their countries."
If there is evidence, the detainee should be tried in a proper court with due process and punished if found guilty, he said, but if there is no evidence he should be freed.
"We are very, very, confident that sooner rather than later ... they will be free," Redgrave said.
Ratner said the Bush administration appeared to be playing favorites by releasing detainees from countries that have supported the United States in Iraq and elsewhere, like Britain.
"Those who are friends of the U.S." are getting out, but the French "because of their position in the war, got nobody out," he said.
Redgrave, brother of actresses Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave, said it was also "a paradox" that while Britain had been actively negotiating for the return of its detainees, four Britons remain at Guantanamo.
U.S. officials have said they have wide legal latitude to interrogate the detainees for an extended period since national security is at risk.
The relatives and civil rights activists started their U.S. campaign in Washington, where Redgrave said two senators - whom he refused to identify - pledged support, and others promised to raise the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ratner stressed that Guantanamo is also an international issue because the detainees come from 44 countries and international laws, including the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are being violated.
"Shouldn't the 44 countries come together through the United Nations and say, `No! No longer should we have such an international prison camp?"' he asked.
Andre Gerin, the mayor of Venissieux, near Lyon, where Sassi lived, said he came to the United Nations "to question the silence and the indifference of the French authorities."
"I would say the families are very disappointed from the lack of response from governments, political and international institutions, including the United Nations," he said.
Rabiye Kurnaz, mother of detainee Murat Kurnaz, said her son, who was born in Germany but carries a Turkish passport, left Bremen 2½ years ago and she hasn't heard from him for two years.
"If he did something wrong, just give him a fair trial," she pleaded.
By Edith M. Lederer