The Guardian have an editorial about Binyam Mohamed’s return to the UK. It’s titled a A Casualty of War, but they don’t really think he is a casualty of war. When discussing the culpability for the alleged harm done to Binyam Mohamed, they say:
the lingering suspicion is that the fault goes well beyond one or two rogue MI6 men, and up to the top where a decision was made not to ask awkward questions about the way in which George W Bush’s Washington was waging its self-proclaimed “war on terror”.
With the demise of the regime that coined it, that dangerous phrase has now fallen from fashion. But the damage done to British and American justice in its name is only starting to be understood.
It was only in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York that George Bush was awakened from his isolationist slumber to declare his war; and we should note in passing that war was actually declared on the United States in 1998 by Al Qaeda. However, I suppose that doesn’t count, because many are still ununwilling to accept one can be at war with a non-state actor. They still cling to the out-moded idea that only states can be at war.
Except they don’t. Mysteriously, critics of the “War on Terror” still classify both Iraq and Afghanistan as wars, despite the fact that neither in Iraq or Afghanistan are the US or the UK at war with a state. They are in fact at war with the non-state actors we are supposedly not able to fight a war against. And at war with them we are. It’s a point made by David Arronovitch in an excellent article at The Times:
But there is no more War on Terror. Except, as my friend Professor Norman Geras has been pointing out, Barack Obama has found phrases that mean exactly the same thing, such as this from the inauguration: “Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”
Or this: “The United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism…” Professor Geras calls it “the struggle formerly known as the War on Terror”.
So Binyam may be back, Barack may be in the White House, but the truth is that the problem remains.
The war formerly known as the war on terror (FKATWOT) has been tracked by Norman Geras since Obama’s election. News that Pakistan are allowing the Taliban to focus their attacks on NATO means the war FKATWOT will continue for some time.
News coverage of Binyam Mohamed’s return to the UK, and the photograph of him leaving the plane, reminded me of the return of the Islamic Jihad hostages John McCarthy and Terry Waite. There are few parallels. As David Arronovitch notes:
The US alleges, partly as a result of Mr Mohamed’s own confessions (he claims, made under duress), that he had attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and had been plotting a Richard Reid-type attack in the West. But no charges have been, or will be, brought.
I can’t honestly say that I believe Mr Mohamed’s account, partly because it was a long way to travel for drug rehab, and partly because it reminds me of the case of the Tipton Three, whose odd journey through the Afghan war to American prison was supposedly chronicled in Michael Winterbottom’s 2006 film, The Road to Guantánamo.
In that movie the three young men were depicted travelling to Pakistan for a wedding, getting bored, becoming part of a humanitarian relief column to Afghanistan, sitting around Kabul eating naan bread, taking the wrong taxi and ending up in a war zone. I noted at the time that the film had obscured both the timeline and the nature of the places visited by the Tipton boys, but still had to agree that their story could be true. Wrong. A year later one admitted to Channel 4 that they had indeed had weapons training in a jihadi camp. The humanitarian, accidental stuff was lies.
Nor is it the case that everyone held at Guantánamo could either be charged or was guiltless. Three weeks ago two former inmates turned up as senior al-Qaeda figures in Yemen, one of whom had subsequently been involved in bombing a US embassy.