Guantanamo and Belmarsh (2003)

This is the text of a statement given at the Royal Court Theatre. December 10th 2003

After September 11th the state gave us a stark message. The world had changed. Under the new state of emergency certain rights would have to be suspended. If we were to protect ourselves, legal and ethical corners would have to be cut.

The detention camp at Guantanamo Bay has become the symbol of our new diminished democracy. It is certainly an ugly one. Yet we are assured it is necessary. After all, we are living in wartime. However the so-called War on Terror looks increasingly like a war without end. We are certainly terrorised. We are certainly afraid. Presumably a war on terror ends when we stop feeling afraid. Until then we will carry on making war on an ill-defined enemy, without any idea of whether we are winning or losing. And we will carry on detaining people without trial.

We will never completely abolish fear, and our leaders believe that as long as we are afraid, and the object of that fear remains shadowy and many-headed, we will consent to live under this diminished set of democratic rights and standards. We will, of course, aspire to the rights we used to have, but they will appear as ideals, or hazy memories of a halcyon past, rather than reality. Reality will be much more brutal. We may begin perhaps to accept a little rape here, a little torture there. We will still, after all, be living in wartime.

Meanwhile, detainees will continue to disappear into a void, and their families will have to exist in a state of limbo. The guilt or innocence of the British prisoners in Guantanamo Bay appears to be a matter of indifference to our government and I find it hard to escape the conclusion that were these young men white and middle-class, the outcry against their continued imprisonment would be very much greater than it is.

If Britain wishes to fight bigotry and hatred, it must do so by demonstrating that its standards are worthy of emulation, that its democracy is real and worth defending, rather than a convenient abstraction to be waved about in front of other countries as a cloak for land-grabbing or aggression.

Detention without trial is a political attack on us all. Its use demeans Britain and America and destroys the moral authority of democracy in the world at a time when that moral authority is our only true defense against the ideology of terrorism. This is why we must not forget the Guantanamo Bay detainees. That is why they must receive swift and open justice.

[Hari Kunzru is a patron of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, which aims to secure the right of the detainees to be charged and tried according to the standards of US and international law.]