Did you know there was a hunger-strike in progress at Guantánamo Bay? Neither did I until I read it in The Observer last Sunday. Prisoners are on hunger strike because half of them - some 86 - have been cleared for release, only it hasn’t happened. The Observer editorial highlights the case of a British man, Shaker Aamer, who has been cleared for release yet is still being held in Guantánamo. The paper notes that Barack Obama in 2009 promised he would close the detention centre: “The existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained”. The paper goes on to widen its argument, commenting on the damage done to democracy by such detention. “It is a fundamental principle of open and democratic societies that those accused or suspected of serious crimes should be submitted to due legal process within a reasonable time period. Indefinite detention of those cleared of any crime, or if those authorities have insufficient eveidence to prosecute, is a gross violation of human rights”.
I wonder, then, what The Observer would make of the case of Marian Price. She is facing two charges - (i) that she allegedly provided a mobile telephone for a terrorist purpose in March 2009; and (ii) that she aided and abetted a meeting in support of an illegal organisation on 25 April 2012. She had been granted bail but Owen Patterson revoked her licence.
Is four years a “reasonable time period” to be kept awaiting legal process? Is the imprisonment of people on the decision of a British Secretary of State something that looks like justice to you? Gerry Adams in his Ard Fheis speech called for her release and that of Martin Corey, who’s been imprisoned three years now with no reason provided. But Sinn Féin are caught in a cleft stick here, since both Price and Corey are vocal critics of the party and the Good Friday Agreement. Naturally they hang back from shouting too much about the release of two people who would probably repay them by denouncing them as sell-outs.
That’s not a good decision. I remember asking a young Dublin barrister how he felt about taking on cases of people he knew were guilty. His reply was that he sought out such cases, because even those apparently guilty are entitled to the full support of the law. The same applies in the Price-Corey cases. For the very reason that Price and Corey are their political opponents/enemies, Sinn Féin - and every other party - should be exerting themselves to the maximum to secure their release. As John Donne told us not to ask for whom the funeral bell tolls because “it tolls for thee”, so with Price and Corey. While they are in prison without trial or jury, we are all interned. And that should worry us all.