World Media Review: Guantanamo Leaves Europeans Queasy

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Europe: Guantanamo alarm

Call 'em squeamish if you like, but America's European partners in the war on terrorism are increasingly alarmed over those Al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. All across the continent newspapers challenged the U.S. view that the captives fall outside of the Geneva Convention. Britain's Guardian contests the U.S. contention that the men are "unlawful combatants" with a careful reading of the Geneva Convention. And the point is echoed by Richard Goldstone, the respected international jurist and former chief prosecutor of the Hague tribunal. "Either they're prisoners of war, in which case they are entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention," says Goldstone. "(Or) if they're not prisoners of war, they are common criminals and they should be brought to trial in the U.S. if it wishes to do that. The best solution, it seems to me, would be for them to be placed before an international criminal court."

Guardian commentator Hugo Young was even more forthright, warning that "Guantanamo could be where America and Europe part company." He writes: "Secret hearings in military tribunals, of EU citizens who might face execution, will offend every European instinct. If that's what happens, even short of the execution factor, America can expect its own long drawn-out vengeance on al-Qaeda to be matched by a European public opinion increasingly roused against it. For, contrary to the myth of Anglo-America's unique respect for individual liberties, the continental ethic of human rights is even stronger."

Even the conservative Daily Telegraph has qualms over Guantanamo. Columnist Alice Thomson agrees with shackling and even hooding and drugging the prisoners en route — "al Qaeda doesn't have a great reputation when it comes to aircraft. But I mind the shark cages, with their concrete floors open to the elements and the 24-hour halogen flood lights, left near mosquito-infested swamps, so the prisoners can catch malaria when some already have tuberculosis." She argues that this "vindictive" prison regime undermines the morality of what has been achieved in Afghanistan.

The Economist notes that "the unique attraction of Guantanamo Bay… is not its remote location or shark-infested waters, but that it seems to lie beyond the jurisdiction of America's federal courts, or any other court system for that matter." And like much of the European media, it finds Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's comments that "I do not feel the slightest concern at their treatment; they are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else" as an unacceptable legal standard. The British magazine offers a thoughtful assessment of the various legal options open to the U.S. and concludes with a cautionary note: "America is fighting for the very concept that no one, not even terrorists, are beyond the reach of the law — but that has to mean the law's protections, as well as its punishments."

Cuba: Castro offers exterminators

Cuba, which rejects the continued U.S. presence on its territory at Guantanamo, has interestingly chosen to fudge the issue. A government statement carried in the official daily Granma noted that "Despite the fact that we hold different positions as to the most efficient way to eradicate terrorism, the difference between Cuba and the United States lies in the method and not in the need to put an end to that scourge." The statement says the Castro government is satisfied by assurances from Washington that the operation poses no threat to Cuba's security. Havana also offers cooperation in respect of any medical, sanitation and pest-control needs that may arise. Yes, pest-control.

Middle East: A predictable escalation

By week's end, though, the Guantanamo issue had been supplanted on the front pages by gruesome tales of the terror attack in the northern Israeli town of Hadera. Haaretz commentator Amos Harel could be forgiven for his eerily prescient prediction of the aftermath of last weekend's assassination of Fatah militant Raed Karmi: "There was no need for a degree in political strategy to make an educated guess yesterday about how this week would go," Harel wrote a day before the Hadera attack. "Revenge by Karmi's Fatah colleagues in the West Bank, and a sharp rise in the number of shooting incidents in the West Bank, particularly in the northern sector. A harsh military response by Israel in the territories followed by renewed Palestinian attempts to conduct suicide bombings inside (Israel)." Harel questions the timing of Karmi's assassination, given the relative lull in violence that had followed Yasser Arafat's mid-December cease-fire call.

Fears that the latest escalation could plunge peace efforts back into the deep freeze appear to be confirmed by a Jerusalem Post report that a senior Israeli military officer has suggested that Israel may have to reoccupy territories ceded to Arafat under the Oslo Accord. And it's not just a hawkish general who's thinking that way. The Post also reports that Labor Party leader Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on Thursday justified his decision to remain in Ariel Sharon's unity cabinet with a claim that he and his colleagues had managed to block a cabinet proposal to recapture territory and force Arafat out of the West Bank and Gaza.

But despite the escalation, there are also small but significant and growing signs of new thinking emerging in the region. The Jerusalem Post carried a commentary by leftwing parliamentarian Naomi Chazan on a recent Israeli-Palestinian sit-down in South Africa, in which both sides apprised themselves of the lessons of that country's near-miraculous negotiated peaceful transition away from minority rule. And in Egypt's official Al Ahram, commentator Hani Shukrallah offers a withering critique of an intifada hijacked by suicide bombers. "The Biblical Samson strikes a ridiculous, rather than heroic, figure," he writes. "Not to mention that our attempts to bring down the temple over the heads of our enemies as well as our own invariably miss the enemy altogether. Not only do we manage to lose a great many more heads than does the enemy, but (and by now this should be starkly clear to the blindest of us) killing civilians (few or many, innocent or not) does nothing, absolutely nothing, to weaken the enemy. It makes him stronger and more voracious. Sharon, we all seem to agree, practically wills Palestinian suicide operations."

Will Bin Laden genes sell jeans?

First there was Osama air freshener in Chile, then Osama bin Laden candies in Pakistan. Now one of the al Qaeda leader's 53 siblings is planning to turn the family name into a fashion label. Britain's Guardian reports that Geneva-based Yeslam Binladin, who spells his name differently from his notorious brother, had registered the name for a moderately priced fashion range for Arab and European markets long before September 11. And he has no intention of changing his plans. "The name is one of the most famous names in the world," Yeslam's lawyer was quoted as saying. "We think that people are able to distinguish between Osama and the rest of the family." And even if they don't, fashion loves a little notoriety.