The U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay discredits the American tradition as a beacon of freedom and justice and should close, Britain's attorney general said Wednesday.
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith called the Guantanamo camp's existence "unacceptable," the strongest condemnation of the prison by a British government official.
"The existence of Guantanamo Bay remains unacceptable," he said in a speech. "It is time in my view that it should close. ... The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, of liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol."
Goldsmith's criticism was far stronger than that of Prime Minister Tony Blair whenever he is asked about Guantanamo. Only 10 of the current 490 detainees at Guantanamo have been charged with war crimes.
Blair has often said the prison is an anomaly that will eventually have to close, but he will go no further. He always prefaces his criticism by saying it is important to understand the threat the United States faces and the fact that many of those imprisoned were picked up on battlefields in Afghanistan.
Goldsmith, whose job is to advise the British government on legal matters, made no such comment.
"Not only would it in my personal opinion be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many right or wrong of injustice," he said.
Blair's office was aware of the planned speech earlier Wednesday. Asked about reports that Goldsmith would criticize the U.S. government over the camp, Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister believed there was a "genuine dilemma" because U.S. officials believed many of the detainees were dangerous and could not be released.
In Washington, Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said "at some time in the future we would like nothing better" than to close the prison. But he said there are dangerous people being detained there, and the U.S. doesn't want premature releases in which they then resume attacks on US and other personnel.
Goldsmith, who met with U.S. officials to discuss the fate of nine British citizens who were detained in Guantanamo, said Britain had not been able to accept U.S. proposals for military tribunals for the detainees. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide in June whether the tribunals are legal.
"There are certain principles on which there can be no compromise," Goldsmith said. "Fair trial is one of those, which is the reason we in the United Kingdom were unable to accept that the United States military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantanamo Bay offered sufficient guarantees of fair trial in accordance with international standards."
He said he was pleased all the British detainees had been freed and returned home. The government has also intervened on behalf of an Iraq-born British resident still being held, reports AP.