Bush takes criticism over Guantanamo

By Stephen Castle and Francis Elliott

The Independent

27 June 2004

An embattled President George Bush faced European criticism yesterday over US treatment of prisoners in the "war on terror" while winning grudging support for his efforts to stabilise Iraq.

Three hours of talks in the west of Ireland between President Bush and EU leaders produced a declaration of support for the interim government in Iraq. But the summit also called for fair treatment of prisoners - a reference to the abuse of captives in Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Mr Bush, who stayed just 18 hours in Ireland, last night left for Turkey, where he was due to meet Nato leaders, including Tony Blair and France's President Jacques Chirac, tomorrow. Hosting the briefest of summits amid the tightest security, the Irish authorities kept protesters well away from the luxury hotel complex at which the talks were held, though larger demonstrations took place in Dublin on Friday night.

Security will be even tighter in Istanbul, where a 23,000-strong force has been drafted in to guard the summit. Two bombs in Turkey killed four people last week; another blast occurred yesterday, although there were no fatalities.

At the EU-US summit, both sides did their best to paper over the stark differences that accompanied last year's Iraq war, agreeing that it was in everyone's interest to stabilise the country. "I think the bitter differences over the war are over," Mr Bush told a press conference. "We all agree a democratic and peaceful Iraq, with its territorial integrity intact, is in all our benefit." The carefully scripted declaration promised help with reconstruction and backed a US-endorsed request from the Iraqi interim government for help from the West to train its security forces.

But it also called for "full respect" for the Geneva Conventions, the international accord that includes guidelines for the humane treatment of prisoners. That was seen as a clear reference to the abuse of captives at Abu Ghraib and the detention without trial of suspectsat Guantanamo Bay.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Blair has made a direct personal appeal to Mr Bush to send home the four remaining British detainees held there. Details of the request are laid out in court papers submitted by the Government to defend itself against legal action being brought by two of the men detained in the prison. The revelation followed a public denunciation by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, of US plans to try detainees in military courts.

The Irish premier, Bertie Ahern, who chaired yesterday's summit because Ireland holds the EU presidency, said he had raised the issue with Mr Bush. Acknowledging European outrage over the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Mr Bush said he was "sick with what happened inside that prison", adding: "It did harm, it did harm because people in Ireland and elsewhere said this is not the America we know. This isn't the America we believe exists."

The issue of Iraq will also dominate tomorrow's Nato summit in Istanbul, as the alliance gives the go-ahead for a strictly limited increase in its role in the war-torn country. France and Germany, which opposed the war, have ruled out the deployment of Nato troops - which the US wants - even though 16 of the 26 alliance nations contribute to forces there bilaterally.