2000-2009 | United States

Worries about the wrong sort of spin over Guantanamo

Alastair Campbell (University of Salford – CC BY 2.0 ) and Guantanamo inmates (US Navy – public domain.)

16 January 2002

Writing in his diary on 16 January 2002, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, expressed apprehension over the potential political fallout from a recent statement by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Campbell noted that Rumsfeld had admitted ‘he couldn’t care less about the conditions of al-Qaeda/Taliban people in Cuba (Guantanamo Bay).’ The remark had attracted unwelcome media attention which was ‘giving us problems.’1 The most troublesome was that Rumsfeld’s admission contradicted Tony Blair’s earlier assurance that three British citizens who were being detained there as Taliban or al-Qaeda suspects were being treated ‘humanely.’2

It would, Campbell felt, have been far better for Rumsfeld to have given an official response regarding the conditions.  However, on the matter of the ethics of holding the detainees in indefinite confinement in tiny concrete and wire pens, he was relatively indifferent. ‘I wasn’t sure,’ he mused, ‘whether this was a problem or not as a general issue,’ then adding ‘but I was pretty sure talking about it the way Rumsfeld did was not sensible.’3  Yet, despite his uneasiness at Rumsfeld’s comments, he was still ‘frankly taken aback at the scale of the media opposition’ over the failure to comply with international law in the treatment of the detained Jihadi suspects.4

Campbell’s relative indifference to the fate of the detainees and his view of Rumsfeld’s statement as a regrettable tactical error was typical of many of those in government. For al-Qaeda, Rumsfeld’s virtual green light to torture was a huge propaganda gift, proving that the United States, despite its pretensions to be the leader of the free world,  had absolutely no respect for international law. Similarly, Britain, by associating itself so closely with America, demonstrated that it too was happy to act as a rogue state, albeit in the capacity as Washington’s junior partner in international gangsterism.


  1. Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty, The Alastair Campbell Diaries: Volume 4: The Burden of Power – Countdown to Iraq, Arrow Books, London, 2013, pp. 140-141.
  2. ‘Concern Grows Over Cuba Prisoners,” BBC News, 17 January 2002, accessed online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1765431.stm
  3. Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty, Op. cit., pp. 140-141.
  4. Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty, Op. cit., p 142.

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