London Press Watch

Jan. 23 2002 2:17 PM

London Press Watch

Doing the splits.

At a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld spoke of his desire to "tap down some of this hyperbole" over the treatment of captured al-Qaida members at the Guantanamo naval base. Peddlers of such "hyperbole" presumably include The Guardian, which on Monday proclaimed that the "Camp X-Ray row threatens first British split with U.S." The conditions at Guantanamo were straining Anglo-American relations, the paper reported, and a major row between the allies loomed. Rumsfeld had a point. The Guardian didn't get it quite right. Although many British columnists are outraged by the apparent indignities endured by the prisoners, British officials—who visited Camp X-Ray over the weekend—said that conditions were "basic but fit" and that the American commander of the prison had been "helpful and open throughout the visit". As Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, keeps reminding us, official U.S.-British relations are as jolly as ever. "The British Government's position," Straw said a couple of day ago, "is that prisoners—regardless of their technical status—should be treated humanely and in accordance with customary international law. We have always made that clear, and the Americans have said they share this view."

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The Guardian's discovery of the "first British split" with the United States is odd, given that it and its sister paper, TheObserver, have on at least two previous occasions identified similar rifts. By The Guardian's own logic, this was their third, not their first "split". On Dec. 16, The Observer's Kamal Ahmed and Ed Vuillamy reported on a deepening rift between Britain and the U.S. over Israel. Earlier, on Nov. 9, Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor wrote of "splits" over the conduct of the military campaign in Afghanistan—although three days later, Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance with the assistance of American and British special forces. In so far as they ever existed, The Guardian's "splits" have a capacity to disappear without trace that's matched only by Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar.