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Grenada: Forerunner to Guantanamo sees 'Grenada 17' Still Imprisoned 20 Years On

The report, The Grenada 17: Last of the Cold War Prisoners documents arbitrary detention without charge, appalling detention conditions and allegations of torture, leading up to an unfair trial that found all 17 guilty and sentenced them to death (later commuted to life imprisonment).

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The parallels with the current human rights violations taking place in Guantanamo Bay are startling. These people were initially held without charge in cages, before being tried before an unfair, ad-hoc tribunal. They were denied access to legal counsel and to documents needed for their defence.

'After sentencing, the Grenada 17 were held in tiny cells with lights left permanently on. It is entirely unacceptable that twenty years on, more people are suffering near-identical abuses of their basic rights.

'Unless these convictions are judicially reviewed, the Grenada 17 should be immediately released.'

The report reveals that after being detained incommunicado for up to 12 days in cages and wooden crates on board US ships, the Grenada 17 were put before a US-financed ad-hoc tribunal in Grenada. Despite the Grenadian Court of Appeal finding the tribunal unconstitutional, the trials were allowed to continue. None of the 17 were allowed to have legal counsel present during interrogation, and eleven of them alleged that they were tortured to extract the confessions used against them in court.

Prior to the trial, the Court removed its registrar and the jury that he had selected. They appointed in his place a member of the prosecution team, who selected an entirely new jury, abandoning Grenadian jury-selection rules. During the trial, jury members reportedly made hostile comments to the accused, referring to them as 'murderers' and 'criminals'.

Amnesty International is urging the Grenadian authorities to establish an independent judicial review of the convictions of the Grenada 17, detained in the context of the invasion of the island by US forces, in the light of the irregularities documented.

Lesley Warner added: 'Amnesty International believes that the Grenada 17 cannot continue to be imprisoned on the grounds of a conviction obtained in gross violation of international standards governing fair trials.

'To continue to imprison them on the basis of such a fatally flawed procedure would be to continue the injustice.'

The report also expresses concern at the appeal procedure, which upheld the death sentences in the cases of all 14 defendants convicted of murder. A document released by the US revealed contact between the Grenadian Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Political Office of the US Embassy regarding the appeal. To date, the written opinion of the Grenadian Court of Appeal has not been published or provided to the defendents.

Background Information In October 1988, a violent confrontation involving high-ranking members of the ruling New Jewel Movement, army officers and others, led to the killing of the Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and some of his supporters. Six days later on 25 October, the United States of America led an invasion of Grenada, citing concerns around the safety of its citizens on the islands among other reasons.

Numerous people were detained by the invading forces in connection with the October killings. Eventually Bernard Coard, Phyllis Coard, Hudson Austin, Ewart Layne, Selwyn Strachan, Liam James, Leon Cornwall, Dave Bartholomew, John Ventour, Colville McBarnette, Christopher Stroude, Lester Redhead, Calistus Bernard, Cecil Prime, Andy Mitchell, Vincent Joseph, and Cosmos Richardson, known as the Grenada 17, were tried and convicted.

The trial took place in an atmosphere of hostility towards the 17 and resulted in 14 being sentenced to death and 3 to long terms of imprisonment. The death sentences were commuted a few years later.

Amnesty International has monitored their incarceration and legal processing since the tragic events of October 1983. Amnesty International does not take a position on the actual guilt or innocence of the Grenada 17 but does believe that the unfairness of the legal proceedings against them must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

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