Finally this past week, four inmates at Guantanamo Bay got their day in court that everyone from Amnesty International to the British government said was long overdue.
I went to Guantanamo Bay with a gaggle of 65 journalists, some human rights activists and representatives of foreign governments.
We were there to see the trials, of course, but our presence also helped support the American government claim that a truly open legal process was taking place.
Open is perhaps a bit over-optimistic. All of us covering the trial had to be escorted everywhere on the base, even on the requisite outings to the local bar.
The human rights observers could watch court proceedings, but they could do little else. The diplomats were seldom seen and the scurrying civilian types from Washington who watched the hearings every day were impossible to talk to. They seemed, shall I say, spooked by our curiosity.
The court proceedings were preliminary hearings, the beginnings of the process and they were fascinating. Legally obscure, often complex and ridden with military acronyms, but redeemed always by the chance to see the detainees from Guantanamo Bay in the flesh – men accused of horrible crimes – as human beings, rather than stereotypes.
Among the various dramas, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni, admitted he was Osama Bin Laden’s driver but denied being a member of al-Qaeda.
Ali Hamza al-Bahlul – also a Yemeni – spoke rivetingly in Arabic and seemed to say he was from al-Qaeda. But a shocked military judge stopped him and recessed the court, just as he was about to say what his role in 11 September had been.
Most fascinating to me and other reporters was David Hicks, a 29-year-old Australian.
Now we may well be guilty of the charge that this was because he was a white-skinned convert to Islam, as opposed to an Arab or a Pakistani, who perhaps had rather more reason to take up arms in a militant religious cause.
Each new case raises new points of law and with nearly 600 people awaiting trial in Guantanamo Bay, it could be years or even decades before they get their days in court.