US offers to free terrorism inmates
Ian Cobain and Vikram Dodd – The Guardian October 4, 2006
The US has offered to return nearly all British residents held at Guantanamo Bay after months of secret talks in Washington.
But the British Government has refused to accept the men, as senior officials say they have no legal right to return because they are not British citizens.
Documents obtained by <>The Guardian<> also show that US authorities are demanding that the prisoners be kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free - restrictions that are dismissed by the British as unnecessary and unworkable.
Although all are accused of terrorist involvement, Britain says there is no intelligence to warrant the measures Washington wants, and it lacks the resources to implement them. "They do not pose a sufficient threat," said the director of counter-terrorism at the Home Office, William Nye.
At least nine former British residents have been detained without trial at Guantanamo for more than four years after being taken prisoner in the so-called war on terrorism. Their lawyers say some have suffered appalling mistreatment. The Australian David Hicks successfully applied for British citizenship but it was later withdrawn, and the British Government has not lobbied on his behalf.
With the US Government anxious to scale down and eventually close its prison at the Cuban base, the State Department is putting pressure on the British Government to allow some to return. Foreign Office officials have denied that any talks have taken place.
The US State Department confirmed there are "ongoing diplomatic negotiations", as the documents show. They were written by senior counter-terrorism officials at the Home Office and Foreign Office at a time when some ministers were voicing their harshest criticism of Guantanamo.
The report comes after Britain's Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, criticised the controversial base in a speech before Australian MPs, judges and academics at the High Court in Canberra last month.
"It is because of that principle that the USA, deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law in Guantanamo Bay, is so shocking an affront to the principles of democracy," he said.
A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Ministry told Agence France-Presse yesterday that the country was "not in a position to provide consular or diplomatic assistance to foreign nationals in Guantanamo Bay".
"However, we have exceptionally met the families and representatives of these men and have conveyed their concerns to the US on a humanitarian basis."
The documents are witness statements from David Richmond, director-general of defence and intelligence at the Foreign Office, and Mr Nye.
Mr Richmond wrote: "The British embassy in Washington was told in mid-June 2006 that, during an internal meeting between US officials, the possibility had been floated of asking the UK Government to consider taking back all the detainees at Guantanamo who had formerly been resident in the UK. Information about what had occurred at this meeting had been fed back informally to the embassy, and the UK Government wished to clarify the significance of this idea."
The talks have been held against the backdrop of a growing realisation within the Bush Administration that it would be in the interests of the US to shut down the camp
Last updated 05/10/2006