FREE Subscription to our
just enter your email address
View Previous Issues



Blair tells Bush: We don't want Guantanamo Britons

By David Bamber and Rajeev Syal
Telegraph Newspaper
August 3, 2003

The Government has told America that it does not want the Britons held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to be returned for trial in Britain.

Whitehall officials say that the message that Britain does not want its nine detainees returned was conveyed privately to President George W. Bush during the recent visit to Washington by Tony Blair.

The decision comes after advice from government lawyers that it would be very hard to mount a successful prosecution in Britain because of the difficulty in obtaining evidence that is admissible in court. There are also fears that any public trial in Britain would force the disclosure of intelligence operations against al-Qa'eda in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Government is also concerned that the collapse of a prosecution in Britain would anger the public and be politically damaging.

A Whitehall aide said: "The Prime Minister made clear to the president that it was unlikely the men would face trial in Britain and that it could be embarrassing if they were released on their return after the US had branded them as major players in a terrorist network."

Two Britons, Feroz Abbasi, 23, and Moazzam Begg, 35, are among six suspects due to appear in front of American military tribunals that will be conducted partly in secret and without a jury.

Seven other Britons are awaiting a decision on their fate. All were captured in Afghanistan in early 2002, after allegedly fighting for the Taliban.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, publicly offered to repatriate the men in February 2002, if Britain put them on trial, after concerns about their fate were raised by Jack Straw, then the Foreign Secretary.

In an interview with The Telegraph then, Mr Rumsfeld said that he was willing to "let as many countries as possible have any of their nationals they would like".

He added: "They can handle the prosecution. I have no desire to fill up our jails and spend time and money holding people."

Mr Straw did not take him up on the offer, leading to accusations of Government backsliding from the families of the detainees.

One senior Government official added: "The legal advice is that they could not be tried in Britain. Even to begin proceedings we would need statements and eyewitness accounts which we know we haven't got."

Habib Rasul, whose younger brother Shafiq has been held in Guantanamo Bay for more than 19 months, last night accused the Government of being "cowardly" and of failing to have faith in British justice.