Tue, Mar 09, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US makes case against British terror suspects

REUTERS , LONDON

Senior US officials have revealed the case against four British terror suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to counter pressure from London for their release, a British newspaper reported yesterday.

The unnamed officials for the first time broke a silence about around 640 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to say the Britons posed "a serious threat" and would continue to fight if released, the Daily Telegraph said.

The report comes as Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett promised to take up the issue with US President George W. Bush's administration during a trip to Washington this week after criticising the way the men were being treated.

"People have a right to legal representation and to challenge the decisions taken," Blunkett told Sky News on Sunday. "That is not the case in Guantanamo Bay and I shall be raising ... the situation of the four who remain there and the conditions under which they are held."

Last month officials announced five of the nine British detainees would be released. Those men are expected to return home this week and are likely to be set free after being questioned by anti-terror police.

However, the other four -- Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga -- remain captive. Two of them are among a small group designated for trial before military commissions.

Britain -- Washington's closest ally in the "war on terror" -- has said it wants the men to be tried in accordance with international standards or returned home.

US officials told the paper the four remaining captives had trained at al Qeada camps in Afghanistan where they learnt bomb-making, assassination and urban warfare skills.

They dismissed claims the men were picked up in a crude sweep by US forces in Afghanistan saying one of the men had met Osama bin Laden three times and had agreed to carry out suicide missions.

"In Britain, we've gotten no information out about these guys at all," one unnamed senior official was quoted as saying, adding there was disappointment that the British government had not done more to explain why the men were considered a threat.

"We have ceded the public relations ground to those who would say that these people are entirely innocent," the official said.

But a lawyer representing families of two detainees hit back, saying no reliance could be placed on the allegations.

"They [the detainees] have no way of responding to these allegations because they aren't allowed a voice because they have no access to lawyers," Louise Christian said.

"It's a PR battle in which they [the US government] have got all the cards."

Later yesterday, the UK-based Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, made up of family members and supporters of the detainees, will stage a march to the White House.

The group includes Briton Terry Waite, who was held captive for almost five years by Islamic militants in Lebanon. He has likened his experiences to those of the inmates at Guantanamo.

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