Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Blair has petitioned Bush for return of Guantanamo Brits

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has asked US President George W. Bush to send home the four remaining Britons in Guantanamo Bay, amid mounting calls for the British government to increase its pressure on Washington to end alleged human rights abuses.

Court papers reveal the UK prime minister's direct plea to Bush. They form the British government's formal defense to a legal action brought by lawyers for two of the remaining prisoners seeking a court order compelling Britain to formally demand their return.

The UK's defense states: "The United Kingdom government is continuing to seek the return of the four remaining prisoners and the prime minister has made a direct request to President Bush to that effect."

The four prisoners alleged by the US to be terrorists have been held without trial, charge or access to lawyers for up to two and one-half years. Blair has been condemned for doing too little to secure their release from conditions that have caused worldwide outrage.

On Friday the UK attorney-general Lord Goldsmith said the military tribunals planned by the US at Guantanamo Bay broke international standards. In a speech made after months of talks with US officials, Lord Goldsmith said the right to a fair trial was inviolable.

"We in the UK have been unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantanamo Bay offer sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards," he said.

Louise Christian, the lawyer who brought the legal action, said the UK government had been very likely to lose.

The court papers say that Washington fears the Britons will pose a danger if released: "The US government has expressed security concerns regarding the return of these prisoners." They also reveal that the US snubbed an earlier UK request for the return.

On March 29 a British government letter to Christian made no mention of Blair's direct intervention with Bush.

After this month's UK election defeats, disquiet grew among rank-and-file members of Blair's Labour Party about Blair's closeness to the White House. The former UK foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said: "It's striking how little we have received in return for all Tony Blair has done for the Bush administration."

The case against the British government is now likely to be adjourned, because the lawyers of the Guantanamo prisoners feel their demands have been met.

Christian said the looming case forced the UK government's hand: "They would have been in quite serious trouble in the court case. We would have had a very good chance of success. They know the level of judicial concern about Guantanamo Bay."

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