Britain has declined to accept the return of nearly all of the former British residents held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because they have no legal right to return, the Guardian reported yesterday.
Authorities in the US are also demanding that Britain maintain 24-hour surveillance on the detainees if they are set free, something Britain regards as unnecessary and requiring too many of its anti-terror resources.
Britain is interested in taking back just one man held at the base -- Bisher al-Rawi -- who reportedly helped intelligence service MI5 keep watch on extremist Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who has been arrested, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed senior British sources.
A spokesman for Britain's foreign ministry said that the country is "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," he said.
"We regard the circumstances under which detainees continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay as unacceptable. As the prime minister has said, Guantanamo should be closed," he said.
At least nine former British residents have been held at Guantanamo for more than four years.
The Guardian reported that the US State Department confirmed that there are "ongoing diplomatic negotiations."
"I am not satisfied it would be proportionate to impose ... the kind of obligations which might be necessary to satisfy the US administration," wrote William Nye, the director of counter-terrorism and intelligence at the Home Office, in a witness statement seen by the Guardian.
"The use of such resources ... could not be justified and would damage the protection of the UK's national security," he said.
The report comes after Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer, Britain's de facto justice minister, criticized the controversial base in a speech before Australian senators, MPs, judges and academics at the Australian Supreme Court 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.
More recently, the US Senate on Thursday passed controversial new rules on interrogating and prosecuting "war on terror" suspects, despite opponents who said the measure seriously curtails detainees' rights.
The legislation had become a major battleground in a national debate, pitting measures to safeguard the country from terrorism against the need to protect civil liberties.