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UK accused over Guantanamo nine

Chris Summers / BBC | October 5 2006

The lawyer acting for nine UK residents being held at Guantanamo Bay has said the Americans would send them home now if Britain gave the go-ahead.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said this week: "We could not take people back into the UK on terms that we could not legally deliver."

But Clive Stafford Smith told the BBC News website this was disingenuous.

The US has reportedly asked for the men to be kept under 24-hour surveillance if they are sent back to Britain.

Mr Stafford Smith called on the British government to stand up for "justice and the rule of law".

"If the British government were to say tomorrow that it welcomed them back to their families then the US government would send them straight back," he said.

"The Americans want to get rid of them."

Lord Falconer said this week there was "continuing dialogue" with the US over the Cuba detainees.

Nine British citizens were released in January 2005, returned to Britain and, after being questioned for several days by anti-terrorist detectives, were reunited with their families.

Mr Stafford Smith said none of them had since caused any problems in Britain and he said he could guarantee the nine residents currently being held would similarly pose no security risk.

He said: "They just want to be back with their families. Several of them have British wives and British children and they would accept any conditions - including electronic tags or whatever - to get out of Guantanamo.

He said it was absurd to think that the British authorities were going to "orphan those children because they won't stand up for what is decent".

Mr Stafford Smith said the government's argument - that it could not accept the nine under the conditions imposed by the US - did not hold water.

He pointed out that the German Chancellor had won the return of a Turkish man who was a German resident, Murat Kurnaz, in August.

Human rights

"Angela Merkel, who is not known for being a leftie, made it the top issue in her discussions with (President) Bush and he was released without any restrictions or preconditions," said Mr Stafford Smith.

He said the nine British residents had been tortured and denied their human rights throughout their stay at Guantanamo and had in some cases made confessions to end their torture.

He pointed out that many of the detainees had not been captured in Afghanistan and had solid alibis.

"Two of my clients were arrested in the Gambia and a third has wageslips proving that he was actually cooking eggs in a London restaurant at the time he was supposedly learning how to make bombs in Afghanistan," he said.

Lord Falconer has previously described Guantanamo as a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy" and earlier this week he said there was a danger it would boost al-Qaeda's cause.

He said: "Every time we fail to stand by our values we run the risk of acting as recruiting sergeants for terrorism."

Mr Stafford Smith said he agreed with Lord Falconer that Guantanamo was a better aid to al-Qaeda recruitment than any amount of propaganda and he added: "You just have to look at our own experience with internment in Northern Ireland, which gave a huge boost to the IRA".

Having recently returned from his 14th visit to Guantanamo Bay, Mr Stafford Smith said the situation inside the camp was deteriorating, with the US military authorities becoming more and more paranoid.

He said he himself had been accused of inciting three inmates to commit suicide and had been threatened with detention by the US authorities.

There was no difference between British citizen Moazzam Begg and the UK residents still in Guantanamo, he went on.

"Compare him with Shaker Aamer," he said of Moazzam Begg. "They were very close friends, lived together for a while and were taken to Guantanamo at roughly the same time. Begg is now free but Aamer is still locked up.

'Sad, not frustrated'

"The only difference is the extent to which the British government is prepared to go in to bat for them," he said.

Mr Stafford Smith said he saw no endgame in sight but said: "Rather than being frustrated, I'm just sad."

He said the UN had urged the closure of the camp and accused the US of using torture and added: "Every single leader - China, Russia, even Tony Blair - has said that these people should either be given a fair trial or set free."


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