tells Bush: We don't want Guantanamo Britons
By David Bamber and Rajeev Syal
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
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
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