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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 November, 2003, 11:36 GMT
Guantanamo Britons deal 'close'
Shafiq Rasul
Shafiq Rasul has no case to answer, Stafford Smith claims
A deal to repatriate British terror suspects held by the US at Guantanamo Bay could be finalised by Christmas, according to reports.

The nine Britons could be flown back to the UK whether or not they are charged with any crimes, The Observer claims.

The report was welcomed by campaign group Fair Trials Abroad but raised concerns that it could be a "shabby" deal based on forced confessions.

The British Foreign Office refused to say whether such a deal was close.

A spokeswoman said discussions with the US were continuing at all levels.

"The British Government have made it clear we have reservations about military commissions and have been raising this and other issues, including the return of detainees to the UK," she said.

There is a real risk that they could be put under a special category when they arrive back in Britain
Stephen Jakobi
Fair Trials Abroad

The US is keen to return the Britons to the UK to end tension over the issue, the Observer claimed.

The father of Moazzam Begg, one of the British detainees at Camp Delta, said his family was "very happy" that his son could return to Britain by Christmas.

Azmat Begg, from Moseley, Birmingham, said: "I think it's a good move, provided the deal is fair."

It has been claimed that Moazzam Begg has admitted being part of an al-Qaeda plan to fly an unmanned aircraft over London to drop anthrax bombs on Parliament.

But his father said: "A confession without a lawyer is of no value and it's not right. I hope they will have a very fair deal - it then depends on what they have agreed."

Emergency powers?

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, said the "devil was in the detail" of a possible deal.

"Anything that stops the prisoners coming under the laws and fundamental rights of Britain will be a shabby deal," he said.

"There is a real risk that they could be put under a special category when they arrive back in Britain which puts them under emergency legislation brought in quickly by the House of Commons."

And human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said: "This deal will most likely consist of the British having to plead guilty on some nonsense charge".

Mr Stafford Smith, who is based in the US, told the Observer: "The British Government has finally realised it has to help the Americans out of the corner they have painted themselves into."

He claimed that most of the Britons would have to plead guilty to an offence, the sentence for which would be served back in the UK.

But he suggested that two of the nine British detainees, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, the so-called "Tipton Two", could be freed outright.

"It seems highly improbable that Iqbal and Rasul will be charged with anything," he said. "There simply is nothing there."

'Monstrous failure'

Last week US secretary of state Colin Powell appeared to have dashed hopes of an early deal over the nine Britons held by the US in Guantanamo Bay.

Shafiq Rasul, 24, of Tipton, West Midlands
Asif Iqbal, 20, of Tipton
Ruhal Ahmed, 20, of Tipton
Martin Mubanga, 29, from north London
Jamal Udeen, 35, from Manchester
Richard Belmar, 23, from London
Tarek Dergoul, 24, from east London
Moazzam Begg, 35, from Birmingham
Feroz Abbasi, 23, from south London

Seven were still being questioned to ascertain whether "they have done something wrong", he told the Guardian.

And there were still "legal issues" to be settled over two, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzem Begg, who had been listed as due to face a military commission.

Hopes had been raised during US President George Bush's state visit to the UK that a deal on the Britons, held on suspicion of being Taleban or al-Qaeda suspects, was imminent.

One of Britain's top judges, Lord Justice Steyn, condemned the detentions at Guantanamo Bay as "a monstrous failure of justice".

The judge said the detainees were being deliberately held beyond the rule of law and the protection of any courts.

The BBC's Linden Kemkaran
"The situation is an embarrassment to the governments on both sides of the Atlantic"

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