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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Lawyers call for 'fair' Guantanamo trial
By Mark Doyle
BBC World Affairs Correspondent

The heads of 10 leading legal institutions around the world have urged the United States to give fair trials to the alleged al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects held in Guantanamo Bay.
Guards and a detainee at Guantanamo Bay in 2002
No-one held at Guantanamo has yet been charged with a crime

The suspects, estimated to number over 600, face a US military tribunal.

But the heads of bodies representing lawyers from 10 countries - including the UK, France and Canada - called for them to get a civilian trial in a letter to the British Guardian newspaper.

The detainees in Guantanamo Bay are described by the US as 'Enemy Combatants' outside the normal legal framework.

America says it cannot treat them as normal criminals because of their alleged involvement in the unprecedented 11 September attacks.

It also claims it cannot treat them as ordinary prisoners of war; if so they would be released at the end of hostilities, but the US says its war on terror is open-ended.

Revenge threat

The top lawyers who signed the protest published on Thursday said the Guantanamo prisoners should either face a US civil court or, where appropriate, be returned to their own countries for trial.

Although it seems unlikely that the Bush administration will heed this call, the fate of the prisoners is an extremely serious issue for Washington.

A recent statement reportedly from the top al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri vowed to avenge any judgements in the US base of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The US Secretary for Homeland Security Tom Ridge said he took this threat seriously, that he operated every day on the basis there could be another terror strike.

Gen. Geoffrey Miller, Guantanamo Bay commander
"We are very close to making a recommendation on their transfer back to their home countries"

Clive Stafford Smith, Lawyer
"To see 31 attempted suicides is very worrying"

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