[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Britain 'concerned' over US terror trials
Inmates at Guantanamo Bay
There are at least 680 people being held at Guantanamo Bay

The UK Government has expressed its concern at the possibility that British citizens held in Guantanamo Bay may have to face trial by military tribunals.

There are at least 680 suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban members at the US naval base in Cuba.

US President George W Bush decided on Thursday that six of them, including Britons Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi and Australian David Hicks, should face trial in a military tribunal rather than in a regular court.

The announcement sparked a wave of protest from human rights groups who said the tribunals would be a "legal black hole".

The UK's Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons said the government was concerned about the men's access to lawyers, the standards of evidence and their rights to appeal in the case of any guilty verdicts.

We are upholders of civilised values and we can't devalue those by not allowing people access to a proper legal system
Roger Godsiff
Mozzam Begg's MP
"America has decided that they want to be the detaining power and that they want to hold the trials there.

"It is now up to us to have a very vigorous discussion with the US about securing a fair trial for the individuals involved," she told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme.

"It now behoves on the government to vigorously pursue the issues about access to lawyers, about standards of evidence and about any appeals procedure.

There are a number of important differences between military tribunals and civilian courts:

  • Convictions in civilian courts must be unanimous, while military tribunals could convict by a two-thirds majority.

  • Different rules of evidence apply, with lower standards for admission.

  • Defendants are not guaranteed the right to appeal against convictions in military tribunals.

  • Civilian trials must be open to the public, military tribunals can be held in secret.

Some critics of military tribunals warn that, in general, many of the protections afforded to defendants in civilian courts do not necessarily apply in military tribunals.

But US Department of Defense guidelines for "War on Terror" tribunals specify that defendants have the right to a lawyer, to know the charges against them, and to examine the evidence, among other safeguards guaranteed in civilian courts.

Roger Godsiff, the Labour MP who represents Moazzam Begg said any military tribunal would be "totally unacceptable".

"It would be very wrong of us not to put these people on trial in a proper court of law," he told the BBC.

"We are upholders of civilised values and we can't devalue those by not allowing people access to a proper legal system which is one of the building blocks of democracy.

Human rights groups have also expressed outrage at the planned use of military tribunals to try the terror suspects.

Terror suspects Feroz Abbasi (l) and Moazzam Begg (r)
Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg are among those facing the tribunals
Neil Durkin, a spokesman for the human rights organisation Amnesty International said the detainees would not have a fair trial.

"It is being done outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court without the protection of the US constitution," he told BBC News Online.

However Colonel Will Gunn, the chief defence lawyer in military trials, said he would push for the proceedings to be as open as possible, saying the US would be judged on the fairness of the process.

Defenders of military tribunals argue that the US is at war with terrorists, and that in times of war, enemy aliens are never afforded the protections of the US legal system.

But Mr Durkin rejected that argument, as many of the Guantanamo Bay inmates had not been caught on the battlefields.

"Moazzam Begg is one example of the men who were taken from all around the world, he was swept up in a US sweep in Pakistan."

The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"Now it's said an execution chamber is being built"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific