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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 05:48 GMT
Guantanamo deal for Australia duo
US soldiers with Guantanamo Bay detainee
The agreement may be the model for a future deal with Britain
Australia says it has reached a deal with the United States for the trial of two Australians held at Guantanamo Bay.

The US has agreed that the men will not face the death penalty, but they could face a military tribunal.

British officials say the deal will not affect talks over two UK citizens also facing trial at the US base in Cuba.

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

The judge said in a speech in London that al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects were being deliberately held beyond the rule of law and the protection of any courts.

He said the quality of justice envisaged for prisoners at Guantanamo failed to meet minimum standards for the conduct of fair trials.

The BBC diplomatic correspondent says it is rare for British judges to speak out on contentious political issues, and almost unheard of for them to attack a foreign government in this way.

Kangaroo-hunter held

Analysts say the Australian deal could be the model for a future agreement between Britain and the US.

The Australian Government says its law does not permit the suspects to be tried back in Australia.

The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law
Lord Steyn

But the BBC's State Department correspondent Jon Leyne says that if they are convicted, there is a good chance they will be allowed to serve their sentences back in their home country.

The Americans have also agreed that the two men will not face the death penalty, our correspondent says.

And the Australians have won guarantees about the conduct of the trial. It will be open to the media, with Australian lawyers and family members present.

At the moment, only one of the two Australians has been listed as eligible for trial.

He is David Hicks, a former kangaroo-hunter who was picked up in Northern Afghanistan.

The other Australian held by the US is Mamdouh Habib.

'Close to torture'

A total of nine British citizens are currently held in Guantanamo Bay but only two of them are facing trial at the moment.

Lord Steyn - in a speech released to Channel 4 News - said that prisoners were being held without rights and quoted officials as saying: "It's not quite torture but as close as you can get".

"The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors," he said.

"The procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce the prisoners to confess."

An US Government official, Thomas O'Connell, says the US is fighting an intelligence war with suspected terrorists at Guantanamo - and many of them respond with hatred and defiance.

Several of the approximately 660 suspects being detained have provided information that has helped avert terrorist attacks and led to additional arrests, he said.

But others refuse to co-operate and in some other cases, US officials have been unable to obtain basic information to determine whether prisoners are in a position to know much of value.

The BBC's Phil Mercer
"The families of the two men and their lawyers are unimpressed"

Q&A: Guantanamo Bay detainees
10 Oct 03  |  Americas

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