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Saturday, 19 January, 2002, 20:53 GMT
Row over Cuba captives visit
Guantanamo Bay
US Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell
The UK Government is facing a growing row over the role of UK officials sent to Cuba to question three prisoners thought to be British members of the al-Qaeda terror network.

The team visiting Camp X-Ray is helping US authorities at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay where 110 al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects are being held.

The BBC's Richard Lister, reporting from Guantanamo, says diplomatic sources have suggested British intelligence officers in the group will maintain a presence in Cuba.


No matter how heinous the allegations may be made against you, you do not forfeit all your rights as a British citizen

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP
They will wait for about 20 other prisoners, who say they are from Britain and who are expected to be among the detainees taken to Guantanamo over the next few weeks, he says.

It is the reports of the intelligence officers' presence in the group which has sparked controversy, amid fears from some quarters that the prisoners may be interrogated before they fully understand their rights as British citizens.

The Foreign Office said the UK team would be helping US inquiries into terror atrocities, investigating the identities of those who claim to be British and checking on their welfare.

But a spokesman refused to confirm whether British intelligence agents from MI5 were on the team to interrogate the UK suspects on their suspected terrorist links.

The officials would report back to the government, the spokesman said.

Click here for details of a prisoner's cell

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman has said the United States had a right to question the detainees to help prevent further acts of terrorism.

But Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell wants assurances that anyone identified as British will be given proper advice.

"I want to know who, as part of this team, is responsible for telling any British prisoner precisely what his rights may be," he told the BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

Guantanamo Bay
Treatment of the prisoners has been criticised
The men could face the death penalty, Mr Campbell continued.

"Before any intelligence officers begin what may be a perfectly legitimate investigation, the people concerned ought to be given some indication of what their legal position is, and the extent to which they are obliged to answer any questions," he said.

The Father of the House of Commons, Labour MP Tam Dalyell, told The Independent newspaper he would also challenge ministers on the "difference between investigation on the one hand and the consular role on the other".

And Amnesty International has also expressed concern about confusion between the two roles.

Red Cross role

The conditions in which the suspects, flown to Cuba from Afghanistan, are being kept have come under scrutiny amid calls for proof they are being treated humanely.

International Red Cross officials started evaluating conditions at the US military camp in Friday.

After the visit, the Red Cross will compile a report on whether the captives are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war.

Ann Clwyd
Ann Clwyd: MPs will visit the US ambassador

A US military spokesman said the Red Cross was expected to have staff at the base permanently after international criticism over the way the prisoners have been handled.

But US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said their treatment is "reasonably consistent" with the convention.

However, the US insists the men are illegal combatants, not POWs, and so outside the scope of the conventions.

Ann Clwyd, chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, said a group of MPs from the committee hoped to meet the US ambassador William Farrish next week.

The purpose of the meeting, of which the committee had not yet received confirmation, was "to voice concern about the treatment of all the people taken prisoner in Afghanistan, not just the ones being held in Cuba, and we want an acceptance that they are prisoners of war", Ms Clwyd said.

Human rights activists have also objected to the men being shackled in wire cages open to the elements.

Click here for more information on the prison conditions
 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Lister in Guantanamo
"The Americans have given nothing away"
Thomas Withington, Centre for Defence Studies
"There might be a few loopholes that are being exploited here"
Labour MP Ann Clwyd, Human Rights Committee
"People have to insist that the Geneva Convention is applied"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Church leaders enter Cuba row
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
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