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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 16:50 GMT
Free - but how long for?

By Jon Silverman
Legal affairs analyst

When five British detainees were returned from Guantanamo in March 2004, the biggest clue to what would happen to them next was given by the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

Guantanamo prisoners wash themselves before praying
He said that none was a threat to British security.

And, indeed, none has faced any further sanction.

In foreshadowing the release of the remaining four British citizens from Guantanamo, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was more ambiguous in his choice of words.

But in saying that some of the 200 detainees freed by the US had returned to terrorism, he was probably hinting that the decision on whether to charge any of the four - Moazzam Begg, Martin Mubanga, Feroz Abassi and Richard Belmar - may be less clear-cut.

Whatever the eventual outcome, it is likely that the four will be arrested in the UK under a section of the Terrorism Act 2000 prohibiting involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

They will be questioned by officers from Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch and a decision on any prosecution taken by the Crown Prosecution Service.

They can be held up to 14 days without charge.

'Complex discussions'

Short of a direct admission of complicity, it seems improbable that "evidence" obtained from interrogations carried out at Guantanamo would, on its own, be sufficient to form the basis of a UK prosecution.

The Treason Act applies to those who take up arms against their own country.

But one of the four, Martin Mubanga, was not even seized from a "battlefield" and the evidence against the others rests mainly on allegations that they took part in Al Qaeda training camps so that sanction can almost certainly be ruled out.

Mr Straw told the Commons that there had been "intensive and complex discussions" to address US security concerns.

This may mean that the government has offered some kind of assurance that the men will be kept under surveillance but there is no possibility of details being publicly disclosed.

Meanwhile, two British residents, who are not citizens, are amongst the 550 detainees who continue to be held at Guantanamo.

And the US has signalled its intention to create a permanent prison, holding up to 200 "enemy combatants", there.

The war on terror might be entering a new phase but the implications for human rights have not diminished.


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The men who will return to the UK



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