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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 10:37 GMT
UK presses to see Cuba captives
US Army soldiers on patrol at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
The US has not yet given diplomats access to the prisoners
British diplomats are attempting to agree access arrangements to three Britons held at an American naval base in Cuba on suspicion of fighting for the Taleban.

They are also still trying to identify the men, among a group of 50 detainees - the first of an expected 2,000 - flown to the remote Guantanamo base from Afghanistan.

I do not feel even the slightest concern about their treatment

Donald Rumsfeld
US Defence Secretary
Human rights groups and some MPs have expressed concern about the way the prisoners are being held, in razor wire and concrete pens measuring 1.8 by 2.4m (six feet by eight feet).

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, waved away criticism of America's detention policy in an interview with the BBC.

He said: "I do not feel even the slightest concern about their treatment.

"They are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else over the last several years and vastly better than was their circumstance when they were found."

'Barbaric actions'

His stance has been condemned by Dr Zaki Badawi, principal of the Muslim College in London, who called for the UK government to gently persuade America to treat the captives as prisoners of war.

Mr Badawi told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You cannot defend civilisation by descending into barbarism."

He said the three Britons should be subjected to the laws of this country and if found guilty of treason, treated as traitors.

Guard at gate of Guantanamo naval base
Pressure is mounting for captives to be treated as prisoners of war

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the government was "making representations" to the US over the prisoners' treatment.

American officials had said they would be treated in accordance with international standards, he told the Today programme.

But Mr Rumsfeld's British counterpart stopped short of saying those standards were currently being met.

Asked if they were, Mr Hoon replied: "In the first place it is a matter for the United States and the detaining authority.

"But I am confident that the access that we have been promised - that is consular access - to see our citizens, if any of these people do turn out to be British citizens, and that the International Committee of the Red Cross will have, this is sufficient protection."

Access agreed

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had earlier pledged to uphold the rights of the three men, but told the BBC that the government would not automatically protest against detainees reportedly being ill-treated en route to Cuba.

The American military has promised that British representatives will be allowed to visit the captives, but have yet to agree on how and when the access will be granted.

Mr Straw said it must not be forgotten that they were accused of being members of the most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world.

Four Labour backbenchers have already called on the UK Government to push the US to treat the men as prisoners of war and observe the Geneva Convention.

Six more Britons suspected of links to the Taleban or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are reportedly being sent to the camp.

The foreign secretary said he had not protested about the men being shackled and possibly hooded because of the "special circumstances" of the accusations against them.

Geneva Convention

"I defy anybody to say how you could transport potentially profoundly dangerous prisoners other than by wholly restraining them and ensuring that they couldn't signal with each other," he said.

"Whether or not technically they have rights under the Geneva Convention, they have rights in customary international law."

The prime minister's spokesman said on Tuesday the US had given assurances the prisoners were being treated in accordance with "international norms of behaviour".

The US described the first 20 detainees as the "worst elements" of the al-Qaeda terror network.

The BBC's Tim Franks
"He could face life in prison"
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"We have asked that they be treated humanely"
See also:

16 Jan 02 | Scotland
Fears rise over charity worker
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Harsh conditions for Afghan prisoners
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
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