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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 17:53 GMT
Church leaders enter Cuba row
US Air Force personnel check over a C-141 transport plane at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Prisoners are being held at a US naval base
The Church of England has entered the row over the treatment of Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects held by the US in Cuba, pleading for them to be treated with "humanity and dignity".

Their move came as Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC he had held 30 minute talks on the telephone with US President George Bush - a conversation during which they had agreed that the detainees should be held "humanely".

Three Britons are among those held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Ends do not justify means - those who proclaim that their cause is just must act justly

House of Bishops
There has been growing anger from human rights activists objecting to the men being shackled in wire cages open to the elements.

Mr Blair told BBC Radio Five Live that the detainess were being held in much better conditions than the Taleban had held prisoners.

He said security had to be tight because of the scale of the terrorist attacks on the US in September and foiled attacks earlier in France and Germany.

Leader of the Commons Robin Cook said he hoped the first Red Cross visit to the base on Thursday would give "clear, authoritative guidance" as to whether the prisoners were being held according to international humanitarian law.

But a joint statement by Anglican bishops insisted there was "growing concern" about the treatment of captured troops, both in Afghanistan and in America's Camp X-Ray base in Cuba.

'Measured' response

The statement, issued at the end of a three-day gathering of the House of Bishops in York, voiced anxiety over the continued US bombing of Afghanistan, which they said was leading to a growing number of civilian casualties.

The bishops said the requirements of justice demanded a "proportionate and measured" response from the international coalition against terrorism.

"Every action must be tested against principles of justice," they said.

"Ends do not justify means. Those who proclaim that their cause is just must act justly."

Earlier the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We believe there should be humane treatment of all people in a war situation.

"There is a sense in which we must work to the Geneva Convention on all matters."

Welfare consideration

Mr Cook told the Commons: "We did fight in Afghanistan in order to end terrorism and to uphold the values of law and order, of decency and for the right of everyone to lead a peaceful life.

"It is important that we treat those that we capture in the process of that exercise in a way that is consistent with our principles."

Mr Cook said whether or not the men were covered by the Geneva Convention was not the most important welfare consideration.

"The issue is that obviously there are requirements of international humanitarian law which transcend the Geneva Convention which have to be observed whether or not the Geneva Convention applies."

Wider signal

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has said the men should be treated according to the convention.

He said it was important to send out a wider signal to the world, while making sure the men did not escape.

The UK had been assured the suspects were being given regular exercise and showers, as well as being allowed to respect their religious traditions.

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

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

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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