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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 09:10 GMT
UK would oppose death penalty
Prisoner at Camp X-ray
The US insists prisoners are being treated humanely
The UK would make clear its opposition to the death penalty if America wanted to use it to punish British al-Qaeda suspects held in Cuba, says a Foreign Office Minister.

As three Britons continue to be held at the Camp X-Ray US naval base, Ben Bradshaw said it was too soon to speculate about whether the penalty would be used.

The British Government regularly makes our views on the death penalty very plain to the American authorities

Ben Bradshaw
Foreign Office Minister
Mr Bradshaw said the legal status of the suspects held in Guantanomo Bay was "uncharted territory" because of the complexity of international law on prisoners of war.

What was important was that they were being treated in a "humane way", he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

UK officials who have seen the three Britons imprisoned at the camp have said they had "no complaints" about their treatment.

The number of prisoners at the camp in Guantanamo Bay has now risen to 158 and the British captives are said to have been treated well and are in "good physical health".

Feroz Abbasi
Feroz Abbasi has been confirmed as a suspect

The Foreign Office has named one of the Britons as Feroz Abbasi, 22, from Croydon, but has not released the identities of the other two.

The US has faced fierce international criticism for its treatment of the prisoners, who are held in small cells open to the elements.

The first legal challenge to the detention of 100 of the captives will be heard by a court in Los Angeles today.

Guantanamo prisoners
158 detainees
More than 10 nationalities
Countries of origin include UK, Australia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia
The petition alleges the prisoners are being held at the US naval base in violation of the Geneva Convention and the US constitution.

Pictures of shackled and blindfolded detainees, described by the US as unlawful combatants rather than prisoners of war, have led to accusations that the US is flouting international law.

'Speaking freely'

Mr Bradshaw was convinced, however, that the British officials had gained an accurate picture of the men's treatment because the three Britons were able to speak "without inhibition".

There is speculation the men could face trial in a military tribunal but European commissioner for external affairs Chris Patten said it was inconceivable the death penalty could be delivered by such a court.

Mr Patten told Today: "I just think that would be a way of losing international support and losing the moral high ground that the international coalition has."

Mr Bradshaw said: "The British Government regularly, in cases where the death penalty may be imposed on British citizens, makes our views on the death penalty very plain to the American authorities.

  • 80 prisoners detained in cages like these
  • Buckets for toilets
  • Thin foam mattresses
  • Beards shaved

    Detailed plan of cells and conditions

  • "We are opposed to the death penalty."

    The minister argued some of the suspects held could be entitled to prisoner of war status while some could be "illegal combatants, as the US authorities described them.

    "What matters is that all the detainees are treated in a humane way in line with international norms, and that is the case," he continued.

    Military officials in the US say the temporary cells at Camp X-Ray could hold 320 inmates, or more if detainees were housed two to a cell.

    The US plans to build a permanent camp holding up to 1,000 prisoners.

    Under the Geneva Convention, PoWs must be tried by the same courts and under the same procedures as US soldiers.

    That would mean war crimes trials through courts-martial or civilian courts, not in closed military tribunals.

    The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
    "Critics of Camp X-Ray remain uneasy"
    The BBC's Richard Lister
    "The US does not believe these people are prisoners of war"
    See also:

    21 Jan 02 | UK Politics
    From student to terror suspect
    21 Jan 02 | Americas
    US sedates terror suspects
    21 Jan 02 | Media reports
    US on trial over prisoners in Cuba
    20 Jan 02 | Americas
    In pictures: Camp X-Ray prisoners
    28 Dec 01 | Americas
    Destination Guantanamo Bay
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