Britons’ release throws up more Guantánamo doubts




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 28 January 2005

The decision by UK police to release four Britons who had been held for up to three years at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay has cast more doubt on the credibility of military tribunals whose decisions are cited by US officials to justify the detentions.

The four men – Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar – were flown to London on a UK military aircraft on Tuesday after British officials had argued that the detainees should either be given a fair trial or freed.

The four – who had all been classified as “enemy combatants” by the US authorities at Guantánamo – were immediately arrested on their arrival in Britain, but released on Wednesday night, despite the assertion by a Pentagon official that “we continue to believe that these individuals pose a significant threat”.

The four released had previously appeared before the combatant status review tribunals (CSRTs) held within the heavily guarded perimeter fence at Camp Delta, the main jail in the complex.

The US Supreme Court ordered the Pentagon last June to hold the CSRTs for the 558 prisoners, to ascertain whether their designation as “enemy combatants” was correct.

The CSRT found that all four Britons were “enemy combatants”, and could be held until the “global war on terror” was declared over. In addition, two of the four were due to be tried by a military commission, which has the power to give long prison sentences.

The decision of the British authorities to release the four is a big blow to the legal foundation that the Pentagon claims to have for holding the remaining 554 prisoners at the base.

In November, the military commissions were halted when a Washington judge ruled that the CSRT process was inadequate as grounds on which to designate one of the detainees an enemy combatant. Despite the ruling, the CSRTs continued until the last prisoner appeared before the three-member military panel on Sunday.

The evidence against all the detainees is divided into classified and unclassified, with only the former being read to the detainee.

The secrecy surrounding the evidence that is not presented publicly is seen by legal experts as a big weakness of the CSRT process.

The readiness of the UK authorities to release the four Britons due to lack of evidence warranting prosecution in the UK has cast further doubt on the process.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.