UK prisoners to be moved from Guantánamo




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 10 January 2005

British detainees at Guantánamo Bay are expected to be transferred to the UK for release or trial, as part of a US plan to reduce radically the number of prisoners held at the base, senior officials say.

An announcement about the transfer of the British detainees “is expected within the next couple of weeks”, according to a UK counter-terrorism official. The official did not say whether the four would be prosecuted on terrorism charges on their return.

Five British citizens who were released from Guantánamo Bay into UK custody last year were freed within days of their arrival in Britain.

“It’s a question of dealing with them under UK law. If there is evidence, then people are charged and imprisoned,” said a Foreign Office official.

The Bush administration has been under pressure from the British government either to prosecute or release the British citizens held there.

“The US had been reluctant to return the British detainees because of their security concerns, and we have been seeking to address these concerns so that they can be returned to the UK,” the Foreign Office official said.

A US defence official told the Financial Times that an increase in the number of transfers to an unspecified number of the 19 countries whose nationals are being held at Guantánamo Bay was part of a plan to create a permanent prison at the base.

The prison, to be called Camp Six, would have space for up to 200 detainees who the US does not want to see released. The prison will have more communal living areas than the current maximum security installation at the base. It will also have improved medical facilities, “particularly to deal with mental health problems”, the defence official said. “It is very difficult to speculate on numbers but I would say that I am confident that of the 549 there, some are likely to be detained at Guantánamo for some time,” he said.

“But I would say a significant portion will gradually be transferred out or released. It depends on what other countries are willing to step up and commit to.”

The prisoners who US officials plan to detain for the long term will continue to be held indefinitely as “enemy combatants”. This designation has been criticised by US legal officials, who have been battling with the Pentagon to exercise legal jurisdiction over the detainees.

Until now, Pentagon officials and officers at Guantánamo Bay have said that the prisoners’ significance is based on their value as sources of intelligence on terrorism as well as on an assessment of the potential threat they would pose if released.

But the US defence official said that 25 per cent of the detainees are still of intelligence value. It is the first time a senior official has disclosed how valuable the detainees remain as sources of information, up to three years after their arrival on Cuba.

“There is a change in the balance between the detention mission and the interrogation mission,” he acknowledged.

Since the first prisoners arrived three years ago, some 200 have been released. Of these, 12 are reported to have joined groups fighting US forces in various parts of the world.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.