The US-decision is seen as a major concession to the United Kingdom that had expressed serious concern over the prospects of two of its nationals being sentenced to death in a military court of another country.

UK Attorney General Peter Goldsmith in a statement said the two Britons, Feroze Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, would not face the death penalty should the US-style military commission find them guilty.

“On the military commissions, the US has assured us that the prosecution will not seek the death penalty in the cases of Feroze Abbasi and Moazzam Begg,”  Goldsmith said.

The two detained Britons are accused of being al-Qaeda operatives, and have been in detention in Guantanamo Bay for the past several months.

US President George W Bush, some weeks ago had sanctioned their trial in a military court along with four other detainees.

The expected military trials of the two had triggered widespread consternation back home in Britain with Prime Minister Tony Blair taking up the matter with the US President during his visit to Washington last week.

Many feared that the two Britons would be deprived of a fair trial in the military tribunal.

“Goldsmith has come back with the odd fig leaf on a very ugly situation having made no progress on what really matters.”
-- Stephen Jakobi, director of the British campaign group Fair Trials Abroad



Goldsmith’s statement, issued in London following his talks with US officials in Washington, said legal proceedings against the pair remained suspended pending further discussions.

The statement also said discussions were underway on the possible repatriation of Abbasi and Begg should they be found guilty.

“The US and UK will actively consider a mutually satisfactory arrangement to transfer any  British national sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a military commission to serve his sentence in the UK, to the extent feasible in accordance with US and UK law,” the statement said.

But the US concession failed to meet expectations of those campaigning for free and fair trial of the two Britons.

Stephen Jakobi, director of the British campaign group Fair Trials Abroad, welcomed the decision to waive death penalty, but described the remainder of the deal as no more than “fig leaf.”

“Goldsmith has come back with the odd fig leaf on a very ugly situation having made no progress on what really matters,” Jakobi said.