Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett is blocking moves to repatriate British detainees held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, raising the ire of civil rights lawyers.
Blunkett fears he would have to release the detainees soon after their arrival back home, according to a British newspaper, The Sunday Times.
The United States had offered to send at least some of the nine Britons held at the US military base in Cuba back to Britain for trial, but a decision on their future was being delayed because British government ministers were split over the proposal.
Civil rights lawyer, Sadiq Khan, whose firm is representing two of the detained Britons, said he was astonished that the home secretary was refusing “to do the just thing and repatriate these men home”.
“If these men have committed a criminal offence, there is a provision within UK law to try them even if the offences are alleged to have been committed overseas”.
The prospects of an early resolution had been clouded after Blunkett warned that any proceedings in British civilian courts would probably end with acquittals through lack of admissible evidence, the paper reported.
It added British intelligence chiefs were concerned that any agreement to return the men could result in potentially dangerous al-Qaida supporters being allowed to go free at a time when the authorities were nervous amid fears of a "terrorist attack" in Britain.
“If these men have committed a criminal offence, there is a provision within UK law to try them even if the offences are alleged to have been committed overseas”
Civil rights lawyer
But Khan, speaking to Aljazeera.net, said that “there can be no excuse to keep these men locked up out of sight in Guantanamo Bay”.
This saga, he said, “flies in the face of the long and proud history the English have of justice and open justice”.
“We should be ashamed”, he added.
More than 660 people from about 40 countries picked up during the US "war on terror" are being held at Guantanamo. The United States does not consider them prisoners of war and has held them indefinitely without setting trial dates.
The Sunday Times said the US had agreed to allow British detainees not sent home to be represented by British civilian lawyers.
More than 660 detainees are being
held at Camp X-Ray, Cuba
Washington had also privately indicated that it did not intend to seek the death penalty for any of the British detainees, the paper reported.
But official sources told The Sunday Times that several British concerns had not been resolved about the fairness of US military tribunals which some prisoners could face.
Such detainees would still be denied the right to see all the evidence against them and their ability to question witnesses would be restricted, according to the paper.
The family of one of the British detainees, Rhuhel Ahmad, was too distraught to talk to Aljazeera.net on the moves by Blunkett.
Rasul Ahmad, Rhuhel’s father, would only say that they remained confused about his son’s detention at the US military base in Cuba.
He said the Foreign office had not issued him with any details as to his son’s situation, adding that “the only time we hear about Rhuhel is when the media calls us”.
“We just want him back home”, he said.