Q&A: Guantanamo Bay – British cases

Five British detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are being sent back to the UK. Four others remain and face possible trials by a military tribunal. BBC News Online looks at the issues involved.

Why are the five being sent back now?

The move is probably tied in with a visit to the United States by the Home Secretary David Blunkett. It takes some of the pressure off the British government which can finally show a result from the months of negotiations it has carried out with the Americans.

The five released detainees are: Shafiq Rasul, 24, Asif Iqbal, 20, and Ruhal Ahmed, 21, all from Tipton, West Midlands; Jamal Al-Harith, 35, from Manchester and Tarek Dergoul, 24, from east London .

What will happen to them?

They will be questioned by police but if there is no evidence against them, they will have to be released. If there is evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether to press charges. As British citizens they are not subject to a law under which foreign terrorist suspects can be held without trial indefinitely. No doubt, if freed, they will want to have their say about their experiences.

What about the four remaining in Guantanamo Bay?

These face a far more serious future. Two of them, Moazzam Begg, 36, from Birmingham and Feroz Abbasi, 23, from south London, were named by the American authorities last year as candidates for a first series of military trials. However, the Americans suspended that process after pressure from Britain. It is possible that this process will now go forward.

The other two, Martin Mubanga, 29, and Richard Belmar, 23, both from London, might also face a military tribunal.

What are the allegations against the four?

US officials have for the first time given details of what the allegations are. They were first reported in the Daily Telegraph. No names were given but the four cases are as follows:

1. The suspect is said to have trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1998, learning how to use explosives and chemicals. He is said to have escaped US forces in Afghanistan by going to the al-Qaeda stronghold of Tora Bora and from there to Pakistan.

2. Suspect two is said to have trained in an al-Qaeda camp in 2001, to have met Osama bin Laden three times and to have volunteered for suicide missions.

3. This suspect is alleged to have been at a camp in 2001 and to have been caught at the house in Pakistan of a senior al-Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah.

4. It is said that suspect four also trained at a camp, scouted the derelict British Embassy in Kabul as a possible base and was carrying a list of Jewish organisations in New York when captured.

Why have these details suddenly been given?

It appears to be part of the propaganda war surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detainees. Washington apparently felt that it was losing out to the public campaign mounted by the families of the prisoners. The allegations were also made public just as Mr Blunkett arrived in the United States. They make it easier for him to justify accepting that the four might face military trial.

Has the British government given up on the four?

Mr Blunkett has said that he will go on pressing for a fair method of trying them. But he is now also making it clear that Britain has accepted that they will be dealt with by the Americans. “The evidence that has been picked up is best used in the United States, not Britain,” he said. This has led the men’s supporters to ask whether this is, as one put it, “the beginning of a sell-out.”

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Mar. 9, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday March 9, 2004.
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