- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003


LONDON — Britain has told the United States that it does not want the nine Britons held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to be returned for trial in London.

Foreign Ministry officials say that message had been conveyed privately to President Bush during a recent visit to Washington by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is concerned that the collapse of a prosecution in Britain would anger the public and prove politically damaging.

“The prime minister made it clear to the president that it was unlikely the men would face trial in Britain and that it could be embarrassing if they were released on their return after the U.S. had branded them as major players in a terrorist network,” said a ministry aide.

Lawyers have advised the British government that it would be very hard to mount a successful prosecution in Britain because of the difficulty in obtaining evidence that is admissible in court. There also are fears that any public trial in Britain would force the disclosure of intelligence operations against terror network al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Two Britons, Feroz Abbasi, 23, and Moazzam Begg, 35, are among six suspects scheduled to appear before U.S. military tribunals, which will be conducted partly in secret and without a jury.

Seven other Britons are awaiting a decision on their fate. All were captured in Afghanistan early last year, where they were accused of fighting for the Taliban.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld publicly offered to repatriate the men in February last year if Britain put them on trial, after concerns about their fate were raised by the Foreign Ministry.

Under the Terrorism Act of 2000, certain offenses committed abroad, including bombing and funding terrorism, were deemed crimes. It is thought unlikely, however, that enrolling in the Taliban army before Britain went to war would come within the boundaries of the act. Other than a prosecution for treason, which also is judged to be legally untenable, there is no means of trying the men in Britain.

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