- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

NORTHOLT, England — Five British men held in U.S. military detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, returned yesterday to England, where four were arrested immediately on suspicion of involvement in terrorism and one was free to go home.

Jamal al-Harith, 37, was released after questioning by immigration authorities.

“He’s an innocent man and he wants to know why was he kept in custody for so long,” said his lawyer, Robert Lizar. “He is looking forward to seeing his family again, very much. However, he wants the U.S. authorities to answer for what he has suffered.”

A Metropolitan Police official said the four were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism. He did not give further details.

The five men were among nine Britons whose captivity at the U.S. military prison had caused friction between the two close allies.

A Royal Air Force C17 landed last night at the Northolt Royal Air Force Base west of London. Armored police vans awaited the flight.

The vans were driven aboard the giant cargo carrier, then sped away in a convoy to Paddington Green police station, where terrorism suspects are held.

The men were to undergo medical examinations before any questioning, said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the national coordinator for antiterrorism activities.

“Everything that happens to these men from the moment they arrived on U.K. soil will be entirely in accordance with United Kingdom law,” Mr. Clarke said. Police said the men would be allowed a telephone call each and have access to a lawyer of their choice.

Britain had demanded that its nine nationals in Guantanamo, some of whom had been held for more than two years without charge or access to lawyers, either be given fair trials or returned home.

Negotiations will continue over the fate of the remaining British detainees at Guantanamo.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said prosecutors would decide whether the men would be charged.

Some legal experts doubt that there will be enough evidence to try the men because the conditions at Guantanamo could mean that information gleaned there would be inadmissible in court. It is also not clear whether British courts have jurisdiction over suspected criminal acts in Afghanistan, unless crimes of terrorism or treason could be proved, the experts said.

The five men released have been identified as Rhuhel Ahmed, Jamal al-Harith, Tarek Dergoul, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul.

About 640 prisoners are held at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of links to Afghanistan’s fallen Taliban regime or terror network al Qaeda.

The United States says the suspects are “enemy combatants” subject to different legal rules than prisoners of war. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments whether they should be allowed to challenge their detention in American courts.

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