Saturday, November 13, 2004

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday reignited a dispute over the Guantanamo Bay detention center for suspected terrorists by saying former British detainees were “causing difficulties again” since their release.

Mr. Blair’s comments, in a television interview, came as it was confirmed that the five former terrorism suspects freed this year from the U.S. naval base prison in Cuba are subject to round-the-clock police surveillance.

A senior official said the men are under suspicion and the activities of more than one was “worrying” police.

Mr. Blair’s remarks were branded “highly defamatory, misleading and irresponsible” by Gareth Peirce, attorney for three of the former detainees. She called on the prime minister to clarify what he meant.

After his talks with President Bush at the White House, Mr. Blair was asked by a reporter whether the four Britons still at Guantanamo Bay would also be sent home.

Mr. Blair replied: “We are in discussions with them. It’s difficult, because we have to make sure our own security is going to be properly protected if we have people back in this country.

“As you know, there have been incidents of people who have been back and causing difficulties again, so you need to be careful.”

None of the five men sent home from Camp Delta has been arrested. However, they are under surveillance 24 hours a day.

Ms. Peirce, the solicitor for Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed, denied that any of her clients had been in trouble with authorities and said Mr. Blair’s words would be libelous if applied to them.

“On the face of it, uncorrected, what he has said is highly defamatory, misleading and irresponsible,” she said. “Whatever Blair meant, he has a responsibility to make it utterly clear that these young men have led entirely law-abiding existences trying to rebuild their lives.”

Ms. Peirce, whose clients claimed they were tortured and beaten during more than two years’ detention, called on Mr. Blair to explain himself.

“If by the word ‘difficulties,’ Mr. Blair means they have produced an exhaustive account of the conditions, the methodology of coercion and the torture that prevails in Guantanamo, then the ‘difficulties’ consists of bringing to the public the unlawful practices of the U.S. government and the complicity of the British government,” she said.

The five returned Britons are Mr. Iqbal, 22; Mr. Rasul, 26; Mr. Ahmed, 22; Tarek Dergoul, 26, and Jamal al-Harith, 37. They were captured in Afghanistan and north Pakistan in late 2001.

Mr. Iqbal, Mr. Rasul, Mr. Ahmed and Mr. al-Harith brought legal action seeking $10 million in damages against the U.S. government, claiming torture.

“After the disgusting treatment of Tarek at the hands of the Americans,” a relative of Mr. Dergoul said, “he has one arm and is severely traumatized and cannot cope with life. What kind of criminal act does Mr. Blair think that he can carry out?”

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