Guantanamo Britons freed
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Guantanamo Britons freed

Evening Standard | January 11, 2005
By Jason Beattie

The four remaining Britons held by the Americans at Guantanamo Bay today won their freedom.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Commons that the men, who include three Londoners, should be flown home to Britain within weeks.

The move ends a three-year ordeal for the men, who had been detained without-trial at the high-security Cuban prison camp. They will be handed over to the Metropolitan Police and are expected to be held for up to 48 hours at Paddington Green police station for questioning under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

The release of the four - Feroz Abbasi, 24, from Croydon, Martin Mubanga, 30, from Wembley, Richard Belmar, 25, from St John's Wood, and Moazzam Begg, 36, from Birmingham - ends an embarrassing diplomatic row between Britain and America.

The surprise breakthrough was announced by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the Commons this afternoon. It follows months of negotiations as Britain tried to address US concerns about the release conditions.

Downing Street said the families were being told of the development. "There is a very strict process for this. The families have to be informed first and that is getting under way," said Tony Blair's spokesman.

Belmar's father Joseph, 53, said from his home in Marylebone this afternoon: "We have only heard it on the news today. If it is true, it is a bit of a relief. We have not received any news from the Foreign Office yet."

The four Britons were among 500 suspected terrorists detained as part of the US-led "war on terror".

But the Americans have been widely condemned for incarcerating the four without trial. Pressure to release them mounted after Begg claimed he had been tortured while listening to the "terrifying screams" of other inmates.

Another three Britons, Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, who were released last March, also claimed in a 115-page dossier they had been tortured and mistreated at the American prison camp.

Britain had publicly criticised the men's detention. Protests were led by Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, who said US plans for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay did not meet " international standards". Mr Blair also made personal representations to President George Bush.

But the White House refused to release the detainees unless Britain could guarantee they would not pose a security threat.

A Foreign Office source said: "We have always said they should be tried or returned home."

Begg's father Azmat had said he feared for his son's emotional wellbeing.

He said he would expect his son to be released without trial if he had done nothing wrong, like previously released detainees.

But he added: "If they have got any evidence against him, of course he should be tried in a court of law like any other person."

Mr Begg said he feared that his son's mental and physical condition had deteriorated-because Moazzam had told him he was not allowed to walk in his cell or take any exercise, and had spent time in solitary confinement.

Lord Goldsmith said released detainees would be treated in the same way as the Britons freed last year. They would be questioned and if police considered there was no material on which to proceed, they would be released.

Ken Livingstone today said Londoners had no reason to worry about the three local men being back in the capital.

Asked if they presented a threat, the Mayor said: "I very much doubt it." He said he hoped the prisoners would go on to sue the US authorities for years of "detention and abuse".

He said: "I hope one day President Bush and those who authorised this use of low-level torture will face prosecution themselves."

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911:  The Road to Tyranny