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Mr. Mullin: First, may I apologise for not being the Foreign Secretary? Secondly, I will chase up the matter of the right hon. Gentleman's letter of last Friday. The precise way in which the trials will be conducted is not yet clear, and we are taking a close interest in that issue. Many of the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asks relate to matters that we are pursuing with the United States, and I can endorse his last point about our concern that the trials be conducted within the rule of law.
I should, however, add one note of caution, although in doing so I am in no way suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman was in any way hyping things up. It is probably not to the advantage of these defendantsor to that of any othersthat we engage in megaphone
Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Feroz Abbasi, who is a constituent of mine, faces a stark choice: to plead guilty and serve a 20-year sentence, or to plead not guilty and face an unfair trial characterised by his not being able to pick his own defence lawyer. His mental health has been badly affected by being incarcerated for 18 months in a 2 sq m cage, with 15 minutes' exercise twice a week. He is unable to cross-examine the witnesses, who may present unreliable and critical evidence based on plea bargaining. The case will be decided behind closed doors by a judge and jury from the military, who are predisposed towards finding a guilty verdict and imposing the death penalty.
Will my hon. Friend now make every effort to ensure my constituent's repatriation and a fair trial in Britain, so that this kangaroo court in Guantanamo bay does not proceed? Otherwise, it could well result in the killing of my constituent, thereby playing into the hands of the terrorists and, indeed, of all those who want to undermine human rights, the rule of law and justice across the globe.
Mr. Mullin: I understand my hon. Friend's concern for his constituent, and I should point out that, as he is probably aware, Baroness Symons met Mr. Abbasi's mother and her lawyer this morning and discussed the case with them. One concern that we are pursuing with the Americans is that in our view, all the evidence concerning the case against these people must clearly be made available to them, so that they are in a position to rebut it.
We understand that the detainee does have the right to choose his own defence lawyerif he meets the security requirements laid down by the Americans. However, it is clear that this matter will have to be checked out. As I have said, many of the details are not yet clearly known and we are seeking to establish them as soon as possible, but my hon. Friend can rest assured that we are going to take a close interest in his constituent's welfare.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Can my hon. Friend clarify the precise nature of the jurisdiction claimed by the United States over these alleged offencesgiven that so far, it has not been specifically alleged that they took place in United States' territoryor is the entire world now regarded by President Bush as being within his jurisdiction? Will my hon. Friend and the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the United States
Mr. Mullin: We have already and repeatedly made that clear, and we shall continue to do so. Discussions have continued with the United States about the terms on which the prisoners are held and on which they will be tried. At this stage, it is too early to be specific.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): If the Government's apparently strong reservations fail to protect the human rights of the two detainees, be they innocent or guilty under English or international law, what does the Minister propose to do about it?
Mr. Mullin: One thing I do not propose to do is to address the United States through a megaphone, which would have the opposite effect to the one the hon. and learned Gentleman and I seek. We must take events step by step. As I said to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the issue is delicate and sensitive, and it must be dealt with as such. I am sure that any Conservative Government would proceed in exactly the same way.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Does my hon. Friend agree that the United States is already discriminating between US and non-US citizens? That is not permitted under international human rights law, but what is permitted is a fair trial, and it is clear that if discrimination is taking place, there is no possibility of that. My hon. Friend knows that I have raised the treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo bay many times publicly and privately, and in eight questions. I believe that they should all along have been held under the Geneva convention, and we must tell the Americans, quite clearly, that the situation is not acceptable.
Mr. Mullin: We have made it clear to the Americans that many aspects of what has gone on at Guantanamo bay are not acceptable. We shall continue to do so. None the less, we must proceed step by step. It is a delicate situation, and that is all that I can say for the time being.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): The Minister said that the Government are raising the matter vigorously, but there is no evidence in what he has said that their action is indeed vigorous. The prosecution of British citizens has been on the cards for nearly two years, yet the Foreign Office seems woefully ignorant of the details of what that prosecution amounts to, or of whether those citizens are protected by prosecutors nominated by the court. It does not sound as though the Government are pursuing the matter vigorously, and this is a question of justice by international standards. The Government's vigour ought to indicate a little more fiercely that we hold strongly to the view of justice.
Mr. Mullin: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have taken some interest during my brief and undistinguished parliamentary career in matters of justice. We have made our views known forcefully to the Americans. The Foreign Secretary spoke to Colin Powell on this matter as recently as the weekend, and there are plans for
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I congratulate my hon. Friend and Baroness Symons on the vigorous way in which they have raised the matter. Does he share my concern that the more we talk about who represents the British defendants and what kind of trial there will be in the United States, the more we are distracted from what should be the Government's aim, which is to get those people here, to be dealt with under United Kingdom justice? Will the Minister confirm that that is the Government's principal aim? Will he also request the American ambassador to come in, which would be a highly symbolic act, in order that he may make it clear, not through a megaphone, but in the quiet but forceful way that I know he and the Foreign Secretary can deploy, that the matter is very important and that the ambassador shouldI mean no disrespect to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)pay particular attention to those who regularly support the United States, most recently in Iraq, and who feel strongly that an injustice is being perpetrated?
Mr. Mullin: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's congratulations. We will certainly make it clear to the Americans that it is in their interests that the matter should be dealt with openly and credibly. Bringing the defendants here to face trial is a more difficult issue. It has certainly been thought about, but I cannot give my right hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks.
Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): Since the Americans have refused to transfer the British detainees to a British court, what steps have the Government taken to ask for them to be transferred to a court under the auspices of the United Nations, such as the International Criminal Court?
Mr. Mullin: It would clearly be desirable for any trial to take place in a form that guarantees maximum international credibility, but the form in which it is likely to take place is that which is decided on by the Americans, and the precise terms of that are what we are currently discussing.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): My hon. Friend seemed to have some difficulty earlier defining the legal status of Guantanamo bay. What is the Government's interpretation of any law under which two British nationals have been held for 18 months without charge, without trial, without access to legal representation, and, as I understand it, in very poor conditions indeed? On exactly how many occasions have the British Government raised with the United States Government concerns about that and demands that the prisoners be repatriated to this country to face trial, if there are charges against them?