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The Conservative party welcomes the fact that some progress has now been madeafter two yearsin resolving the prolonged incarceration of five of the nine British detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that his statement today raises as many questions as it answers?
Although we recognise the uniqueness of their interim status as unlawful combatants, we have consistently called for the British detainees to be subjected to due process, rather than being held in a legal limbo land. They should be either brought back to this country to face a fair trial, or if there is no evidence of wrongdoing against them, set free. Although we obviously assert that national security has the highest priority, we do not believe that to be inconsistent with a proper and timely assessment of each case and a consequent decision to prosecute or release.
Given the strength of the relationship between the British and US Governments, can the Foreign Secretary explain why it has taken nearly two years to get this far? Does he now accept that one of the reasons why that stalemate has taken so long to overcome has been the failure of the British Government to make a clear decision on how to treat the detainees in this country on their return? Can he tell us what the difference is between those who are to be released and those who are not? Does he believe that the four who will remain constitute a threat to national security, and how much longer is it likely to take until their future is resolved? Is it now likely that they will face trial before one of the military commissions that the US seems to favour? Given what the Foreign Secretary said about the advice that the Attorney-General has given, what will be the Government's response if that is the case?
The Foreign Secretary said that on the detainees' return, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would look at each case dispassionately to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to place a person on trial in this country. Will he confirm that evidence obtained from the detainees during their time in Camp Delta will be made available to the police and the CPS to help them to assess the case for a fair trial? Has he received any legal advice on admissibility and, if so, will
We strongly support all measures to protect our national security, but this country rightly prides itself as a true champion of the rule of law and the rights of the individual. In the Government's continued handling of the nine Britons currently in Guantanamo Bay, the whole nation will rightly expect them to uphold those enduring British principles.
Mr. Straw: I rather got the impression that the hon. Gentleman was agreeing with the position taken by the British Government, but that he then had to invent several differences to nuance his position compared with ours. The context of the detentions was well illustrated by one word that he used: he said that the detainees' position was "unique". Let us be clear that 11 September 2001 was not only absolutely terrifying, but unique due to the nature of the threat that it posed and because it exposed western democracies and the whole of the civilised world to threats of a kind that we had never previously had or properly anticipated. That creates the context in which those people and the other detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been held.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the difference between those who are to be released and those who will remain in Guantanamo Bay. I do not wish to prejudice in any way the positions of either, except to say that there have been fewer difficulties with negotiations in respect of those who are to be released than of those who will be detained.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether the individuals will pose a security threat. That is a matter for the police, in the first instance, acting under powers that they have generally and also under powers that the House recently gave them through the Terrorism Act 2000, as amended. As I made clear in my statement, the police have it open to them to detain and interview the individuals when they arrive. There is a short time for which they may be detained at the behest of the police, and a longer periodup to a total of 14 daysif that is approved by the court on application. Any further question of proceedings will be a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the admissibility of evidence. One does not need advice from the Attorney-General about rules on evidence in the British courts because they are available to anyone who cares to read them, and well understood. I did not ask for that advice, and neither did I receive it, because I did not need it.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the hare that has been running about charges of treason against these individuals. As with any other charge against them, that is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, and I think in respect of treason it is also a matter for the Attorney-General. I merely place on record that I think
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): The Foreign Secretary is entitled to claim that his announcements today and last week are evidence of progress, but not a solution. So far, the Government have, with some success, put their trust in patient diplomacy, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not rule out rightful indignation if that becomes necessary, because if the situations were reversed and the United Kingdom proposed to deal with American citizens by way of military commissions, without due process, the outcry from the White House and from Capitol Hill would be prolonged and deafening, and rightly so.
The Foreign Secretary says that it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases, and as a matter of principle, of course he is correct. When the Home Secretary said that the five being released were no threat, did that represent the considered view of the Government? Even if the Foreign Secretary is unwillingor perhaps, more correctly, unableto answer that, does he accept that it raises very sharply this question: if they are no threat, why have they been incarcerated for so long?
Finally, if the United States Government persist in putting United Kingdom citizens on trial in circumstances unacceptable to the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, Parliament and the British public, what then is the Government's solution?
Mr. Straw: First, I accept that we have made progress but have not resolved this matter. As I made clear, and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, we want those individuals to be subject to a trial that meets internationally accepted norms and standards, or we want them brought home. That applies to all nine, regardless of the allegations against them, and not just to the five.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman commented on patient diplomacy. I believe that that is the way to resolve these matters. The House is very alert, as it should be, to our standards of justice, as I have to say generally the Americans are, too, but we have to take account of the context in which the detentions took place. That context was that a terrorist organisation of a sophistication and ruthlessness never previously seen in our history, and without any political programme with which one could negotiate, decided effectively to start a war, not just against the United States, but against the whole of the civilised world. Although colleagues may not necessarily agree with the approach of the United States, it is understandable that it has taken the action that it has. Our discussions with the United States Government have borne fruit so far with progress, but not with a solution.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think that my right hon. Friend sought to clarify those remarks on the radio this morning, when he
Finally, the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what would happen if those people were put on trial under unacceptable conditions. I hope that we do not come to those circumstances, because we have made it clear that we believe that any British citizenwe believe this generally, but I am speaking now of our immediate responsibilitiesshould be tried only by internationally accepted standards and norms.