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I welcome the announcement of the return of those four British citizens. The Opposition have unremittingly supported the fight against terrorism, but equally, we have always believed that such a fight must be conducted within the rule of law. We have for some time expressed reservations about detention without due process or trial at Guantanamo Bayreservations recently given even stronger expression by the United States Supreme Court.
Although those are the last of the British citizens being held at Guantanamo Bay, our reservations in principle remain, as they involve a strong ally with whom we are rightly continuing to work closely in Iraq and Afghanistan. In that regard, while fully accepting the United States dilemma to which the Foreign Secretary referred, what further representations will he make to our American allies about the process of detention at Guantanamo Bay?
My general welcome of this announcement still leaves serious questions to be answered. Given our concern that justice by due process is done in relation to those four, what assurances can the Foreign Secretary give that they will be subjected to normal due process in this country on their return?
The British public must be protected from terrorists. Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied in general on the information available to him that, on their return, those four will not pose a threat to the security of this country or its citizens? What assurances can he give that the
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protection of British citizens from the threat of terrorism will not in any way be undermined by the release, as opposed to the return, of those four men?
Those men were taken into custody by United States forces in the chaotic circumstances of post-Taliban Afghanistan and near the notoriously unpoliceable Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Has the Foreign Secretary established to his satisfaction the circumstances in which those four were originally apprehended?
The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay did not just raise serious concerns at the process by which people were detained there. Serious questions have also been raised about the treatment of detainees. For instance, one of them, Moazzam Begg, alleges that he was the victim of torture. Obviously, that is a most serious allegation. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether the detainees will be asked not only about any allegation against them, but about the conditions that they underwent at Guantanamo Bay?
Does the return of those four bring with it any assurance that no British citizen will in future be held in Guantanamo Bay or in similar circumstances elsewhere without due process? Indeed, will the Foreign Secretary assure us that there are currently no further British citizens being held anywhere else in similar circumstances?
Winning the fight against terrorism requires us to win too, the fight for hearts and minds, both in Britain and in the Muslim world. In the struggle against terrorists, the balance between security and liberty is notoriously difficult to strike. The first duty of the Government is to defend their people, but was not the late United States President Eisenhower right to warn:
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the welcome that he has given to the release of those four gentlemen. Let me try to deal with his points in turn. We have an immediate locus in so far as our consular duties are concerned in respect of British citizens. With their return to the United Kingdom, representations about the specific conditions at Guantanamo Bay in respect of the British citizens will obviously come to an end. However, as members of the international community and signatories to various international conventions, we remain concerned about the conditions in which individuals have been, and continue to be, held there, and within that context, we will continue to make representations about them.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks whether normal due process will apply to those individuals when they return. Yes, of course, and I made that clear. He asks whether I can guarantee that those individuals do not pose a threat to the security of the United Kingdom. We have in place strengthened anti-terrorist legislation, including the Terrorism Act 2000 and the 2001 legislation. Those laws exist to ensure that those who pose a threat to the security of the United Kingdom are dealt with effectively. I will certainly not prejudge the guilt of any individual in advance of investigation by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the other appropriate authorities.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks about the allegations of mistreatment made by Moazzam Begg in particular. I am aware of those allegations, and I have
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already received oral representations about them by his family and his lawyers. We are pursuing those allegations with the United States authorities, and we will continue to do so. British consular officials visited the detainees on nine separate occasions in very difficult circumstances. It is fair to say that our officials, on my behalf, gave the British detainees a higher level of consular representation than did the foreign Governments of any other nationals who were held at Guantanamo Bay.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman finally asks whether I can be satisfied that no British citizen is held in any similar circumstance. The answer is that it is almost impossible to prove a negative, but I know of no other British citizen held at Guantanamo Bay in those circumstances; neither do I expect that any will be dispatched there.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): It appears that these men are about to be rescued from what has effectively been a legal no-man's land, and it would be churlish not to welcome that, but a number of questions remain. Why has it taken so long? What undertakings, if any, have been given to the United States Government about the way in which the men are to be treated once they return to the United Kingdom? What do the Government understand to be the state of health, both mental and physical, of these men?
Whatever the context, the truth is that the detention of these men violated all legal principle. Their civil rights were systematically and deliberately abused, and they were denied due process, a cornerstone of American legal jurisprudence. Has not this been a damaging episode which should never again be repeated?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his welcome for the announcement. I understand the concerns that he expressed so eloquently. It is important to understand the grave anxieties that arose in the United States following the 11 September atrocities, which was the first time that an attack by foreigners had taken place on its mainland in at least living memory. It produced the largest single set of casualties on the mainland since the American civil war. It has to be understood what a trauma the United States faced. There is no point dismissing that. It is a fact. The decisions that it made have to be seen in that context.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why it has taken so long. It has taken this long to hold intensive discussions on the need for the United States to release the men and to recognise that they would be subject to our law, agreed by this Parliament, and no other law. That is what has happened. No side undertakings, which I think was in his mind, have been given to the US Government about how they will or will not be treated. They will be treated in accordance with the law. As happened with the five who were released last March, and as I said in my statement, it will be a matter for the police acting under the powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 to consider whether to interview them and detain them when they arrive in the UK, and a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to take any action following on from that.
On the men's state of health, consular officials who visited them gave their own, but necessarily superficial and unqualified, assessment of the state of their physical
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health. It appeared to be reasonable, but that does not amount to a qualified assessment of the state of their physical, mental or psychological health. That will be a matter for them and their medical advisers.
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): The House will understand the dilemma posed by my right hon. Friend, but he must surely agree that the Guantanamo Bay saga has been very damaging to the image of the west and reduces our moral authority in the world. Will any allegations made by those who are to be released, together with those in the dossier published last August in respect of the other five, be strenuously pursued by my right hon. Friend? Will he also confirm that our concern extends beyond our nationals to the principle of detention in Guantanamo Bay in general? How do the Government view the proposals of the US Government either to set up a special prison, Camp Six, within Guantanamo Bay, where people can be held without trial indefinitely, or to hold those people in prisons within their countries of origin?
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