Attorney General to demand legal advice for British terror suspects at Camp Delta

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, will tell the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, today that the nine British terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay must be given access to legal advice.

In a series of meetings in Washington with officials from the US Defence Department, Lord Goldsmith will also urge the American military to improve the conditions in which the detainees are being held.

Lord Goldsmith issued a statement yesterday saying he wanted to impress on his US counterparts that any trial should be fair and consistent with international standards.

The first requirement, said Lord Goldsmith, was that the suspects should be able to see their lawyers. "One of the first steps that must be taken is for the detainees to have the benefit of legal advice," he said. The Attorney General also reminded the Americans that the Government "remains opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances".

All nine British detainees, including two scheduled for the first of the tribunals, have been denied any legal advice or representation during their 18 months of captivity.

Feroz Abbasi, 23, from London, and Moazzam Begg, 35, from Birmingham, were on President George Bush's initial list of six detainees who could face the American military tribunals at the base in Cuba.

Tony Blair said over the weekend that the two detainees should be either brought back to Britain or tried by US military commission under rules agreed with the White House. Lord Goldsmith's statement does not preclude either of these options but does put pressure on the US to begin the process of establishing fairer conditions of detention before any trial takes place.

Louise Christian, the solicitor acting for Mr Abbasi's family, said yesterday that she had been demanding "immediate access" to Mr Abbasi for many months. "I faxed the Attorney General today [Monday] asking once again to be allowed to see him [Abbasi]," she said. "I understand the Attorney General has now been passed that fax in Washington."

But Ms Christian said that even if the British suspects were granted access to a lawyer they would still not receive a fair trial because, under the rules of the military commission, counsel are not allowed to communicate with the outside world once they have seen their client.

She said further restrictions on defence counsel meant that only American citizens approved by the US can act on behalf of the detainees.

Stephen Jakobi, of the campaign group Fair Trials Abroad, said the chance of a fair military tribunal had already been "killed" by President Bush's recent reference to the Camp Delta suspects as "bad people".

"The latest developments have clearly sent Lord Goldsmith off on a mission impossible," he said.

"I hesitate to call the President of the United States a moron, but that is what he is. Anyone with the slightest idea of law could not have made comments like that ­ he even said, 'I am not trying to try them by TV', having just done so."