British Guantanamo detainees may be arrested on return

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The Independent Online

British detainees being released by the United States from Guantanamo Bay are expected to return in four days' time, but face the prospect of immediate arrest by the police on arrival.

The Independent has learned that provisional arrangements have been made for the five men to be flown to the RAF base at Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, next Tuesday. It is believed the men will be met by officers from Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch who are investigating whether charges can be brought under the Terrorism Act 2000.

According to Whitehall officials, the detainees are likely to be questioned, arrested, and then released on bail while inquiries continue.

The question of any legal action against the Guantanamo five is already a source of controversy. A crucial proviso of the arrangement with Washington for their return was that the British authorities will investigate whether they had breached any domestic laws.

Within minutes of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, announcing the deal, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said: "No one who is returned ... will actually be a threat to the security of the British people." Half an hour after that, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke of Scotland Yard insisted he was not ruling out possible prosecutions.

Maxine Fiddler, the sister of Jamal al-Harith, one of the returning five, said yesterday, "We have been told that he will be released. All we know is that the Britons are being brought home sometime next week. But he may face trial back home. When they say brought home, it doesn't mean back to their homes, but back to Britain."

The others being released are Rhuhel Ahmed, 23; Tarek Dergoul, 24; Asif Iqbal, 20; and 25-year-old Shafiq Rasul. Four other Britons - Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar - will remain at Guantanamo Bay, and the US authorities have stated that Begg and Abbasi are likely to face a military tribunal.

Yesterday, the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission was launched to campaign for their release. Speaking at its inauguration meeting at the House of Commons, Terry Waite, the former Beirut hostage, said the US authorities were behaving just like his Islamist captors.

He said: "You do not defeat terrorism by adopting methods of terrorism. The detainees have been hooded, shackled and, I understand, kept in cages, which in itself amounts to mental torture. I was blindfolded, shackled, kept in solitary confinement and interrogated."

The commission, founded by brother and sister Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, the actors and activists, is organising a lobbying trip to Washington and New York, with Azmat Begg, whose son Moazzam is one of those remaining in captivity.

Mr Begg described how his son had spent more than a year at Bargram airbase in Afghanistan, after being arrested in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. "He did not see any natural light for one year - no sun, no moon, no sky. We are going to Washington to make them hear our voices. We want them to know that we are human beings and we should be treated as human beings."

The delegation to the US will include Mr Begg, Aymen Sassi, the brother of the French detainee Nizar Sassi, 23, Vanessa Redgrave, Terry Waite, lawyers and clergymen.

Mr Waite said: "I dislike being in the midst of conflict but there are times when you have no choice. One has to enter into a conflict situation when human rights are so flagrantly being disregarded. I can well understand how the detainees at Guantanamo Bay must feel."

Mr Waite, who spent five years in chains in Beirut, four of them in solitary confinement, added that Camp Delta in Cuba was simply a "political sleight of hand" designed to put the suspected terrorists beyond the jurisdiction of the US courts. He also said it was "regrettable" that the British government had not made swifter and stringer protests to the Bush administration.

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor representing Moazzam Begg, said that the camp at Guantanamo Bay was being run as an experiment to see how much information could be extracted from suspects held in lengthy isolation and of how far abuses of human rights could be pushed before major public outcry is triggered.

"The experiment to date has been relatively successful," Mr Peirce said. "The international protest has been very small."