No trials in sight for Camp X-Ray prisoners

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The Independent Online

Seven British citizens remain among prisoners from 39 different countries being held by the US at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba.

Seven British citizens remain among prisoners from 39 different countries being held by the US at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba.

The most significant legal challenge yet to the detention of all of the prisoners was made last week in a Los Angeles court, where lawyers argued that holding the men without access to legal counsel and without charge was unconstitutional. The court has yet to rule on the action.

In all, there are 564 alleged Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters being held at the base – a situation that has become a legal and diplomatic headache for the US.

It was exactly six months ago that the first prisoners were flown to Guantanamo Bay from Afghanistan, their arrival in handcuffs, goggles and ear-muffs causing an international outcry. Despite the fact that the prisoners are interrogated on a regular basis, none has been charged.

It is possible that none will ever be charged. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has admitted that even if a prisoner were placed before a military tribunal and found not guilty, the prisoner may not be released.

The US has also admitted it would rather return most of the prisoners to their own countries to be tried by those countries' domestic justice systems. A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington confirmed this week that Britain would rather the seven prisoners were returned to the UK, though it is far from clear the men would ever be placed before a British court should they be flown home.

"Our preference is for them to be returned to the UK if that is the most effective way of bringing them to justice," said the spokesman. "This will depend on the evidence against the detainees. It is ultimately a question for the Crown Prosecution Service."

The seven Britons have received no special treatment at Guantanamo Bay, where the prisoners are being held at Camp Delta, a newly built facility that replaced the temporary Camp X-Ray. Britain has sent embassy officials along with members of the Security Services to speak with the men. Any information emerging from the visits is passed to the US. As with the rest of the prisoners, the Britons have not been allowed to consult lawyers.

"We are interrogating the men to extract as much information as possible that might be useful to battlefield troops in south-west Asia or else in the global war against terror," said Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis Finks, a spokesman for the US interrogation team at Guantanamo Bay.