Beckett admits Guantanamo Bay camp should be closed down

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International terrorism could be fuelled by anger over the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, the Government has admitted for the first time.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, made the most strident British demand yet for its closure, but faced immediate accusations of hypocrisy for refusing to intervene on behalf of UK residents incarcerated there.

She warned that the camp was as much a "radicalising and destabilising influence" as it was an aid in the "war on terror".

Mrs Beckett's moved to distance the Government from the White House as she launched the Foreign Office annual report on international human rights. She said: "As the Prime Minister has said, we believe that camp should close. The continuing detention without fair trial of prisoners is unacceptable in terms of human rights, but it is also ineffective in terms of counter-terrorism."

Her comments are the latest in a string of ever-more strongly worded criticism of the Bush administration over Guantanamo Bay. The Foreign Office report described Guantanamo Bay as "unacceptable" in an extensive section on the American naval base, which is still holding about 450 terror suspects without trial despite international fury from governments and campaigners.

But Mrs Beckett faced criticism from MPs and campaigners after three British residents held in the base lost a legal attempt to force the Foreign Office to intervene on their behalf.

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International's UK campaigns director, said: "Margaret Beckett is obviously right to denounce Guantanamo Bay as unacceptable but the UK Government's stubborn refusal to press for the release of the UK residents marooned at the detention centre is also unacceptable.

"Along with the families here in Britain, we are increasingly dismayed at the Government's policy on this: denouncing on the one hand, standing aside when it could help on the other."

The Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, whose constituency of Brent East is home to one of the detainees, Jamil el-Banna, accused the Government of "blatant hypocrisy". She said: "The Government has a clear moral obligation to help these men."

A legal challenge to its stance had been brought by Mr Banna, Bisher al-Rawi and Omar Deghayes, who all have indefinite leave to remain in Britain and have families in this country. Although they do not have UK citizenship, their lawyers argue they should be viewed by the Government in the same way as the nine UK citizens who were freed from Guantanamo Bay in 2004 and 2005.

Their lawyers said the three men were being exposed to torture and their human rights were being violated. But the Court of Appeal upheld the Foreign Office's argument that it had no duty to act because they were not British nationals.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, called on Tony Blair to join the growing chorus of condemnation from senior ministers. He said: "One by one, government ministers are starting to see sense on Guantanamo. It is a pity that they did not show such independence much earlier. We await the Prime Minister's conversion."

The Foreign Office report is the British Government's annual assessment of human rights abuses around the world. It highlighted the widespread violence and terrorism in Iraq and includes allegations of abuse by coalition forces and claims of "execution-style" murders by militias. In Afghanistan, the report warned about journalists facing arrest or harassment and said there was "little respect" for women's rights.

The document also criticised Israel, although it did not include any mention of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and its use of cluster bombs during its war against Hizbollah in the summer.

Foreign Office report on human rights

IRAQ

The Foreign Office human rights report highlights alleged abuses in Iraq and says security remains "a serious challenge".

The report includes claims that civilians suffered burns from white phosphorous weapons during operations in Fallujah, and quotes the US government saying some of the weapons were used on "legitimate targets".

The report says US forces are holding 13,250 people in Iraq. It described as "deeply shocking' allegations that Iraqi civilians were unlawfully killed by US forces in Ishtaq and Haditha, but said the US said their troops acted correctly in Ishtaq and prosecutions were underway over Haditha.

AFGHANISTAN

The Foreign Office reported that "journalists who speak out on sensitive issues such as religion, continue to face arrest of harassment" but insisted that the independent media has resisted official pressure and holds the Afghan government to account. It says that there is "still little respect for woman's rights in Afghan society" but points to "marked improvements" over the past five years.

ISRAEL AND LEBANON

Progress on improving human rights in Israel and the Occupied territories has been "limited", the report says. It points to concerns about Israel's failure to respect the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, criticising the Israeli security barrier, targeted killings and "intimidation and harassment of Palestinian citizens". The Palestinian authority is also criticised for being "unable or unwilling' to prevent violence or bring perpetrators to justice.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The report repeats the Government's increasingly trenchant criticism of Guantanamo Bay, describing the situation as "unacceptable", adding: "We are concerned about reports of hunger strikes involving detainees and the tragic suicide of three inmates in May 2006."

Ben Russell

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