Foreign office: Prisoners in good health

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Indy Politics

A Foreign Office minister said that the Government was satisfied that British al-Qa'ida prisoners in Cuba were in good health and being treated in line with international law.

Speaking in the Commons today, Ben Bradshaw said that after seeing a report compiled by British officials who visited the prisoners, he was satisfied that they were being treated in line with international laws and in conditions where security was paramount.

He said: "The detainees are free to conduct religious observances, they have prayer mats and calls to prayers are broadcast over the Camp X-Ray PA system. They are given as much drinking water as they want, three meals a day and food that complies with their religious practices, if they wish it.

"During the visit the officials received full co-operation from the camp's commander who said that the more lurid allegations about torture and sensory deprivation are completely false."

Mr Bradshaw added: "I am fully satisfied with the co-operation we have had with the United States authorities on this issue."

The treatment of the prisoners was criticised after photographs appeared of the inmates at the maximum facility dressed in bright orange jumpsuits, turquoise surgical masks and blacked-out goggles.

Earlier, the Foreign Secretary was pressed to respond to the pictures, after they sparked an outcry among MPs and pressure groups. Amnesty International said the pictures were "shocking" and members of the all-party Parliamentary Human Rights Committee asked for a meeting with the American ambassador to discuss the case.

The pictures suggested the prisoners might be subjected to sensory deprivation, but Downing Street accused commentators of "rushing to judgement".

A team of British officials left the military base last night after assessing the condition of British detainees. They will report back to ministers later in the week. A team of Red Cross observers has also examined the detainees' conditions.

Mr Straw said: "The British Government's position is that prisoners ­ regardless of their technical status ­ should be treated humanely and in accordance with customary international law."

He added: "I await the British officials' report. As for the photographs, I have asked our officials in Guantanamo Bay to establish with the US the exact circumstances in which these photographs were taken."

But in Washington, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, defended the conditions as humane and suggested that the criticism was ill-informed.

"Obviously anyone would be concerned if people were suggesting that treatment were not proper," he said. "The fact remains that treatment is proper. There is no doubt in my mind that it is humane and appropriate and consistent with the Geneva Convention for the most part. I think that the people who have been the most shrill on the subject, once they have more knowledge of the subject, will stop being so shrill."

He said: "These are very tough, hardcore, well-trained terrorists. They are being allowed to practise their religion, which is not something they encouraged on the part of others. They are clothed cleanly and they are dry and safe."

The Pentagon said goggles were put on the prisoners when they entered the prison ­ known as Camp X-Ray ­ to prevent them scrutinising security arrangements. The medical face masks were put on to prevent the potential spread of TB.