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Us suspends proceedings against britons { July 18 2003 }

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US suspends proceedings against Guantanamo Britons

Friday July 18, 2003

The United States has agreed to suspend controversial military court proceedings against British detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, pending talks with British legal officials, it was announced today.

The prime minister's official spokesman said a joint US-British statement, due to be released later today by the White House, would confirm the decision, which follows Tony Blair's talks yesterday on the subject with US President George Bush.

"The president listened to the concerns of the prime minister and we believe that this is the best way forward," the spokesman told reporters travelling with Mr Blair to Japan.

There are nine Britons being held at Guantanamo Bay - two were on an initial list of six detainees out of a total of 667 prisoners to be tried by a military tribunal in the camp.

Proceedings against the two are now off until a British legal team, led by the attorney general, meets a high-level American legal team to discuss "all aspects" of the nine Britons' cases next week.

The announcement comes a day after Mr Bush said he would "work with the British government" on the fates of Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, two of the British detainees, but said: "The only thing we know for certain is that these are bad people."

The families of Mr Begg and Mr Abbasi reacted angrily to Mr Bush's suggestion.

Mr Begg's father told GMTV: "How can he say that? I do not accept that sort of remark. I can pass that remark to any person but I know what is right and what is wrong."

He insisted that his son was innocent and repeated his appeal for him to be brought back to the UK to face British justice.

"If he is found guilty here I will say that my son is a bad man, but if he's tried there under military jury or in America, I will have a different opinion altogether," he said.

Louise Christian, solicitor for Mr Abassi's mother Zumrati Juma, also condemned the remarks.

"It is common for people who abuse human rights to justify the abuse by describing those they accuse of being bad or evil," she said.

"The whole point about human rights' legislation is that everybody has certain human rights, regardless of morality, and those people detained in Guantanamo Bay have been denied this. They have not been given access to a lawyer or a court."

Whether the detainees will now face a civilian court in the US or Britain remains unclear however.

Reports have suggested that the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is reluctant to seek extradition of the Guantanamo Bay detainees because of fears that there is insufficient evidence to charge them in a British court.

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