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US Frees British Prisoners from Guantanamo


The last four Britons held at the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been released and have returned home, where they are in police custody for questioning.

The release of the four British men, suspected by the United States of having links to the al-Qaida terrorist network, culminates months of delicate diplomatic negotiations.

The detentions without trial had upset Britain's Muslim community. The detentions also had been a political headache for Prime Minister Tony Blair, as they fueled domestic criticism of his support for Washington's tactics in the war on terrorism.

Adding to the controversy, the detainees' lawyers allege the men were tortured and they are contemplating a lawsuit against the United States.

One of the freed prisoners is Moazzam Begg, whose father Azmat says he is worried about his son's physical and mental health.

"I heard from his solicitor, his lawyer in America, that he was in a very small cell. He spent about three years,” he said. “You can imagine what his condition will be."

One of the lawyers involved, Clive Stafford-Smith, is appealing for British police to speedily question the men and not prolong their legal difficulties.

"My plea to the British government is this: These guys have been through enough,” he said. “My clients, I know, from meeting with them in Guantanamo Bay last week, have been tortured horribly and they need rehabilitation, not interrogation."

British authorities have given no indication of whether the four men have committed any crimes that could be prosecuted under British law. British homeland security agents did question the men at least nine times during their detention at Guantanamo.

The Defense Department in Washington says it agreed to release the men after the British government gave security assurances that it would work to prevent the men from engaging in or supporting terrorist activities.

As for the allegations of torture, the Defense Department has opened an investigation following the release this month of FBI e-mails reporting numerous incidents of physical abuse of Guantanamo prisoners.

About 545 prisoners from more than 40 countries are still detained at the Guantanamo camp, which was first opened to hold suspected terrorists picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan, following the 2001 al-Qaida attacks on the United States.

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