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Britain Satisfied with Treatment of al-Qaida Prisoners - 2002-01-15


Britain says it is satisfied so far with the treatment of al-Qaida and Taleban prisoners being held at a U.S. military base in Cuba.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he has discussed the prisoner issue with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Straw says he was assured that British consular officials will get access to three of the captives who claim they are British nationals.

He said Secretary Powell accepts that the United States has obligations to treat the prisoners within the bounds of international law.

The United States does not consider the captives to be prisoners of war, meaning they have fewer rights than if they were protected under the Geneva Conventions.

Human rights groups and some British politicians have complained that the captives should not have been shackled and hooded when they were flown from Afghanistan to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba.

However, Mr. Straw told British radio he thinks the security measures were appropriate. "I defy anybody to say you could transport potentially profoundly dangerous prisoners other than by wholly restraining them altogether and to insure that they couldn't signal to each other," he said. "Just bear in mind what some of the alleged associates of these people have done."

The United States says the prisoners are among the most dangerous members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, and the Taleban regime that sheltered them in Afghanistan.

The United States accuses al-Qaida of carrying out the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans on September 11.

Mr. Straw said Britain understands the special threat the prisoners could pose, but London also has an obligation to its citizens. "These people, who are the prisoners, are accused of having been members of the most dangerous terrorist organization which the world has ever seen," said Mr. Straw. "Now that does not mean that they do not have rights, and where they are British citizens, it is our responsibility to assure that they receive those rights."

Mr. Straw said authorities are working on the assumption that the three men who claim British citizenship are indeed British, though their identities have not been confirmed.

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