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US, British Legal Officials Discuss Trial of British Terror Suspects - 2003-08-12


The British attorney general met in London Tuesday with the senior U.S. Defense Department attorney to discuss how to achieve fair trials for nine British terrorist suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This is the third time senior British and American legal experts have met to discuss the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners.

British Attorney General Peter Goldsmith and U.S. Defense Department chief legal council William Haynes chaired the talks.

British officials said the discussions focused on two of the nine Britons held at Guantanamo Bay: Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg. They are on President Bush's initial list of detainees who could face military tribunals at Guantanamo.

In a recent interview on British radio, Attorney General Goldsmith outlined the concessions he has gotten so far from the Americans regarding the two British suspects.

"My objective has been to ensure, if prosecuted, the British detainees are assured of fair trials which meet generally recognized principles," he explained. "Now I was able to announce important assurances and concessions, especially important in undertaking that the death penalty would not be sought in relation to these two. That they would have to ability to choose a civilian lawyer, and that the confidentiality of lawyer-client communications would be respected."

As the talks continue, it is understood that Mr. Goldsmith wants the Americans to allow a mental assessment of the British suspects to make sure they are fit to stand trial. Also, he wants the American military tribunals to adopt the same rigorous standards of evidence that a civilian court would require.

The United States is also understood to have some concerns. The Americans want assurances the British suspects will not be released early if they are convicted and transferred to Britain to serve their sentences. Also, the Americans do not want the suspects to be able to go to a British court and challenge their convictions.

About 660 terrorist suspects are detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, most of them classified as enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan in the war against the Taleban and the al-Qaida network.

The United States has not used military tribunals since World War II.