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British Government Pays Compensation to Former Guantanamo Detainees

Binyam Mohamed, foreground, belongs to a group of former Guantanamo Bay detainees who together sued the British government for alleged complicity in torture, 23 Feb 2009 (file photo)

The British government announced it will pay compensation to former Guantanamo Bay detainees, rather than enter into a major legal battle with the men. The former detainees accuse British security forces of colluding in their torture overseas.

Britain's Justice Secretary Ken Clarke made the announcement. "The government has now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, " he said.

The money will go to 16 men who were detained by United States forces at Guantanamo Bay. The sum has not been made public.

The men claim British officials were aware of or complicit in their torture overseas.

They launched a damages claim against British intelligence agencies. Clarke said the settlement package will avoid a major legal battle. "No admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations," he said.

Clarke said a legal battle would have been drawn out and expensive. And he said national security could have been put at risk.

In May, the Court of Appeal in Britain ruled that allegations of wrongdoing could not be heard in a closed court, which could have brought secret intelligence information into the public domain.

The settlement makes way for an independent inquiry into how much the British government knew about the treatment of detainees overseas.

Alice Wyss, of the human-rights group Amnesty International, says that investigation is important. "There continues to be a pressing need for full and public disclosure about the truth of these allegations, that the U.K. was involved in mistreatment of individuals detained abroad," she said. "And the forthcoming inquiry, which the Prime Minister announced in July, provides us with an opportunity for exactly that."

She says many countries in Europe are looking to make governments more accountable for human-rights violations that take place during counter-terrorism operations abroad.

"We would want to see similar moves being made in the U.S., where there is clear evidence that the U.S. was involved and has committed grave human rights violations and under international law the U.S. is obliged to investigate them and hold individuals to account and we would like to see that happening," said Wyss.

One of the former detainees who received compensation, Binyam Mohamed, claims Britain knew he had been sent by the U.S. security agency to Morocco where his genitals were sliced with a scalpel during interrogation.