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U.K.: Police Investigate Five Brits To Be Freed From Guantanamo Bay

Prague, 20 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Police in Britain say they are to investigate the cases of five Britons who are set to be freed from the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

The announcement today came after British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday revealed the five will be released soon following an agreement with Washington: "We've agreed with the United States authorities that five of the British detainees will return to the United Kingdom. They are: Rhuhel Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul, Jamal al-Harith, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul. These men will be flown home to the United Kingdom in the next few weeks."

The five -- plus a Danish national also being repatriated -- are among some 660 men being held as terror suspects at the base.

They have spent two years at Guantanamo without trial or knowing the charges against them. That's because the U.S. classifies Guantanamo detainees as enemy combatants and not prisoners of war.

The announcement the men are to return home follows months of campaigning by their families as well as human-rights organizations.

British media speculated the men will likely be released on their return.

But London's Metropolitan Police say they are opening an investigation into whether any of the five men might have violated British antiterrorist laws.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also said they may have to face charges in their home countries: These two countries are among our closest allies in the fight against terrorism. We have full confidence that they will take the responsibility to ensure that these people do not become a threat to the United States or to their own citizens.

Straw says discussions are continuing on the status of the four other Britons who are still being held at Guantanamo. One is Moazzam Begg, whose father Azmat recently spoke to RFE/RL: "That's what I'm fighting for, that he should be allowed to come to Britain. It doesn't matter if they put him behind bars, I wouldn't bother. He should be allowed to see his wife and lawyers, then he should be medically examined, then if he's all right of course he should be tried. If he's done anything wrong he should be punished, but if he hasn't done anything wrong, why was he there for two years, which are equal to about 20 years of normal imprisonment?"

Teresa Richardson, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, welcomed the men's repatriation, but added: "We're obviously extremely pleased that these people will be returned to their home countries, both the five U.K. nationals and the Danish national. But we remain particularly concerned about the fact that there are hundreds of people who continue to wait in legal limbo inside Guantanamo Bay."

She urged governments to lobby on behalf of all the detainees, not just their own nationals.