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U.K. To Compensate Former Guantanamo Detainees

Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained at Guantanamo for more than four years, hides his face as he leaves an air base in London in February 2009.
Britain is reportedly set to pay millions of dollars in compensation to around a dozen men who accused British security forces of colluding in their torture overseas.

At least six of the men -- all British citizens or residents -- went on to be detained at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

British agents are not accused of torturing detainees themselves.

But the men say British officials knew of their mistreatment while they were being held by Pakistan and other countries -- but did nothing to stop it.

Parliament is expected to debate the payout when Justice Secretary Ken Clarke makes a statement later in the day.

The news was welcomed by the campaign group Liberty. Its legal officer Corinna Ferguson tells RFE/RL that a settlement will pave the way for a planned independent inquiry that is due to examine how much the government knew about the treatment of detainees on foreign soil.

The director of Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia Program, Nicola Duckworth, said financial compensation could be an "important part of the right to remedy and reparation for victims of grave human rights violations"

But she added there was still a need for full and public disclosure "about serious human rights violations" and that states had a duty to hold those responsible to account.

Judicial Inquiry

The settlement is thought to aim at avoiding a court case that would put the British secret intelligence services under the spotlight and at preventing the release of secret documents.

Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, and Martin Mubanga all took action against the government, claiming that British intelligence agencies and government departments were complicit in their torture before they arrived at Guantanamo.

The most famous case is that of Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born U.K. resident who says he was flown from Pakistan to Morocco and tortured before being moved to Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Mohamed alleges that in Morocco he was asked questions supplied by Britain's domestic spy service, MI5.

In July, the High Court ordered the release of some of the 500,000 documents relating to the men's case.

And the same month, Prime Minister David Cameron announced an inquiry into claims Britain's security services were complicit in the torture of suspected violent extremists on foreign soil after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The inquiry, led by a judge, was due to start before the end of the year and was expected to report within 12 months.

"We very much hope that this judicial enquiry will be able -- because it's not a formal legal process -- to be freer in terms of the way it deals with the procedure," Liberty's Ferguson says.

"And we hope that it will deal with as much as possible in public. It may not be that everything is in public, but as much as possible so that it can have real confidence of those who are participating in it, and that we can find out exactly what happened, who was making these decisions about the treatment of these people by foreign governments and why wasn't it being reported as soon as we found out something was going wrong."

Cameron said that "wherever appropriate," compensation would be offered to people who had brought civil-court actions over their treatment.

'Real, Constant, Operational Dilemmas'

He also announced plans to look at how British courts handled intelligence, saying that relations with the United States had been "strained" over the disclosure of secret information.

John Sawers, the head of the British foreign intelligence service, MI6, said in October that his agency was in no way involved in torture activities.

"Torture is illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it. If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we are required by U.K. and international law to avoid that action, and we do, even though that allows the terrorist activity to go ahead," Sawers said.

"Some may question this, but we are clear that it is the right thing to do. It makes us strive all the harder to find different ways, consistent with human rights, to get the outcome we want."

Sawers said he welcomed the inquiry, but made it clear that in his view the courts should be prevented from disclosing any information from MI6, and specifically intelligence emanating from the CIA.

In the first public speech given by a serving head of the MI6 in its 100-year history, Sawers admitted, however, that the risk of human rights abuse threw up "real, constant, operational dilemmas."

with agency reports