» Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Put to him that the issues surrounding the legal status of the detainees at Belmarsh prison could be characterised as a ‘muddle’, the PMOS said that the statement would be an attempt to recognise, on one hand, the serious concerns there were about security. These concerns had been recognised by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Court of Appeal, both of whom had upheld the Home Secretary’s conclusion that there was a public emergency threatening the security of the nation and the lives of UK citizens. On the other hand we had to balance those concerns with the need to meet our international obligations and meet the concerns of the House of Lords. While it was clear from events around the world and from intelligence that the threat remained serious, it was important to balance the legal concerns and that was what Charles Clarke would try to do. Asked if we could not just exempt these measures from the Human Rights Act, the PMOS said that we did have to take cogniscence of legal concerns and international concerns. That was what set democratic nations apart from undemocratic ones.

Asked if there were any legal powers to restrain the detainees or keep them under surveillance, the PMOS said it was better if people waited for Charles Clarke’s statement this afternoon where he would set out the precise legal position and what the proposals were.

Asked if the Government was now acknowledging that detaining people at Bellmarsh had been a mistake, the PMOS said that what the Government acknowledged was that this was a unique situation. What was important was to recognise the real difficulty that we had in responding to a such unique situation. Simplistic answers were not going to deal with this very real problem. You had to think this through and balance the differing priorities. However as the Home Secretary had made clear, as indeed had the previous Home Secretary, what we could not do was compromise this countries national security. At the same time we had done our best to meet our international and legal obligations.

Asked if this development had been deliberately timed to coincide with the release of four more British detainees from the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, the PMOS said no. The time frame for this had been set by the House of Lords decision before Christmas.

Asked if there had been any arrangements made with the US authorities to keep the Guantanamo bay detainees under surveillance, the PMOS said that he would not get into that sort of detail. The process would be determined by the Metropolitan Police. Put to him that civil rights and human rights organisations had said that the detainees had been subjected to torture, the PMOS said that he was aware of the allegations. Over the 9 visits Government officials had made to Guantanamo the detainees had been able to raise any concerns they had and these concerns were followed through. The PMOS made it clear that those concerns weren’t necessarily related to torture. Asked of the British Government had raised any concerns about the treatment of people at Guantanamo with the US authorities, the PMOS said that the Government had always said that the situation was not ideal and that we had concerns about it, that was a matter of record. We did not believe however that the men had been mistreated.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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