» Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Guantanamo Bay

Asked to explain the Prime Minister’s point this morning that he wasn’t ready to take back the four remaining British detainees at Guantanamo Bay because the ‘mechanisms’ to do so were not in place, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had told the Liaison Committee, it was important to strike the right balance between recognising people’s rights on the one hand, and maintaining the security of this country on the other. He had also underlined that discussions were continuing with the US authorities and that we were currently considering the implications of the US Supreme Court ruling. Put to him that it appeared the Prime Minister himself was conceding that there were very big security implications for the UK and US were the detainees to be returned, the PMOS said we had recognised from the outset that the US authorities had legitimate security concerns, which was why we were determined not to comprise our security. That said, it was important to strike the right balance between that point and the rights of the individuals concerned. He was unable to provide additional detail about this issue because he did not want to prejudice their cases. Asked about the rights of the general public in the UK and the US, the PMOS said it was important for people to recognise that it was also necessary to uphold the law. That was a fundamental principle of the position we had adopted. Asked to explain why we were seeking the return of the British detainees when we didn’t have the security to guard the rest of the population from them, the PMOS repeated that it was necessary to achieve the right balance between upholding the law of the country as well as its security. That was precisely what we were trying to do. Asked how the Government could reassure people that we were doing both, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had said this morning, we took the need to maintain security very seriously. We were working on the appropriate mechanisms to ensure that was the case.

Asked if the Government might admit that, in the same way that it had been wrong about WMD, it could also have been wrong about the four detainees, the PMOS said that there were very real security concerns at stake. However, he was unable to go into specific detail because to do so could prejudice the cases of the four individuals concerned. Put to him that the very fact that the Britons were still being held in Guantanamo Bay was prejudicial to their cases, the PMOS said that he would disagree. He was simply explaining why we were in discussions with the US authorities. We had not commented on the four cases in detail. Asked if the reason why we had agreed to only five of the original detainees returning to the UK rather than all nine was because we had not been ready to take the remaining four back or whether it was simply a case of the US wanting to continue to hold them, the PMOS said that as we had made clear at the time, the US’s concerns had been based on security issues which we recognised to be legitimate.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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