Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Should we not be careful to avoid confusion over the status of the detainees? Some—for example, members of the Afghan forces—may well be entitled to prisoner of war status; others, for example, members of the bin Laden organisation, are persons against whom criminal offences have been alleged. It is difficult to see on what basis those persons could be entitled to prisoner of war status. They are, however, entitled to the kind of protection that would be afforded to any citizen charged with criminal offences before any civilised court.

21 Jan 2002 : Column 627

Should not our message to the American Government be that no one being held should receive treatment worse than that afforded to those charged with criminal offences before an American court, but that some—probably a minority—are entitled to the higher status of prisoners of war?

Mr. Bradshaw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely correct about the difficulty of arriving at a definition of "prisoner of war". We have made exactly the representations that he suggests to the United States, as well as the representation on the death penalty suggested by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara).

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I was in Geneva last week, talking to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the president of the Red Cross. There was no doubt that they felt the detainees should be designated prisoners of war. If there is any dispute about the issue, however, it should be determined by a court of law—an independent tribunal—and certainly not by any one man: not by Donald Rumsfeld, Ben Bradshaw, or any other single person.

Can my hon. Friend say how many other British prisoners are on their way to Cuba? Why can British prisoners be taken out of Afghanistan without, apparently, any consultation with the British, who did not seem even to know that there were British prisoners until they arrived in Cuba? Can we be assured that that will not happen again?

As Kofi Annan said last week, human rights cannot be cherry-picked. For 50 years we have fought for a definition of human rights, and I thought that we had arrived at one. I supported the war. I hope that we can persist in our dealings with the United States, and say that—although we support that country—we have standards in Britain, and we do not want them to be dropped.

Mr. Bradshaw: First, let me congratulate my hon. Friend and say how much I admire her work on human rights and similar issues. Secondly, let me repeat what I said to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg): it is not possible to make a blanket declaration that the detainees are prisoners of war, whatever some organisations may want, because under international law the status of any detainee must be considered in the light of the individual case. That is why this is such a complicated issue. What matters is that all the detainees, regardless of whether they are prisoners of war, are entitled to humane treatment and, if prosecuted, to a fair trial.

I also cannot speculate on whether more British detainees are likely to be on their way, or soon to be on their way, to the base at Guantanamo Bay; but we have good channels of communication with the Americans, and they will continue to operate if that turns out to be the case.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the Minister be kind enough to send a copy of his robust, sensible statement to the editors of all those newspapers who published such scurrilous stories yesterday? Will he

21 Jan 2002 : Column 628

remind them that the United States and Great Britain yield to no one in their defence of truth and observance of the highest possible standards in these matters?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, which the Foreign Office news department may like to take up, particularly as I wrote the statement myself.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that my constituent, Mr. Abbasi, is one of the detainees in Camp X-Ray. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his reassurance that Mr. Abbasi should be treated both humanely and in accordance with international law. He will know that Mr. Abbasi's mother, Mrs. Juma, fears that her son will face the ultimate breach of human rights: the death penalty. With that in mind, has any progress been made in respect of extradition, particularly given that American detainees will face a federal court? Does he agree that that underlines the case for the establishment of an international criminal court, where these things can be sorted out even-handedly?

Mr. Bradshaw: I can give most of the assurances that my hon. Friend has asked for, but it is too soon to speculate about what charges his constituent may face. We regularly, not just on these issues, make plain our views on the death penalty to our friends in the United States. Although the Government and I fully support the idea of an international criminal court, he will know that the jurisdiction of an international criminal court cannot be retrospective. Some people call for these people to be tried in international criminal courts or ad hoc courts, but those are not supposed to replace national jurisdictions. They are used only when national jurisdictions are unwilling or unable to prosecute.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): The Minister should be warmly commended by the House for coming at the first possible opportunity to report and to put the minds of many of us at rest after we had read what now appear to be singularly ill informed comments in Sunday's newspapers.

I ask two specific questions. First, will the Minister confirm that many of the prisoners held in Cuba were among the prisoners who murdered 300 Afghan guards before Christmas; and, secondly, that many of them have openly and publicly said that they wish to do the same to their American guards?

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not want to give too many details about those who are in Guantanamo Bay but I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. I can confirm, however, that those who are held there are in the highest category of seriousness in terms of what they have done and the responsibilities that they have had. Some are the most senior foreign al-Qaeda fighters.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): May I also congratulate my hon. Friend on volunteering the statement so early? I well understand why he says that we should not speculate about where the prisoners will be tried. Wherever they are tried, however, the British subjects should have proper legal safeguards, including access to lawyers, knowing the nature of the case against them and

21 Jan 2002 : Column 629

having an appropriate appeal procedure. Can he give the House the undertaking that, whatever the forum in which they are tried, those basic legal safeguards will be upheld?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I can. Again, it is too early to speculate about what charges the prisoners may face, but if the detainees face prosecution, under international norms they will be entitled to legal representation.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Is the Minister aware that, if the prisoners had been held under the Geneva convention, none of the intrusive media and press photography and comment would have been allowed? Under article 13,


The last prisoner of war camp in the United Kingdom was at Rollestone camp in my constituency during the Gulf war. The press and media were forbidden from taking any photographs or approaching the camp to take photographs, which could indeed be taken to humiliate those prisoners.

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point for those who think that this is an issue of definition rather than of how the detainees are actually treated. He is absolutely right: there are some ways in which, if they had prisoner of war status, their conditions would be seriously worse. He spoke about press intrusion, and the other aspect is that it would be allowable to hold them indefinitely, until the end of hostilities in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is my hon. Friend aware that we in the House always expect that all prisoners should be treated according to the highest standards expected of western parliamentary democracies, far beyond what these people would have experienced if they had been prisoners of al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Will he confirm that these men are where they are because they were where they were? They were in Afghanistan, and if the charges against the British prisoners are proven, they were there to fight against their own country and its interests, and if possible to kill many of their own fellow citizens.

It is extremely important to abide by our own standards, but will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that there are already reports that one of the prisoners has attacked a guard at the camp? In view of the fact that such people have attacked and killed guards in Afghanistan and tried to hijack planes, should not we take a very measured approach indeed?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. While we should of course insist on treatment that is in accord with international norms, we should never forget who these men are, what they are responsible for, and what many of them have done while in captivity in Afghanistan, including exploding grenades on their bodies to kill themselves, their captors and others. An ITN journalist was killed in one incident. These are highly dangerous fanatics who have absolutely no regard for their own safety or that of others.


Next Section

IndexHome Page