Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office


Q1. What is HMG's view of the conditions in which detainees are held at the Guantanamo base?

  A team of British officials visited the Guantanamo Base between 17 and 20 January. It reported that the three British detainees were in good physical health. None complained of ill treatment. None said they had any medical condition requiring treatment. Medical facilities are available in the compound. The detainees are provided with showers, soap and toilet articles. They are free to conduct religious observances. They have prayer mats, and calls to prayer are broadcast over the Camp X-Ray public address system. They are given as much drinking water as they want, three meals a day and food that complies with their religious practice if they require it. During lengthy discussions the three British detainees spoke without inhibition. All the indicators are that they are being treated humanely, in line with international humanitarian norms.

  The International Committee of the Red Cross now has a permanent presence at Guantanamo Bay and ICRC officials have access to the detainees at any time.

Q2. What is HMG's view of the obligations of the US Government towards such detainees under the Geneva and UN conventions.

  The status of each detainee under international humanitarian law has to be considered in the light of the facts of the individual case.

  Whatever their status, the detainees are entitled to humane treatment and, if prosecuted, to a fair trial. On 22 January, the US Secretary of State for Defence made a public statement that they are being treated humanely, consistently with the principles of the Geneva Convention.

Q3. What information does HMG have on the circumstances in which detainees at the Guantanamo base have been heavily restrained, as shown in photographs reproduced in the British media?

  The US authorities have made clear that certain security and protective measures were taken during the transfer of the detainees to Guantanamo Bay. They were blindfolded and shackled for security reasons. They were provided with earmuffs as protection against the high level of noise inside the military aircraft in which they were travelling. They were also made to wear face masks for reasons of hygiene. Prisoners are not shackled or in any other way restrained when in their cells. They are however shackled when outside their cells, for example, when being taken to the lavatories or showers.

Q4. What is the HMG's view of the treatment of British nationals detained by the US authorities?

  See response to Question 1.

Q5. What is the HMG's view of the appropriateness of military courts as a method of proceeding against alleged "unlawful combatants"?

  It is for the United States to decide what options are available to them under their own legal system for trying terrorists. We have asked for full information on the way military tribunals might work.

  HMG welcome the US commitment to making individual determination of the legal status of each of the detainees. This process has not been completed. It is too early to speculate about trials of the prisoners, or the appropriateness of military courts which may be established.

  What is clear is that British nationals and others should, if prosecuted, have a fair trail with proper legal safeguards in line with international human rights norms.

Q6. Paragraph 2 of Clerk to the FAC's letter to PRDD of 22 January. Request by the Committee for the "full report" referred to by Ben Bradshaw in his statement to the House on 21 January at column 623.

  We regret that it is not possible to comply with the request to provide the Committee with a full copy of the report prepared by officials following their visit to the British nationals detained in Guantanamo Bay.

  The report contains detailed personal information about the detainees and their next of kin. FCO obligations of consular confidentiality prevent us from releasing such information into the public domain. The content of the generic sections of the report was communicated in the statement to the House on 21 January by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

January 2002

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Prepared 28 February 2002