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Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Given the unusually short notice that we received of this statement, may I ask the House to accept the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) for not being here to respond?
Weand, I am sure, the entire Houseexpect the highest standards of treatment to be accorded to the prisoners. The current interest in them as they are held by the US military in Cuba has largely been provoked by photographs that perhaps represent a PR setback, but that, it seems, do not reflect the full truth. We are pleased to learn that the prisonersin particular, those from the United Kingdomhave no serious complaints about their treatment. They are not suffering the abuse of their human rights that many commentators have asserted; that assertion now appears to have been unfounded. Indeed, in considering that issue we must remember that the very fact that our free press can publish the pictures, ask questions and express opinions is an enduring testimony to the free, democratic society in which we live and which we are fighting to defend.
As the Minister said, we should be under no illusions. The people who have been transported to Cuba are, more likely than not, highly dangerous terrorists who are part of a network that has shown utter contempt for human life and who have raped and tortured women and innocent civilians, subjugated their own people and even denied those whom they pretended to govern access to life-saving humanitarian aid.
The prisoners probably have information about their organisation and they could have information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. We must remember that, by extracting it, we could prevent terrorist outrages and the loss of more innocent lives. If all their human rights had been removed, and if they had been brutally treated when coalition forces captured them in Afghanistan, they probably would not be in Cuba now. There is no reason to suspect that they are likely to receive any worse or harsher treatment than that which they received on capture.
I am grateful to the Minister for his statement, but I would welcome clarification of a number of areas. Does he have any indication of the circumstances in which the British prisoners were apprehended? What jurisdiction do they fall under? Is there any case for bringing them back to this country for trial? What charges are likely to be filed against them?
Does the Minister have any specific information on whether the detained Britons are al-Qaeda or Taliban members? During questioning over the past two or three days, what indications have any of them given about the nature of their involvement or activities in Afghanistan? I respect the Government's decision not to reveal names until the next of kin have been contacted, but can the Minister offer any indication of where in the United Kingdom the prisoners are from?
Does the Minister share our view that there must be firmness and fairness in this matter? We want the highest standards without risky naivety, which is what we look for in his answers to our questions.
Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's supportive comments. He asks about the circumstances of the arrests of the three men, but I am afraid that I cannot give any more details. Even if we had them or if I had seen them, military activity is still going on in Afghanistan and any details that I revealed could jeopardise other people's security. I simply stress to him and to the House that at no stage during their long interviews with British officials did they complain about their treatment, from their arrest to their transfer to Guantanamo and since.
In terms of a trial, we should not get ahead of ourselves. One problem of the public debate in this country over recent days is that people have assumed things that we are not yet sure about. Until we have had a chance to interview all those concerned, and until we have more details about exactly what went on and the prisoners' circumstances, we should not speculate about their status or where their trial might take place.
The hon. Gentleman also asks whether I can give some idea of where in the United Kingdom the prisoners come from, but I am afraid that I do not intend to give any more details that might reveal their identities until we have spoken to their families.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): If some reports on the treatment of prisoners are exaggeration, that is welcome, but is my hon. Friend aware that disquiet will undoubtedly remain in this country over the British and other prisoners being held? I fully supported the campaign in Afghanistan and believed that it had to be waged, but is he aware that the democracies must accept at all times the necessity of civilised values, which are the opposite of the values of the terrorists and the Taliban? I have no illusionsthese are very dangerous peoplebut, as in 1945, prisoners must be apprehended, questioned and interrogated in accord with civilised values and norms.
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that, by our statement and by giving details of the interviews that British officials conducted, some of the disquiet to which he rightly referred will be dispelled.
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): As other hon. Members have said, there is great concern in the United Kingdom and elsewhere because of the pictures and reports of the treatment of prisoners in Camp X-Ray. There are continuing worries about how the United States should treat the prisoners. The Minister says that the Red Cross will have a permanent presence at the prison, but will he give an assurance that some form of reportingindependent of the Governmentson the prisoners' conditions will be given to those outside the camp? Is he able to place extracts from the report in the Library of the House of Commons, and make it his habit to do so while the prisoners are kept in detention?
Although the Minister says that it is too soon to determine the legal status of the prisoners, does he acknowledge the great concern about whether they are being held under the Geneva convention and under what international law they will be tried? Does he accept that there is a damaging contrast between the treatment of John Walker, the United States citizen, who will be tried in a federal court, and the others, including British citizens, who are likely to be tried in a secretive, military tribunal? Does he agree that justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done in these circumstances?
The United States, along with the United Kingdom, made much of the moral case for the war against terrorism. Will the Minister tell us what assessment he has made of the impact of the prisoners' treatment on coalition opinion? Is not there a danger that America's treatment of the prisoners at best sends out the wrong signals, and at worst undermines the moral authority of the coalition against terrorism?
We have had assurances from the United States that the detainees will be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention. Like me, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware that the definition of a prisoner of war is an extremely complicated matter on which it is not easy to make a judgment. What is important, and what matters, is that detainees are treated humanely in accordance with international norms, which is the case, and that if they are brought to trial, they are given a fair trial.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asks about the impact on coalition opinion. I suspect that the impact has been far greater on some elements of the press in this country than it has been on our coalition allies. As Minister with responsibility for the whole of the Muslim and Arab world, I have not had a single representation on this issue. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as well aware as I am that public opinion in the Muslim world changed dramatically on the day of the liberation of Kabul, when ordinary people in the Muslim world saw the Taliban in their true colours.
What will happen to the British citizens who have been captured? Unless they can be directly connected with September's events, under the Geneva convention they are, surely, prisoners of war or the equivalent. In that case, should not they be tried in this country for offences under our legislation? Have the British Government made representations to the United States that British subjects not accused of crimes in the United States should be tried in the United Kingdom, and that if tried in the United States they should not be subject to the death penalty or to a military tribunal?
I am afraid it is too early to speculate on what will happen next. That depends on the outcome of the interviews with those in captivity. It is certainly too early to speculate on what might happen to themon whether they will be tried in the United States, or deported.