Thursday, Feb 28, 2002
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By Hasan Suroor
The pressure on the British Government to intervene and make sure that they are allowed access to lawyers grew today following reports that Pentagon had admitted that it had not yet been able to put together enough evidence for them to be put on trial. In an unprecedented move, two of Britain's most prestigious legal bodies the Law Society and the Bar Council's human rights committee representing over 100,000 lawyers across the country joined the campaign against denial of basic rights to prisoners at Camp X-Ray.
The Law Society president, David McIntosh, wrote to the Government demanding that it ask the U.S. authorities to allow British detainees to have access to their lawyers, even as two leading professors of international law at Oxford University said the detainees had a right to legal advice even if the U.S. Government insisted on treating them as "unlawful combatants'' rather than prisoners of war. They said the U.S. was "violating'' its internaitonal legal duties to maintain equality of all persons before the law by allowing a U.S. suspect, John Lindh, to see his lawyers while denying the same right to others.
Senior figures of Law Society were present at a press conference where families of British detainees attacked the Blair Government for not protecting the interests of its own citizens. They set a 24-hour deadline for the Foreign Office to intervene on their behalf or face legal action. The mother of 22-year-old Feroze Abbasi, a prisoner at Camp X-Ray, said she feared for his life. "I'm frightened he is being treated badly and being kept in a cage...,'' she said denying that her son was a terrorist.
Riasoth Ahmed, father of another young Briton Ruhal Ahmed, said his son was being held "without charge'' and complained that though he had been held for weeks his status had still not been decided and he was being deprived of his rights. He denied that his son had links with any terrorist organisation.
Prof Guy Goodwin-Gill of Oxford University told a newspaper that as a party to the Geneva Convention, the British Government had an obligation to protect human rights. He said the "presumption of innocence'' of the Camp X-Ray detainees appeared to have been "disregarded''. His remarks came as the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, reacted sharply to the U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld's statement that British prisoners could be returned home on the condition that they were prosecuted in Britain. Mr. Blunkett reminded Mr. Rumsfeld that Britain had its own legal system which would decide on the basis of evidence what was to be done with them. "Before anyone is detained and before they're charged, the crown prosecution service has to examine the evidence that's been presented against them and that is what we will do,'' he said in a BBC interview in a new turn to the simmering tension over the issue.
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