Official: UK opposes execution of bin Laden
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain would hand over terror suspect Osama bin Laden for trial in the United States only if it got assurances that he would not face the death penalty, said U.K. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.
The U.S. is the correct place for any trial of the prime suspect in the September 11 bombings, even if he is captured by British troops, Hoon said.
But extradition to the U.S. -- where the death penalty can be carried out in 37 states, as well as following federal and military trials -- would require "certain undertakings" from the American authorities, he added.
As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain does not extradite suspects to countries with the death penalty unless assurances are secured that they will not face execution.
Speaking on BBC Television's "Breakfast with Frost" program on Sunday, Hoon said if the British capture bin Laden, "We should hand him over fairly promptly to face justice in the United States.
"We do extradite people to countries with the death penalty, obviously subject to certain undertakings that are given," Hoon said. "We have extradited people in the past to the United States and I see no reason why, in principle, that should not happen."
Asked whether this meant the U.S. authorities would have to guarantee bin Laden would not face execution, Hoon said, "That is the position."
Lord Eric Avebury, vice-chair of Britain's Parliamentary Human Rights group, echoed Hoon's stance.
"There would have to be cast-iron guarantees that the person wouldn't be executed," Avebury said, likewise expressing optimism such assurances could be reached with the United States.
But another British official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the extradition debate may be irrelevant. If British troops capture bin Laden alive, the U.K. military would in all likelihood hand over the al Qaeda leader directly to the United States, the official said.
The death penalty debate has already triggered some controversy in legal circles in the United States and its European allies since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington. Spain and Germany reportedly have refused to extradite terror suspects to the United States because of the penalty.
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Ministry of Defence
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