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UK Cuba suspects: 'No complaints'

Manacled detainees
Release of the Camp X-Ray pictures brought criticism in Britain  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain has rejected accusations that it is letting its U.S. allies abuse al Qaeda suspects at Camp X-ray in Cuba, insisting the prisoners had "no complaints" about their treatment.

British officials who visited the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay at the weekend said the detainees spoke "without inhibition" to them and confirmed they were being treated well, Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw told the House of Commons on Monday.

"None complained of any ill treatment, none said they had any medical condition requiring treatment," Bradshaw said.

He said the British delegation "received full cooperation from the camp's commander who said that the more lurid allegations about torture and sensory deprivation are completely false."

The minister's comments came amid an international row over the conditions in which al Qaeda and Taliban suspects are being held at an isolated U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports British newspapers are charging cruel treatment by the U.S. military of al Qaeda detainees in Cuba (January 21)

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UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told British representatives on Sunday to ask U.S. officials for an explanation of photographs showing the prisoners from Afghanistan in manacles.

The photos from the U.S. naval base in Cuba show the men kneeling on the ground in handcuffs with masks over their mouths and noses and mittens on their hands.

They were taken when the prisoners arrived on January 11 and released over the weekend by the U.S. Navy. A total of 144 prisoners -- suspected al Qaeda or Taliban members -- have been transferred to the Guantanamo facility from Afghanistan, since mid-January.

The team of British diplomats and officials filed a report with the British Foreign Office on Monday based on their visit, concluding that the detainees were in good physical heath with no sign of any mistreatment.

The report said the prisoners receive three meals a day, including a pre-packed Islamic meal, and have access to as much water as they wish.

There are daily medical checks, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is arranging to provide additional copies of the Koran. The Islamic call to prayer is broadcast over the camp's public address system.

The British described the camp's U.S. military commanders as "helpful and open."

Blair's spokesman said: "The three asked for a number of messages to be passed to their families and we are in the process of doing that.

"There were no gags, no goggles, no ear muffs, no shackles while the detainees are in their cells. They only wear shackles and only shackles -- when they are outside their cells."

The U.S. government calls the prisoners "unlawful combatants" or "detainees" rather than prisoners of war assigned legal rights under the Geneva Conventions, but insists they are being treated humanely.

Human rights groups and some British politicians have criticised the treatment of the prisoners. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sought to balance defending U.S. authorities with insisting the prisoners' human rights must be guaranteed.

He has called the prisoners "very dangerous people," but insisted they must be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, ratified but not signed by the United States, require that prisoners of war receive humane treatment, adequate food and delivery of relief supplies, and forbid anyone to pressure prisoners to supply more than a minimum of information.

U.S. soldiers guard the detainees at Camp X-Ray
U.S. soldiers guard the detainees at Camp X-Ray  

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday defended treatment of the detainees, saying it was unfair to suggest such "hardcore terrorists" were being treated inhumanely.

Responding to European criticism over his country's handling of the detainees in open cells at Guantanamo Bay, Rumsfeld said there was no doubt in his mind the prisoners were being looked after well.

Col. Ron Williams, director of public affairs for U.S. Southern Command, said the detainees are blindfolded, shackled and forced to wear surgical masks only when they are moved. The measures are taken to ensure prisoners cannot hatch a plot, or pick up information about U.S. forces simply by watching, Williams said.

Asked if the UK government had raised concerns about the in-flight transit conditions from Afghanistan, a British official said, "There were practical difficulties which have to be borne in mind.

"These are a result of dealing with an organisation which behaves outside the conventional norms of prisoner behaviour, and whose members have been willing to commit suicide to further the organisation's aims."




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