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Gitmo cases 'suspended' for talks

Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg.
Abbasi (left) and Begg are being held at Guantanamo Bay.

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DALLAS (CNN) -- The U.S. has suspended military proceedings against British and Australian nationals being held as enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. and British officials have announced.

The decision came the day after British Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the issue with President Bush during a visit to Washington before heading to Japan. He had been under pressure from members of the British Parliament to raise the issue with Bush.

"The president and the prime minister are confident that their experts will be able to agree on a solution that satisfies the mutual interests of the U.S. and [Britain]," said a statement issued by the office of the White House press secretary in Dallas, where the president was traveling.

A Blair spokesman said earlier that the military proceedings would be suspended pending high-level meetings over how to handle the cases.

A British delegation, led by Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, will travel to Washington Tuesday for discussions on the Guantanamo detainees, a spokeswoman for Goldsmith said.

According to the White House, parallel discussions will also be held next week with Australian legal experts concerning Australian detainees.

The two British prisoners -- Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi -- are among nine Britons held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo in Cuba after being captured during the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials had said the two detainees from Britain, along with four prisoners from other countries, would be the first Guantanamo detainees to face trial by military tribunals that could impose death sentences. That sparked a controversy in Britain, which does not have the death penalty.

Bush pledged to work with the Blair government on a resolution. However, he termed the prisoners "bad people" and noted that they were enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan while aiding the Taliban regime.

"The president listened to the concerns of the prime minister and we believe that this is the best way forward," Blair's spokesman told reporters travelling with Blair in Asia.

The charges against the British prisoners are unknown, although their detention is a result of American suspicion of involvement with the terror network al Qaeda.

Abbasi's mother, Zumrati Juma of Croydon, south London, issued a rare statement earlier Friday saying that if Blair did not stop the Americans "torturing and killing my son" he would never again be able to say he upheld human rights.

"I was absolutely devastated to find out that my son Feroz is to be paraded before military judges even while they are building an execution chamber next door," she said in a statement. "He may have been foolish but he does not deserve to die."

Begg's family have always maintained he was a victim of mistaken identity.

Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad called Friday's announcement "extraordinary" but said it was unclear what it meant.

"If our attorney general is flying over, he must make it absolutely clear that no lawyer can possibly concede that the military tribunal can be a solution when (Bush) ... has prejudiced the tribunal by his remarks in front of mass television," Jakobi told Sky News in the UK.

British politicians and human rights organizations have been enraged at the planned U.S. military tribunal.

In such a trial, the defendants would be denied the right to choose their own lawyers. Instead, the Pentagon would appoint their lawyers. And if convicted, the defendants could face the death penalty, a sentence outlawed in Britain.

"I think it would be a bit rich if it were said, 'Well, we're not going to return them to England because they might be acquitted or they might not be prosecuted and we're going to keep them in Guantanamo Bay because we want to prosecute them unfairly with no evidence,'" Abbasi's lawyer Louise Christian said earlier.

-- CNN Producer Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo and CNN Correspondent Diana Muriel contributed to this report.


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