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Blair talks to U.S. on detainees

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
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Yaser Hamdi can be held without charges, but can challenge his treatment in court.
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
Great Britain
Supreme Court

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is in discussions with the U.S. government over the return of four UK detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba following a key U.S. court decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday ruled that American and foreign citizens alike seized as potential terrorists can challenge their treatment in U.S. courts -- paving the way for about 600 Guantanamo inmates to challenge their capture and detention.

"We are in discussion about it," Blair told Britain's Channel 4 news. "Five have come back already. There's a court ruling that's been made today. We need to study that carefully." (U.S.ruling)

A lawyer for two of the Britons appealed to the UK government to keep up the pressure on Washington for the remaining four men to be returned home.

But Louise Christian, who represents Feroz Abbasi and Martin Mubanga, told the UK's Press Association it would not mean her clients would be returning to Britain soon.

The father of Moazzam Begg, one of the four Britons still being held, told the BBC he would take legal action if his son was not released from the Cuban base.

One of the men was arrested in the wake of the war in Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban in 2001. Two were seized in neighboring Pakistan and another was held in Zambia.

Commenting on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he said: "It was what we were expecting. Our feeling was always that we are right and the government is doing wrong.

"It's against democracy, human rights and the process was not being done properly."

The Guantanamo detainees have been held indefinitely at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba since it was opened in 2002, after being deemed "enemy combatants."

Their ongoing detention has provoked an outcry from human rights groups around the world, but the U.S. government has insisted Guantanamo is an essential part of the so-called war on terror.

British human rights groups said the Supreme Court ruling was a blow for the Bush Administration's policy on detainees.

Christian said she would be pursuing with her American counterparts the new legal avenue opened up by the Supreme Court ruling.

But she said it would not mean the men being returned to the UK in coming months. "It's not going to mean my clients get out of Guantanamo Bay in the foreseeable future," she told PA.

British detainee Moazzam Begg

"The pressure remains on the British government to return them here." She said any application would probably take more than a year to reach the Supreme Court.

It was not immediately clear whether any of the Britons at Guantanamo Bay intended to challenge their detention. Appeals for wrongful detention would initially be made in U.S. Federal District Courts.

The Supreme Court ruling was passed by six justices to three and could lead to hundreds of appeals in U.S. courts on behalf of the inmates. Lower U.S. courts had previously ruled that Guantanamo prisoners were beyond US legal jurisdiction, prompting fierce complaints by detainees' lawyers.

Last week Britain's top legal adviser Lord Goldsmith said U.S. plans for military trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees were "unacceptable" as they would not meet international legal standards.

"While we must be flexible and be prepared to countenance some limitation of fundamental rights if properly justified and proportionate, there are certain principles on which there can be no compromise," he said in a prepared speech.

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