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Britain frees Guantanamo four

Detention without trial ended on other suspects held in UK

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)

LONDON, England -- British police have released without charge four Britons who arrived back in the UK after being held for nearly three years at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Scotland Yard confirmed their release to CNN shortly after 9 p.m. on Wednesday night.

The men -- two aged 25, one aged 32 and one aged 36 -- were arrested by anti-terrorism police on arrival at a military air base west of London on Tuesday afternoon.

Moazzam Begg, from Birmingham in the English Midlands; Feroz Abbasi from Croydon, south London; Martin Mubanga from Wembley, north west London; and Richard Belmar from St John's Wood, north-west London -- were held under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which refers to the alleged involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

Metropolitan police quizzed the men at a high-security location for most of the day Wednesday but freed them and announced shortly after 9 p.m. that no charges had been filed.

Earlier, CNN's Robin Oakley said that five British men flown home from Guantanamo Bay last year were quickly released from custody and it was "very likely" the four men returned Tuesday would be freed soon.

The case had been an embarrassment for British Prime Minister Tony Blair who had been criticized by members of Parliament from his own party for not using his relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush to get the men back to Britain, Oakley said.

Blair would be "relieved" he had got them home before the British general election expected in May, Oakley said.

Separately, Home Secretary Charles Clarke spelled out Wednesday the fate of 12 terrorist suspects who have been held without trial on British soil, mostly in London's top security Belmarsh prison.

Detention of terror suspects without trial will be replaced with a system of "control orders", Clarke announced. The orders will include curfews, tagging and even a requirement for suspects "to remain at their premises," he said.(Full story)

Clarke made a statement to parliament a month after Britain's top court ruled against the continued detention of nine of them. Clarke said the current 12 suspects would remain in custody until new legislation was in place.

"We believe that those detained ... continue to pose a threat to national security and that we should seek to ensure that we take all of the necessary steps to address that threat," he told the House of Commons.

Before their release Wednesday, a lawyer for one of the four men sent back from Guantanamo Bay Tuesday said she was "appalled" that they were held at the high-security Paddington Green police station by anti-terrorist police.

Gareth Peirce, who represents Begg, told the UK's Press Association after meeting the men Tuesday: "They are very marked by three years of ill treatment and torture."

Relatives of the men say the men have suffered torture during their detention without trial for almost three years.

Police said that because of the unique circumstances of the case, they had made arrangements for the men to be visited by their families.

A lawyer representing Abbasi and Mubanga earlier told BBC radio: "Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg have been held in solitary confinement for nearly two years and we know they have been tortured and abused."

Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens said the men could not be charged on the basis of interviews with the men by British MI5 security services in Cuba.

Stevens told the Independent newspaper he had ruled out any prosecution based on material gathered during interviews at Guantanamo Bay.

He said his officers would have to obtain an admission from the four men or find other evidence before the suspects could be tried in the UK.

"If the material being used is confirmed by them -- yes. If an admission is made, it is a totally different ball game. If they go to court it could be used as evidence," he said.


"If there is enough evidence they will be charged. If not they will be released as soon as possible," he said.

Stevens said officers would put questions to the four men as they had to the previous five British detainees released from Guantanamo.

"We are duty bound to do this and we will be trying to get that over as quickly as we can. The decision to arrest them was based on the legal process."

He added that there were "questions to be answered" regarding possible offences in this country. He said that while he was keen for the men to be reunited with their families as quickly as possible, the law had to take its course.

The four men were among some 550 prisoners from 42 countries swept up in the U.S.-led war on terror.

The decision to release the men followed months of sensitive negotiations between Washington and London to address U.S. security concerns.

When it announced their release earlier this month -- along with a fifth man, an Australian -- the U.S. Defense Department said the men were "enemy combatants who had been detained by the United States in accordance with the laws of war and U.S. law." (Full story)

Originally, the United States held nine British citizens at its Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. London asked in 2003 for the return of all nine, and in March 2004, the U.S. released the first five of them.

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