U.S. Will Free British Detainees.

The United States will allow British detainees at Guantanamo Bay to return home only if they are prevented from engaging in terrorist activity, an American official was reported as saying Friday.

Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crime issues, said the nine Britons being held at the naval base in Cuba posed a serious or medium threat, The Times of London reported.

Prosper was quoted as saying they would have to be ``detained and investigated, and-or prosecuted'' if they came back to Britain.

``There can't be a situation where a dangerous person is released and (flies) an airplane into the next tall building around the world. That concern remains,'' Prosper was reported as saying.

``We are not asking for absolutes. We are not asking for a guaranteed conviction,'' he said. ``But we are saying: these are dangerous people, they are engaged in dangerous activity.''

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in London said The Times accurately reported Prosper's comments. He said Prosper left Britain early Friday for an undisclosed location.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said talks are under way to determine the fate of the British detainees. He said Wednesday that he would make an announcement to Parliament on the issue ``shortly.''

``These issues are complex and discussion has been taking place between ourselves and the U.S. as to how it can be resolved,'' Blair's official spokesman said Friday, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.

He said the prisoners would either face a military tribunal in the United States or be brought back to Britain.

Asked to clarify what would happen to the detainees if they came home, the spokesman said: ``Clearly, that will be an issue for the prosecuting authorities.''

The Foreign Office said it couldn't comment, adding that it expected Blair's announcement to be made in the next few weeks.

Prosper told The Times that negotiations for the prisoners' return were examining each case individually.

``We are asking that they be detained and investigated, and-or prosecuted,'' he said. ``But it is not just a blanket request we have put in.

``What makes it much more complex is that we have to have these discussions on each individual.''

Prosper said the Guantanamo detainees fell into three categories: Those perceived as the most serious threat, those who posed a medium threat and those who posed no threat or a low threat. He said the Britons fell into the first two categories.

In Guantanamo Bay, meanwhile, a U.S. general said Thursday that some of the hundreds of prisoners expressed shock when told recently of the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Interrogators told some detainees of the war in Iraq in June, and word of Saddam's capture reached others during interrogations in December, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said.

The entire prison population was later informed of Saddam's capture by loudspeaker after officials determined there was no risk to security or intelligence-gathering, Miller said, without specifying the date.

``We told them we had a war with Iraq, we told them the United States won, and we told them we captured Saddam Hussein,'' Miller said. ``There was some shock.''

Some 660 detainees from 44 countries are being held at the base in eastern Cuba on suspicion of links to the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan or al-Qaida terror network. U.S. officials decline to provide a breakdown of their citizenship, ages or the reasons they are being held.

Among them are some Iraqis captured in Afghanistan, Miller said, though he declined to say how many.

U.S. authorities have not charged them or given them access to lawyers.

[Source: NY Times Online, NY, 09Jan04]

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