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 Saturday, 11 January, 2003, 09:49 GMT
Amnesty plea for Cuba detainees
Guantanamo Bay
Conditions have been widely condemned
Human rights group Amnesty International has urged the US to charge or release all of the detainees - including eight Britons - held at its base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The call comes on the first anniversary of the arrival of inmates from Afghanistan.

About 600 suspected Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters are being held at the base.

The eight UK detainees include three from Tipton in the West Midlands, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhal Ahmed, whose MP has backed Amnesty's call.

If Tony Blair understood what it means to have a child, he would have done something about it by now

Shaleha Begum, Ruhal Ahmed's mother
The three, all in their 20s, were captured a year ago by US forces while reportedly fighting alongside al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan.

They have been held without charge ever since.

Mr Ahmed's father, Riasoth Ahmed, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was concerned he had not heard from his son for some time.

"Over the last two months I have received no letters. Before that, every month I would receive a letter from him saying 'I'm fine, don't worry for me'."

He issued a plea to Prime Minister Tony Blair: "Please, help my boy. Say something to the American Government to release him."

'No justification'

Mr Ahmed's mother, Shaleha Begum, said she had been going through "mental torture" worrying about her son's imprisonment.

She had written many times to Mr Blair asking to meet to discuss her son's case, but had received no reply, she said.

Speaking through an interpreter, she told Today: "If Tony Blair understood what it means to have a child, he would have done something about it by now.

"He doesn't realise what it is like to be a mother and not have your child close to you and held somewhere else for no reason."

Shafiq Rasul
Seven of the men are from the UK
A campaigner for the three men, Mushtaq Ahmed, told Today: "So far, they haven't been charged, yet they continue to be humiliated, degraded, caged up and brutalised with no justification whatsoever.

"These violations of human rights are happening in front of us and yet people feel helpless."

Their MP Adrian Bailey said that while they had serious questions to answer, the US authorities should charge them and give them the chance to put their cases forward.

Last month Mr Rasul and Mr Iqbal launched an appeal to have their cases heard, but no decision has been reached.

Their lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, told the BBC: "These kids, who honestly I don't think have committed any crime against the US, are not allowed lawyers, they're not allowed to see their mum and dad, they're not allowed to be told what they have done wrong, they're not allowed to be put on trial.

"I think that is fundamentally wrong."

Activists' complaints

Tony Blair has said it would be irresponsible to release the detainees while they had information that could prevent further terrorist attacks.

Since the inmates first arrived at Guantanamo Bay, human rights activists have complained about their treatment.

Only five - described as "not dangerous" - have been released, with the rest in a legal limbo.

The US has classified them as unlawful combatants, not prisoners of war.

This means they have no right to legal representation or family visits.

Single cells

They have now been moved from the wire-fenced confines of Camp X Ray to the more substantial Camp Delta.

They are kept in single cells, but are moved regularly, apparently to prevent cliques forming. There have been a few, unsuccessful suicide attempts.

The US defence department says it is treating the prisoners humanely and that the main reason for the ongoing detention is to glean information.

It says intelligence gained from repeated interrogation has helped prevent terrorist attacks.

There is no indication when the inmates will either be charged or freed but one official did say the intention was to hold them until the war on terrorism was over.

  The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"600 people are still being held without charge"
  Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK
"This really is not acceptable"
  Camp Delta operation commander, Colonel McQueen
"We have a joint team working to provide a safe environment for the detainees"

Key stories

European probe


See also:

10 Sep 02 | England
21 Jan 02 | Politics
27 Feb 02 | Americas
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