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UK vows to hand over bin Laden

Hoon's comments have been toned down by Downing Street  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain would immediately hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States if he was captured by its troops, officials have said.

The British prime minister's office moved on Monday to dispel any question of a potential rift with the U.S. over the possible death penalty being imposed in the case of bin Laden being extradited.

Two British officials, including the country's defence minister Geoff Hoon, indicated on Sunday that Britain would extradite bin Laden for trial in the United States only if assurances were given that he would not face the death penalty if found guilty.

But officials at Tony Blair's Downing Street office said on Monday that if bin Laden, who is suspected of having carried out the September 11 attacks on the U.S., is captured by British forces in Afghanistan, he would immediately be handed over to U.S. officials.

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Britain is required by national law and by the European Human Rights Convention not to extradite anyone to a country where a suspect could receive the death penalty. The U.S. has not signed the convention.

But the handing over of bin Laden in Afghanistan to U.S. forces would make irrelevant any questions about extradition and the possible death penalty in the U.S..

That is because bin Laden would not be on British soil and would not be subject to British law. British officials do not expect bin Laden to make it to British soil.

Lord Eric Avebury, vice-chair of Britain's Parliamentary Human Rights Group, had said on Sunday: "There would have to be cast-iron guarantees that the person wouldn't be executed ... I think it would be possible to frame some guarantees that would be satisfactory to the secretary of state and he would then allow the extradition to go ahead."

Hoon, appearing on the BBC's "Breakfast With Frost," on Sunday added: "What is important, given the appalling horror that this man perpetrated in the U.S. on the 11th of September, [is] he faces justice in the U.S."

He went on to say: "The country that had the main call on him, as far as bringing him to justice is concerned ... clearly is the United States. We should hand him over fairly promptly to face justice in the United States."

However, when asked if Britain's involvement in a penalty phase meant there could be no death penalty, Hoon said "That is the position."

"We do extradite people to countries with the death penalty, obviously subject to certain undertakings that are given," Hoon said.

"We have extradited people in the past in the United States and I see no reason why, in principle, that should not happen. But, it would mean that certain undertakings would have to be given about any penalty that he faced."

Britain is just one of several European countries involved in the war on terror that have expressed concern over the use of the death penalty in the United States.

Citing concerns about the penalty, Spain and Germany have refused to extradite terror suspects.

Parliament would have to rewrite its death penalty law or make emergency provisions if it wanted to extradite a suspect to a country where the death penalty could be imposed.


• Official: UK opposes execution of bin Laden
December 9, 2001
• UK prepares to extend terror fight
December 5, 2001
• Powell in Europe for terror summit
December 4, 2001
• British troops stood down
November 26, 2001
• UK MPs vote for anti-terror bill
November 20, 2001
• Prodi calls for EU unity on terror
November 15, 2001
• British troops in Afghanistan
November 11, 2001

• Ministry of Defence

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