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Straw defends detainees rights

Guantanamo Bay
Gun towers and barbed wire surrounds the detention camp  

LONDON, England -- British nationals captured during the war on terror in Afghanistan must be treated according to international law, the UK has said.

British officials say three Britons are among the 50 Taliban and al Qaeda detainees so far transported in hoods and shackles from Afghanistan to the U.S. maximum security prison at Guantanamo Bay navy base in Cuba.

British diplomats have been granted permission to visit the first Briton, who arrived at the base on Friday with 19 other al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, but it not known when the visit will take place.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC: "These people are accused of having been members of the most dangerous terrorist organisation which the world has ever seen.

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The Pentagon denies accusations that prisoners are being treated inhumanely. CNN's Jamie Mcintyre reports (January 15)

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"That does not mean for a second that they do not have rights and where they are British citizens it is our responsibility to ensure that they receive those rights."

Human rights groups and some British politicians have expressed concerns about the detainees' treatment and status.

U.S. authorities have not classed them as prisoners of war, which would give them rights under the Geneva Conventions.

But Straw said: "Whether or not technically they have rights under the Geneva Conventions, they have rights in customary international law, and all of us who are either involved as their representatives as their governments or those holding them have obligations."

Coming under heavy fire from the British media on Tuesday about the U.S. insistence that the Al Qaeda prisoners were unlawful combatants and therefore not subject to the rules of the Geneva Convention, Blair's press spokesman repeatedly said that it was not for the UK to intervene in the treatment of the prisoners.

He said it had been a U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan, the Americans were the first aggrieved party, and it was for them to decide on the treatment and conditions of the prisoners provided that was done according to international norms.

The spokesman could not specify those norms and would not acknowledge the danger of other countries taking this as an example to suspend the Geneva Convention in future.

Defending the conditions under which prisoners were kept in cages, the spokesman said: "We are not dealing with people who recognize international law or normal rules. These people are highly dangerous as was shown as Masar-e Sharif and we need to ensure they are kept under rigorous scrutiny."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has defended the treatment of the detainees.

But he added: "We do plan to, for the most part, treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent they are appropriate."

In his BBC interview Straw added that most people would celebrate the success of the campaign so far.

"We have established the beginnings of a democratic government in Afghanistan, people are now free to enjoy their lives in a way which they have not done say for over 25, 30 years," he said.

"And there is now international action against this kind of terrorism on a scale we have not seen before."


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