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Blair: Captives treated 'humanely'

Guantanamo Bay
Gun towers and barbed wire surrounds the detention camp in Cuba  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that prisoners captured in Afghanistan will be treated in a "humane way" even though they are "dangerous" and have carried out "terrible things."

Blair told the House of Commons during PM's Question Time on Wednesday that "we are a civilised people and will treat the prisoners in a humane way" which should be in accordance with the Geneva convention and "proper international norms."

He told politicians to "wait and see" on reports on how the detainees are being treated rather than rely on allegations in the media.

At least three British Muslims are among the 50 Taliban and al Qaeda detainees being held at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba following their capture by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, officials have said.

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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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A British team and workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross are to be allowed access to the camp.

Blair said it would be surprising if the detainees were not being held under "strict" conditions because "members of al Qaeda are thoroughly dangerous."

But he said the United States was allowing the detainees to have exercise, showers, medical treatment, copies of the Koran and time for religious observance.

Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy asked how Blair felt about British suspects being "hooded, shackled and kept in cages."

Blair said it was too early to say whether reports of this treatment were true but Kennedy told him it was vital to maintain standards in order to keep support for the war on terror.

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

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.

The United Nations's Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has publicly disagreed, insisting they are prisoners of war.

She said their status is defined and protected by the Geneva Conventions on Prisoners Rights of 1949.

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.

U.S. Defense Secretary 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."


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