Britain pays millions to former Guantanamo Bay detainees | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.11.2010
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Britain pays millions to former Guantanamo Bay detainees

Britain has announced it will pay settlements to former Guantanamo Bay inmates who accused British security forces of colluding in their torture overseas. The government says it's cheaper than heading to court.

A detainee at Guantanamo

Former Guantanamo detainees claimed Britain wronged them

Britain has agreed to settlement payments for 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees who accused the government of knowingly allowing their torture overseas.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke announced in the House of Commons that the government would be paying a settlement reported to be worth millions of euros to a number of men over allegations that Britain colluded in their torture.

"The government has now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay," Clarke said.

But, Clarke was clear that the settlement was not an admission of guilt by the government.

"No admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations," he said.

The cheaper option

Earlier, the office of Prime Minister David Cameron said that in the past few years, nearly 100 security services employees had been devoted to dealing with these court cases. The cases could have taken years of litigation and left the government with a bill of 30 to 50 million euros.

Binyam Mohamed

Mohamed is among those to recieve payment

One of those receiving payment is Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident. In February, a British court released secret evidence that he had been subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment during questioning by US agents.

The information was made public in defiance of warnings from both the then Labour government and senior US figures that such disclosures could harm Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington.

Saving face

In May the Court of Appeal ruled that the government was unable to rely on so-called secret evidence to defend itself in six of the cases for compensation, meaning the court cases would shine a spotlight on Britain's intelligence services.

Adding to the pressure on the government, the High Court ordered the release of some of the 500,000 documents relating to the cases in July.

Around 60 lawyers and officials have been working through those documents in a secret location.

However the announcement of the settlement means Britain's intelligence services, former Labour Ministers and the United States will be saved the embarrassment of a very public court case.

Money well spent?

The civil rights group Liberty has welcomed the compensation payments.

Legal officer Corrina Ferguson said that despite the government claims this is not compensation, the payments indicate some level of guilt.

"Whatever the government says about it, it does suggest that there is some acknowledgement here of wrong-doing on their part," Ferguson told Deutsche Welle.

"These were really serious allegations that the UK authorities were complicit in these mens' unlawful detention, and in some cases, torture, abroad. It's right that there should be accountability for that."

David Cameron

Cameron has announced a judicial inquiry

The settlement comes at a time when the UK faces severe cuts in public spending in a bid to get its budget deficit under control. The large sums to be paid to the former detainees could prompt public anger.

"With money tight, this isn't what taxpayers want to see their money being spent on," Emma Boon of the taxpayers alliance told Deutsche Welle. "I think taxpayers want to see this money used to fund public services that they're going to benefit from."

Earlier this year Prime Minister Cameron announced the formation of a judicial inquiry into claims that British security services were complicit in the torture of terror suspects and raised the prospect that some suspects might receive compensation.

The settlement will pave the way for this inquiry, which could start before the end of the year and is expected to report within 12 months.

Author: Catherine Drew, London (mz)
Editor: Rob Turner

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