Britain compensates former Guantanamo detainees
Britain said Tuesday it had agreed a settlement with 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees who claim British agents colluded in their torture overseas, but insisted it was not an admission of guilt.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke did not reveal the amount of compensation nor the identity of those involved, but media reports suggest it stretches to millions of pounds and recipients include former Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed.
"I can today inform the House (of Commons) that the government has now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay," Clarke told lawmakers.
Although the details of the agreement are subject to a confidentiality agreement, he said: "No admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations."
Britain maintains that it opposes torture. In July Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled plans for a judge-led inquiry into claims that its security services were complicit in the torture of suspected violent extremists abroad.
"The longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights grows," Cameron said at the time.
However, the probe is being held up by the civil litigation claims and Clarke said that their settlement will help pave the way for the inquiry to begin.
It is expected to report back within a year of being opened.
Another key reason for the settlement was money -- the government estimated that fighting the claims through the courts could cost 30 to 50 million pounds (45-80 million dollars, 35-59 million euros) and take up to five years.
It is also considered likely the government has decided it is better to settle rather than risk the release of secret documents during any open court case.
In February a British court released secret evidence that Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born resident of Britain, had been subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment during questioning by US agents.
The information was made public in defiance of ministers' warnings that such disclosures could severely damage Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington.
Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 after the US claimed he fought for the Taliban. He was shuttled by authorities between Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan and in September 2004 was taken to Guantanamo.
He was released in 2009 and his claims that he was tortured were strongly backed by rights campaigners.
Clarke described the settlement deal as a "significant step forward in delivering the government's plan for a resolution of these issues" adding that it was backed by the heads of Britain's security services.
Responding to news of the compensation, Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said: "This settlement could bring a broader inquiry and the end of the torture scandal a little bit closer."
She said that if the "slow, morale-sapping bleed of revelation and litigation" were to be brought to an end, "the Gibson (inquiry) process must have all the power and authority of a court."
"It must distinguish between national security and embarrassment; between clean-up and cover-up."
MI6 chief John Sawers, the head of Britain's foreign spy service, said last month that torture was "illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it".
© 2010 AFP