Britain to compensate former Guantanamo Bay detainees alleging abuse
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 12:21 AM
LONDON - The British government will pay millions of dollars to 15 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, and a current one, who accused the country's security services of collusion in torture and unlawful imprisonment, an extraordinary settlement that officials here insisted was not an admission of guilt.
Security agencies in Britain have repeatedly insisted they were not complicit in alleged acts of torture against the prisoners, all of whom are British citizens or residents. Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, told Parliament that the settlement was meant to avoid years of costly litigation to defend security agents.
"The alternative to any payments made would have been protracted and extremely expensive litigation in an uncertain legal environment in which the government could not be certain that it would be able to defend . . . security and intelligence agencies without compromising national security," Clarke said.
The settlement represents the first time any Guantanamo Bay detainee, of 779 who have passed through or are still held at the military prison in Cuba, has received a financial settlement because of his incarceration. And the payments are all the more significant because they are being made by the closest military and security partner of the United States. The George W. Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the federal courts, have rejected the idea of compensation.
A White House spokesman said the administration would have no comment on the British decision.
Most of the British detainees were picked up in Afghanistan or Pakistan in the months after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In some cases, they were interviewed by British agents before they were transferred to Guantanamo. Three of the men were picked up in Africa - two in Gambia and the other in Zambia.
The detainees were pursuing a high-profile court suit against the government related to their imprisonment and treatment at Guantanamo, as well as other detention centers in Pakistan and Morocco. They include the "Tipton Three" - Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul - who were returned to Britain from Guantanamo in March 2004 and who alleged abuse, including severe beatings, being chained to the floor for extended periods and prolonged periods of isolation.
A British government source said the case was settled because of a "very unhealthy legal atmosphere" that left in doubt whether the agents would be hauled into courtrooms and classified documents would be called on as evidence.
A number of former Guantanamo detainees have tried to sue in the United States. The courts have dismissed every case on the grounds that the government agencies and officials named have immunity from such civil lawsuits.
Former detainees who were held by the United States in the prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Bagram air base in Afghanistan have also unsuccessfully sued in U.S. courts, as have several of the alleged victims of the CIA's program of transferring terrorism suspects to third countries for interrogation.
The Bush and Obama administrations have also invoked the "state secrets" privilege to end a number of lawsuits that charged that various government and private entities were complicit in torture.
The British action follows earlier decisions by the Canadian and Swedish governments to compensate citizens or residents who were transferred to third countries by the CIA for interrogation.