Conflict & Justice

UK to compensate former Guantanamo detainees

The British government plans to pay millions of dollars in compensation to about a half dozen men who were held at the U-S prison at Guantanamo Bay. The men, all British citizens or residents, sued their government, claiming British intelligence services colluded in their alleged torture. Britain denies the allegation, but it's agreed to settle the case. British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark said today the government really had no choice.

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�The alternative to any payments made would have been protracted and extremely expensive litigation in an uncertain legal environment.� He added that it wasn't clear that the government would be able to defends its security and intelligence agencies without compromising national security.

British authorities, including the head of the country's spy agency MI6, have been saying for weeks that Britain doesn't torture or condone torture or turn a blind eye to it. So why pay the compensation? John Walker, a former head of Defense Intelligence, said the paying the settlement makes it see as if British authorities were, in fact, complicit: �Which is very strange only a month after the head of MI6 stood up in public and assured the nation that we did not partake in torture,� he added. �I think those two things are seemingly incompatible.�

As part of the settlement, the government does not admit guilt, and the former detainees do not have to drop their allegations. Still, Peter Goldsmith, who was attorney general in Tony Blair's government, said it was the right move to pay.

�I think the most important part of this settlement is that it now clears the way for the public inquiry into these allegations of torture and complicity to torture which has already been announced,� he said. �The Government has made sure that the claims are settled so that they can now get on with the public inquiry and we can get to the bottom of these allegations.�

What remains to be seen is whether the payouts will have any impact on other Guantanamo-related litigation. Former detainee Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, is suing his government for alleged collusion in torture. His lawyer, Clive Evatt, said today's announcement is a positive sign for his client.
�If the British government is prepared to pay out a certain amount of money to their citizens who have exactly the same identical case as Mr. Habib, then I suppose one could point to that in assessing damages in Mr. Habib's case.� He added that it's a psychological boost for his client to know that prisoners in a similar situation have settled for what appears to be a substantial sum of money.

Defense lawyers aren't the only ones pleased with the British government's settlement. Analysts say say there has also been much crowing on Jihadi websites.