Britain Asks U.S. to Release 5 Guantanamo Prisoners

( LatWp ) - The British government on Tuesday asked the Bush administration to release from the Guantanamo Bay prison five foreign men who were long-time residents of Britain before being taken to the U.S. detention facility in Cuba.

David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for the release of Shaker Aamer, Jamil El Banna, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Abdennour Sameur, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The move signals a new direction for the British government, which under the leadership of former prime minister Tony Blair said that it was not obliged to intervene on behalf of inmates that did not hold British citizenship.

Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who represents the five men, said in an interview: ``This is good news for everyone, even George Bush. For all his statements about wanting to close Guantanamo, he can't if it's chock-a-block. The Europeans have been pretty pious in their criticism, but done nothing to help close it until now. This is a remarkable turn for the British government.''

Bob Ayers, a security and intelligence expert at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said that the request was almost surely political posturing by Gordon Brown, Blair's successor, who has to call an election by 2010. A recent YouGov poll found that that 71 percent of people here wanted to Brown to ``ensure that Britain's Prime Minister and the U.S. President are no longer `joined at the hip.' ''

``It's a pre-election gesture to show that Britain is increasingly independent from the U.S. It doesn't mean that this is the case, but Brown wants to demonstrate that he's not the U.S. poodle that Blair was accused of being,'' said Ayers. ``It's political grandstanding. The British government didn't suddenly get a conscience. What has changed is a change of government and they want to flex their muscles.''

In a statement, the government said that ``discussions with the U.S. Government about the release and return of these five men may take some time'' and that ``should these men be returned to the U.K., the same security considerations and actions will apply to them as would apply to any other foreign national in this country.''

The government said that Britain secured the release and return in January 2005 of all British citizens detained in Guantanamo.

Human rights groups welcomed the news.

``This change of policy is extremely welcome, especially if it signals a bigger change of approach on both sides of the Atlantic,'' said James Welch, legal director of Liberty, a human rights group, in a statement. ``Surely U.S. and U.K. governments need no further evidence that internment, kidnap and torture have been completely counterproductive in the struggle against terrorism.''

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