TWO BRITONS held at Guantanamo Bay face a possible death penalty after being named among the first group of prisoners likely to be tried before secretive US military tribunals. Feroz Abbasi, 23, and Moazzam Begg, 35, are accused of links to al-Qa'ida and are among six suspects identified by the Bush administration to face military justice.
A decision on charges will be decided later but yesterday's move was condemned by families, lawyers and pressure groups as an attempt by the US administration to undermine international law. The men have already been denied the right to a normal trial after US authorities designated them "unlawful combatants", to the fury of human rights groups.
Stephen Jakobi, director of the pressure group Fair Trials Abroad, said the tribunals were designed to secure convictions. "The whole Cuban exercise has become a failed and cynical public relations stunt," he said. "After 18 months, six people out of more than 600 are to be tried and the rules have to be fixed, otherwise there might be no convictions."
Mr Abbasi, from Croydon, south London, and Mr Begg, of Birmingham who has four children, are among nine British nationals at the maximum- security Camp Delta in Cuba. There was no news on the fate of the remaining seven.
Mr Begg has been at Guantanamo Bay for four months. He had been detained in Afghan-istan for a year after being taken by Pakistani special forces from his rented home in Islamabad. His family claim he was a victim of a mistaken identity and had planned to teach the poor in Afghanistan.
His father, Azmat Begg, 63, said yesterday he did not believe his son would get a fair trial. "The trial will be military, the judge will be military and yet my son is a civilian," he said. "This is just not right."
Mr Abbasi was among of the first people moved to Cuba 18 months ago and was described by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, as one of the hard core of al-Qa'ida terrorists. Louise Christian, the solicitor for Mr Abbasi, criticised the "victor's justice" and said: "It's extremely surprising and shocking that British participation in the war against terrorism means nothing in terms of the fundamental human rights of British citizens."
David Hicks, an Australian, was also revealed to be among the group of six. The identities of the other three are unknown and their names have not been released by the US. Pentagon officials said the six were alleged to be either linked to terrorist training camps or fund-raising or recruitment.
The tribunals will have up to seven military officers acting as judge and jury with the power to sentence to death by unanimous consent. The appointments are made by the US Department of Defence and the process applies only to non-US nationals and denies appeals to independent courts.
Last night, US chief defence lawyer for Guantanamo Bay Colonel Will Gunn told the BBC's Newsnight: "As we go into this process, the ability for an individual accused person to feel comfortable with their lawyers is something I'm extremely concerned about.We will have a cultural divide which will take us time to overcome, if we're ever able to overcome it. But with respect to that what I'm convinced of is that we have people on the staff who are going to make use of all the resources in order to provide the very best possible defence for such an individual. This country has long said we're about justice being done. That's what the principle of Americanism means to many people.
But Neil Durkin of Amnesty International said: "This development is worrying. The outline plan for the military commissions shows they are discriminatory, as they apply only to non-US nationals, and seem to afford a second-class form of justice." The Government came under renewed pressure last night to press the US for concessions. At the time of the first detentions …