RELATIVES OF the four Britons held at Guantanamo Bay have demanded that Tony Blair seeks their release when he meets George Bush tomorrow after a US judge found the military tribunals being used to try the prisoners were illegal.
On Monday evening, US District Judge James Robertson in Washington ruled that the tribunals should not continue in their present form and that many of the 550 prisoners at the camp were probably prisoners-of-war, eligible for rights under the Geneva Conventions. The Bush administration has repeatedly refused to grant the prisoners such rights.
The decision halted the tribunal of the Yemeni Salim Ahmed Hamdan, captured in Afghanistan in 2001 where he had apparently been working as Osama bin Laden's driver. He denies being in al-Qa'ida. Judge Robertson also ruled that Salim should be allowed to confront evidence and witnesses against him, and that he was not put before a competent tribunal to evaluate whether he was entitled to prisoner- of-war status.
Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, said: "Military commissions were a bad idea and an embarrassment. The refusal of the Bush administration to apply the Geneva Conventions was a legal and moral outrage. The refusal led directly to the belief that abuse and torture could be employed at Guantanamo, and in Abu Ghraib."
In Britain, relatives and lawyers for the four Britons in Guantanamo - Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga, Richard Belmar and Moazzam Begg - said the ruling highlighted the inherent unfairness of the system under which prisoners were being held with little or no access to lawyers and no access to the courts.
They urged Mr Blair to ask Mr Bush to release the four; five other Britons were released without charge from Guantanamo Bay this year. Azmat Begg, father of Moazzam Begg, told Reuters: "It's in Blair's hands. If he wanted to, he could sort the whole thing in minutes."
Louise Christian, a lawyer for two of the four Britons, said: "These people have been there for three years now and they deserve to be treated in accordance with international law and the Geneva Conventions. …