Britain has agreed to pay millions of pounds in settlements to a group of former Guantanamo Bay detainees who sued the UK government for alleged complicity in their torture at the US prison in Cuba.
REUTERS - Britain has reached an out-of-court settlement with a group of former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, to prevent what could have become a series of costly and potentially embarrassing legal battles.
British media reported that the government was set to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to detainees, some of whom were accusing it of complicity in their torture while in detention in various countries.
"It's not compensation, it's a settlement," Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman told reporters during a regular news briefing, adding that one of the conditions of the settlement was confidentiality about the terms.
Several former detainees of Guantanamo Bay, Britons or British residents, have complained of mistreatment during their detention. Two criminal cases and 12 civil cases have been brought against the government before British courts.
The legal cases were potentially embarrassing for the British authorities because of evidence that risked becoming public in court.
The previous government lost a legal battle earlier this year to prevent the disclosure of U.S. intelligence material relating to allegations of abuse by CIA agents. The material came out as part of a legal battle by former detainee Binyam Mohamed who said he wanted to show that he was tortured and Britain knew about it.
Cameron, who came into office in May, said in July that Britain would investigate whether its security services knew about the torture of terrorism suspects on foreign soil. He said the government would mediate with, and possibly settle with some former detainees.
Cameron's spokesman said on Tuesday the settlement did not amount to an admission of culpability by the government but rather that the decision to settle had been taken because it was the best way to move on from a difficult issue inherited from previous governments.
Security services tied up in litigation
The spokesman said that the government had been facing years of litigation and legal costs running into the tens of millions of pounds, and that about 100 security service personnel had been working full-time on the issue.
The settlement would save taxpayers' money and free up the security service personnel for other important work, he said.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke is scheduled to make a formal statement to parliament about the settlement at about 1530 GMT.
The prime minister's spokesman did not say exactly how many ex-detainees were involved or give any details of individual circumstances.
However, he said the settlement would pave the way for an inquiry into the allegations made against British security forces by former detainees and he expected that to proceed before the end of the year.
The inquiry will not be held entirely in public because some of the evidence likely to be requested is sensitive. The inquiry will be led by Commissioner for the Intelligence Services and former appeal court judge Sir Peter Gibson.
The BBC reported earlier that at least six of the ex-detainees involved in the settlement had alleged British security forces were complicit in their torture before they arrived at Guantanamo, in countries including Pakistan and Morocco.
Date created : 2010-11-16