UK agrees to compensate ex-Guantanamo detainees
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British authorities have agreed to compensate Binyamin Mohamed (pictured) and 15 other former Guantanamo detainees who claim British security forces colluded in their transfer and torture abroad. The compensation amount has not been revealed.
AFP - Britain said Tuesday it had agreed a settlement with 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees who claim British agents colluded in their torture abroad, but insisted it was not an admission of guilt.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke did not reveal the amount of compensation nor the identity of those involved, but media reports suggest it stretches to millions of pounds (dollars, euros) and recipients include former Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed.
"The government has now agreed a mediated settlement of the civil damages claims brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay," Clarke told parliament.
Although the details are subject to a confidentiality agreement, he said: "No admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases and nor have any of the claimants withdrawn their allegations."
Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters at the United Nations headquarters that the decision was informed by security concerns, saying the government would "find it difficult to defend itself without compromising national security".
He added that the settlement was pursued so that an official inquiry into the accusations of British complicity in the mistreatment of detainees could be started.
"That inquiry could only take place if those cases were successfully mediated," Hague said.
"It could not go ahead if we were going to face years of court cases going on long into the future which would also have been an enormous distraction for our intelligence agencies."
Britain maintains that it opposes torture. In July, Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled plans for a judge-led inquiry into claims that its security services were complicit in the torture of suspected violent extremists abroad.
"The longer these questions remain unanswered, the bigger the stain on our reputation as a country that believes in freedom, fairness and human rights grows," Cameron said at the time.
However, the probe is being held up by the civil litigation claims and Clarke said that their settlement will help pave the way for the inquiry to begin.
It is expected to report back within a year of being opened.
Another key reason for the settlement was money -- the government estimated that fighting the claims through the courts could cost 30 to 50 million pounds (45-80 million dollars, 35-60 million euros) and take up to five years.
It is also considered likely the government has decided it is better to settle rather than risk the release of secret documents during any open court case.
In February a British court released secret evidence that Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born resident of Britain, had been subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment during questioning by US agents.
The information was made public in defiance of ministers' warnings that such disclosures could severely damage Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington.
Clarke described the settlement deal as a "significant step forward in delivering the government's plan for a resolution of these issues" adding that it was backed by the heads of Britain's security services.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said: "This settlement could bring a broader inquiry and the end of the torture scandal a little bit closer."
The inquiry process "must have all the power and authority of a court", she said, adding: "It must distinguish between national security and embarrassment; between clean-up and cover-up."
MI6 chief John Sawers, the head of Britain's foreign spy service, said last month that torture was "illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it".