Head of U.K.'s Judiciary Calls Guantanamo 'Affront to Principles of Democracy'

The head of Britain's judiciary said Wednesday the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay is an affront to democracy, going far beyond Prime Minister Tony Blair 's muted criticism of the detention facility for terror suspects.

"I speak with the authority of the government," Lord Falconer told British Broadcasting Corp. radio, emphasizing that he had Blair's backing for the comments delivered Wednesday at the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

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In June, Falconer had denounced the detention center in eastern Cuba as a "recruiting agent" for terrorism, and described its existence as "intolerable and wrong."

In a prepared speech Wednesday, Falconer said that Guantanamo violated a fundamental legal principle that courts be able to review the conduct of the executive. A transcript of the speech was released in advance by his office.

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"Otherwise the conduct of the executive is not defined and restrained by law," Falconer said in the prepared speech. "It is because of that principle, that the USA, deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law in Guantanamo Bay, is so shocking an affront to the principles of democracy."

The Guantanamo Bay prison, opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, has prompted widespread international criticism. The United States says those detained are "enemy combatants" to whom normal legal rules do not apply.

Some 460 detainees are at Guantanamo, including 14 top alleged Al Qaeda figures recently transferred from CIA custody. Among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed , the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Ten Guantanamo detainees have been charged with crimes so far.

Blair, a stalwart ally of President Bush, has called Guantanamo an "anomaly" that eventually must end. He also has called for understanding of the threat America faces and the fact that many of those imprisoned were picked up on battlefields in Afghanistan.

Guantanamo has been a flashpoint for both U.S. and international debate over the treatment of detainees without trial and over allegations of torture, denied by U.S. officials. The White House has insisted that all U.S. detainees have been treated humanely.

Asked about Falconer's comments Wednesday, Blair said the detainees must be "subject to a proper judicial process, but in a way that protects security as well."

Britain successfully sought the release of nine British citizens who had been held at the camp. All have returned to Britain, and none was charged with a crime.

Falconer said the government had raised its concerns privately with the Bush administration.

"The USA is a close and staunch ally of the United Kingdom. We have over time raised the issue in private, we have also sought to protect the interest of our own nationals that were in Guantanamo Bay, all of whom are now back," Falconer told the BBC.

"As time goes on, private words have to get replaced to some extent by public views," he said.