WASHINGTON – The United States, Britain and Australia began talks Monday over the fate of some terror suspects being held at a U.S. base in Cuba, with the British delegation demanding that its citizens be given access to lawyers.
President Bush agreed to the talks last week during a visit to Washington by British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search). British and Australian officials have objected to the possibility of U.S. military tribunals trying British and Australian terrorism suspects being held at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba.
Nine Britons and two Australians are among more than 660 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Two of the Britons and one of the Australians are among six prisoners Bush has designated as candidates for possible trial by a military tribunal, which could impose the death penalty.
Britain's attorney general, Lord Goldsmith (search), the top British official at the talks, said the prisoners must be given access to legal help.
"My objective in these discussions is to ensure that the British detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are assured of fair trials that meet international legal standards, wherever those trials take place," Lord Goldsmith said in a statement released before the talks.
"One of the first steps that must be taken is for the detainees to have the benefit of legal advice," he said. "The government remains opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances."
The Pentagon's rules for the military tribunals say suspects will be given military defense lawyers once they are charged. Private lawyers also may represent the suspects, but those lawyers must be U.S. citizens and meet other requirements.
A spokesman for the Pentagon office organizing the tribunals, Maj. John Smith, said the talks were scheduled to continue Tuesday and possibly Wednesday. Smith said the U.S. criteria for releasing terror suspects remained the same: that they are not a threat to the United States, are not providing good intelligence information and are not appropriate for criminal prosecution.
Smith said although officials are discussing the cases of all British and Australian prisoners, "It's on a case-by case basis."
"I don't know if you would have a decision on all detainees that's exactly the same," Smith said. "It could be different things for different people."