March 13, 2009 / 10:00 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. balks at freeing Guantanamo detainee: Britain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Britain remain at odds over what could be the last case of a British-connected detainee at Guantanamo prison, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said on Friday.

Smith, in Washington for talks with U.S. officials, said Britain seeks the return of Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer. Aamer is a Saudi citizen who had lived in Britain and has a British wife and four children in London.

Smith’s visit follows last month’s release to Britain of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, a British resident born in Ethiopia.

Asked by a reporters if there were any more such cases, Smith said, “There is one outstanding (prisoner) that we would want returned to the U.K.” She identified Aamer.

“We understand that his particular circumstances are being looked at the moment, and that the U.S. administration has said they don’t want to return him to the U.K.”

She described Aamer as a previous resident of Britain. He is believed to have been captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to topple the Taliban.

BBC reports have said Aamer had applied for citizenship and had permission to stay in Britain at the time of his capture. Amnesty International has identified one other Guantanamo inmate, Ahmed Belbacha, as having long-standing ties to Britain.

DETAINEE REVIEW PROCESS

Aamer’s lawyers have charged he was held in solitary confinement and subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and temperature extremes.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Smith’s remarks about Aamer, citing an Obama administration review of its entire detainee policy.

“There will be a variety of issues addressed through the detainee review process. But at this time, we do not wish to prejudge that process nor can we speculate on the final disposition of any detainee,” spokesman Dean Boyd said.

Britain applauded President Barack Obama’s plan to close the prison for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Smith said.

The camp has been condemned internationally for holding terrorism suspects for years without charges, and allegedly subjecting some to abuses.

“We very much welcome the administration’s approach to closing it (Guantanamo). We recognize that that involves the detailed review process that’s going on, including a case-by-case review. We ourselves have taken 14 previous Guantanamo detainees back to the U.K.,” Smith said.

Smith said she did not intend to discuss individual cases with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whom she was set to meet later on Friday. Earlier she met with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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