Britain asks U.S. to free 5 from Cuba

The Baltimore Sun

LONDON -- In a significant policy shift for the British government, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has asked the United States to release five British residents imprisoned at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The request came in a letter yesterday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

According to a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday, "The Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary have decided to request the release from Guantanamo Bay and return to the U.K. of the five men who, whilst not [United Kingdom] nationals, were legally resident here prior to their detention."

The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair sought and obtained the release of nine British nationals at Guantanamo, but it said it had no responsibility to intervene on behalf of non-citizens who lived in Britain.

Some analysts here saw yesterday's policy shift as an attempt by Brown to pursue a tougher stance toward the United States in line with Britain's long-standing opposition to the Guantanamo camp. But the move is likely to be welcomed by the Bush administration, which is eager to downsize Guantanamo and has been critical of countries, including Britain, that have chastised the United States for alleged human rights violations at the facility while refusing to accept the repatriation of Guantanamo prisoners.

"Britain is taking these people off America's hands. That's not something America is going to complain about," said Robin Shepherd, a political analyst with Chatham House, a London think tank.

In Washington, the State Department said the request was being reviewed in line with the Bush administration's stated desire to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo.

"Our policy has been for quite some time to work with countries who have an interest in either having their nationals returned or taking responsibility for third-country nationals," spokesman Sean McCormack said.

But the policy shift does have domestic political significance in Britain.

"Brown's public relations strategy on this is brilliantly constructed," Shepherd said.

Tom Hundley writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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