US and Europe set for clash over terrorist trials
By Jimmy Burns and Jean Eaglesham in London and Hugh Williamson in Berlin
Published: July 4 2003 20:02 | Last Updated: July 4 2003 20:02

The US faces another damaging diplomatic row with Europe over its decision to try six suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in secretive military tribunals.

The European Union's executive commission warned on Friday that applying the death penalty to any of the suspects detained at the US base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba would risk undermining international support for the US-led war on terrorism.

"The death sentence cannot be applied by military courts as this would make the international coalition lose the integrity and credibility it has so far enjoyed," said spokesman Diego de Ojeda.

The UK, America's closest ally in the war on terror, said it would raise its objections with the US government at the "highest level" after it emerged that two of the six are British citizens.

Foreign office minister Baroness Symons said London would pursue a "very vigorous discussion" to satisfy its concerns that US procedures may not guarantee a fair trial. "I think there are issues about the principle of using military commissions," she told BBC Radio.

UK ministers acknowledge they are powerless to change the US's chosen legal processes, but the decision to try two UK detainees puts Tony Blair's support for the US-led Iraq war back on the agenda just as the UK prime minister wants to move on.

Human rights lawyers said the military process was discriminatory as US detainees can be tried by ordinary civilian courts. Those accused in the tribunals, which will take place behind closed doors, will have no right to appeal outside the military.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that the six may have attended al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and had been involved in financing the group, recruiting and protecting Osama bin Laden, its leader. The continuing US presence in Iraq could have allowed al-Qaeda to mobilise supporters, German intelligence said on Friday as they warned that the organisation was still capable of attacks in European cities.