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France defends undisclosed meetings with Guantanamo detainees

[JURIST] France has responded to reports [JURIST report] that its intelligence agents interviewed six former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees now on trial [JURIST report] in Paris while they were detained at the US prison, saying that the agents visited the detainees for the administrative purposes of identifying the French citizens and generally assessing their situation. The French Foreign Ministry [official website] said in an official statement [text, in French] Wednesday that it never made a secret out of intelligence visits to Guantanamo between 2002 and 2004, adding that the agents were also gathering information for France to help prevent terrorism. A French diplomatic telegram published Wednesday in the Liberation daily referred to intelligence agents who conducted interviews with the suspects at least twice while at Guantanamo [Liberation report, in French]. The prosecution in the Paris trial failed to disclose the interviews, however, and defense lawyers claim the encounters violated their clients' rights because no lawyer was present when they took place.

The failure to disclose the interviews could render the case invalid, but Judge Jean-Claude Kross refused to halt the proceeding over the diplomatic document because its authenticity has not been established. The six terror defendants are accused of attending combat training at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. France freed five of the suspects after their repatriation to France from Guantanamo in July 2004 and March 2005 [BBC reports]. Reuters has more.

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