The MP and a lawyer for Britons released from Guantánamo Bay have accused the US of issuing "propaganda" after it told a newspaper that four of the men were trained al-Qaida or Taliban fighters.
The US embassy in London, with White House approval, took the unusual step of releasing detailed allegations, in a letter to the Sun, stating that the Britons had received weapons training and had been caught with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. The claims prompted the shadow home secretary to ask David Blunkett why he had concluded that the men posed no threat to British security.
"If the evidence from the US embassy is accurate - and it is hard to see how they could get it wrong - then the home secretary has some serious questions to answer," said David Davis.
But Mr Blunkett stood by his assessment that none of the men was a threat.
Relatives of the men dismissed the US claims as "lies", and lawyers accused the US of issuing the claims in retaliation after the Britons told newspapers of punishment beatings and psychological torture at the American detention camp in Cuba.
"They're desperate," said Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer who represented Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, both from Tipton, in the US. "They can't get away any more with silence and secrecy so now they're going on a propaganda offensive to divert attention from what they are really doing."
Adrian Bailey, the MP for the "Tipton three", said: "I'm unhappy that there is a propaganda battle between the men's families and the US government. The Americans have made allegations about their past record. But they have had them for two years and interviewed them and released them on the basis they're not a threat. British authorities have been through a process to confirm that."
Lee McClenny, press counselor at the London embassy, said in his letter that one Briton had been taught to use an AK-47 rifle and pistol at an al-Qaida safe house in Kabul. Two others learned to use Kalashnikovs at a camp in Afghanistan in autumn 2000, returning with a third man the following year "to fight jihad with the Taliban".
He added that one man "states he considers the UK and US governments to be his enemies and traveled to Afghanistan after 9/11 for an organization known to be associated with al-Qaida. He also associated with al-Qaida extremists in the UK". Mr McClenny told the Guardian he was responding to direct questions from the Sun, adding: "The Home Office has said [the men] do not represent a threat to the UK. That does not indicate the circumstances of their situation [when detained]."
Greg Powell, who represents Rhuhel Ahmed, from Tipton, said: "We should bear in mind that the so-called information available from Guantánamo Bay was obtained as a result of a regime of torture."
Louise Christian, the solicitor acting for Tarek Dergoul, from east London, said: "The allegations made by the US can only be based on things obtained under duress. We knew from the detailed accounts given already that false confessions have been made in Guantánamo Bay."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are not going to comment on security issues. They were interviewed by the Metropolitan police and released."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004