PARIS - A court yesterday convicted five former inmates of Guantanamo on terrorism-related charges but did not send any of them back to prison in France.
A sixth man was acquitted, and his lawyer said he would try to win reparations from Washington for his time at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Also yesterday, three longtime British residents were released from Guantanamo and flown to Britain. London police arrested two of them on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts, while the third was detained for questioning.
The ruling in France capped proceedings that seemed at times like a trial of the U.S. prison camp itself, with the prosecutor lashing out at the "Guantanamo system" and saying the prison violated international law.
Hundreds of men suspected of ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban are held at Guantanamo, almost all without charges. They are accorded fewer rights than prisoners of war under international law.
Seven French citizens were captured in or near Afghanistan by U.S. forces in late 2001. All were held at least two years at Guantanamo and then handed over to French authorities in 2004 and 2005.
One was found to have no terrorism ties and was freed immediately after his return to France. The others spent up to 17 months in prison in France. But by the time the verdict was announced yesterday, all were out of prison pending rulings in their cases.
The five men were convicted of "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise," a broad charge frequently used in France. All of the men said during the trial that they were innocent.
The court followed the recommendations of prosecutor Sonya Djemni-Wagner, who said Dec. 11 that she could not condone the men's "abnormal detention" at Guantanamo. "None of them should have been held on that base, in defiance of international law," she said.
However, she said they should be convicted because they used phony identity papers and visas to knowingly "integrate into terrorist structures" in Afghanistan.
Five of the men - Brahim Yadel, Khaled ben Mustafa, Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali and Ridouane Khalid - said at trial that they had spent time in military training camps in Afghanistan but maintained they had never put their combat skills to use.