Capitalising on Terror
Human Rights Abuses & The Demonisation of 'The Enemy' in Secret Britain
The most elementary requirement of legal certainty demands that you know the case against you. And yet considerable numbers of young men, and some women, are being held in our prisons without any idea of why they are there. They are detained under yet more provisions, for the present deemed lawful, which either forbid or demand no meaningful explanation being given to the accused. The concept of secret evidence and accusations so vague and undefined as to be meaningless has now bedded down in our system of justice.
Mention the words 'Guantanamo Bay' to anyone, and it is virtually guaranteed that they won't be picturing a coastal town located in the Guantanamo province of Cuba in the far south east corner of the Island which, among other things, is home to one of Cuba’s national parks. Originally valued by the United States Government as a point of strategic value to its Navy in protecting the Panama Canal, the US took control of Camp X-Ray, the naval base at Guantanamo Bay in 1903; control which it has retained ever since. However, since the 1990s, the US has utilised the naval base as a 'holding camp'; first for Cuban refugees and from January 2002, as a detention camp for Muslim prisoners, judged by the US to be “illegal enemy combatants”, which enables it to employ practices that would be illegal were the prisoners detained in the USA. This is the image that will come to mind for most, upon hearing the words “Guantanamo Bay”.
The United Kingdom government has often murmured that it would like to see the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay closed down. In a letter responding to the concerns of a J7 researcher, Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said:
We have made it clear that we think Guantanamo Bay should be closed; President Bush said that he would like to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as practicable......the UK has played an active role in this process and we secured the release and return of all British nationals held at the detention facility in 2004 and 2005; last year we secured the release and return of four detainees who were previously legally resident in the UK.
Source: J7 People's Investigation Forum
What is not apparent from this statement is that in 2006 the UK government, in response to the US government's offer to return nearly all remaining UK residents, refused to accept them, with ministers stating that they had no legal right to return to the UK. Additionally, according to this report:
Documents obtained by the Guardian show US authorities are demanding that the detainees be kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free - restrictions that are dismissed by the British as unnecessary and unworkable.
Although all are accused of terrorist involvement, Britain says there is no intelligence to warrant the measures Washington wants, and it lacks the resources to implement them. "They do not pose a sufficient threat," said the head of counter-terrorism at the Home Office.
Source: The Guardian
It was only in August 2007, after Gordon Brown was handed Tony Blair's prime ministerial position, that the government performed a volte-face and formally requested the return of the remaining men held at the detention facility.
For the purposes of this article it is important to note that the Home Office did not consider the Guantanamo detainees a “sufficient threat”. It is also interesting to note that the Home Office refused to issue passports to four former Guantanamo detainees, namely Martin Mubanga, Feroz Abbasi, Richard Belmar and Moazzam Begg. The decisions to revoke the passports of these men was taken under the Royal Prerogative power which enables decisions to be taken without any parliamentary consultation or scrutiny. The Royal Prerogative power was also used to revoke the passport of Canadian Abdurahman Khadr.
Furthermore, the Home Office regularly, and with impunity, impounds innocent Muslims in UK prisons pending deportation to countries where they face almost certain torture – and in some cases death - on the vague basis of an alleged 'threat to national security'. The Home Office does this in the total absence of any evidence that could actually convict them in a UK court. In addition, innocent Muslims are regularly impounded and interned in UK prisons, not because the government considers them to be a 'threat to national security' but because another country might consider them to be a threat to theirs. In Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire alone, just one of many prisons in the UK holding innocent Muslim detainees, against many of whom the State has not a jot of evidence, there are at least six men facing deportation, and at least five appealing against extradition orders to the United States. In each situation, captives face a very different process with the same potential outcome.
One only has to consider the soaring rate of attacks against Muslims – and indeed anyone of Asian appearance – in the wake of the explosions in London on July 7th 2005 to imagine what life is like in prison for a Muslim. Prisoner abuses at HMP Frankland include Eesa 'Dhiren' Barot suffering horrifically painful injuries from having boiling oil poured over him by another inmate (he later requested that the charges against the perpetrator be dropped), whose solicitor wrote of terrible examples of Islamophobia and racism facing Muslim inmates and detainees. Muslims in other prisons suffer the same kind of treatment. Whereas it seems to be a policy in the UK prison service to move prisoners who come under attack from other inmates, when Omar Khyam, a Muslim inmate at Frankland who had been involved in an extremely high profile trial came under attack, he was simply kept in isolation at the same prison. Later, the Daily Mail would twist the situation completely, claiming that these particular prisoners demanded to be moved because their fellow inmates were “too white”, rather than citing the genuine reason; that they were living in fear of their own safety and had merely asked to be treated in the same manner as other prisoners at risk of attack. Mr. Barot's solicitor made the point at the time he was attacked, "We are not asking for preferential treatment for Muslim prisoners - what we are requesting is that Muslim prisoners should be afforded the same protection as other prisoners".
Incredibly, other media coverage turns the worrying situation of Muslim prisoners coming under attack into one where prisons are under threat from 'al-Qaeda'.
In Long Lartin prison, the Muslim detainees are kept in a separate wing from other prisoners. The wing has come in for bitter criticism by convicts elsewhere in the prison who feel that the detainees have a “good deal”. However, the detainees face the same restrictions as Category A prisoners, despite the fact that they have never been convicted of any crime in the UK, terrorism-related or otherwise. They are not allowed to receive magazines or books from 'outside', for instance and in Belmarsh, it is prohibited to send just about any item to a detainee other than a letter – which cannot include a stamped addressed envelope for return, as detainees are not allowed to receive items of stationary. Faraj Hassan, a former prison detainee now living under a control order, has told of the human rights violations and abuse which he regularly experienced in Belmarsh and Brixton prisons. Shockingly, on one occasion, he was shown a fatwa at Belmarsh, signed by the Muslim Council of Britain, giving permission for staff to perform humiliating and unnecessary strip searches on Muslim detainees.
In August 2005, solicitors Birnberg Peirce & Partners stated of Full Sutton that the so-called secure unit was covered in cobwebs and that it remained unfit for humans. Ten years previously the Special Secure Unit at Full Sutton had been closed down on the basis that it was unfit for human habitation. A Council of Europe investigation team who visited Long Lartin and Full Sutton prisons warned that the restrictive, isolated conditions under which prisoners were held placed their mental and physical health in danger, even cautioning that a mass suicide would not be a surprising outcome.
'SPECIAL' COURTS , 'SPECIAL ADVOCATES' AND SECRET EVIDENCE
Anyone with a social conscience would agree that detaining people without giving them a specific reason and giving them no opportunity to prove their innocence goes against all the principles of democracy and freedom that this government proudly tells its citizens they will not let ‘the terrorists’ destroy. No evidence to support the allegations is required to be shown, in the cases of both those facing deportation and those facing extradition - either to the accused themselves or their legal representatives. In the case of the detainees threatened with deportation to face torture, this luxury is only afforded to appointed ‘special advocates’ in an extraordinary secret court procedure known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), who are not permitted to have contact with the appellant or his lawyers. In essence, the defence has no possibility of presenting any sort of argument because the State simply refuses to allow them to know the charges they face. How, exactly, can any kind of defence argument be formed when the person concerned has no right to know what evidence the precise case against them rests on? It can't.
The men in question came to the UK in desperation, many having already suffered torture in their countries of origin. One Algerian detainee, Mustapha Taleb – also known as Detainee Y, arrived in the UK in March 2000 to claim political asylum. After being exonerated of all charges relating to the now infamous ‘Ricin case’ along with his co-defendants, he had a mere five months to recover from the trauma of being imprisoned for 28 months for a crime he did not commit (indeed, a ‘crime’ which appears to have existed solely for the convenient purpose of making the case for the illegal invasion of Iraq) before finding himself manhandled back into jail for allegedly being a threat to UK security. He discovered during a SIAC hearing that the very same 'evidence' that was used in an attempt to convict him of involvement in the Ricin case was being used to justify his imprisonment and deportation, despite the fact that this absurd case had collapsed in a UK criminal court. Two of the jurors in the Ricin case were so horrified to discover what had happened to a man that they had cleared in a court of law that they now campaign on his behalf, along with organisations such as Amnesty International and Cageprisoners. Mr. Taleb remains incarcerated in the UK, despite one of his co-defendants in the same case escaping deportation.
Even a short visit to the Cageprisoners website will discover many other similar cases, all of which are a gross affront to human rights. One case is that of Detainee VV, who faces deportation to Jordan, where he will almost certainly face the torture that he escaped from in desperation in 2001, the very reason he claimed asylum in the first place. Detainee VV had no access to the evidence used to form the case against him and therefore had no opportunity to construct a defence. It is evident from a number of other similarly outrageous cases on the SIAC website that the SIAC process is heavily weighted in favour of the State. It is this legislative framework that facilitates the State acting out whatever its pre-determined political will might be, against whomever it so chooses.
The British government is no stranger to deporting asylum seekers under inhumane circumstances, but those arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorism and jailed immediately, are treated exceptionally harshly. Detainee VV was not permitted to see his wife and child for a year; many friends and family members 'fail' the vetting process to obtain clearance for visits during their incarceration so not only is liberty lost, there is no opportunity to have contact with loved ones. Wives and families are often left to struggle alone, too fearful of the stigma of their circumstances to allow themselves to be helped. Some detainees have wished for death as a release from the purgatory of living in perpetual, imprisoned limbo.
Detainee H, an Algerian granted refugee status by the UK authorities in 1993, who had been arrested in 2002 and detained in Belmarsh without trial until March 2005, had only five short months in which to enjoy his 'freedom' under control orders. In the immediate aftermath of the July 7th 2005 attacks, he – along with the eight other men also released from Belmarsh in March 2005 – was dragged from his bed in the early hours and taken away by police and Immigration Officials with no word to their families regarding where they were being taken and why. When supporters of the detainees acting on the behalf of their distraught families were finally able to access the relevant Home Office department, they were first told that the solicitors for the men would know where they were – even though they did not. When this was communicated to the Immigration Department the response was that the captives would be taken care of – with the spectacularly unreassuring and these days quite sinister qualification, “This is Britain, you know.” The Home Office finally responded.....naming captives and advising the families to contact the Salvation Army's missing person's service in order to find out where they had been taken.
Detainee H finally left Britain for Algeria in January 2007, despite attempts by Amnesty International to prevent this, leaving his wife and baby daughter behind. Upon arrival in Algeria Detainee H was detained almost immediately despite assurances from the UK and Algeria that this would not happen. He is now serving a three year sentence in an Algerian prison, with the UK and Algerian authorities denying he was ever given amnesty – a SIAC judge putting this down to “a muddle rather than deceit”. His wife has been refused a visa to visit him. When Detainee H gave a statement detailing his treatment upon returning to Algeria, as part of defence case for another detainee facing the same process, it was dismissed in a SIAC ruling.
Given the use of the Special Advocate process against foreign nationals, British nationals might think they need not worry about such a thing, However, the government also has other uses for 'special advocates', Special Advocates were primarily created to represent foreign nationals appealing against immigration and later, after the introduction of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, foreign terror suspects detained without charge or trial. Harry Roberts, who was convicted in 1966 for the murders of three policemen and sentenced to thirty years imprisonment, is still behind bars twelve years after his tariff expired on the basis of 'secret evidence'. Neither Mr. Roberts nor his solicitors have been allowed access. The parole board employed the use of a special advocate to examine this secret evidence. Of course, the special advocate is not allowed to speak to either Mr. Roberts nor his legal representatives about 'the evidence' that is keeping Mr Roberts in jail.
In February 2008, news broke of conversations between Tooting MP Sadiq Khan and Babar Ahmad being bugged whilst Mr. Ahmad was detained at Woodhill Prison. Ahmad and Khan were being covertly recorded by anti-terror operatives, allegedly without government knowledge. At the time, much was made of how terrible it was that anyone might dare to bug an MP, thereby contravening the Wilson Doctrine which dictates that MPs and peers not be bugged. At least, not without the express permission from the Prime Minister. Mr Khan was not pleased and threatened to take his evidence of bugged meetings, phone taps, and being followed, to the European Court of Human Rights. Levels of left, right, liberal and libertarian outrage were raised by the idea that an MP might be treated as a common criminal, or a 'terrorist' by association, yet barely a murmur was heard about the other focus of the story, prisoner Babar Ahmad. As if further evidence were required to suggest that, while the bugging of an MP might be a rare exception, the bugging of prisoners is a rather more routine function of the State, Harry Roberts' solicitor, Simon Creighton, said that a government lawyer had inadvertently sent two transcripts of covertly recorded telephone conversations between he and his client. This was in addition to revelations that hundreds of lawyers and prison visitors had been secretly recorded, cases which didn't feature MPs and therefore didn't warrant similar levels of outrage.
The same day that 56 people lost their lives in London, Harry Roberts suffered his own personal catastrophe. On 7th July 2005 his appeal against the use of secret evidence to block his long overdue release was rejected and he remains imprisoned to this day, still prohibited from knowing why he remains to this day deprived of his freedom. Roberts, a British citizen who served his country as a Lance Corporal during the Malayan 'Emergency', continues to be detained long after his sentence ended through the use of the same loaded methods created for use against foreign nationals. Roberts' extended detention on the basis of “national security” was used to set, and continues to set, a legal precedent that paves the way for routine use of the special advocate process in cases brought against British citizens. Mr. Roberts himself is certainly aware of the dangers of extending secret hearings and the hypocrisy of the UK government's use of such procedures, observing, “Surely this is 'double standards' - to castigate the Americans for something we are doing in England”. And therein lies the rub – or rather, one of the rubs.
HYPOCRISY, SECRECY & STEALTH
It is somewhat ironic that the Government's reasoning for originally refusing the return of Guantanamo detainees under the conditions demanded by the US was that the captives did not pose a “sufficient threat” to warrant surveillance – or apparently even a common judicial process. However, they must have been considered “sufficient threat” for the UK to deem it acceptable for them to moulder away in a prison camp with no access to legal representation that would enable them to find out and defend against the crimes of which they stood accused. What meets the criteria for a “sufficient” threat is anybody's guess in a country where men are manhandled away from their families to be spirited off by the Home Office and where five men had their convictions under the Terrorism Act 2000 quashed for the exact same non-offence for which only a month later another man was jailed. That the UK won't consider individuals 'suspected' of terrorism involvement a “sufficient” enough threat to actually warrant an open, legal trial, but will certainly consider them a “sufficient” enough threat to act as judge, jury and executioner on their suspicions is doubly ironic.
Tony Blair used the concept of “sufficiency” in a slightly different context in an article written for The Times in May 2007, where he primarily defended control orders as a “much milder remedy” than detention in jail, describing them as “imposing some limits on the individual's freedom”. Control orders, for those not familiar, came about after the Law Lords' ruling in December 2004 that the detention of the nine men – of which Detainee H, mentioned earlier in this article was one - at Belmarsh prison without trial, breached fundamental human rights. Mr. Blair bitterly recalled the judgement made at the time, that there was “a greater risk to Britain through the abrogation of the foreign suspect’s civil liberties than through terrorism.”
Control Orders do not merely impose “some” limits on an individual's freedom; the individual is effectively imprisoned in his own home, which makes family life extremely difficult, and for single men, a supportive social life impossible. At any given time, with no notice, they are to expect (among other things) to allow "officials" to search their homes, have their phone, internet access and contact with other people in general restricted, their own home restricted, a 24 hour ban on all movements and requirements to be at specified places or in a particular area at certain times on certain days. In the light of this, it is virtually incomprehensible that Mr. Blair then says that control orders were “much weaker than we wanted, perpetually diluted by opposition amendments, constantly attacked on civil liberty grounds.”
Mr. Blair goes on to give away the rules of the game that he had changed, stating:
After September 11, 2001, in common with many other nations, we passed new antiterror laws. In the aftermath of such an outrage it was relatively easy to do. We gave ourselves the ability, in exceptional circumstances, to detain foreign nationals who we believed were plotting terrorism but against whom there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. It was an important power. They were, of course, free to leave Britain. But we wouldn’t let them be free here. The ability to detain foreign nationals gave our services the ability to focus even more resources on the surveillance of British nationals who were a threat. It also sent out a strong signal of intent.
Source: The Times
Where there is “insufficient evidence” to prosecute, or there is not enough of a “sufficient threat” posed, then in the eyes of the law, detainees are innocent and should be protected by habeus corpus. However, despite the grave concerns raised in 2005 by the Director of Public Prosecutions that secret courts would pave the way for miscarriages of justice, ingrained traditions of 'British Justice' continue to be turned on their heads. Judicial processes have become ever more covert, including the existence of secret family courts along with recent proposals to hold criminal trials without juries and to hold secret inquests – the latter of which has caused concern to the bereaved families of those killed on July 7th 2005 but also to UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Such processes are, of course, in addition to the Inquiries Act 2005; legislation which was rushed through parliament exactly one month before the July 7th atrocities, effectively ending the concept of independent and/or public inquiries. In times when the public most require answers about matters of great import, the State instead affects less transparency and plumbs greater depths of secrecy, allowing the public to know as little as possible about its actions and operations. All on the catch-all basis of “national security”.
Recent legislative proposals pushed by the State also have the inquest process in their sights and the State is seeking to legislate itself ultimate control over inquests and coroners. Once again, the sole reason given is 'national security'. Already it has been suggested that the 7/7 inquests -- an event from which much political capital has been made by all parties -- and the extra-judicial execution by the State of Jean Charles de Menezes will be held in secret.
EXTRADITIONS, RENDITIONS AND LIES
Another piece of legislation which gives rise to justifiable concerns is the Extradition Act 2003; in particular Part 2 of the Act, which covers extradition to Category 2 territories. As the wording of the Act states, this part deals with extradition from the United Kingdom to the territories designated for the purposes of this Part by order made by the Secretary of State. As the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines state in bold text, the district judge in a given case must be satisfied that the request contains admissible evidence of the offence sufficient to establish a prima facie case against the person. This requirement does not apply in respect of extradition requests from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Here is the crux of the matter, and the reasoning behind the controversy that this Act has engendered. In the first place, these four named nations, only three of which are part of the Commonwealth, are not obliged or required to submit prima facie evidence when requesting the extradition of British citizens or foreign nationals residing in Britain. In other words, at present, the United States is able to request any amount of British individuals to be sent over and don't even need to say why. Even worse, there is no reciprocal arrangement between the two countries; if Britain wishes to extradite a US citizen or resident, the government is required by the US to provide evidence justifying the request.
In the case of Haroon Aswat, the US Justice Department blocked attempts by Seattle prosecutors to charge him in relation to suspected 'terrorist activity' in Oregon in 2002. Yet, in the aftermath of the July 7th 2005 attacks in London, amid a flurry of hysterical and groundless media coverage of his alleged and unproven connection to the July 7th suspects, he was arrested in late July 2005, in Zambia, having previously resided in South Africa. It was reported that the US wanted to render Mr. Aswat to a third, undisclosed country, as opposed to directly to the US from Africa, several weeks before he was arrested, but were unable to do so due to his British citizenship and possession of UK papers. It was allegedly whilst this diplomatic argument occurred that Mr. Aswat left South Africa for Zambia, where he was then arrested under Zambian immigration laws. He was deported, rather than extradited to Britain, and the UK authorities have never arrested or charged Mr. Aswat either in connection with the events of July 7th 2005 or any other suspected terrorist activity. A 'source' at Scotland Yard said rather dismissively, “He may be of interest to us in the future but he is not our priority at the moment”.
It is completely unclear therefore, at which point Mr. Aswat was supposed to have been arrested in Pakistan – the Pakistani authorities denied that this had happened and according to one report, men with identical names may have been detained. A point extremely worthy of note, especially as it was also reported that the man detained in Pakistan was in fact a ceramics salesman from London with a "similar" name.
At present, Mr. Aswat is detained in a UK prison appealing against his extradition order to the United States. His solicitor, Gareth Pierce, stated on the same day as the original extradition ruling that the US had provided no evidence of Mr. Aswat’s involvement in terrorist activity:
She said: “The only witness against him in the United States was threatened that if he didn’t plead guilty and co-operate he would be put under military detention.
“It shows the extent to which the United States is manipulating evidence and pressuring witnesses. All that is said about Haroon Aswat is that in 1999 he travelled to a farm in the US which was considering setting up a Muslim community and, after a few days, left. That’s it — that’s the evidence.”
Source: The Times
In an earlier hearing, a lawyer for the US had stated that the accusations made against Mr. Aswat by the US meant that he faces up to fifteen years in jail, but also that “the charges could change and he could face a longer term of imprisonment.”
Other cases not involving the US, but where equally flimsy allegations are all that is required by the UK to approve extraditions are just as concerning; such as that of Farid Hilali, extradited to Spain in February 2008 to face charges of being a member of a terrorist group – despite the fact that the UK courts expressly said that it would be illegal for Spain to extradite him on those grounds. Mr. Hilali's so-called co-conspirator had previously had his conviction quashed for involvement in the same case, the Spanish Supreme court had ruled telephone intercept evidence as inadmissable because not only had it been obtained unlawfully but did not, in any case, support the inference that the two had been conspiring together and the Spanish Prosecutor attempted to mislead the UK courts by alleging Mr. Hilali's involvement in the 'Hamburg Cell', which had already been refuted by German courts. Yet off to Spain Mr. Hilali has gone, making a mockery of the “trust” accorded to European countries in such cases.
Other men facing extradition to the United States along with Haroon Aswat include Babar Ahmad, the victim of bugging in Woodhill prison mentioned above and human rights campaigner Syed Talha Ahsan, both of whom face charges of providing 'material' to terrorists. The charges have been brought by the US purely on the basis of alleged Internet activity; neither man has ever set foot on US soil. In 2004, a US attorney made the quite mind boggling statement in relation to Mr. Ahmad's case, "If you're supporting the Taleban and the Taleban is killing American soldiers, we're alleging you're conspiring to kill American citizens abroad." Perhaps one day the Iraqi people might apply this type of logic to UK taxpayers; it would certainly be interesting to see the outcome of such a case.
QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES?
Given the appalling human rights record of the United States of America, of which prison camps such as Camp X-Ray and Abu Ghraib are only a part, this is unsurprisingly a terrifying prospect for captives facing extradition. As with deportations, diplomatic notes are often used as assurance of human rights, but there are no guarantees that these will be adhered to. For instance, there is nothing to stop the CIA advising the U.S government to change its position and designate a given individual as an enemy combatant, where he would, of course, face the kind of treatment that the Home Office condemns at detention camps, where incidences of maltreatment and torture of the detainees are well documented.
The recent admittance by the US authorities that it had employed the use of torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and the news that the US president has vetoed a Congressional Bill that would have prohibited the employment of torture during the interrogation of terrorism suspects, shows that it is clear that there is no guarantee whatsoever that detainees will be treated objectively and humanely. The CIA director Michael Hayden’s supposedly ‘reassuring’ statement that the CIA will “continue to operate within the law” carries very little weight when the 'law' states that torture and inhumane methods are acceptable. No one should forget that it isn't so long ago that the practices employed by the US against terror suspects; hypothermia, long periods of standing, sleep deprivation and multiple sessions of waterboarding -- cleverly renamed, with its former nomenclature of 'water torture' all but forgotten -- among others, were classified by the US as war crimes when perpetuated by the Nazis. The United States has a history of convicting others of torture in cases where the practice of water torture was used. After World War II, the US organised and participated in the International Military Tribunal where senior members of the Japanese government and military were charged and convicted largely upon the basis that they practised water torture. In 1983, the county sheriff of San Jacinto, Texas, was convicted of civil rights violations for using water torture on suspects. Upon sentencing, the District Judge told the former sheriff, “The operation down there would embarrass the dictator of a country.”
Adopting as your own the characteristics of the very thing you profess to despise in no way confers any kind of moral superiority. This applies to both the UK and US governments' hypocrisy in their imperialistic actions of warfare for peace and democracy by death in the Middle East. It includes the hypocrisy of the UK government, media and senior legal figures for 'attacking' George Bush's detention camps when the liberty, safety and fundamental rights of UK residents are breached in the same unacceptable manner - sanctioned and imposed by the State itself. The UK government has demonstrated a breathtaking lack of regard for human life and liberty with its 'anti-terror' measures. In November 2004, a Special Advocate before SIAC publicly resigned, making his reasons for doing so abundantly clear:
The detainees have not been targeted simply as a group of foreigners suspected of involvement in international terrorism. The overwhelming focus has been on the fact that they are Muslim.....this is how the war against terrorism is often portrayed. It produces hatred and attacks not just on Muslims, but on the whole Asian community. It has already eroded the confidence of British Muslims and must, in the longer term, affect social cohesion. More importantly this kind of law alienates Britain in the international arena. The solution to the perceived threat of international terrorism is not, in my view, to pass new laws, which apply arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without trial to every terrorist suspect, British and foreign alike.The point was trenchantly made by Lord Hoffman in his speech:
"I said that the power of detention is at present confined to foreigners and I would not like to give the impression that all that was necessary was to extend the power to UK citizens as well. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values comes not from terrorism but from laws like these."
Thursday's judgement in the House of Lords supports and vindicates my view. I now feel that whatever difference I might make as a special advocate on the inside is outweighed by the operation of a law, fundamentally flawed and contrary to our deepest notions of justice. My role has been altered to provide a false legitimacy to indefinite detention without knowledge of the accusations being made and without any kind of criminal charge or trial. For me this is untenable. No other country in Europe has felt it necessary to follow this course and derogate from Article 5 of the European Convention. Britain should not stand apart from the rest of Europe on this issue.
Such a law is an odious blot on our legal landscape and for reasons of conscience I feel that I must resign.
The Law Lords' decision in December 2005 that 'evidence' extracted under torture was inadmissable in SIAC courts – countermanding a previous ruling that such evidence could be used provided that Britain itself was not involved in the torture process - should have saved the Belmarsh detainees from being sent back to countries which employed the use of torture. It didn't.
No ‘terror threat’ to this country justifies detention without trial and condemnation to torture abroad – the government is clearly correct to assert that it won’t let ‘the terrorists’ destroy ‘our way of life’. It’s far too busy doing the destroying itself with the added propaganda coup value of fostering fear and suspicion of Muslims.
Daniel Guedella, a legal representative for some of the individuals mentioned in this article makes the stark observation,
This government cannot parade itself on the international stage with its claimed commitments to democracy and the rule of law whilst at home its contempt for such principles has never been more evident than in its treatment of these men and their families. The Prime Minister is wrong. The rules of the game have not changed. The rules cannot be changed for the purposes of political grandstanding at the expense of the most vulnerable and innocent amongst us.
Daniel Guedella, Birnberg Peirce and Partners
Imagine a day in your life – of no particular value purely due to its sheer availability and mass quantity. Then imagine it was the last day you knew freedom. Imagine being Detainee H, who went to bed on a summer's evening and didn't wake up in his own home again. Imagine being Detainee VV who spent an entire year waiting to see his daughter who'd been only three days old the last time he'd held her in his arms; the realisation of nine months of future plans, who now can only mourn all the precious days he assumed he'd spend caring for her with his wife. Imagine your own home being not a place of safety and sanctuary, but your own personal prison, where you couldn't even arrange something as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee or doing the shopping when you wanted. Imagine optimistically applying and being accepted onto a college course, then having to give it up when you realised that everyone on the course would have to know you were a 'terror suspect'. Imagine how it feels to stumble blindly through a closed 'court' process, unable to speak to the person who has the luxury of knowing what you don't; the grounds on which you've been taken away from everything that you knew, whilst the judge sits sighing, having the privilege of knowing exactly what the outcome will be. Imagine being arrested and thrown into jail in one country because another country has demanded your presence, conferring 'suspect' status upon you immediately. Imagine how it would feel to sit alone in a small cell day after day and year after year, knowing that you don't even have the option or means to prove your innocence beyond doubt because there is “insufficient evidence” to charge you with a crime – and because of this, knowing that the general assumption is likely to be that 'there's no smoke without fire'. Especially when there's a 'war on terror' to win.
In September 2006, Tony Blair described the “global struggle against terrorism” as being “without mercy or limit”.
Without limit....what's happening to Harry Roberts, and the incalculable amount of people in the UK who have anti-terrrorism legislation used against them every day for actions as terrifying and criminal as wearing a T-shirt and peacefully protesting against the legislation itself, illustrates that we all need to consider that as a warning. Many still have no idea exactly how deleterious the situation is. As one supporter of the Muslim detainees in Britain puts it,
Many British Muslims only woke up when Babar Ahmad was taken – even Babar himself has said since that he did not take any notice when the men were detained indefinitely in 2001. He just assumed they were all terrorists.
Source: Cageprisoners Via Algeria Watch
For the majority of UK citizens, it's not dark yet, but it's getting there; for the many Muslims incarcerated in legal limbo in the UK and their terrified families and friends, darkness began to fall almost as soon as the first news about the events of September 11th and World Trade Centre broke, initiating America's latest incarnation of its 'War on Terror'. The shadow hasn't lifted since.