Indefinite detention without trial upheld

Indefinite detention without trial upheld

Written by: Harmit Athwal

On 28 October 2003, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) upheld the detention of ten men detained without trial or charge under the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA).

In total, sixteen men have been arrested under the ATCSA since it became law on 14 December 2001. The men cannot be deported and have been classified as ‘suspected international terrorists’. Two of the men have ‘voluntarily’ left the UK (‘voluntary departure’ or detention without trial being the only options open to these men). There are currently fourteen men being held in maximum security prisons and special hospitals in the UK. The recent hearings involved ten men, six others are awaiting their appeals against detention to be heard.

Most of them were arrested in December 2001 as a result of legislation brought in soon after the September 11 attacks in America. The men – all ‘foreign nationals’ (only foreign nationals can be indefinitely detained under the law) – had appealed against their detention under the Act. The appeals began in May and much of the evidence against them was heard in closed court. Even the men’s lawyers were not allowed access to that evidence against them as it is deemed specially sensitive. Instead, specially appointed barristers, security cleared by MI5 – special advocates – acted on their behalf.

No usual standards of justice

The government has alleged the men are connected to Osama bin Laden and Al Qa’eda. Lawyers acting for the government only had to prove they had ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ they were involved in terrorism or had links with it – not ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ as is the standard in criminal cases.

The Commission found that none of the men were actually suspected of being involved in terrorism. (The case against each of them rested on (suspected) links with (suspected) terrorist groups.) The detention of the men had to be justified by the Home Office in terms of a ‘public emergency threatening the life of the nation’. SIAC was satisfied that the men being detained were not necessarily suspected of terrorism in relation to the UK but were linked – however indirectly – with Al Qa’eda.

In addition, an MI5 witness told the court that the security services would not exclude information extracted by other countries’ intelligence services under torture. These same MI5 witnesses were found to be ‘highly competent, knowledgeable and objective’, even though ‘they did not have a detailed knowledge of the political background in Algeria or Egypt or of the various terror groups’ and one of them ‘was surprisingly unaware of the detail of a number of common and public allegations about ill-treatment in Guantanamo Bay’.

Under a general rule the men have not been named in the press and there are orders banning the naming of them. However, two of the men have been named. One, Moroccan Djamel Ajouaou, had lived in the UK for 15 years and worked as an interpreter for lawyer, Gareth Peirce. He left the UK after being given the ‘option’ so to do. Another man being held is Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian who was a victim of torture while imprisoned in Israel, who had been given refugee status by the British government. Mahmoud who has been on numerous hunger strikes since his incarceration and has serious mental health problems, is currently being held at Broadmoor high security hospital on the orders of Home Secretary David Blunkett.

After the decision of the SIAC, Blunkett commented that he was ‘ very pleased that my decisions … have been upheld… the decision to certify these individuals because of the threat that they pose to our national security has been upheld by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission…when the Act was debated in Parliament, I made a clear commitment that the detention powers in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act would be used sparingly, on the basis of clear evidence, and only where I believed that national security was under threat.’

Statement from detainees

After the SIAC decision, Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for some of the men, read out a statement made on behalf of appellants H, G, F, B and A:

  • A number of the appellants had asked to be present at their appeal decisions but had been refused by SIAC. The following are the points that they have asked their lawyers to express on their behalf.
  • They expect now to remain locked up for the remainder of their lives. Each knows that he has been involved in no action in support of terrorism. Since the largest percentage of the hearings have been in secret no-one knows what in particular has been said against him. A number have been said to be members of groups of which they have never heard.
  • All are certain that there neither is nor has been a national emergency, let alone one created or contributed to by their presence in this country.
  • The detainees believe that Parliament was misled. During the passage of this legislation it was never informed that reliance would be placed on evidence obtained from torture and ill treatment worldwide. The appellants express their astonishment the onus has been placed on them to prove this.
  • The appellants consider it entirely wrong to accord the deference that has been accorded to the government and the security services. The same political agenda that created ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and claimed there was an immediate threat to this country has created a wish to find danger from the presence in this country of these appellants.
  • Secrecy has been chosen over due process and is a dangerous precedent for the future, not just for these detainees. Their arrest and continuing detention without due process marks the entry of this country into a new dark age of injustice.
  • Lastly, the appellants have been detained for now 2 years. They express their grief that it has been chosen to give these decisions at the beginning of Ramadan. The impact is not merely upon them but upon their wives and children also.
Campaigning against detention without trial

The Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) and supporters (pictured) organised a picket on the day of the hearings outside the SIAC and have another planned for 29 November outside Downing Street to highlight the similarities of the detention of the men being held in Guantanamo Bay and those being held in the UK at places like HMP Belmarsh and Broadmoor.

Related links

Campaign Against Criminalising Communities

Campaigners against Terror Act call for support – IRR report

Palestinian refugee appeals anti-terrorist detention – IRR report

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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