A report from the Right, making the case for control orders, contains some useful information.
The Coalition government is nearing the end of the counter terrorism review, which will decide whether to continue the draconian measures, introduced since 2001, which have so compromised rights such as the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, the right not to be deported to a country which practises torture.
Groups such as Liberty, Amnesty and Justice have published reports making a case against control orders. The one think-tank that has made a counter case, The Centre for Social Cohesion, in Control Orders: strengthening national security by Robin Simcox, has been widely quoted in the tabloid press. Anxious that members of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have called for the abolition of control orders and a few higher court judgements have called into question the viability of the control order scheme, it calls on the new government to retain the ‘flawed’ system by robustly addressing ‘its deficiencies’ because ‘at a time of a heightened terrorist threat’ it is a useful ‘national security tool’ enabling an overstretched Security Service in dealing with a ‘large number of UK-based al-Qaeda sympathisers’.
Odious as this advocacy is, the report presents a very useful lesson about the prism through which securocrats view those deemed to be terror suspects. Moreover, it performs a helpful task in cataloguing all cases – even if in a distorted manner. The report profiles all those who were under control orders between March 2005 and December 2009 (with the exception of three of whom no details are available) using open source material from court judgements and newspaper reports. An anonymous government source was also interviewed for the report.
Central to the profile of each person is the network he allegedly belongs to (largely proscribed organisations listed under the Terrorism Act 2000), suspected links to cases, plots or cells, alleged known associates who are terrorists and senior figures in ‘extreme Islamists’ groups. Of course such a profile omits to give human details such as whether someone has family connections, wife or children and what their conditions of physical and mental health might be and, in most cases, no information is provided under the heading of education and occupation.
As of December 2009, the report identifies forty-five individuals under control orders with only twelve still in force. At least 58 per cent of the forty-five are known to be asylum seekers and 20 per cent are British citizens. To put in another way, 80 per cent (n=36) are foreign nationals of whom 78 per cent are asylum seekers. Of the thirty-three controlees who are no longer under control orders, thirteen have had their control orders revoked, ten were served with deportation orders, six deported, seven have absconded, three have had their controls quashed and two control orders have not been renewed. So we have had seventeen individuals, and possibly their families, isolated and stigmatised for years only later to be released from control order restrictions and without any hope of recompense or help in rebuilding their shattered lives.
Whilst the report focuses on control orders as a response to dealing with individuals who cannot be legally deported (often as they face potential torture their homeland), it bypasses any of the human rights implications including travel restrictions for those who can increasingly be described as living in ‘internal exile’.
The background in the report helpfully outlines the position of the three major political parties on the deportation of foreign terror suspects and gives the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) 1996 ruling in the Chahal case that a person could not be deported to a nation where he could face human rights abuses, as this would be a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits torture. This has put the government and political parties in a quandary as to what to do with ‘suspect’ international terrorists, whose activities are so broadly defined as to catch any one in the Muslim community. Internment in Belmarsh, control orders and the memoranda of understanding with foreign nations are but ruses deployed to circumvent the right to a fair trial. Not surprisingly, the report is in agreement with Lord Carlile, the ‘independent’ watchdog of terror laws, that the repeal of control orders would create a higher level of public risk. Worryingly, it also poses the possibility of the UK following the Italian solution of simply ignoring ECtHR rulings in order to deport foreign nationals.