It’s always a sure sign that something has gone horribly wrong when Tory politicians can only be persuaded with extreme reluctance to support anti-terror measures pursued by the Labour government. But this is exactly what happened on Thursday, when Conservative MPs joined with the government’s own MPs to extend until March 2009 the legislation authorizing the government to hold alleged terror suspects under control orders.
The vote to extend the control orders — which are currently used against 15 alleged terror suspects — passed by 267 votes to 60, but Tory MPs were clearly not bowled over by a hyperbolic statement made by Security Minister Tony McNulty, who, as though infected by the ghosts of previous Labour hard men John Reid and David Blunkett, claimed, “The threat (of terrorism) is clearly real, serious and represents a threat unparalleled in our country’s history.”
Speaking on behalf of his fellow MPs, the Tories’ shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve declared, “On balance, and with a considerable degree of reluctance, our view is we should allow renewal to take place this year.” Other notes of caution were sounded by Labour MPs. Alex Carlile, the government’s terror laws ombudsman, said that no control order should be extended beyond two years “save in genuinely exceptional circumstances,” and Andrew Dismore, the chairman of the joint Human Rights Committee, warned that the orders could create “Guantánamo-style martyrs” unless a maximum time limit was imposed. “Perhaps it is the gilded cage of Acacia Avenue rather than the harshness of a Cuban camp,” he said, “but we have still seen indefinite restrictions on their freedom.”
A very specific kind of personal prison, control orders were introduced in March 2005 after the government’s previous method of dealing with alleged terror suspects — holding them in high-security prisons, including Belmarsh, without charge or trial — was ruled illegal by the House of Lords. Generally involving curfews, electronic tagging, the requirement to report regularly to police, and restrictions on associating with others and using telephones and computers, they constitute a kind of house arrest, and have been criticized for contravening the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF). In April 2006 the high court ruled that placing a man known only as “S” under a control order without a fair hearing infringed Article 6 of the Convention, and in June 2006 a judge quashed the control orders against six other men, ruling that they were “incompatible” with Article 5 of the Convention, which prevents indefinite detention without trial.
The reasons for the government‘s insistence on using control orders were explained to the BBC by Labour MP John Denham in May last year. Denham said, “They were brought in because the courts prevented the government from jailing people who were believed to be terrorists, [and who] sometimes had a terrorist record overseas; we were stopped from jailing them because we didn’t have the evidence to convict them here.”
Critics, however, point out that holding men without charge or trial — with echoes of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay — is monstrously unjust, and that the control orders could be done away with if the government was prepared to join most other western countries in establishing ways of incorporating evidence collected by the security services in trials. At present, the government refuses to do so, leading to valid complaints that the quality of the evidence cannot be tested.
Ironically, the day after the legislation was extended for a year, the supposedly significant and sensitive intelligence used to justify imposing one of these control orders was revealed as a sham when a high court judge dismissed the control order against 25-year old British national Cerie Bullivant, ruling that there was no “reasonable suspicion” that he intended to take part in terrorism abroad. According to a report in the Guardian, MI5 had alleged that the “restriction of movement measures were necessary” because Bullivant “could be planning to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan to join up with terrorists.”
First subjected to a control order in June 2006, which was renewed last year, Mr. Bullivant became something of a terror suspect celebrity last May when he, along with two brothers, Lamine and Ibrahim Adam, disappeared after breaking the conditions of their control orders. The Adam brothers, whose other brother, Anthony Garcia, was sentenced to life in prison in April 2007 for his part in a fertilizer bomb plot, failed to report to a “monitoring company,” and Mr. Bullivant failed to turn up at a police station, which he was required to do on a daily basis. In all the hysterical reporting that followed, there was little, if any mention of the reason that Mr. Bullivant was regarded as so significantly dangerous that the government was prepared to imprison him without charge or trial, using a form of house arrest.
From L to R: Lamine Adam, Ibrahim Adam and Cerie Bullivant as they appeared in publicity issued after they absconded from their control orders in May 2007. The Sun’s headline was typical of the scaremongering that ensued: “Fury as ‘terror’ bruvs do runner.”
Yesterday, as Mr. Justice Collins quashed the control order, the government’s overreaction to the supposed “threat” posed by Mr. Bullivant was made clear. He had been subjected to a control order after he was stopped at Heathrow as he was about to board a flight to Syria with Ibrahim Adam. Mr. Bullivant said that he intended to study Arabic in Syria, but the security services decided that he and Adam intended “to carry out extremist Islamic activity,” and that they were possibly intending to travel on to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight against western forces, or to conduct a “martyrdom operation.”
Quashing the control order, Mr. Justice Collins said that it might have been “reasonable to assume that individuals with whom Bullivant associated might have been involved in terrorism, but that did not make it reasonable to suspect he had the same inclinations.” He added, “The dangers of guilt by association are obvious.”
Cerie Bullivant as he appeared on CCTV at Dagenham police station in May 2007.
Outside the court, Bullivant celebrated his freedom, but asked reporters to consider the other men who were still held under control orders. “Although I am very happy that this order has now been lifted,” he said, “this draconian legislation is still continuing to ruin the lives of others and their families.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportation and extradition, see Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees (August 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: the troubling tale of Tunisian Belmarsh detainee Hedi Boudhiba, extradited, cleared and abandoned in Spain (August 2007), Guantánamo as house arrest: Britain’s law lords capitulate on control orders (November 2007), The Guantánamo Britons and Spain’s dubious extradition request (December 2007), Spanish drop “inhuman” extradition request for Guantánamo Britons (March 2008), UK government deports 60 Iraqi Kurds; no one notices (March 2008), Repatriation as Russian Roulette: Will the Two Algerians Freed from Guantánamo Be Treated Fairly? (July 2008), Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009).
I am very glad of the decision to free Mr Bullivant. He should never have been subjected to imprisonment and subsequently a control order for simply having had the intention to board a plane to Syria. No wonder he wasn’t charged and taken to court. You can just hear the government’s ‘evidence’ had they been forced to – “We think that maybe possibly he was going to Syria to become a terrorist!” – that kind of stuff thankfully would not stand up as evidence in a British court and long may this situation continue. It is galling that the Conservatives joined with Labour to extend the life of these control orders as they do not belong in a democratic society where the laws of the land should apply to everyone, regardless of race, colour or creed and where strong evidence of wrong-doing is required to convict someone of a crime. If someone cannot be convicted by a court of law, if evidence is so flimsy or so fake that it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law, then they should not be punished in this dreadful way. It is simply unacceptable to label people as possible terrorists and hope that the ‘terrorist threat’ will stop the rest of us caring about them and their human rights. I just cannot believe that I am living in a democracy when there are people who are under control orders without knowing exactly what it is that they are accused of and who are not allowed and whose solicitors are not allowed to see the ‘evidence’ against them. And it won’t surprise me when the cases against the others are seen eventually to be as ridiculous as that against Mr Bullivant. I wish this government would stop using the ‘terrorist threat’ as an excuse to remove the human rights and civil liberties of people living in this country. All totalitarian governments justify themselves in this way and this Labour Government is no different in my view. There is no excuse for imposing control orders on anyone in a democratic society.
After this article was published, I received the following comment. The link is well worth checking out.
Our website al-istiqamah.com recently did an interview with Mouloud Sihali which concentrates on the psychological effects of control orders. You might find it of interest:
Channel 4 (via ITN) has more details, which demonstrate the ruinous effects of the control order on Mr. Bullivant’s life:
Lawyers for Bullivant, from Dagenham, Essex, had argued the accusations were “baseless”, and that he was the victim of an abuse of power. Bullivant said the order had taken him down to “the depths of despair”.
The quashed order was made last year and replaced the original ruling made in June 2006. The judge said that, on the material now available, he would not have upheld the first order either, but he was satisfied that the Home Secretary had reasonable grounds for suspicion and was justified in making it at the time. The judge was told that Jacqui Smith was not going to appeal against his ruling, and Mr Bullivant’s solicitor, Henry Miller, said he was now “absolutely a free man”.
Mr Bullivant said outside court that his marriage was wrecked by the control order and his mental health had suffered seriously. He now intends to take up the nursing course that, he said, he had to abandon because of the tough restrictions under the order. He said in a statement: “Since the imposition of the first control order in June 2006, I have been subjected to the most extreme pressures which have thrown my life into turmoil. As a direct result of the imposition of the order, my wife has left me and my family and friends have become deeply distressed. The Home Office’s own psychiatrist has confirmed that I am now suffering from severe depressive illness which was caused by the imposition of the control order. Although I am very happy that this order has now been lifted, this draconian process and legislation is still continuing to ruin the lives of others and their families.”
Control orders law renewed, jail without charge up to 42 days demanded: shame!
The iniquitous control orders régime has been renewed for another year, one day before another control order is quashed as unjustified by the high court; and the government continues to demand the extension to 42 days of the maximum time allowed for s…
The following message came from Marilyn Shepherd in Australia:
Andy your work is greatly appreciated in Australia as we had two people in Gitmo who were not guilty of anything at all.
To put the Howard days in perspective look at this case:
Lifetime detention for people they knew were always entirely innocent.
After I replied to Marilyn, asking for permission to post her comments here, she replied:
Please do Andy, the more of the world who knows what we are up to the better as the media are still demonising Hicks here in Australia even though he didn’t do anything worse than spend over 5 years being tortured by the US.
I believe that Control Orders are served on those who ‘know too much’ and whose personal stories would thwart the ‘official line’ of the ‘(War of) Terrorism’ that we hear about. Look at the amount of ‘closed session’ evidence that features in the cases of those appealing their control orders.
I believe the latest Control Order served was on 10th January 2008 upon Respondent ‘AP’ who is Elias Girma Eyassu aka Jeffrey/Geoffrey Obwana/Obwona/Obonwa/Obwona (see case notes here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/dxzjjv )
Elias Girma Eyassu was present at the alleged ‘terror training camp’ in the Lake District in May 2004 where a number of the accused July 21st ‘bombers’ were present – all under Special Branch surveillance (Operation Ragstone, referred to in the JCdM inquest).
I believe that Control Orders are being used to hush up the machinations of the UK Secret Service/Special Branch complicity with/facilitation of terrorist plots, played out by hapless patsies.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: