In the Guardian: The disturbing use of secret evidence in UK “terror courts”

29.4.09

For the Guardian’s Comment is free, “Taking liberties with our justice system” is an article I wrote about the largely overlooked plight of Britain’s untried “terror suspects,” a group of men — mostly foreign residents, but also including British nationals — who are imprisoned, or held under a strict form of house arrest, either on control orders or deportation bail, without ever having been charged or tried, on the basis of secret evidence.

The article, which provides a summary of the Labour government’s extraordinary disregard for the principles of justice on which this country prides itself, follows on from my recent series about “Britain’s Guantánamo,” which began with an article for the Guardian, “Torture taints all our lives,” and continued with two further articles in which I reported on a Parliamentary meeting chaired by Diane Abbott MP about the use of secret evidence, and compared the situation faced by these men to the detention regime implemented by the Bush administration at Guantánamo, and also reproduced five statements, made by the prisoners themselves, which were read out by actors at the parliamentary meeting (see the links below).

The trigger for the article, which features some particularly poignant insights made by Dinah Rose QC during the Parliamentary meeting, was an Early Day Motion tabled by Diane Abbott, calling for an end to the use of secret evidence, which I mentioned in an article on my site last week, and I urge anyone concerned by this despicable state of affairs to ask their MP to sign join Diane Abbott, and, at the latest count, 36 other MPs, in demanding an end to the use of secret evidence.

I did not have the space, in the Guardian article, to mention the alternatives to the ad hoc system invented in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, which, with every passing year, becomes more damaging to the mental health of those unjustly deprived of their liberty by a government that reacted with panic and paranoia to the perceived terror threat that followed the attacks, but I have written about these alternatives in previous articles — for example, “Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture,” published in February.

Essentially, what it involves is persuading the government to join the rest of the world in finding a way to use evidence from the intelligence agencies without compromising either their sources or their methods, so that the evidence against these men can be tested in an open court, and not in the secretive terror court — the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC) — which, at present, deals with their cases in a disturbingly opaque manner.

As Dinah Rose explained at the Parliamentary meeting, it is “hard to explain just how shocking an experience SIAC is for an advocate used to the basic norms of our legal system. It is the first principle of natural justice that a person has a right to know the case against them, so that they can respond to it. We take this principle for granted, from our earliest childhood, [but] this principle simply does not apply in SIAC.”

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, deportations and extraditions, 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), Britain’s Guantánamo: control orders renewed, as one suspect is freed (February 2008), 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), Torture taints all our lives (published in the Guardian’s Comment is free), Britain’s Guantánamo: Calling For An End To Secret Evidence, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (1) Detainee Y, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (2) Detainee BB, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (3) Detainee U, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (4) Hussain Al-Samamara, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (5) Detainee Z, Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? and URGENT APPEAL on British terror laws: Get your MP to support Diane Abbott’s Early Day Motion on the use of secret evidence (all April 2009).

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Andy Worthington

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.
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