Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws

3.7.09

Mahmoud Abu RidehToday, Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian-born British resident with a British wife and six British children, has a hearing at the High Court in London to consider his request for internationally valid travel documents which would allow him to leave the country. On the basis of secret evidence, which has not been disclosed to him, Mr. Abu Rideh has been imprisoned without charge or trial, or held under a control order (a form of house arrest) as a “terror suspect” for seven and a half years, and, as a result, suffers from severe mental health problems that have led to repeated attempts to commit suicide.

In May, his wife — unable to cope any longer with the living hell of the family’s existence in the UK — left the UK to live with relatives in Jordan, taking the children with her, and, in spite of a recent ruling by the Law Lords — in which the Lords unanimously delivered a resounding repudiation of the government’s use of secret evidence to impose control orders on alleged terror suspects — the government has yet to demonstrate that it has taken on board the significance of the ruling, and will take the necessary steps to either charge or release those it has been holding in such an extraordinary bubble of lawlessness for the last seven and a half years, including those, like Mr. Abu Rideh, whose torment has led to what human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce has described as a state of “florid psychosis.”

The following is a letter sent to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to Justice Secretary Jack Straw and to the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, by the Muslim Prisoner Support Group and Peace and Justice in East London, asking the government to bring to an end the unconscionable legal limbo in which Mr. Abu Rideh is held, and it is followed by a heart-breaking account, by Mr. Abu Rideh’s wife, of the effect of arbitrary imprisonment and control orders on her life and health, and on that of her husband and their children. In an article to follow, I will reproduce a series of letters from Mr. Abu Rideh’s children.

A letter on behalf of Mahmoud Abu Rideh

Please give your urgent attention to the case of Mahmoud Abu Rideh, who has been subject to a control order for more than four years.

Mr. Abu Rideh was detained without charge between December 2001 and March 2005 under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, on suspicion of being involved in terrorism-related activity. The grounds for that suspicion were kept secret from him and from his lawyers. The House of Lords in December 2004 decided the law was a breach of the Human Rights Act. The European Court of Human Rights in 2009 confirmed that decision, but went further in Mahmoud Abu Rideh’s individual case and said that he had never been told even the bare minimum that he needed to know to contest the UK Government’s case for detaining him for three and a half years.

The strict obligations imposed by the control order, together with the lasting effects of the time he spent interned in the UK, have had a severe effect on his physical and mental health as well as the lives of his British family. Mr. Abu Rideh has repeatedly self-harmed and is now a severe suicide risk as a result.

On May 25th 2009, his family left the United Kingdom in despair for Jordan, to live with his wife’s parents. They were prevented from taking many of their belongings with them since many of the children’s possessions had been seized by police as claimed breaches of their father’s control order. His children were unable while here ever properly to do their home work since they were allowed no access to the internet. As a result they did not sit their exams or complete the academic year, effectively depriving them of one year of their education. Mr. Abu Rideh was denied the opportunity of bidding his family farewell at the airport. He now despairs at the thought of never seeing his family again, since he cannot leave the country and his family were told that they have no right to return to the UK, despite the fact that they are British nationals.

Mr. Abu Rideh was previously given assurances by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett and former Prime Minister Tony Blair that he would be allowed to leave the UK. He is now requesting that these promises be fulfilled and that he be allowed to leave the UK to any country that will accept him. He has appealed to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, and the British media with no response.

He stated in an interview aired on Press TV on May 28th:

I am already dead. My soul, my life, my heart — every part of me is dead. I am just like a machine walking, with no other feeling. I have nothing left — I cannot even sleep at night; I have nightmares of what they have done to me, to my wife, my children, my time in prison, the searches … this is enough, I’ve lost my senses, I’ve been driven insane, I can no longer take it. What is the point of living? I’ve lost everything, I’ve lost my wife, I might as well kill myself, that is better for me. I swear by God I have written to Gordon Brown saying that you have two weeks, if I am not helped in this period I will kill myself, whether that’s by throwing myself in front of a train, or slitting my wrists, or throwing myself from a high building, or taking an overdose, whatever it takes. Nobody has lived the life I have or what I’ve had to endure.

Please use your influence to persuade the government’s prosecutors to relax, or even revoke, the Control Order so that Mr. Abu Rideh can, at the very least, leave the UK.

***

If you have any doubts about the effects of imprisonment without charge or trial and control orders on the mental health of those subjected to the government’s uniquely cruel post-9/11 detention policies, then please read the following article, “Life with a control order: a wife’s story,” written by Mahmoud Abu Rideh’s wife, Dina al-Jnidi, and published today in the Independent.

As well as exposing the full horrors of Mr. Abu Rideh’s treatment and its effect on all concerned –- and also exposing the petty and arbitrary nature of the Home Office’s intrusions into the family’s life, and restrictions on prison visits — it also contains a uniquely damning condemnation of the effects of the British government’s wretched anti-terror policy, when Dina al-Jnidi writes, “My husband and I escaped torture at the hand of the Israelis to find worse torture in the UK. I now find myself in another country — Jordan — where I have sought asylum from the torture that Britain has placed me and my family under.”

Life with a control order: a wife’s story

Mahmoud Abu Rideh has spent four years behind bars and another four years on a control order. A father of six, he is in a wheelchair and has never seen the evidence against him. Today he goes to the High Court, backed by Amnesty International, in a plea to leave Britain. Here Dina al-Jnidi, his wife, describes the family’s descent into a nightmare.

It is still fresh in my mind the day the police came to arrest my husband — it was 19 December 2001. They broke down the door and forced their way into our home while I was still in my night dress. They were pointing their guns in my face and in the children’s faces. There were about 30 armed officers. They forced my husband to the floor and handcuffed him, pressing down on his back and neck with their knees as he screamed in pain. They yelled: “Shut up you f***ing terrorist!” I implored the police to stop because my husband suffers from back pain. All this was in view of my children who were terrified; they were crying, shaking, many had wet themselves.

The police took my husband away — to where, I do not know. They took me and my children to a hostel; they wanted to search our home.

After two days we were allowed to return home. The local newspaper had taken pictures of our house. The headlines read something like: “Terrorist raid”. After this article I had my face veil forcibly removed three times. We also had rubbish thrown at our front door.

Forty days passed and I still did not know where my husband was. I called the police, immigration — no one told me where he was.

Eventually I swapped my home because our neighbours had resorted to spitting at me. Prior to the arrest of my husband and the raid on our home, we had never had any trouble with our neighbours. The police have caused this problem which led to our victimisation.

I finally found out my husband was in Belmarsh prison and I went to visit him there. I discovered he was on a hunger strike. The visit was a closed visit, which means that neither I nor my children could touch him. The children were unable to hug or hold their father. Even shaking his hand was not allowed. On many occasions after travelling long distances in difficult circumstances we were sent away without being allowed to see him. My husband does not speak English well, but he was not allowed to speak Arabic (eventually this was allowed for one visit out of four).

My husband used to call and often he would be crying due to the torture and the discrimination he was facing. My children, too, would cry. The effect of all this torture, discrimination, and detention without charge or trial drove my husband insane, angry and psychologically mad. Never before was he like this, he was a normal person — a normal husband and a normal father. Due to his mental state he was transferred to Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, a place for dangerous high-risk people.

While at Broadmoor, he was frequently attacked by staff, nurses and other prisoners. I could not visit him there. I tried, but whenever I went I was told he was in isolation, in solitary confinement.

Broadmoor was far from our home, it was difficult travelling with five children only to be sent home.

It was around this time that my husband began to self-harm. He drank detergents, he used pens to dig deep into his arms.

He was finally released in 2005. We were given only two hours’ notice before his return. We were pleased to have him back home, but did not know the full extent of the conditions that would be placed on him. I did not know what a control order was. He had to wear an electronic tag around his ankle. He had to report in several times a day (including the middle of the night) using special equipment that had been placed in our home. We were not allowed to have a digital camera in the home, nor other basic items such as USB sticks, memory cards or MP3 players. Our children were not allowed to use the internet or have a computer. We were not allowed visitors unless they had been cleared by the Home Office after a rigorous vetting procedure. Many would not even call for fear of being harassed by the police or worse.

My husband was a wreck, a shattered man. He could not sleep, he would sweat and shake, he would have nightmares and flashbacks. It was almost impossible to deal with him. He was ill and had complex psychological needs — I am not a trained nurse and he required specialist help. One week later he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of his depression and anti-psychotic medications. I found him on the floor unconscious, in a pool of vomit foam coming from his mouth. He was taken to the hospital and remained unconscious for three days.

My life is ruined. I cannot sleep. I cry so much. It is having an effect on my children. I blame Tony Blair, the House of Lords, the Queen, the politicians, Parliament. They all have a have a hand in this. I am British. So are my children. Why, then, is it acceptable for us to be treated in this manner? The police came many times to search my house, violating the sanctity that is a home. What do they expect to find among my clothes and my children’s clothes? They confiscated money, a Nintendo Wii, a Playstation, a PSP. The Nintendo Wii was a gift from my husband’s solicitor to our children. Despite numerous requests, none of these items have been returned to us. Why? Are my children not allowed the things everyone else’s children are?

Even irrelevant documents have been confiscated — birth certificates, school reports, a car log book and MOT certificates. Of what significance or benefit are these?

I was at breaking point. I could take no more. I was pregnant with my sixth child. During my pregnancy the Home Office made things difficult — I could not get help as people required clearance before being allowed to visit me. How could I care for a sick husband and five children while pregnant?

I want to know how the majority of Christians in Britain prepare and share joy at the christening of their newborn children. Am I exempt from sharing my happiness with friends and family? Should I too not be allowed to show off my precious gift to others? Am I subhuman? I want to ask the politicians, the Queen — would this not affect you?

I tried to remain hopeful many times. But there is no hope. My husband has been charged with no crime, he has not been interviewed or interrogated. He has been presumed guilty because he is Muslim — for what other reason could it be?

Please explain to me and my family — why have we had to endure this treatment? Pets are treated better than we have been. Is this the humanity you profess, is this the justice you want to spread?

Judge Ousley ordered and ruled that the Home Office should release the secret evidence that is held against my husband. But the Home Office appealed this decision and it has been a long time and nothing has been heard or seen.

On or around 19 February this year, the European Courts of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights declared that the secret evidence being used against my husband be released to him and his solicitors. They said the control order should be lifted and that my husband should receive compensation for his unfair treatment. What is the point of these courts if Britain makes a mockery of them and refuses to submit to their judgment?

There is no justice. We have lost all hope of justice.

My family, especially our children, are scared of the police. The have suffered at the hands of the police. Their education has suffered. They have not been able to complete homework, they are at a disadvantage compared to other children as they are not allowed to access the internet. I have three girls in secondary school and three boys in primary school. I was attending college to study childcare. We all require a computer.

My husband was re-arrested for alleged breaches of his control order on at least four different occasions. Once he was arrested for having the Nintendo Wii which was the gift to our children. Once it was for having “mobile phones” in the home — they were actually toys purchased from the pound shop.

We, as a family, are dead. We are sick of the police and the Government’s torture of our family that has gone on for eight years. Our family has been held hostage in Britain. My husband and I escaped torture at the hand of the Israelis to find worse torture in the UK. I now find myself in another country — Jordan — where I have sought asylum from the torture that Britain has placed me and my family under.

Psychiatrists from the Home Office advised me to divorce my husband, saying it would be better for me and my children. Scotland Yard on many occasions also told me this. What kind of twisted advice is this? Would this really be better for me and my children? Or are they looking for more reasons to drive my husband to suicide?

I have too many things to get off my chest. My heart is filled with anger. I am crying as I write this — it is all too much for me to remember. I have left my home to be in Jordan. My husband was not even allowed to accompany us to the airport. He is forbidden under the restrictions of his control order. Is it really likely that he can escape; he has no passport, no travel documents — where would he go?

As we left our home I knew, and he knew, that it was probably the last time we would see each other, the last time he would see, hold, hug and kiss his children. I had to watch my children crying at the thought of never seeing their father again. But I have no choice, I have been forced to leave.

Perhaps now I can try to repair the damage to my children; the emotional scars they will bear for how long I do not know. I can finally try to rid myself of the effects of the “Terrorist Act”, the police, the searches and the torture I have had to witness my husband go through.

I still fear for my husband who is alone. He has made four suicide attempts — each time he has been serious. But Allah has not willed that he be successful.

The British public and Government complain about the effects of immigration and asylum seekers in the UK, about people coming to the country and claiming benefits. Why then do you force my husband to remain here? He has not been charged or convicted of a crime, yet you treat him this way.

I would like to tell the British Government and the rest of the world, I would like to tell anyone who has a heart, anyone who has an ounce of humanity — please allow my husband to leave the United Kingdom.

Please provide him with the necessary documents to go to any country, where there may be at least some hope of seeing him again — before I lose him for good and our children lose their father.

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), and Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian).

6 Responses

  1. Kidnapping People, Kidnapping Liberty… « Back Towards The Locus says...

    […] 2005, he was released under a control order. His wife describes the conditions… We were pleased to have him back home, but did not know the full extent of […]

  2. Eureka Morrison says...

    Detention without trial is an abomination. When the citizens of this world finally find their voices, and no matter what the opposition throws at them – resolve to end reigns of tyranny is the day that the light and beauty of each soul will shine forth again. We who have voted these tyrants to be our voices, our governments, and have watched as little by insidious llittle our freedoms have been eroded cannot at the end of the day sit back and say, ‘We did not know’. Oh yes, we knew, and we gave away the freedom of others without thought. The time will come when it is yours and my freedom that will be lost, and there will not be a voice left to speak out for us. ‘Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa’.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Eureka. You have eloquently struck to the heart of the matter.

  4. Dave says...

    Why don’t you finish the story Andy?

    Tell us how Rideh got his wish, left the UK, went to Syria, then Afghanistan and re-joined Al Qaeda to carry on the fight against those nasty western oppressors.

    Tell us how he and his family lived in the UK for years on benefits while he was fund raising for Al Qaeda and had over £100,000 stashed away.

    At least those infidels granted him his wish and he got is martyrdom, eh?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, yes, he achieved his martyrdom, Dave, but I’m not going to pass any judgment on why a man who repeatedly tried to commit suicide, in the most horrific manner, ended up dying, because I can’t vouch for the state of his mental health — and nor can you, to be honest.

  6. UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] news from the British human rights organization Cageprisoners, which announced that, on July 18, Mahmoud Abu Rideh, the stateless Palestinian who has been imprisoned without charge or trial or held under a control […]

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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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