In the Guardian: Dismantle the secret state

15.7.09

The Guantanamo FilesFor the Guardian’s Comment is free, “Dismantle the secret state” is an article I’ve written as part of the Guardian’s week-long “Slow torture” series, which is described as follows:

The government’s powers to impose restrictions on terror suspects — without a trial — amounting to virtual house arrest have been condemned as draconian by civil liberties campaigners.

In a series of five films, actors read the personal testimonies of those detained under Britain’s secret evidence laws and campaigners and human rights lawyers debate the issues raised.

The films are based on the testimony of five detainees held on deportation bail (a form of house arrest, similar to control orders), which were initially compiled for a Parliamentary meeting about the government’s use of secret evidence, convened by Diane Abbott MP in March. A report on that particularly enlightening meeting is here, and transcripts of the five men’s testimony is available by following the links below.

For the Guardian today, I was asked to reiterate the central complaints against the use of secret evidence, deportation bail and control orders, especially in light of the Law Lords’ ruling, last month, that depriving people of the right to a fair trial on the basis of secret evidence was unacceptable.

The core issues remain as fundamental as they were over seven years ago, when the government first imprisoned foreign “terror suspects” without charge or trial in Belmarsh prison, and they did not change fundamentally when the Law Lords ruled this regime illegal, and the government responded with control orders and deportation bail.

The questions to be asked, are, as I stated in today’s article, “whether it is acceptable for the government to deprive anyone of the right to a fair trial on the basis of secret evidence that is not disclosed to them, and, if so, what conditions should be imposed on those regarded as a threat on the basis of that evidence?”

I contend that the answers — for anyone concerned with the rule of law — are the same as they have been all along: that depriving people of their liberty on the basis of secret evidence is both cruel and unjust, and that not allowing detainees the ability to challenge the evidence against them leaves us in an unjustifiable situation in which we are required to trust that the information gathered by the government and the intelligence services — some of which is publicly available, although it cannot be adequately challenged by those against whom it is used — is above reproach.

With reference to three cases in which this was patently untrue — British citizen Cerie Bullivant, a Libyan identified only as M, and Mouloud Sihali, cleared by a jury of involvement in the spectral “ricin plot” but then imprisoned and held on a control order for 20 months, all of whom were eventually freed — I ask what I believe is the most fundamental question of all: whether it is acceptable to trust the open evidence that has been made available by the government (which, to repeat, the detainees are prevented from adequately challenging), when there is the untested possibility of “incompetence on the part of the intelligence services,” or the possibility that the supposed evidence “may be based on unreliable confessions extracted from the detainees or from other prisoners held elsewhere, including some who may have been tortured in other countries.”

And the answer, of course, should be a resounding no.

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), Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian), Law Lords Condemn UK’s Use of Secret Evidence And Control Orders (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009), Britain’s Torture Troubles: What Tony Blair Knew (June 2009), Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws, Would you be able to cope?: Letters by the children of control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh, Control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be allowed to leave the UK (all June 2009), Testing control orders (for the Guardian).

8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    I encourage readers to follow the link to the article on the Guardian’s website, and to the rest of the “Slow Torture” series, not just because I hope to have addressed the crucial issues relating to the unjustifiable use of secret evidence, but because of the manipulative misinformation provided by a number of regular commenters, who have been persistently attempting to ignore these issues, and to focus, instead, on a thinly-disguised racist and xenophobic agenda.

    Registration is free, and, like these commenters, readers are at liberty to come up with user names that disguise their identities.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    In response to some of these issues, I received the following email from Kate:

    I thought your article on CiF was excellent and very effective at counteracting the poisonous responses so far. It seems that posters are being even more defensive / offensive than usual (I hope because what they have read disturbs them…)

    Might be worth pointing out (for all those who keep banging on about deporting people) that at the moment British citizens — Essex born-and-bred young men — have been “relocated” and kept under control orders but have never been charged with any crime.

    Also that Gareth Peirce says she is seeing more and more cases where the entire evidence is secret.

    Posters so far seem to be missing the point that it is about the principle of the matter — i.e. what has happened to the five men in the films is just the thin end of the wedge, that it is the destruction of our centuries old justice system, and that if we let this go now, we will all be vulnerable to arbitrary justice.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Thanks very much, Kate. Glad to hear that I succeeded in countering some of the specific toxins. That was my intention, although the xenophobes and racists seem to be impervious to reason. I don’t think they’re rattled, sadly; I think instead that they think they’re exploiting weaknesses in the Guardian‘s coverage and are oblivious to the fact that they refuse to engage with the central issues, and spend most of their time exposing their prejudices, which are actually unrelated to what you aptly describe as “the destruction of our centuries old justice system”.

    Also, thanks for raising Gareth’s concerns about the increased use of secret evidence, and the extremely worrying, recent and unreported extension of control orders to a number of British nationals, which I hope to cover in the near future.

  4. Will Shirley says...

    I believe I have figured some of it out. Have you noted that many of the governmental leaders are also sexual addicts of some kind or another? They also seem to regard television plots as policy outlines. Did you know that there are organizations for men who like to bugger little boys? The internet now allows them to meet international freaks. I think that in recent decades more and more of our governmental functions have been taken over, gradually, by a crew of porn traders and psychotics. Everyone knows you don’t mess with psychotics in high places, so every year more and more deranged people find their way into public office. It’s sort of an evolution and sort of a filtering system. But you end up with twisted people like Cheney in charge of secret death squads. Ever notice how Cheney never came out of his basement unless there were bodies somewhere to survey? Babies floating in flood waters was one of his favorites. I believe that the State Department has become like a pimp for the twisted minds that float to the top of the political cesspool. Imagine these are small boys pulling wings off butterflies and then growing up to watch Egyptians tear fingernails out of suspects hands. Little boys lying about stealing cookies when there are crumbs on their cheeks and a half cookie in their hand grow up to become White House spokespersons. If you delete the fancy sounding titles and simply look at what people initiate it should be clear that many of the people who hold high office are simply neurotic, a few are clearly psychotic and the rest are like the people who hung out with Charlie Manson: excited by the smell of blood soaked money and working up their courage to be just as free of society’s rules. The Rule of Law no longer exists in Western society. The Law is like a maze or sodoku puzzle and the fun is in working your way around and through it, except in the Law people can die and that makes it even more exciting. People who think the Law protects them go about their lives. The Law is like the air around them, nurturing them and protecting them. Then you get people in high places setting off huge fires of toxic materials called War and the air becomes poison.

    Why are there no requirements in the Constitution that our President, Vice-President and Cabinet members be sane? We say how old the Pres has to be, but not that they be educated, sane, or even conscious. People elect dead guys in Missouri, what does that say about how people view public office? Are we satisfied that elected leaders need not be sane or even alive? Obama tortures, wages war against women and children, denies the right of habeas corpus, funnels our taxes to friends in high places and denies aid to the poor and homeless. He intends to criminalize poverty by requiring everybody buy insurance, even the people living under bridges. What the heck? What is the penalty in America for being poor, mentally unstable because of wartime experiences, and uninsured?

    Why are we feeding, housing, protecting and defending known war criminals, mass murderers, liars, fraudsters and psychotics simply because they fixed an election to take public office? Are the people who aren’t sane that terrified of the crazy ones?

    The United States of British America are the most dangerous force in the world. Our government is responsible for more death and destruction than any government in the history of the planet. We initiate wars, we torture, we maim, we lie about everything and we do it for fun and we do it for money. We have vaporized two cities of civilians just to show the world how dangerous we could be. We have re-written history books to teach our children that Amerika saved the world over and over and now stands as the premier force for good and justice as we send unarmed drones to blow up Pakistani children and their parents.

    The world has the emotional condition of a battered girlfriend, in denial about the obvious, willing to blame themselves for the violence waged against them, and enabling the aggressor to continue their dangerous habits.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Leah Williams wrote to me:

    I am currently writing a novel within which I have the stories of a number of foreign nationals who are deported, imprisoned and put on control orders based on secret evidence.

    Good luck with what you’re trying to do. I think it’s terrifying what is being allowed to happen in this country, without anyone taking any notice. Of course the media rarely allows voices of dissent to trickle through, so most people don’t have a clue what is happening.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    So this was posted on Comment is free this afternoon by “bulbosaur”:

    Ah, but you should see what’s on Andy’s own website.

    I quote: “… but because of the manipulative misinformation provided by a number of regular commenters, who have been persistently attempting to ignore these issues, and to focus, instead, on a thinly-disguised racist and xenophobic agenda.”

    “Thanks very much, Kate. Glad to hear that I succeeded in countering some of the specific toxins. That was my intention, although the xenophobes and racists seem to be impervious to reason. I dont think theyre rattled, sadly; I think instead that they think theyre exploiting weaknesses in the Guardians coverage and are oblivious to the fact that they refuse to engage with the central issues…”

    I don’t see that at all, Andy. In fact, I find your inference of racism juvenile. Can you cite anything racist or xenophobic, or is this just your own judgement?

    Funnily enough, I think the use of the word ‘toxins’ to describe other human beings to be quite… dehumanisising.

    I think that the other posters have provided a lot of information – not misinformation – that is at the heart of the debate. They have served us well, and as so often happens, have provided insights wholly lacking in the coverage, which you yourself describe in terms of ‘weaknesses’.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    To be honest, I can’t really face the personal insults I’ll get if I post a reply on the Guardian’s site, but this is what I think about the above:

    Racism? Xenophobia? Well, let me see: would it be the persistent hostility towards immigrants, and particularly, it seems, towards Muslim immigrants, that frames the whole approach of some of the commenters on the site?

    Or would it, perhaps, be the mind-set that informs comments like the reference to “hangers-on in the seedy world that surrounded Finsbury Park mosque,” with its sweeping implications about everyone who attended the mosque?

    In addition, my use of the word “toxins” very clearly refers to people’s ideas and not the people themselves, and I am entitled to believe that some of the comments are toxic, just as people who hide behind pseudonyms are allowed to make disparaging comments about me.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    And Will, thanks for the mini-essay about psychopaths and power. As I wrote in a review of John Nichols’ book about Cheney a few years ago,

    What Nichols can’t explain, of course, is what happened to shape a mild-mannered young man called Dick Cheney into a power-crazed fanatic. Significantly, the only poignant moments in the entire book are when Nichols describes Cheney’s parents. Both were staunch Democrats, and his father, who worked for the Soil Conservation Service, followed the visionary lead of its founder, Hugh Hammond Bennett, who declared that “no man should have the right, legally or otherwise, to recklessly or wilfully destroy or unnecessarily waste any resources on which public welfare is dependent”.

    What did Cheney think when, in 2000, his father pointedly told him, “you can’t take my vote for granted?”

    What does Dick Cheney see when he looks in the mirror?

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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 (The State of London).
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