Just ten days ago, I drafted a letter for readers to send to their MPs, asking for their opinions on four particular topics: the closure of Guantánamo and the return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer; the use of secret evidence in UK courts; the continued existence of control orders for British and foreign terror suspects; and the involvement of the British government in extraordinary rendition and torture abroad.
With William Hague’s announcement on Thursday that there will be a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture, there is no longer a need to ask MPs if they support an inquiry, although it is still worth asking them what they believe the scope of the inquiry should be, and also to point out that any inquiry will be worthless if Shaker Aamer remains imprisoned at Guantanamo while it takes place, because the Metropolitan Police are investigating claims, first aired in a UK court in December, that MI5 agents were present in Afghanistan while he was being tortured by US operatives.
As a result, I have amended the letter as presented below.
Please also note that, with the recent hysteria regarding a ruling that two Pakistani terror suspects cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture, which was made by a judge who heard their case in closed sessions involving the use of secret evidence, this particular topic — and the fundamental conflict it raises with regard to the principles of open justice on which the UK prides itself — is once more up for discussion. It is, therefore, enormously important that MPs are told about the work of JUSTICE, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation (PDF), and others who have been pressing for years for fair trials using intercept evidence, instead of the shambolic, cruel and unjust situation created by the Labour government.
As before, I urge readers to cut and paste and send the letter to their MPs, which they can do through very useful interactive lists on the party websites (Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative) or through TheyWorkForYou.
In addition, I still recommend sending it to as many Liberal Democrat MPs as possible, given that almost all their MPs (including Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander) voted against the renewal of control orders on March 1, and that many of them also supported the return of Shaker Aamer and a ban on the use of secret evidence, and signed up to Early Day Motions on both subjects in the last 12 months. This — despite William Hague’s swift action to tackle British complicity in torture — was in marked contrast to their Tory allies in the new coalition government, who have a dismal record on these issues, with just two MPs prepared to support any of these causes, compared to 43 current Labour MPs and 44 Lib Dems, as I explained in a list of 98 MPs that I published on May 14.
As I also explained when I published my initial draft letter to MPs, please note that, although the majority of MPs (551 of them) have no track record on these issues, the 98 mentioned in my previous article do, to at least some extent, and if any of these are your local MPs it may be worth tailoring the letter to reflect their previous concerns. Please also feel free to let myself and the London Guantánamo Campaign know when you have sent a letter (and when/if you receive a reply), and we will monitor the responses (the LGC drafted a letter originally, which I then adapted).
Please also note that a letter to foreign secretary William Hague regarding Shaker Aamer, Guantánamo and the scope of the judicial inquiry is available here, and that copies of both letters will be available at future screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which features the story of Shaker Aamer, and is currently on a UK tour.
I am writing to you to ask what measures you will take in this new parliamentary session with respect to four specific matters relating to terrorism: the closure of Guantánamo and the return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer; the use of secret evidence in UK courts; the continued existence of control orders for British and foreign terror suspects; and the scope of the judicial inquiry into British involvement in torture, which was announced by foreign secretary William Hague on 20 May.
With respect to Guantánamo, I would like to know if you support the release of Shaker Aamer, a British resident from Battersea, who has a British wife and four British children. Mr. Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, and the Labour government sought his return to the UK for nearly three years, but with no success. According to his lawyers, the government did not advocate strongly enough for his return. Will you take steps to ensure Mr. Aamer’s safe return to the UK, and will you also ask the government to follow the example of other countries (including Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain) in offering new homes to cleared prisoners from Guantánamo who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will face torture on their return?
On the use of secret evidence in UK courts, the Law Lords ruled last year that the current system of testing allegations in cases related to terrorism — involving special advocates who represent detainees in closed sessions, but are not allowed to discuss anything that takes place in these sessions with their clients — breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. Nevertheless, secret evidence continues to be used. Do you believe that the use of secret evidence is incompatible with the fundamental principles of open justice that underpin British society, and that alternative methods of protecting sensitive information in open court can, and should be used instead, as proposed by JUSTICE, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation?
Related to this issue are control orders, under which terror suspects — both British and foreign nationals — are held under a form of house arrest, and often subjected to a form of “internal exile” on the basis of secret evidence. The legislation supporting control orders is renewed annually, and on March 1 this year was passed by 206 votes to 85 in the House of Commons, opposed by the Liberal Democrats, but overwhelmingly supported by Conservatives, even though the party recognizes that control orders are “inherently objectionable” and have stated that they want a review. Will you support calls for the control order system to be scrapped?
In addition, with regard to the judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad (which involves dozens of allegations relating to the intelligence services’ involvement in torture from 2001 to the present day), I would like to know what measures — if any — you think should be taken against public servants, of all levels, who knowingly colluded in breaches of international and domestic law. I would also like to ask you to let Mr. Hague know that this inquiry will be hollow if Mr. Aamer remains in Guantánamo while it takes place, because his allegations that MI5 agents were present while he was tortured in Afghanistan (which were revealed in a UK court last December) are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police (as was announced in February), and it would be shocking if his case was investigated by an inquiry while he remains unjustly deprived of his liberty.
I look forward to your response.
Note: I have not included links in the template letter above, but for further information please see this archive of articles about prisoners released from Guantánamo in other European countries, and this article on the Law Lords’ ruling on control orders last June.
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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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), 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 and Dismantle the secret state (for the Guardian), UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt (July 2009), Secret evidence in the case of the North West 10 “terror suspects” (August 2009), Letting go of control orders (for the Guardian, September 2009), Another Blow To Britain’s Crumbling Control Order Regime (September 2009), UK Judge Approves Use of Secret Evidence in Guantánamo Case (November 2009), Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK (December 2009), Compensation for control orders is a distraction (for the Guardian, January 2010), Control Orders Take Another Blow: Libyan Cartoonist Freed (Detainee DD) (January 2010), Control Orders: Solicitors’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 and Control Orders: Special Advocates’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 (both February 2010), Will Parliament Rid Us of the Cruel and Unjust Control Order Regime? (February 2010), Don’t renew control orders, CAMPACC, JUSTICE and the Joint Committee on Human Rights tell MPs (February 2010), Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts (April 2010).
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