Well, well. I’m not holding my breath, but the Observer‘s announcement on Sunday that “The scrapping of control orders for terror suspects moved a step closer last night when … senior Whitehall security sources broke ranks to reveal that MI5 was ‘not wedded’ to keeping the contentious regime” is promising.
A form of virtual house arrest, control orders were introduced in 2005 after the government’s immediate post-9/11 response to dealing with foreign “terror suspects” — imprisoning them in Belmarsh without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence — was ruled illegal by the Law Lords. In recent years, their use was expanded to include British nationals, as well as foreign nationals, who have often been subjected to a form of extrajudicial “internal exile,” obliged to move hundreds of miles from their homes, as well as being subjected to strict curfews, tagging, a requirement to report to the security services at all times of the day and night, the vetting of all visitors, a ban on the use of computers and mobile phones, and the chance that Home office personnel could raid their homes at any time.
However, the continued existence of control orders has been under threat since June 2009, when the Law Lords ruled that imposing them breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, because a suspect held under a control order is not given “sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions to the special advocate assigned to him.”
Although the control order regime requires Parliamentary support to exist, being renewed in the House of Commons on an annual basis, this year the Liberal Democrats were determined to bring it to an end, voting en masse to repeal the legislation, and as a result the abolition of control orders was central to their outspoken position on civil liberties, and was something that they were intent on fulfilling, along with the repeal of the 28-day period of pre-trial detention for suspects held within the normal bounds of the law.
Last week, as I explained in detail in a previous article, a rift within the government opened up when it was revealed that home secretary Theresa May had been spooked by the spooks, and was changing her mind about dropping control orders, and that Jonathan Evans, the new head of MI5, had also had a quiet word with David Cameron about the perceived importance of control orders to the security services.
This prompted Ken Macdonald, the Liberal Democrat peer appointed by Theresa May to oversee the review of Labour’s counter-terrorism legislation, to write to the home secretary, “warning that he would publicly denounce any decision to retain control orders,” leading to a public belittling of Macdonald in return, when May used a BBC appearance to state that, although she “thought it appropriate that someone externally should look at it and say they have looked at the right questions and talked to the right people … ultimately, the decision on what is in place in terms of our counter-terrorism legislation is a decision for government.”
Despite this, other opponents lined up behind Ken Macdonald — including energy secretary Chris Huhne, an outspoken critic as a Liberal Democrat in opposition, justice secretary Ken Clarke and the maverick anti-torture MP David Davies, who told the government that he expected 50 Tory and Lib Dem MPs to vote against the government if a decision was taken to keep control orders.
Given that the Liberal Democrats are increasingly seen — by their own party members, and by the public in general — as the losers in this coalition, I would be surprised if Nick Clegg can afford to let control orders slip, as he did with his flagship promise not to raise university tuition fees. This, of course, was recently shot to pieces with the government’s announcement that universities will be allowed to double or triple their fees, leading Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students, to tell the BBC that the NUS will “chase down” any Liberal Democrats voting for the rise in fees.
In conclusion, then, this Saturday night leak from Whitehall to the Observer may well be significant, although it should be noted, in closing, that it does nothing to address the plight of other “terror suspects,” who are also held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence — either on deportation bail, where the constraints on their liberty are remarkably similar to control orders, or in other cases, in prison.
Unlike those on control orders, these men are facing deportation to their home countries — including Algeria and Jordan — on the basis of flimsy “memoranda of understanding” (or, in Algeria’s case, nothing more than a verbal agreement), which are supposed to guarantee that they will be treated humanely, even though these agreements have been widely criticized for being unreliable, and for being nothing more than a cynical attempt by Western countries to undermine their obligations, under the UN Convention Against Torture, not to “expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
For these men, the Law Lords’ intervention regarding the use of secret evidence in control orders has not been extended, and they remain trapped — in their homes or in prison — without charge or trial, and on the basis of secret evidence, with few MPs prepared to follow up on the Early Day Motion submitted by Diane Abbott MP in March 2009, which called for an end to the use of secret evidence in all cases related to allegations of terrorism, and a return to the guiding principle of all countries that like to claim that they are civilized: the right to be charged and tried in an open court.
While we await the findings of the counter-terrorism review headed by Ken Macdonald, let us not forget those for whom justice still seems to be an unattainable dream.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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 July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.
For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportations and extraditions, see 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? (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 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), 98 MPs Who Supported Human Rights While Countering Terrorism (May 2010), UK Terror Ruling Provides Urgent Test for New Government (May 2010), An uncivilized society (in the Guardian), New letter to MPs asking them to oppose the use of secret evidence in UK courts, and to support the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer (May 2010), Torture Complicity Under the Spotlight in Europe (Part One): The UK (July 2010), Fighting Ghosts: An Interview with Husein Al-Samamara (July 2010), Ruling sends message on control orders (for the Guardian, July 2010), UK Judges Endorse Double Standards on Terror Deportations (August 2010), In Memoriam: Faraj Hassan Alsaadi (1980-2010) (August 2010), An interview with Faraj Hassan Alsaadi (from 2007) (August 2010).
On Facebook, Bee Bumble wrote:
“There is almost no kind of outrage…torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians…which does not change its moral color when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not hearing about them.”……………..GEORGE ORWELL
Imran Chaudhry wrote:
hummm why , and why now
not that im complaining bring the decision on about time
Mahmoud Mujahid wrote:
MY THEORY: Control orders will be scrapped! and commmunication intercept will be used as evidence in court! legally!
Jennifer Elaine Elliott wrote:
So what about people in the US.. what happens to US victims of lies, torture? Or do we need to escape the US since the media is giving King Master BS a whitewash media tour like a pop-concert tour promo more more made up SH**!
Sorry my dads death was in vain –
Willy Bach wrote:
These Control Orders were a political stunt by Tony Blair at the height of the paranoia. They should be discontinued because they are indefensible and unnecessary. Andy, I hope you are right. Bring it on.
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: