BBC Broadcasts Bleak Insight into Life of Terror Suspect under House Arrest


On Wednesday, the BBC’s Newsnight broadcast an extraordinary insight into the bleak conditions under which Hussain Alsamamara, a Jordanian terror suspect held under a form of house arrest, is obliged to live.

Like a few dozen other terror suspects — both British and foreign nationals — who are confined to their homes for up to 18 hours a day on control orders or deportation bail, Mr. Alsamamara is held on the basis of secret evidence that has not been fully disclosed to him, and deprived of his liberty without being charged or tried. As the BBC explained, “Mr. Alsamamara is tagged, must stay inside his house for 18 hours a day, and when he leaves he can only travel a couple of miles from his home in a legally delineated zone. He cannot meet people without prior approval from the home secretary, has no access to the internet and has one fixed telephone line which is likely to be monitored.”

Mr. Alsamamara finds the restrictions on his liberty so intolerable that, over the last six months, he allowed two independent filmmakers, Gemma Atkinson and Fred Grace of Fat Rat Films, to film him at his home, and to pass the footage on to the BBC. In the film, Mr. Alsamamara explains his despair, telling the filmmakers, “My wife and my daughter and my new born son, they become prisoners with me in the house. Now my wife she is mentally ill and this is a result of my situation.” He also appeals for justice, asking, “If they believe that I’m a threat to the national security and if they have evidence to prove that I’m a threat to the national security, why don’t they put me on an open trial?”

However, by agreeing to be filmed, Mr. Alsamamara broke his strict bail conditions, and may be sent back to prison by the Special Immigration Appeals Commissions (SIAC), the special court that deals with terror suspects and deportation issues, which is meeting today to discuss his case.

What is he supposed to have done?

In common with the majority of the men held on the basis of secret evidence, Mr. Alsamamara is not entirely clear about why he is regarded as a terror suspect. As the BBC explained, “The government says Mr. Alsamamara is a committed Islamist extremist and a danger to Britain.” However, “Almost all of the evidence against him is thought to be intelligence material which neither he nor his lawyers have seen.”

What is clear is that he was an opponent of the Jordanian government, who was tortured in Jordanian custody. In 2001, he fled to Britain and claimed asylum. His claim was rejected, and in 2004, when his daughter was just four days old, and he and his family were having a gathering at home to celebrate the birth, he was seized by police and taken to Long Lartin prison, pending deportation to Jordan.

According to the BBC, “The Jordanian intelligence department has told the British government it wants to question him in relation to alleged contact with the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and over claims that he underwent paramilitary training in Afghanistan.” In response, Mr. Alsamamara “denies any links with terrorism and says he faces torture if he is returned.”

Seeking information about the supposed evidence against Mr. Alsamamara, the BBC explained that “Very little is in the public domain but some indications are given in a document published in 2007 by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission,” which, at the time, “dismissed his appeal against deportation, largely on the basis of secret intelligence which was excluded from Mr. Alsamamara and his lawyers.”

“However,” the BBC explained, “SIAC’s judgment does refer to two open strands of evidence. Police found two CDs in a rack on his bedroom floor when they searched his house in 2004. The contents were discussed in closed sessions so we cannot be sure what was on these CDs, but it is likely to be propaganda material.”

Mr. Alsamamara “denies any knowledge of these CDs,” and also, crucially, takes exception to what appears to be another key element of the government’s supposed evidence — a will, found in an envelope on a notice-board, which, according to SIAC, was written in “lurid terms,” and “includes references to ‘jihad’ and records his wish ‘to slaughter’ members of the Jordanian government and the police.” As the BBC explained, Mr. Alsamamara “does not deny writing this will but argues it simply quotes from the Qur’an and the hadiths, and it reflects his natural hatred of the Jordanian authorities who tortured him in the past,” but SIAC disagreed, stating, “This is the will of an Islamist extremist … it is a declaration by an Islamist extremist that he wishes, if possible, to meet his fate in fighting the enemies of Islam.”

As the BBC pointed out, however, “beyond the question of whether Mr. Alsamamara is a committed Islamist extremist or not lie a number of difficult issues”; namely, “Even if he were planning jihadi action against the rulers of Jordan, does that constitute a threat to the UK? And is it ever justifiable to effectively detain someone when they know virtually nothing about the case against them?”

That last question leads on, I think, to the most important question of all: will the new coalition government take the advice of legal experts (see this PDF) and allow the use of intercept evidence in courts? Unless the government follows this route, this absurd travesty of justice — as exposed through this week’s insight into Hussain Alsamamara’s life — will not be brought to an end, even though terror suspects, like any other criminal suspect, ought to be charged and tried, so that we can finally move beyond a system in which, under the guise of “national security,” we are holding men without charge or trial, and persecuting their wives and children, on the basis of evidence that is little more than the untested claims of prosecutors, the police and the security services.

Note: For the next week, the Newsnight feature on Hussain Alsamamara is available on iPlayer. The main film is here (7:12), and also see this other short film (2:13), this live interview with Mr. Alsamamara, conducted by Gavin Esler (1:55), and this debate about house arrest, deportation and secret evidence (8:13), featuring Sir Brian Barder, who worked for SIAC from 1997 to 2004, and is critical of any system of detention that deprives suspects of a trial, former Home Office minister Tony McNulty, and Dr. Usama Hasan from the Leyton Mosque. Also see No Place Like Home, the website for the forthcoming documentary by Gemma Atkinson and Fred Grace, this transcript of a statement made by Mr. Alsamamara last March, which was read out by an actor during a meeting about secret evidence in the House of Commons, convened by Diane Abbott MP, and this short film of an actor reading out the transcript, which was part of the Guardian‘s “Slow Torture” series about secret evidence last summer.

POSTSCRIPT 3 pm: The ever-alert David Mery has just written to tell me that, in the SIAC hearing today, Judge Mitting decided not to revoke Hussain’s bail nor to increase his bail conditions (his main reason being “not to sacrifice your wife and children.”) He added, however, that Gemma Atkinson and Fred Grace, the filmmakers, may be in contempt of court. Please also see this photo by David of where SIAC conducts its business — yes, in a windowless room behind a bland door marked “Basement”!

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 January 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.

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? (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).

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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