UK terror suspects being held in 'Kafkaesque world'

By Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris 
Published: 23 February 2006

The Government's record on human rights will be
condemned by Amnesty International tomorrow in a
searing indictment of the anti-terror laws rushed in
by Tony Blair. Amnesty will claim that terrorist
suspects find themselves "effectively persecuted" and
held for years in "a Kafkaesque world" on the basis of
secret accusations. 

After a full-scale inquiry, Amnesty will conclude that
conditions for some suspects held at the top security
Belmarsh prison, in south-east London, amount to
"cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment".

The 70-page report, "Human Rights: a broken promise",
has been leaked to The New Statesman magazine. It will
fuel criticism of the measures brought in by the
Government since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America
and Labour's record since coming to power in 1997 on
its pledge to improve human rights.

It will describe detention without trial in Britain as
internment, pointing to the "disturbing echo" of the
counter-productive policies introduced in Northern
Ireland in the 1970s. Britain will also be accused of
breaching international law in Iraq, through its
association with the internment of some 14,000 people.

According to Amnesty, the Government's anti-terror
laws use "broad and vague terms" that leave "scope for
political bias" and render our criminal justice system
"neither fair, nor just, nor lawful".

The measures, which were brought forward after the
London bombings in July, threaten to "undermine the
rights to freedom of expression, association, liberty
and fair trial".

Much recent legislation has "compromised the role of
judges in upholding the rule of law", the report will
say. It will accuse the Government of undermining the
separation of powers between the judiciary and the
executive and compromising the role of the courts,
through measures such as "control orders", which give
the Home Secretary the power to detain terrorist
suspects under virtual house arrest.

Amnesty will warn that the Inquiries Act 2005 amounts
to "an attack against the rule of law and the
independence of the judiciary" by giving control of
investigations to ministers.

It will accuse the Government of undermining the
worldwide struggle against the torture and
mistreatment of prisoners by attempting to overturn
the legal ban on the use of evidence obtained by

The criticism will run from the use of extraordinary
rendition to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the
innocent Brazilian who was shot dead by police at
Stockwell Tube station.

On extraordinary rendition, which allows prisoners to
be moved to countries where they may be interrogated
under torture, Amnesty will express concern that the
Government has not denied involvement in past

Amnesty opposes the "memorandums of understanding"
being negotiated with states such as Algeria, Libya
and Egypt to allow prisoners to be deported. Although
the foreign government gives an undertaking not to
abuse people, critics say there is no way of
monitoring the process.

Another concern is the vagueness of much recent
legislation. Amnesty will warn that the Government's
definition of the word "terrorism" is subjective and
"lends itself to abusive police practices", the report
says. It will condemn the lack of precision in such
offences as having "links" with a member of an
"international terrorist group".

Kate Allen, Amnesty's UK director, said Britain was
fast losing its reputation as a champion of human
rights around the world. She told The New Statesman:
"For the international Amnesty movement Britain has
always been reliable. But now the international
movement is turning its attention to the British

The Government faces further criticism over human
rights in a separate report published today, in which
MPs will challenge Mr Blair to show more courage in
standing up to the White House over the US detention
camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee will denounce the
conditions at Guantanamo Bay, echoing a United Nations
report that said some of the camp's 500 inmates were
being tortured and demanded its immediate closure.

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has called
for the camp to be shut but his Cabinet colleagues
have failed to support him, fuelling fears among MPs
that the issue is slipping down the Government's

Labour MP Mike Gapes, the committee's chairman, said:
"The time has come for the international community to
say the camp needs to be closed and alternative
arrangements produced."

Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour committee member, said:
"The government should indicate publicly that it finds
it indefensible that people should be detained in this
way for so long."

Britain's record

Anti-terror laws

Since 9/11, three anti-terror bills have been passed
allowing the indefinite detention of foreign terrorist
suspects and bringing in 'control orders', which
amount to house arrest. A fourth - allowing the
detention of suspects without charge for up to 28 days
and banning the 'glorification' of terrorism - is
about to become law.


Britain wants to return terrorist suspects to nations
such as Algeria which are known to practise torture.
Ministers are trying to negotiate 'memorandums of
understanding', guarantees that terrorist suspects
returned to them will not be harmed. The law lords
have also clashed with the Government over whether
evidence obtained by torture should ever be used in
British courts.

Extraordinary rendition

Ministers have been accused of turning a blind eye to
extraordinary rendition, under which the CIA transfers
prisoners to countries where they could be tortured.
The Government says it has had four US requests - two
of which it rejected - to move prisoners through the
UK. Human rights groups allege CIA planes have gone
through UK airspace more than 200 times in five years.

Public inquiries

The Inquiries Act 2005 restricts the independence of
judges appointed to chair inquiries. It gives
Ministers the power to demand evidence is heard in
secret, omit evidence from the final report and even
decide whether the report is ever published. 


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