Reid fights to end torture shield for terror suspects
David Leppard, The Sunday Times October 01, 2006
JOHN REID, the home secretary, is heading for a showdown with the judiciary over plans to strip some terror suspects of the automatic right to be protected from torture.
Reid is preparing a new anti-terror law that would sideline human rights legislation protecting suspects from torture if ministers ruled there were “overriding considerations of national security”.
The move is aimed at foreign terrorist suspects, including 32 detained in prison without charge or being monitored on strict bail conditions.
Despite Tony Blair’s pledge after last year’s suicide bombings in London to deport them, not one has been forcibly sent home because of legal fears that they might face torture on their return.
Reid hinted at the change in his Labour conference speech last week. “It cannot be right that the rights of an individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, life and limb of the British people. It’s wrong. Full stop. No ifs. No buts. It’s just plain wrong,” he said.
The plan has angered civil rights groups, and senior government advisers expect fierce opposition in the Lords. A Home Office source admitted that ministers expected a showdown with the judiciary. “It’s not going to be easy,” he said.
Legal sources say the new principle that national security overrides concerns about torture could be laid down in a guideline to judges enshrined in statute.
Previous legislation allowing the detention of foreign suspects in Belmarsh prison, southeast London, without trial and the introduction of control orders were later ruled illegal by the courts.
Officials say the new proposal is aimed at article 3 of the European convention on human rights, to which Britain is a signatory. The article establishes an inalienable right of all people, even convicted terrorists, to be protected from ill treatment. It states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The government had hoped to deport terror suspects by negotiating “no torture” agreements with their countries. Although deals have been struck with Jordan, Libya and Lebanon, ministers have failed to secure agreements with Algeria, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
Fifteen of the 32 key suspects come from Algeria, six from Iraq and the remaining 11 from other countries in the Middle East and north Africa. They are all considered a serious threat to security, but cannot be deported because of legal concerns that they may face torture or other persecution at home.
The six Iraqis are said to have come to Britain to train as suicide bombers. MI5 believes they were planning to return to Iraq, with other Britons, to carry out attacks against British troops there.
They were all on control orders until these were ruled illegal this year. They are now believed to be on “strict bail”.
Another case is that of a suspect known as Y, who was acquitted last year of being a member of the so-called ricin plot to distribute the deadly toxin in public places.
Y was granted asylum even though he is a key figure in an Algerian terror group. He was described at his trial as “an Islamist extremist of long standing who has significant terrorist group connections.” Y was acquitted. But he was re-arrested pending deportation. He has since been freed on bail under strict conditions.
Gareth Crossman, of the civil rights group Liberty, said the government was riding roughshod over the most fundamental of human rights.
# The American Senate has ratified an extradition treaty with Britain giving it the right to fast-track alleged criminals to the UK. The law has been used to send three bankers to the US to stand trial on fraud charges.