A sad day for human rights

A sad day for human rights

Is the return of two Algerian terror suspects to Algeria a triumph for the government? Hardly

Paul Donovan, The Guardian, June 20, 2006

Two Algerian men have been so driven to distraction as a result of being detained without trial for an indeterminate amount of time that they have agreed to return to a country where they could face torture and possible death. They have been brought to this position by the Guantanamo style conditions imposed on them by the British government since 9/11. Some 17 Algerians have been detained either in prison or under control order style house arrest but not been told what they are supposed to have done. Most still await the result of their appeals against being sent back to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. A number though now await the fate of the two who have returned before deciding whether to follow suit.

For months, the government has been attempting to get a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Algeria in order to deport the men back to that country. The MOU is intended to guarantee their safety on return, though their lawyers and human rights bodies like Amnesty International do not believe this to be worth the paper it is written on. Given they fled as refugees for fear of their lives in the first place, if Algeria is safe to return why the need for a piece of paper to guarantee it? On a recent trip to Algeria it was reported that the Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, secured such an understanding but it will not be made public until the Algerian president visits the UK on July 9.

The problems started for many of the men following 9/11. They were initially detained without trial under the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. Then after the law lords ruled in December 2004 that this was unlawful they were put on control orders. After the London bombings they were re-arrested prior to being served notice of deportation by the Home Office. A number of the men cleared in the so-called ricin trial where no ricin was found were also processed in the same way. Since then some have remained in prison and a number have been bailed under control order style conditions.

One man has told how « a control order is like being in a space capsule isolated from the world … It is not physical torture but mental – driving you to madness … It is torture for the family, paying the price for what they didn’t do … A control order is a punishment for someone who hasn’t been convicted of anything – especially for anyone disabled. »

Another being held is married with a child. He suffers with polio, can only walk with a crutch and has chronic mental health problems. He claimed asylum in 1995 and was detained in December 2001 accused of supporting Algerian terrorism. He has never been told what this support consisted of or been interviewed by police or security services. Under bail conditions he is allowed out for two hours a day. He has confessed to being frightened to go into his own garden for fear a neighbour would say hello and this would be taken as breaking his bail conditions.

These are the type of conditions that have driven the men to such despair. Most have mental problems and believe they are doomed anyway. It is a case of a quick death at home or a slow death here is their view. There seems no end in sight either in prison or under control order. All have indicated a willingness to answer any charges of which they are accused but nothing has ever been produced in evidence before a court.

The return of the first two Algerians was heralded on the BBC as the triumph for Home Office anti-terror policy. What a triumph? Most of the implementation of government policy has been carried out quietly behind the scenes, supervised by a growing secret state operating within the state.

Many who have been subjected to this treatment believe it is an experiment that will be pushed further forward once they have gone. People in this country were quick to condemn the Soviet Union and other countries for such behaviour over the years, why the silence now when it is going on in our own back yard, run by our government in our names?