Human rights campaigners: terrorist ruling amounts to a ‘perversion of justice’

The ruling in which 10 terrorist suspects interned under the Government’s emergency powers lost their appeals last week amounted to “a perversion of justice”, according to human rights campaigners.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) dismissed the appeal of the men, who for the most part had been held in high-security prisons or mental hospitals since December 2001. The SIAC considered whether evidence might have been extracted from people who were tortured and ruled that, if it had, the court would not necessarily reject it.

Gareth Peirce, solicitor for five of the men, told the tribunal that her clients’ imprisonment represented the entry of this country into “a new dark age of injustice”. The Home Secretary David Blunkett, who introduced the internment powers under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) following the 11 September attacks, welcomed the ruling, claiming that it sent “a clear signal that the UK is not a place where terrorists can operate unhindered”.

The SIAC ruled that, under the ATCSA, the burden of proof that the Secretary of State has to meet to justify internment of the 10 is not the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”, but instead is even lower than that needed in a civil case.

“The shockingly low burden of proof, which the SIAC ruled that the Secretary of State had met, violates the right to the presumption of innocence to which anyone subject to criminal proceedings is entitled,” said a spokesman for Amnesty International. “Respect of the presumption of innocence is fundamental to fair criminal trials.”

It was reported that some material used against the detainees was from statements from people held at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where claims of torture have been made. “It would seriously undermine the rule of law if the SIAC had indeed relied on evidence extracted under torture,” Amnesty added.

“I have two questions for the Home Office,” said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty. “If they are so convinced these men, held in jail for nearly two years, are involved in terrorism, why will they not put them on trial? Is it because they know that this so-called evidence has been obtained from prisoners tortured by the secret police of countries regarded as friendly to Britain but with a proven record of human rights abuse?” The UK was “following the example of the USA and allowing our dirty work to be done in the torture chambers of foreign countries”, she continued. “We’re told the ‘war on terrorism’ is being fought to protect freedom. What have torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or the right to a trial to do with freedom?”