Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, the arrest and detention of suspected terrorists have been undermining what have hitherto been regarded internationally as minimum acceptable standards in criminal law procedures. While precise figures are unknown, it is now estimated that up to 15,000 people are being held in detention because of the ‘war against terror': most without being charged or tried; some in solitary confinement; all cut off from their families, friends and an ability to defend themselves. The US base in Cuba at Guantánamo Bay is the most publicized venue for this assault on human rights, where more than 600 people from an estimated 40 countries have been detained without charge – most for more than two and a half years. But the trend is worldwide, as this NI survey makes clear.
US officials say that nearly 3,000 al-Qaeda members and their supporters have been detained worldwide since 11 September 2001. While the location of most of them is not publicly advertised, the Washington Post has claimed that at least some of these prisoners are being held on the island of Diego Garcia – a 44-square-kilometre Indian Ocean island owned by Britain and home to one of the largest US military bases in the world. There is mounting speculation that prisoners are held at Camp Justice on the island for a process of interrogation known as ‘rendering': a process where non-co-operators are kept standing or kneeling for hours on end, hooded or clad in spray-painted goggles. At times, they are held in painful or awkward positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights under ‘stress and duress' (a tactic employed at Guantánamo Bay). These reports were denied by the then British Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Amos. However, Time (Asia) magazine reported last October that Riduan Isamuddin (also known as Hambali, who is believed to be operations chief of Jemaah Islamiah – the group behind the Bali bombing) has been held on Diego Garcia. Meanwhile, campaigners Lindsey Collen and Ragini Kistnasamy in Britain's Independent newspaper claim that members of the Iraqi leadership are being held there.
For the past decade, the Government of Uzbekistan has persecuted Muslims in a campaign that has resulted in the arrest, torture, public degradation, and incarceration of an estimated 7,000 people. This campaign – which has intensified since 11 September 2001 – is now officially justified in terms of the rhetoric of the ‘ war on terror'. While many have been randomly arrested and imprisoned, few have been charged with acts of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism. Human Rights Watch reported in March 2004 that the targets of this campaign are non-violent believers who preach or study Islam outside the official institutions and guidelines, including independent imams and their followers that the Government incorrectly term as ‘ fundamentalists'. Human rights defenders are now also being caught in the net, with Yuldash Rasulov, for example, being sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for spreading ‘religious extremism'. Numerous cases have now been documented where victims have been tortured while in detention – in 10 cases tortured to death. Examples include Muzafar Avazov who was sentenced to 19 years' imprisonment for teaching classes on Islam. His body was found with burns, bruises, open wounds and no fingernails. As a consequence of the Government's abusive human rights record $50 million in US aid to Uzbekistan is now in the balance.
Egypt has been governed by state of emergency legislation almost continuously since 1958. The emergency law gives the Government extensive powers to suspend basic liberties, including powers to arrest suspects at will and detain them without trial for prolonged periods, and to refer civilians to military or exceptional state security courts. These tribunals allow no appeal to a higher judicial body. Since 11 September 2001 the use of these powers has intensi- fied. In February 2003 Egypt extended its state of emergency legislation for a further three years. Reports of torture being used against those in detention is increasing: 17 are suspected of dying because of it in just two years. While security forces used to reserve torture for political dissidents, today ‘ordinary Egyptians who find themselves in police custody for any reason whatsoever risk being tortured,' says Joe Stork, of Human Rights Watch. Thus the Egyptian Government arrested hundreds of anti-war activists, demonstrators, journalists, and passers-by during anti-war demonstrations in March 2003. While most of these were released within 24 hours, dozens have been held for much longer periods. Detainees told Human Rights Watch of beatings by security officials using sticks, belts, fists and feet during interrogations. Both male and female detainees reported sexual violence and abuse including threats of rape, groping, and beatings on the genitals.
In December 2001, the British Home Secretary informed the Council of Europe that there was a national emergency threatening the life of his country that was so extreme that Britain needed to withdraw from its treaty obligation not to detain individuals without trial. The resulting legislation – the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA) – allows the Secretary of State to designate foreign nationals as ‘suspected international terrorists' who can be detained indefinitely without any evidence being presented at trial. While this designation can be appealed, the Act allows evidence to be considered that is not disclosed to the detainees or their lawyers and therefore cannot be effectively challenged by them. No other country of the now 40-plus member states of Europe has followed this lead. The morning after the new law was passed 10 people were seized from their homes and taken straight to Belmarsh Prison and Woodhill Prison near Milton Keynes. A total of 14 foreigners (all of whom at some stage in their lives have fled to Britain from persecution in another country) have been certificated by the Home Secretary as needing to be indefinitely detained. Lawyers have only been able to see limited evidence against their clients, the quality of which they found extremely questionable but which will never be tested in an open court.
Described by Le Monde Diplomatique (France) as Israel's Guantánamo Bay, Facility 1391 is a secret military prison housed in an army intelligence base in northern Israel. While exact prisoner figures are unknown, it is thought to contain up to 660 prisoners. No independent organization has been given permission to inspect the facility so what happens in there is a mystery. However, many testimonies from former detainees have painted an horrific picture of prisoners being confined in (often solitary) dirty, dark cells with little idea of their exact location, no access to legal services and no knowledge of why they are there. The Guardian (UK) reports that one former inmate has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was raped twice – once by a man and once with a stick – during questioning. The prison has been used exclusively for imprisoning foreigners: Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians and Iranians. The Israeli Government refuses to disclose any information about the prison to ‘prevent harm to the country's security'. One Israeli Member of Parliament, Zahava Gal-On, is describing Facility 1391 as ‘one of the signs of totalitarian regimes'.
The extent to which national security can override individual human rights has been very visibly played out in the case of exiled Algerian politician Ahmed Zaoui who sought asylum in New Zealand/ Aotearoa in December 2002. Before his arrival, Zaoui had given speeches across Europe urging a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Algeria that has seen an estimated 200,000 lives lost or disappeared. The Algerian authorities have tried him in absentia, and sentenced him to death. After a six-month inquiry, New Zealand's Refugee Status Appeals Authority – which found him to be ‘a passionate advocate of peace through democracy in Algeria' – granted him refugee status. However, the New Zealand Government continued to hold him on the basis of a Security Risk Certificate issued by its Security Intelligence Service (SIS). The reasons justifying the issuing of this certificate have not been released to Zaoui, his lawyers or the public. Authorities initially accused him of terrorist connections, alleging him to be a member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), but the Refugee Status Appeals Authority was scathing about the material presented by the SIS to justify their assessment. Now incarcerated for over 500 days – 10 months of them in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison – he awaits a review of this Certificate through his only avenue of appeal: behind the closed office door of New Zealand's Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.Compiled by Luke Trenwith and Chris Richards
Further reading: Human Rights Watch Creating Enemies of the State: Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan March 2004; Campaign against criminalizing communities http://www.cacc.org.uk; the Free Ahmed Zaoui website – http://www.freezaoui.org.nz