Britain treated terror suspects `inhumanely'

SCATHING CRITICISM: A report on terrorist suspects in British jails slammed the government, which was also assailed by rights groups for withholding the report


Sat, Jun 11, 2005 - Page 7

Britain's detention without trial of foreign terror suspects subjected some of them to "inhuman and degrading treatment," the European watchdog on torture said in a hard-hitting report released on Thursday.

The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which visited the detainees in February 2002 and March last year, said detention without trial caused mental disorders in most of the detainees.

The conditions under which some detainees were held "could be considered as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment," the report said.

Foreigners in Britain suspected of involvement in international terrorism were held at Belmarsh prison in London and Woodhill prison in Buckinghamshire, north west of London, and Broadmoor high-security hospital, west of the British capital in Berkshire, under legislation passed in 2001.

Last March they were freed from custody and put under control orders restricting their liberty after the law lords ruled that their detention breached human rights laws.


The CPT report is the second within two days from institutions of the Council of Europe to condemn Britain for human-rights failings.

Its findings are even more strongly worded than a scathing report on Wednesday from the European commissioner for human rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, which criticized the UK's human rights record on terrorism, asylum and anti-social behavior and said that control orders which impose conditions of house arrest on terror suspects "flout the right to the presumption of innocence."

The government received the CPT report in July last year, but waited nearly a year -- until after the law lords (the most senior judges in the UK) had heard the detainees' challenge to the lawfulness of their detention, new legislation was pushed through parliament and last month's general election -- before agreeing to its publication.

Britain was forced to amend the law after the law lords ruled last December that the powers of indefinite detention without trial for foreign terror suspects but not UK nationals breached the European convention on human rights.

The "Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005" was passed after a bitter parliamentary battle, and last March the detainees were put under control orders which allow them to live at home, subject to stringent restrictions on their freedom.

Gareth Peirce, a solicitor for several terror suspects, and Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights organization Liberty, said the government's delay in publishing the CPT report had deprived the law lords and parliamentarians of important information which could have affected their decisions.

"From the time of the House of Lords judgment, they kept all the detainees in custody, knowing it had been condemned as inhuman and degrading treatment, until the last-ditch stand in March, and deprived parliamentarians of the information when they were debating the legislation," Peirce said.


Shakrabarti said: "Why have we not seen this before now? Parliament should have seen this when they were debating the control order legislation, because it highlights the cruelty of punishment without trial, which is just as relevant for control orders."

"The government had this report in July 2004. Why didn't it show this to the law lords last autumn, and why didn't it show this to parliament when it was debating the control order legislation?" she added.

The CPT said that the trauma of detention in Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons and Broadmoor high-security hospital was made worse by its indefinite nature, the difficulty for detainees in challenging their detention and their ignorance of the evidence which was being used to certify them as terrorist suspects.

"For those who had been subjected to traumatic experiences or even torture in the past, it had clearly reawakened the experience and even led to the serious recurrence of former disorders," the report said.

Amnesty International's UK director, Kate Allen, said: "Once again, the UK's anti-terror measures are condemned by a leading international human rights body."