Terror suspect held without trial says he is 'buried alive'

Anxiety is mounting over the mental health of detainees imprisoned for nearly two years, say Severin Carrell and Francis Elliott

An Algerian being held as a suspected al-Qa'ida terrorist has said he feels that he is being "buried alive in a cell" after being detained for nearly two years without trial.

An Algerian being held as a suspected al-Qa'ida terrorist has said he feels that he is being "buried alive in a cell" after being detained for nearly two years without trial.

The man, known as "D", is one of 12 alleged Islamist terrorist sympathisers who have been held without charge by the Home Office since December 2001.

According to testimony given to The Independent on Sunday, "D", now at Woodhill prison near Milton Keynes, compared his detention to the plight of Iraqi civilians killed during bombing raids in Iraq.

In a failed attempt to win release last year, "D" accused the security service of wrongly accusing him of threatening Britain. "MI5 obtained information which wasn't properly filtered through, which wasn't right, which is why I'm like someone buried. The difference is that I'm still alive but buried in a cell nine metres square," he said.

His remarks follow growing evidence that the 12 detainees are suffering serious mental problems - chiefly because they have no idea when they will be released. The Home Office has now been handed an expert report on the conditions of the detainees by an independent team of psychiatrists, which is expected to renew anxieties about their health.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture interviewed all 12 detainees - being held at Belmarsh in south London, Woodhill and Broadmoor psychiatric hospital - last month.

In 2002, the committee issued a scathing report about the detainees' care, accusing the authorities of "haphazard" treatment, including the use of psychotropic drugs. The committee drew attention to the fact that some of the detainees had been tortured or suffered degrading punishments before they came to this country.

Meanwhile, the Home Office denied the allegations about the treatment of prisoners at Woodhill. It described the claims about their food, access to Friday prayers and exercise time as "absolutely not the case". A spokesman also said a new imam had recently been hired at the jail, to help lead prayers.

Nonetheless, the men are being treated by the Home Office as Category A inmates - imprisoned alongside murderers, serial rapists, armed robbers and the severely mentally ill - even though MI5 and the police have failed to find any evidence against them that would be admissible in court.

As a result, say their solicitors, their mental health is suffering. Some are taking anti-depressants. Several men, including the Palestinian radical and refugee Abu Rideh, who was moved to Broadmoor after trying to kill himself, are at risk of self-harm.

Just over a week ago, a Belmarsh detainee was moved to the jail's medical wing because of his deteriorating mental health, but instead of help he found filthy cells and chain-smoking inmates playing loud music at all hours.

Even the March edition of the Prison Service's own official newspaper for inmates, called Inside Times, said the "Health Care" wing at Belmarsh "breaks the spirit".

In one article, a Belmarsh prisoner called Vernon Wood - not one of the 12 terrorism detainees - wrote: "Very few people survive Health Care. The policy of robust management and minimum tolerance and response to inmates' needs breaks the spirit and even leads to self-harm and, in several cases, a successful suicide."

One witness reported that exercise time out of the cell is as low as one hour a day. It can be as much as two hours out of the cell, but only if enough prison staff are on duty. Requests for education and access to the gym are also restricted, often because the rules bar more than four Category A prisoners attending.

The controversy about the "preventative detention" of the 12 erupted again last week after David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, labelled as "bonkers" an appeal tribunal's decision to release "G" - an alleged Algerian terrorist who suffers from polio and became mentally ill in Belmarsh.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission, an independent panel of senior judges, decided that "G", who is unable to walk unaided, could be allowed home under strict bail conditions. Backed by some Labour MPs, Mr Blunkett has vowed to amend his already tough anti-terror powers to prevent other similar releases.

The Prison Service and the Home Office insist that the conditions for the 12 have improved. At Belmarsh, they were taken out of an ultra-high-security segregation block and put on a normal wing.

Mr Blunkett's supporters point out that only two of the detainees have won appeals against detention - "G" and "M". This, they say, proves that intelligence evidence associating them with Islamic extremists in the al-Qa'ida network is strong enough to warrant their detention.

However, two other men, including the Moroccan Djamel Ajouaou, were freed in 2002 after proving they could return home safely - something the Home Office originally ruled out.

Gareth Peirce, the lawyer for most of the 12 men in Britain, said it is the mental damage that is of greatest concern. "We have to consider: what would this do to anyone? These are refugees who've fled from countries where it's acknowledged by the Home Office that they've been tortured or ill-treated, or would face torture or death if they were to be returned.

"So then you arrest them, you never question them, and you lock them up and don't tell them what the evidence is against them, and tell them it's potentially for ever. In the context of psychological warfare, it's hard to see any government constructing a better set of circumstances designed to drive someone to madness."

BEHIND THE CODENAMES

The dozen detainees are all of North African or Palestinian origin, and nearly all support radical Muslim groups in their home countries. Most have their identities kept secret by a court order, but two names are known: Abu Qatada, 43 (right), a Palestinian Muslim cleric granted asylum 10 years ago, and Abu Rideh, a Palestinian refugee, in Broadmoor. All the others have single-letter codenames, such as suspect A, an Algerian failed asylum-seeker and alleged fraudster linked to militant Islamic groups in Algeria. Suspect C is said to be a senior figure in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and suspect W has polio and is said to be so ill he does not recognise fellow inmates. Suspect X has lost both his arms and, like Y and Z, is alleged to have links to groups associated with al-Qa'ida.

'Holding people without charge is a potential victory for terrorists'

Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty

'It is the most monstrous thing this Government has done'

Corin Redgrave, actor/campaigner

'If they are so dangerous, why haven't they been questioned?'

Glenda Jackson MP, Labour ex-minister

'We must ensure we do not terrorise, and dehumanise ourselves'

Iqbal Sacranie, Muslim Council

'People should not be detained unless they have done something criminal'

Stephen Platten, Bishop of Wakefield

'There is a danger of betraying the values we are trying to defend'

Martin Bell, Unicef ambassador

'Detention without trial violates natural justice'

Malcolm Smart, director, Medical Foundation

'I have looked in vain for an alternative to detaining these terrorists'

Vera Baird MP, rights lawyer

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