UK terror suspects being held in 'Kafkaesque world'

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The Government's record on human rights will be condemned by Amnesty International tomorrow in a searing indictment of the anti-terror laws rushed in by Tony Blair. Amnesty will claim that terrorist suspects find themselves "effectively persecuted" and held for years in "a Kafkaesque world" on the basis of secret accusations.

After a full-scale inquiry, Amnesty will conclude that conditions for some suspects held at the top security Belmarsh prison, in south-east London, amount to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment".

The 70-page report, "Human Rights: a broken promise", has been leaked to The New Statesman magazine. It will fuel criticism of the measures brought in by the Government since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America and Labour's record since coming to power in 1997 on its pledge to improve human rights.

It will describe detention without trial in Britain as internment, pointing to the "disturbing echo" of the counter-productive policies introduced in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Britain will also be accused of breaching international law in Iraq, through its association with the internment of some 14,000 people.

According to Amnesty, the Government's anti-terror laws use "broad and vague terms" that leave "scope for political bias" and render our criminal justice system "neither fair, nor just, nor lawful".

The measures, which were brought forward after the London bombings in July, threaten to "undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association, liberty and fair trial".

Much recent legislation has "compromised the role of judges in upholding the rule of law", the report will say. It will accuse the Government of undermining the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive and compromising the role of the courts, through measures such as "control orders", which give the Home Secretary the power to detain terrorist suspects under virtual house arrest.

Amnesty will warn that the Inquiries Act 2005 amounts to "an attack against the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary" by giving control of investigations to ministers.

It will accuse the Government of undermining the worldwide struggle against the torture and mistreatment of prisoners by attempting to overturn the legal ban on the use of evidence obtained by torture.

The criticism will run from the use of extraordinary rendition to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent Brazilian who was shot dead by police at Stockwell Tube station.

On extraordinary rendition, which allows prisoners to be moved to countries where they may be interrogated under torture, Amnesty will express concern that the Government has not denied involvement in past transfers.

Amnesty opposes the "memorandums of understanding" being negotiated with states such as Algeria, Libya and Egypt to allow prisoners to be deported. Although the foreign government gives an undertaking not to abuse people, critics say there is no way of monitoring the process.

Another concern is the vagueness of much recent legislation. Amnesty will warn that the Government's definition of the word "terrorism" is subjective and "lends itself to abusive police practices", the report says. It will condemn the lack of precision in such offences as having "links" with a member of an "international terrorist group".

Kate Allen, Amnesty's UK director, said Britain was fast losing its reputation as a champion of human rights around the world. She told The New Statesman: "For the international Amnesty movement Britain has always been reliable. But now the international movement is turning its attention to the British Government."

The Government faces further criticism over human rights in a separate report published today, in which MPs will challenge Mr Blair to show more courage in standing up to the White House over the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee will denounce the conditions at Guantanamo Bay, echoing a United Nations report that said some of the camp's 500 inmates were being tortured and demanded its immediate closure.

Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has called for the camp to be shut but his Cabinet colleagues have failed to support him, fuelling fears among MPs that the issue is slipping down the Government's agenda.

Labour MP Mike Gapes, the committee's chairman, said: "The time has come for the international community to say the camp needs to be closed and alternative arrangements produced."

Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour committee member, said: "The government should indicate publicly that it finds it indefensible that people should be detained in this way for so long."

Britain's record

Anti-terror laws

Since 9/11, three anti-terror bills have been passed allowing the indefinite detention of foreign terrorist suspects and bringing in 'control orders', which amount to house arrest. A fourth - allowing the detention of suspects without charge for up to 28 days and banning the 'glorification' of terrorism - is about to become law.


Britain wants to return terrorist suspects to nations such as Algeria which are known to practise torture. Ministers are trying to negotiate 'memorandums of understanding', guarantees that terrorist suspects returned to them will not be harmed. The law lords have also clashed with the Government over whether evidence obtained by torture should ever be used in British courts.

Extraordinary rendition

Ministers have been accused of turning a blind eye to extraordinary rendition, under which the CIA transfers prisoners to countries where they could be tortured. The Government says it has had four US requests - two of which it rejected - to move prisoners through the UK. Human rights groups allege CIA planes have gone through UK airspace more than 200 times in five years.

Public inquiries

The Inquiries Act 2005 restricts the independence of judges appointed to chair inquiries. It gives Ministers the power to demand evidence is heard in secret, omit evidence from the final report and even decide whether the report is ever published.