Parliament is about to vote on a Bill that could knowingly place British citizens at risk of torture. You might think the timing was a little awkward.
In its current form, not only will the Counter-Terrorism Bill not keep us safe, it will constitute a breach of international human rights law. A great many MPs are disconcertingly at ease with its proposals. Thankfully, others are not, and with voting taking place on Monday and Tuesday this week, we’re tabling amendments to safeguard those rights.
Take Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs). In a nutshell, these invalidate the passports of British citizens suspected of involvement – or at the risk of being involved – in terror-related activity. While they are outside of the UK.
It means dropping someone into potential exile and into a human-rights black hole. Someone who could be entirely innocent. Individuals must apply for a permit to return to the UK, and even if that's granted they may be trapped in countries like Kenya and Turkey where, as terror suspects, they are at high risk of torture. Or they could be in places like Somali, Syria or Mali, where jihadi groups have a strong presence.
CIA torture report: The 10 most harrowing stories
CIA torture report: The 10 most harrowing stories
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1. Of the 119 CIA detainees, 26 should not have been apprehended. Among them was Abu Hudhaifa, who was “subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation” before the CIA discovered that he was probably “not the person he was believed to be.”
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2. President Bush received his first briefing on enhanced interrogation techniques in 2006, about four years after the programme started. According to CIA records, Bush expressed discomfort with an image of a detainee “chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper.”
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3. The CIA used rectal feeding and rectal rehydration on at least five detainees. Even though detainee Majid Khan was cooperating with feedings, for example, the CIA subjected him to “involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration” and would puree his lunch tray, which was then “rectally infused.”
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4. CIA interrogators threatened to harm the family members of at least three detainees. In one case, a detainee was told that his mother's throat would be cut.
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5. The CIA apprehended two foreigners working for a “partner government” allied with the agency. They were subjected to sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation. The two detainees were trying to give the CIA information on possible future al-Qaeda attacks. It took them months to get released.
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6. Abu Zubaida, the CIA's first detainee, spent 266 hours in a coffin-size confinement box. Zubaida, who was born Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, often “cried, begged, pleaded, and whimpered” and was told that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin-shaped box.
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7. When Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, tried to breathe during the procedure, interrogators held his lips and poured water over his mouth.
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8. The Senate committee found a photo of what looked like a well-used waterboarding station at a site where there was no reported use of the technique. The CIA could not explain the presence of the waterboard.
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9. Of the at least 26 detainees who were wrongfully held, one was “intellectually challenged.” Interrogators taped this detainee crying and used it as leverage against one of his relatives.
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CIA officers would “strip a detainee naked, shackle him in the standing position for up to 72 hours, and douse [him] repeatedly with cold water.”
This will not make us safer. On the contrary – TEOs risk pushing people further into the hands of terror networks and lessening our ability to monitor their movements. And if the primary purpose of counter-terrorism policy is to make us safer, it is surely more sensible to ensure that those individuals who pose a threat are somewhere we can keep an eye on them and investigate them – and then arrest, charge and prosecute them should the evidence warrant it – rather than roaming who knows where, doing who knows what.
The evidence from deradicalisation programmes in countries such as Sweden, Germany and Denmark clearly indicates that family and friends can play an essential role in challenging and ultimately overturning extremist beliefs. But this Bill instead consigns people to exile. I’m calling on the Secretary of State to look at the evidence of deradicalisation programmes being used to great effect in other countries.Recently I met with Abubak’r Deghayes, who lives in Brighton. Two of his sons have lost their lives fighting in Syria. Abubak’r says the Government’s current strategy is ineffective, and simply risks further radicalising people.
There is an alternative - a system that imposes Notification & Managed Return Orders (NMRO) on its carriers and requires them to provide advance notice of travel bookings, so that police can interview or arrest someone upon return to the UK, or place them under surveillance. It mitigates the risk of British citizens being pushed further towards terror factions or detained and subjected to torture while trapped abroad. Critically, it also addresses the practical problems that may result in the authorities’ loss of intelligence about suspects’ whereabouts and their “control” of the situation.
As it stands, this Bill risks fomenting a climate of fear and suspicion, rather than encouraging good relations between communities. For too long successive governments have used the threat of terrorism to justify draconian attacks on due process and basic human rights. Failure to get a grip now won't just make us all less safe from terrorism, it will make us less safe simply by being British citizens.
Caroline Lucas is a Green Party MPReuse content