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End British Secrecy Laws

The Case of Detainee U

by YVONNE RIDLEY

London

The tabloid media here are going to have a feeding frenzy over the next few days after international soccer star Ryan Giggs was dramatically revealed as the figure behind the so-called super privacy injunction.

Now that the secret’s out they’ll be picking over every aspect of his private life hunting for more revelations about the Manchester United player’s alleged extra marital affair to a reality TV star.

Even the Prime Minister David Cameron, facing an increasingly aggressive media campaign to stop the High Court granting injunctions protecting the privacy of celebrities, announced a joint parliamentary committee to examine privacy issues, injunctions and the regulation of the Internet.

The world watched with great amusement and there was even a threat of some legal action Stateside as Giggs’ legal team looked as though they were going to take action against some Twitter users who had named and shamed their client days earlier.

But, his name is no longer a secret.

Good. I hate secrets. As Samuel Johnson wryly observed back in the 18th century: “Where secrecy or mystery begins, vice or roguery is not far off.” How right he was.

Now I hope some of my old Fleet Street colleagues from both the broadsheets and the tabloids will sharpen their pencils and turn their attention to other secrecy issues in the legal system.

While just about everyone has now heard of Ryan Giggs I wonder how many of you have heard of Amar Makhlulif?

He’s not rich or famous, nor has he appeared on a reality TV show or slept with a Page 3 model! He arrived in Britain in 1993 without fanfare and applied for political asylum.  For the next few years he lived and worked in the sort of quiet anonymity now so craved by Mr Giggs and his family.

But it’s no use asking why this Algerian medical doctor has been banged up for 10 years ? even if he was allowed to talk to the media, which of course he’s not, he couldn’t tell you. He is not allowed to see the secret evidence against him. Not even his own lawyers are allowed to examine the dossier because it’s so secret.

Furthermore we are not allowed to ask or even know anything about Amar Makhlulif whose very identity was shielded behind the legal nom de guerre of Detainee U.

I’d like to see News International lawyers from The Sun, The News of the World, The Sunday Times and The Times sharpen their Murdoch claws on this case and rip wide open the sinister motives and dark forces that keep Amar Makhlulif in Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire.

It would be nice of The Telegraph and Express newspapers set aside their Islamaphobic tendencies to investigate this case as well.

Makhlulif was arrested at London Heathrow Airport boarding a flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in February 2001 at the request of American intelligence agencies and spent the next few years fighting extradition proceedings to the US.

Without producing a shred of evidence, the Americans alleged that he was a senior figure in the Algerian GSPC, and that he organized travel to Afghan camps for his Algerian recruits. They also threw in a couple of terror plots for good measure.    Ben Emmerson, QC, counsel for Makhlulif, told a court in 2002 that a trial in the US would be a "flagrant denial of justice".  He said witnesses for Makhlulif would be unprepared to give evidence in the US and the unprecedented level of publicity in the US would also pose "an irrevocable threat of unfairness" in the case.

Two years later the extradition case collapsed after a key witness who had been tortured for all manner of information, refused to co-operate further with American prosecutors and subsequently US intelligence lost interest and said they no longer wanted Makhlulif.

But just as he was about to walk free he was re-arrested at the entrance gates to Belmarsh prison in south east London and detained under Immigration Laws, pending deportation to Algeria.

That was nearly eight years ago and he wrote of the experience:  “I remain in prison to this day, as a political prisoner, held without charge .. These years will never come back. I have been treated in prison in ways that even Algerian authorities would be ashamed to consider. In Algeria, they kill you physically [along] with verbal insults. In Britain, they kill you psychologically, with a smile.

“I am only seeking the same rights as [afforded to] the rapists, paedophiles and offenders in British prisons: and that is the right to a fair, open trial. If I have done something wrong, I should be put on trial and punished. If not, then I should be released and allowed to get on with my life. Is this too much to ask?”

His case has intrigued me for years ? what is so secret in the legal file that not even his defense team are allowed to inspect it and therefore unable to challenge it. For years he was only referred to as Detainee U and could not be named.

In 2008, for a short spell, he was finally allowed out on a form of house arrest, which was even more limiting than the one the Burma junta imposed on Aung San Suu Kyi until the recent elections there.  Makhlulif could not even put a toe over the door of his new home in Brighton in 2008 which was inspected regularly, and without warning, by swarms of police causing huge distress to his landlord, a retired academic who was equally bewildered by this draconian treatment.

To try and bring some cheer, I occasionally sent pizzas by delivery to Makhlulif but even that little act of kindness was stopped, such was the vindictive pursuit against him ? and it was vindictive and hateful and it was and still is being driven by one person within the Home Office.

The same person blocked him from taking an Open University course even though his supporters had raised the money for him to enroll. His return to Long Lartin’s secure unit was brought about after another ruling based on secret evidence by The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), in effect Britain’s national security court.

The driving force behind Makhlulif’s persecution is not a Government Minister or an elected member of parliament but for the last decade this individual has worked obsessively to keep him and his case shrouded in secrecy. This vicious streak of pure malice shown by someone in authority towards a man who came to these shores for help as an asylum seeker is probably the most unwholesome I’ve encountered in 35 years of journalism.

Perhaps I should out Makhlulif’s tormentor whose behavior is bordering on psychotic according to some observers, but I’m going to keep the identity a secret for the time being. I can’t tell you on what basis ? it’s a secret. Though I have a suspicion there could be an outing very soon on the Twitter network.

In the meantime Ryan Giggs will likely spend the next few days under siege from the media for allegedly playing away from the marital home. Some might say it’s a small price to pay but at least he knows exactly why this is happening. It was a tough and expensive lesson but Giggs now knows the media and the public at large don’t like secrets and they don’t like the rich and influential using their money to hide behind super secrecy injunctions issued by the courts.

Giggs was outed, rather heroically I thought, by Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming who used his Parliamentary Privilege to devastating effect on Monday afternoon. He justified his actions stating the footballer had already been named and shamed by 75,000 people on Twitter.

Hemming later said he stepped in when he thought Giggs legal team were using the courts to oppress and imprison individuals in secret just for retelling gossip on Twitter. He said: "The first steps had been taken to identify people who had started the gossip.”

But then, more tellingly, he revealed: “There are people who are jailed in secret in this country."

Indeed there are, Mr Hemming ? and now we know the identity of Detainee U let’s campaign for his release and put an end to the ridiculous secrecy laws which have kept him a prisoner of the state.

And let’s get rid of this corrosive secrecy that has been at work to stop you and I finding out the truth about Amar Makhlulif.

No more secrets.

Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist, is a patron for the London-based human rights NGO, Cageprisoners.