Great Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa, to name a few of our international “friends,” have enacted versions of our post-September 11 laws that curtail civil liberties in the name of fighting “terror.” The USA Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, and dozens of Executive Orders entered by President Bush, Attorney General Ashcroft, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and even Secretary of State Colin Powell have stripped citizens and resident aliens alike of legal protections and constitutional guarantees.
The “free” world is watching and their governments, recognizing an opportunity to seize power in the name of survival, have followed suit. Canada was the first country to pass a virtual mirror of our Patriot Act, within weeks of ours. Australia and Great Britain followed shortly, and South Africa is struggling with one now. Unlike the U.S., Australia, Great Britain, and Canada, countries that did not bother to debate the merits of curtailing liberty, there is a strong movement of dissent in South Africa. Blacks, and concerned whites there, see the specter of apartheid returning under the guise of “national” security.
Just as American courts are handing the government victories right and left (on November 7, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that holding someone as a material witness forever is just fine–no charge, no attorney, just lock you up until they want to talk to you–if ever–and if you wont’ talk you will be found in contempt of court and serve years in prison), the courts in Britain are upholding that country’s usurpation of power.
On October 29, 2003, 10 men accused of being involved in international terrorism lost an appeal against their detention without charge or trial since 2001. The men were arrested solely on the say-so of Home Secretary David Blunkett, who alleges that they were connected to groups linked to Al-Qaeda. Most of them have been held for the past two years in high-security prisons or mental hospitals.
The 10 were interned under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which added to the powers contained in the Terrorism Act 2000 and came into force two months after the September 11 bombings. Sixteen foreign nationals have been held under its provisions. Under the ATCSA, non-UK nationals certified as “suspected international terrorists and national security risks” by the home secretary can be detained without charge or trial for an unlimited period. Detention can be based on secret evidence-which the detainee and their counsel cannot see, hear, or challenge.
The appeal was also heard largely in secret by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a panel of three judges and no jury. As a result of these Kafkaesque procedures, the names of only two of the detainees are known. One, Jamal Ajouaou, is a Moroccan citizen who has already agreed to return to his home country. The other is Palestinian asylum seeker Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a 32-year-old father of five who has lived in Britain since 1995 and is now held in Broadmoor high-security mental hospital. The remaining eight are known only by a letter of the alphabet.
None have been accused of actual crimes, but only of membership of one of the 39 organizations proscribed under the Terrorism Act. Representatives of the security services presented testimony, and the men were not allowed to know the nature of this evidence against them.
In making its verdict, SIAC operated on the assumption that the government only had to prove it had “reasonable grounds to suspect” the men were linked with terrorism. Admitting that the evidence presented would not stand up in a court of law, the judges’ ruling stated that “the standard of proof is below a balance of probabilities.”
The men expect to remain in prison for the rest of their lives, in a status similar to the “enemy combatant” category used in the US to intern people it does not want to try.
In another British case, the High Court upheld the practice of police stopping and searching peaceful demonstrators at an arms convention under its Terrorism Act of 2000. The court found that “The exercise and use of the power was proportionate to the gravity of the [terrorism] risk.” Police routinely employ these powers in every day situations now, according to a report in the Guardian.
The U.S. plans to make the Mideast “free,” according to his latest announcement of a grand imperialistic agenda. Suppression of the free world, “freedom” to the supposed “oppressed” Arabs–what do these governments really have in mind for us all?
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org