Thursday, December 16, 2004
A scathing law lords judgment condemning the indefinite detention of foreign terror suspects as a threat to the life of the nation left anti-terrorist laws in tatters yesterday.
The ruling by an 8-1 majority held that the indefinite detention without trial at Belmarsh, and Woodhill high security prisons was unlawful under the European convention on human rights (ECHR).
Constitutional lawyers called it one of the most important decisions from Britain's highest court in 50 years.
But 24 hours after David Blunkett, the law's sponsor, was forced to resign as home secretary, Downing St and the new home secretary, Charles Clarke decided to tough it out. They would study the judgment - but made it plain they are more likely to renew the controversial laws than modify them.
Lord Hoffmann, ruled that there is no "state of public emergency threatening the life of the nation"- the only basis on which Britain is entitled to exercise its opt-out from article five of the European convention, the right to liberty.
It was the anti-terror laws introduced by Mr Blunkett which posed a threat, he declared. "The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."
Within the heavily guarded perimeters of the Defense Department's much-discussed Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, the CIA has maintained a detention facility for valuable al Qaeda captives that has never been mentioned in public, according to military officials and several current and former intelligence officers . . . .
Most international terrorism suspects in U.S. custody are held not by the CIA but by the Defense Department at the Guantanamo Bay prison. They are guaranteed access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and, as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year, have the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal courts.
CIA detainees, by contrast, are held under separate rules and far greater secrecy. Under a presidential directive and authorities approved by administration lawyers, the CIA is allowed to capture and hold certain classes of suspects without accounting for them in any public way and without revealing the rules for their treatment. The roster of CIA prisoners is not public, but current and former U.S. intelligence officials say the agency holds the most valuable al Qaeda leaders and many mid-level members with knowledge of the group's logistics, financing and regional operations . . . .
CIA detention facilities have been located on an off-limits corner of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, on ships at sea and on Britain's Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean.
Maintaining facilities in foreign countries is difficult, however, said current and former CIA officials. Binalshibh and Abu Zubaida were believed to have been taken to Thailand immediately after capture. The Thai government eventually insisted that they be transferred elsewhere.
"People are willing to help but not to hold," said one CIA veteran of counterterrorism operations.
The U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay thus provided the CIA with an isolated venue devoid of the sensitive international politics. But it came with strings attached.
The U.S. military, which controls the base, required the agency to register all detainees, abide by military detention standards and permit the ICRC some level of access.
"If you're going to be in my back yard, you're going to have to abide by my rules" is how one defense official explained it.