Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Obama promise to close Guantanamo remains unfulfilled, while security state continues to grow

When Barack Obama became US President eight years ago, one of his early promises was to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. As he leaves office, that promise remains unfulfilled, with a number of men remaining detained there.

The broken promise comes to mind, when visiting Edmund Clark’s War on terror exhibition, presently running at the Imperial War Museum.

The exhibition chronicles the conditions that hundreds of people were held under at Guantanamo Bay for many years juxtaposed next to Britain’s own internal security model - the control order, which turned houses into prisons, with individuals being held for long periods of time without ever being told  of what they were accused.

The images are haunting – the shackles from Guantanamo that were used to hold people down and restrict movement. The matter a fact regulations from the Home Office about the restrictions applied to an individual held under held control order conditions. Some of the correspondence from detainees held in Guantanamo but now released.

The exhibition brings home the vivid reality as to what happens when the most basic liberties are sacrificed on the altar of security. Someone asked me why I was going to the exhibition as I must know what it would be about. To an extent that was true. Having covered the cases of some  those put under control order detention, much of the exhibition was eerily familiar.

Take the case of a man known only as G, who was first incarcerated after being picked up in the post 9/11 hysteria under the Anti-terror crime and security Act (rushed onto the statute book in December 2001). He was later released to restrictive control order style detention. His hell had been going on for six years when I interviewed him across his doorway in 2007.

G lived with wife and family in a cramped flat. He sat in a wheelchair, tagged, needing to report into the monitoring company several times a day. He had attempted suicide when in prison. The interview was published in a number of national outlets.

G continued though to be detained for many more years. Many of the individuals were represented by solicitor Gareth Peirce, who was constantly present at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) arguing their cases. The SIAC operated under immigration law, thereby enabling the men concerned to be held seemingly indefinitely, without there ever being made aware of what they were accused.

This whole process went on for years, with these individuals portrayed in the media as threats to national security that the government wanted to get rid of but could not due to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The men and their families were effectively kept under a variety of forms of detention. Then quietly, on 18 April 2016, the SIAC ruled that six of the men considered to be threats to national security for so long could not be deported to Algeria on the basis of diplomatic assurances relating to their safety. The Home Office did not appeal the decision, so the men were free to stay.

There were 52 people subjected to control order style detention, according to Clark in the exhibition. The process of such detention still remains available under different forms when required.

What this shameful episode reveals is a drift toward authoritarianism that continues to this day. The control orders may have gone but the security state continues to grow.

The exhibition today together with accounts of what has gone on over the past couple of decades in the name of fighting terrorism serve as timely reminders of where we could be heading, namely toward an authoritarian state where basically anyone considered an enemy for whatever reason can have their rights taken away in the name of security and freedom
*War on terror exhibition runs at the Imperial War Museum until August 2017

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