Ghost Prisoners Named

A group of Human Rights organisations, led by Amnesty International, have published a list of 39 ‘ghost prisoners’ that have been detained by the US Government as part of its War On Terror.

The US has the duty to detain and bring to justice anyone responsible for crimes but it must do so in a manner that respects human rights and the rule of law.

A few months ago, I saw Clive Stafford-Smith from Reprieve talk very eloquently about this issue. You can read my account here.

Instant ASBOs

It seems a couple of rather illiberal policies seem to have found their way into the Scottish Labour Party campaign.

The first, which is part of the manifesto, is to “retain the DNA samples of all crime suspects“.

A common argument from civil liberties campaigners is that such a policy effectively makes people into permenant crimminal suspects. However, I am not so sure that this would blight your outlook, in the same way that young ‘hoodies’ become demoralised by the feeling that they are always under suspicion. Or does the hidden nature of the suspicion make it more sinister? Either way, more worrying is the possibility that the DNA database could be comprimised: either accidentally, in which case a ‘false positive’ result could convict an innocent person of a crime they did not commit; or on purpose, with a person being framed for monetary or political gain.

One reason why our laws have been structured as they are, is to protect innocent people from mistakes, maladministration and malign intent. The careful procedures for the collection (and then destruction) of bodily fluids and DNA samples are in place precisely so that the chain of evidence remains intact, and therefore beyond question. Weakening this chain weakens the justice system.

The second policy is the Instant ASBO:

Scottish Labour this week revealed plans to create new ‘instant ASBOs’ to allow the police to take immediate action against the small minority who disrespect and undermine our communities, without having to go through the normal court process. The tough new measure will be available to use by new community policing teams and will stay in place until the offender can convince a court that they have changed and will not offend again.

This is a 180 degree reversal of the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. It is true that methods for establishing law and order could be made more efficient, but eliminating the very principles of law upon which our system is founded is the wrong solution to the problem. Its like being asked to solve a mathematical equation, and simply changing the answer to fit your workings out.

Laws with integrity, which everyone perceives to be fair and just, form bonds that keep communities together. What is so tragic about these proposals is that they will undoubtedly be subjected to their first test in those poor and ethnic minority and communities that (the politicians keep telling us) need a little more social cohesion. The first instant ASBO will not be issued on the red granite streets of leafy Newington, but on the grey concrete schemes of Sighthill. These policies will experience their first malfunction among the under-privileged youths that Labour is so eager to help. They will breed indignation and a sense of injustice long before anyone feels safe, free, or empowered.


Its nice to see a spike in my stats last week, half due to a link from the Guardian website, and half due to a few very welcome pointers from other blogs. In honour of that, here’s an extra nugget from the Clive Stafford-Smith lecture, which I didn’t work into Thursday’s report:

Apparently, it is a British company, Hiatt Corporation of Birmingham, which manufactures the leg-irons used at Guantànamo Bay. The same company used to make shackles for slaves (the front page of the Hiatt website proudly delcares that the company’s first slogan was Prisoners Handcuffs to the Trade). This was back in the days when men and women and children were taken by force from their homeland by foreign colonial powers, with the active compliance of their neighbours, transported to a foreign country, and detained indefinitely. Thank goodness that doesn’t happen any more, eh?

More information on Hiatt can be found via Indymedia Birmingham.

Hiatt handcuffs

Ghost Prisoners at Guantànamo

Racism in the Big Brother house is of course important. It is admirable that 20,000 people have complained about the alleged bullying, that the Indian Government has expressed concern, and that Labour MP Keith Vaz has raised the issue in the House of Commons. We can only hope that the £300,000 appearance fee Shilpa Shetty has received goes some way to cushioning the hard times she has endured.

Big Brother is an illusion. The contestants could click their fingers, and the nightmare will end. This is not so for the housemates at Guantànamo Bay, who wake each morning to a genuine Orwellian nightmare. They have no plush chairs in the diary room in which to relax. Their only solace is the blissful ignorance of sleep, or a final release through suicide.

“It is not ‘suicide’ anymore,” says Clive Stafford-Smith. “It is called ‘manipulative injurious behaviour’ now. That way, the politicians and military men can claim that there are no suicide attempts at Guantanamo.”

Stafford-Smith is speaking at the offices of Clifford Chance at Canary Wharf, on behalf of the Mary Ward Legal Centre. The title of his talk is Secret Prisons and Ghost Prisoners, about the 14,000 people detained without lawyers or a trial in the name of the ‘War on Terror’. There is apparently a certain chauvinism in the military, and it is assumed that women are not militant. Stafford-Smith only knows of three female detainees, but there may be more. Most of those imprisoned remain unidentified, beyond the reach of the media, legal aid, and the rule of law. Guantànamo is the tip of a sinister iceberg.
Continue reading “Ghost Prisoners at Guantànamo”

Free Alaa – Egyptian blogger detained

While MK posts on the benefits of the small-web (more on that another time), we find a good example of the ‘large web’ we have all come to know. Demoblogger posts G-B4A as a Test Case in Web 2.0 Activism, highlighting the 21st century methods being employed to hasten the release of Alaa Abd El-Fatah, who has been imprisoned for his part in a peaceful, pro-democracy protest.

The web can raise awareness of these issues, but we must still focus on more traditional channels in order to effect change in this particular issue. Pickled Politics suggests that Google-bombing might not be successful, and in any case should not be an end itself.

[The] free-Alaa campaign needs to become more prominent with mentions in the national papers. But surprise surprise the press has largely ignored the story … My suggestion is: organise or join a demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy or send emails to your newspaper or broadcaster of choice and ask why haven’t they yet written about this story.

Or, of course, can allow you to make your MP aware of the issue. The new Foreign Secretary might be prompted to take up the issue of free speech with the Egyptian government.