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Thursday, February 19, 2009 

Even "terrorist suspects" deserved more.

It must have come as a great disappointment to the Daily Mail hacks that despite their predictions that Abu Qatada and the others illegally detained without charge at Belmarsh from 2002 to 2005 were about to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation from the European Court of Human Rights that the actual amount turned out to be a rather less outrageous £2,500, rising to over £3,000 for those detained longest. Even this miserly amount was condemned by the Conservatives as "horrifying", when the only thing horrifying about it was that it wasn't far far higher.

In that, the ECHR seems to have decided to be cautious. In its ruling it even accepted the frankly bogus assertion from the government, used to justify the detention without charge for foreign "terrorist suspects" who supposedly couldn't be tried, that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation". This country has only ever faced a public emergency threatening the life of the nation once, from 1939 up until 1944, when the possibility of the Nazis launching an invasion had drastically rescinded. The very notion that somehow the likes of Abu Qatada and the other detainees posed a threat similar to then was insulting in the extreme.

We really ought to set out in detail what the detention without charge or trial amounted to. It meant that someone (as long as they were a foreign national, or in Qatada's case, stripped of their asylum status so they could be designated as one) could be accused of being involved in terrorism, where either the evidence was inadmissable or too flimsy to be brought before a court, and on that basis locked up indefinitely in one our flagship highest security prisons. You were not allowed to know what the evidence was against you, in order to challenge it; your case was instead dealt with by a special advocate appointed by the court. In short, you could only really challenge your detention as a whole by arguing that there was no real threat to the life of the nation, and that therefore the derogation from article 5 of the ECHR was unlawful. This was what the law lords ruled in December 2004. The entire Kafkaesque situation had a devastating effect on the detainees' mental health, as could have been predicted; almost all of them were prescribed anti-depressants, another attempted suicide and Abu Rideh, one of the few to be named and also awarded compensation today, repeatedly harmed himself. He was last known to be seriously ill from a hunger strike in protest at his continuing restriction of liberty under a control order. A stateless Palestinian confined to a wheelchair, the idea that he posed a threat to anyone was always laughable. Yet he too along with the others was only given a small lump sum as the ECHR ruled that their treatment did not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alan Travis points out the staggering difference between payouts, mentioning that the ECHR had previously awarded £5,500 to a British man who had been unlawfully detained for only 6 days. Some of those held were kept in custody for over 3 years before being released onto the only slightly less onerous control orders. In some cases this amounts to just over £2 compensation for each day spent illegally in custody. Put it this way: if this had happened to British citizens, and not those accused of involvement in terrorism, regardless of the fact that none have ever had to face the accusations in an actual trial, they would have been looking at compensation in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands, as Qatada had initially demanded. The ECHR seems to have decided not to inflame the tabloids further than they already have been; politically wise perhaps, but cowardly in its own way.

Less cowardly was another part of the ruling, which has finally struck a blow directly against the process of the Special Immigration Appeals Committees, where those before them are routinely denied access to the evidence held against them, making it almost impossible for them to be able to adequately challenge it. The ECHR ruled that in some of the cases, although not in all, that this was constituted another breach of article 5. It's unclear what this means for the continuation of SIAC: the ECHR accepted that where more extended information had been provided to those detained without charge, that there had not been breach of the right to a fair trial. This most likely means that the government, rather than being forced to scrap what amounts to little more than a kangaroo court, albeit an independent one, will simply have to hand over slightly more information than it otherwise would have done. A partial victory it might be, but a welcome one nonetheless.

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Golden rule - if you move to a foreign country and live off benefits, do not try and try and whip up hatred against your host state. Be thankful for what you have and keep your mouth shut.

The idea that the Nulab government has any sort of grudge against two or three million Muslims in this country - a third of whom have arrived since they got into power - is absolutely laughable.

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