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 Secret courts: what they don't want the British people to know

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PostSubject: Secret courts: what they don't want the British people to know   Tue 09 Oct 2012, 10:24

Secret courts: what they don't want the British people to know


Yvonne Ridley


October 7, 2012

[size=12]Yvonne Ridley on the 'secret courts bill' heading through the Lords,
just as former ministers and MI6 officials face the prospect of public
court appearances over torture allegations.



Liberties and freedoms enshrined in Magna Carta more than 800 years ago
are under threat from the British government’s plans to deliver a bill
that undermines the principle of open justice. This piece will look at
the context in which theJustice and Security Bill, or 'secret courts bill’ as it is nicknamed, is being pushed through and the powerful resistance to the legislation.


The bill is passing through the House of Lords while the country still
reels from the most recent Hillsborough inquiry, which exposed a
wide-scale cover up involving the police, politicians, and members of
the emergency services. It took more than two decades for the truth to surface after
the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans at the stadium in Sheffield,
and during that period ordinary people and their communities were
demonised by those placed in a position of trust. The toxic legacy of
Hillsborough should be followed by more transparency, not more secrecy.
Yet the Justice and Security Bill has the potential to make it far
easier for such cover-ups to take place.


Furthermore, the bill is being proposed at a time when former ministers from the Blair government including Jack Straw as well as senior establishment figures in the Secret Intelligence Services and Whitehall face the unprecedented prospect of being questioned by Scotland Yard detectives investigating
claims of British collusion in the US rendition and torture programme.
Crucial evidence of the UK's role in at least two US-led renditions is
detailed in a number of documents held by the Libyan security services,
which came to light subsequent to the fall of the Gaddafi regime.


Britain’s role in the rendition of Libyan rebel leader Abdul Hakim Belhadj is pointed to in
a letter from Sir Mark Allen, former director of counter-terrorism at
MI6, to Moussa Koussa, Head of the Libyan intelligence agency at the
time. Dated March 18 2004, Sir Mark writes about how grateful he is to
Koussa for helping to smooth the way for Tony Blair’s latest visit to
Colonel Gaddafi. He adds: "Most importantly, I congratulate you on the
safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [aka Abdul Hakim Belhadj]. This was
the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the
remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I
was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week."


It also emerged another rebel leader Sami Al-Saadi was detained whilst
flying from his home in Hong Kong to the UK with his wife and four
children – the youngest a girl aged six. The family were forced onboard
an aircraft bound to Libya two days after Blair's famous visit. The
45-year-old former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group commander, who was
committed to over-throwing Gaddafi, believes documents discovered after the tyrant's death show British personnel were instrumental in his detention and rendition.


Both he and Belhadj spent more than six years in custody where they say they were subject to torture. Legal papers were
served in April on the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw by Belhaj’s
lawyers Leigh Day & Co and also lodged at the High Court. The
documents clearly accuse Straw,
Allen, MI6, MI5, the Foreign Office and Home Office of being liable for
the false imprisonment as well as "complicity in torture and/or inhuman
and degrading treatment; conspiracy to injure; conspiracy to use
unlawful means; misfeasance in public office and/or negligence" suffered
by the Belhadj and al Saadi families.




Sami al-Saadi with his daughter


The prosecution may fail. The accusations may turn out to have no
foundation at all. But stand or fall the case must be held in an open
court so that justice is seen to be done. Under the current judicial
system the proceedings would be open to journalists and members of the
public. However, should the Justice and Security Bill be passed through
Parliament this year in its present form then it is almost certain that
both the press and the public will be denied access to the trial. Human
rights lawyer Saghir Hussein said of this prospect: "What this means is
that everyone outside of the court proceedings will not know who has
been charged or the detail of what they have been charged with. Even the
defendants may not be allowed in to the proceedings and may never find
out why the charges have been brought, why they have been charged and
what is the evidence against them. In other words they lose the right to
defence. Nor will those seeking justice be allowed in to the court to
see what is happening to their alleged tormentors". He added, "It has
not been lost on anyone that the drive for this new legislation emerged
around the same time some very powerful people in very powerful places
realised they could be forced to give evidence in an open court..."


The resistance


Last week, the London-based NGO Cageprisoners launched a campaign from the House of Commons,

No More Secrets,
to kill the proposed legislation. Respect MP George Galloway opened the
press conference by talking about the need for transparency following
the Hillsborough inquiry, saying: "When I learned that the police had
systematically falsified the truth in literally 168 statements including
allegedly at a high level, and the fact that this was all covered up
for 23 years and would have remained a secret if it were not for the
campaigning zeal, fortitude and courage of the families of the 96
football fans, then it struck me this is what secret courts would be
like. One would never know the truth but it would be legal this time to
cover those truths up." Following on from Galloway, Natalie Bennett, the
new leader of the Green Party, said: "Closed justice, not open to the
scrutiny of the media or the public, is no justice at all and these
closed courts further undermine an absolutely critical principal of the
British legal system that everyone is equal before the law; because what
it is doing is putting the government above the law." Moazzam Begg, a
director of Cageprisoners and former Guantanamo detainee, concluded the
press conference by arguing that the introduction of secret courts would
destroy the reputation of British justice, which has been respected and
exported around the world.



It can take years for a campaign to attract enough pressure to force the
hand of authority, as witnessed over Hillsborough; but the momentum
against Clarke’s Justice and Security Bill has already built up a full
head of steam. Opponents are diverse and drawn from all political
parties, human rights groups and the legal profession. Some of the most
eminent names in human rights circlesexpressed concern about the legislation in The Guardian earlier this year. Former shadow home secretary David Davis is vehemently against the bill, as is the controversial Labour MP Paul Flynn who
has added his full weight to the No More Secrets campaign. One of the
most powerful opponents is Lord MacDonald, the former director of public
prosecutions, who has made clear his view that
the bill would invite ministers to seek to hide "awkward or
embarrassing" actions under the guise of protecting national security.
On the same day as the Cageprisoners campaign launch, the issue was
being discussed at the Liberal Democrat conference. Jo Shaw, a former
parliamentary candidate, tabled a motion in Brighton to withdraw from
part of the bill. She said: "This motion is not saying that all the
security services or government officials or police are bad or corrupt.
But some may be. Some may make mistakes and wish to cover them up. Part
two [of the bill] will allow a few bad apples to rot our judicial system
from behind closed doors. In simple words, this is a bad bill."



The Justice and Security Bill will undermine public faith in the
judicial system, a system which, as Moazzam Begg pointed out, is admired
and embraced around the world. If this bill becomes a reality we may
never find out what is being done in our name, behind closed doors.



Yvonne Ridley is a patron of Cageprisoners. She produced and
narrated the documentary 'Lies, Spies & Libya’, directed by
award-winning film-maker Hassan al Banna Ghani. For details of the
documentary, to be shown as part of the nationwide No More Secrets tour,
see the
Cageprisoners website.

Source:-
http://uruknet.info/?p=m91661&hd=&size=1&l=e
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