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Revealed: flawed intelligence exposes the scandal of Belmarsh detainees

Robert Verkaik | 06.01.2005 14:49 | Indymedia | Repression | London

The case against the foreign terror suspects imprisoned in Britain without trial for three years is partly founded on flawed and inaccurate intelligence, court papers seen by The Independent reveal.

Alarming weaknesses in the secret services' evidence cast serious doubt on the Home Secretary's justification for detaining 12 men held under emergency legislation rushed through Parliament in the aftermath of 11 September.

Last month a historic judgment in the House of Lords triggered a constitutional crisis when the judges ruled that the men's detention was in breach of human rights law.

The documents reveal:

* A security service assessment was embarrassingly withdrawn after it emerged that the purpose behind a visit to Dorset by a group of Muslim men had not been to elect a terrorist leader but to get away from their wives for the weekend.

* Confirmation that the Government is using evidence of association with the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg to hold at least two of the foreign terror suspects under its emergency powers.

* False allegations made against one of the Algerian detainees in relation to his association with Mr Begg arose from an MI5 surveillance operation of Mr Begg's Islamic bookshop in Birmingham in 2000. MI5 wrongly claimed that weapons had been found there.

* The Home Secretary has been forced to concede that some of the funds raised by the detainee Abu Rideh for alleged terrorist activity were sent to orphanages in Afghanistan run by a Canadian priest.

* Testimony against two of the detainees came from an affidavit sworn by a man who was offered a lenient sentence in return for evidence.

* Newspaper reports, including ones in The Guardian and La Stampa, were used by the Home Secretary to support allegations of terrorism against at least two of the detainees.

* Two of the detainees were awarded compensation for false arrest shortly before they were detained under the anti-terrorist emergency powers.

* MI5 reports, as part of the evidence against the detainees, describe the men as being "excessively security conscious" when travelling to and from London shopping centres.

* The detention certificate of F, one of the Algerian detainees, was revoked after it emerged he should have been deported to France rather than imprisoned without trial.

* One of the detainee's children has been taken into care.

While the papers, released in the run-up to the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and now available on the Special Immigration Appeal [SIAC] website, only give details of the "open" evidence against the detainees, the inaccuracy of some of these assertions raises questions about the reliability of the secret evidence that the detainees have never been allowed to see.

It also supports conclusions reached by the SIAC judges in granting the release of a Libyan suspect last year when they warned that many assertions had not been supported by a fair analysis of the facts.

They said then: "Some [of the assertions] are clearly misleading when the source documents are looked at and some can only be justified if the worst possible view is taken of the appellant.

"Further, in some instances it was apparent that insufficient effort was made to ensure that what appeared to be accurate on a somewhat superficial view of the material was in fact accurate since further investigation showed that it was not."

SIAC was set up in 1997 and had its jurisdiction extended in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks to hear appeals against the Home Secretary's power to certify a person to be an international terrorist and detain them under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

In all but one of 16 appeals the SIAC judges have ruled that the totality of the evidence, both open and secret, has established a "reasonable suspicion" that the detainee is involved or linked to terrorism. But they have also acknowledged that their rulings are bound by the House of Lords judgment that found the detention to be unlawful.

At the end of this month SIAC will hear the first challenges to the Home Secretary's power of certification after the House of Lords ruled that detention without trial was a fundamental breach of the men's human rights.

6 January 2005 14:48

Robert Verkaik