Susie Halliday

Naked Politics Blogger 

“If our human rights laws stop us from tackling terrorism, we will change the laws so that we can do it.” This is what Theresa May claimed this year, prior to her re-election. May has historically never been the biggest fan of human rights law. In 2016, whilst Home Secretary, she claimed that the European Convention on Human Rights was ‘preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals.’ With three major terrorist attacks this year already the government and security services are facing increasing public pressure. After the Manchester bombing, it was reported that, ‘as many as 23,000 people have appeared on the radar of counter-terror agencies’. So, are pesky human rights laws really getting in the way of keeping the country safe?

One of the main ways to tackle terrorism is to simply deport foreign-born terrorists back to their home countries. Abu Qatada was given refugee status in the UK in 1994, after he claimed that he had been tortured by Jordanian officials. He was believed to have links to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations across the Middle East and North Africa. Qatada was branded a radical cleric after giving sermons calling for American citizens to be attacked because, “they were no better than Jews; and there was no difference between English, Jewish and American people.” He was arrested in 2002 and was due to be deported.  However, the lengthy legal battle that ensued meant that he was not actually deported until 2013. In 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled that Qatada couldn’t be deported back to Jordan because, there was a strong chance that he would be subjected to torture there. Deporting him lawfully would have gone against the European Convention of Human Rights. His case was taken all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that he could not be deported due to the possibility of his torture. However, in 2013, an agreement was made between the UK and Jordan, that evidence obtained through torture would not be used in the case against him. Similarly, it was reported in 2016 that, 6 Algerian terrorist suspects cannot be deported because they face the possibility of being tortured in Algeria. It is cases like Abu Qatada and the Algerian suspects that have made some people, especially Theresa May, sceptical of human rights law. But deportation is only a small part of counter-terrorism policy. George Bush’s disregard for human rights in the name of counter-terrorism should make us all sceptical of abandoning human rights.

After the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush adopted the term ‘enemy combatants’ to refer to potential members of al Qaeda or the Taliban. By referring to these people as enemy combatants, this meant that the Geneva Convention did not apply to them. They had no human rights. These enemy combatants, who were usually detained at Guantanamo Bay, were subjected to severe torture and horrific sexual abuse. The men there had not been convicted of any crime. In the eyes of the law, these men were innocent. Yet, they were being treated as though they had committed terrible atrocities. Shaker Aamer, who was the last British detainee to be held in Guantanamo, was released in 2015. He had spent 14 years in isolation being subjected to torture and abuse by American officials. Yet, he had not been charged with any crime. Aamer, along with his family, were living in Afghanistan at the time of the US invasion in 2001. He claimed that he was working for an Islamic charity at the time. But, the US government believed that he was a recruiter and financier for al Qaeda.  Aamer maintained his innocence throughout and has regularly spoken out against Islamic extremists.


Shaker Aamer is just one example. There are hundreds more. Did detaining Shaker Aamer for 14 years, subjecting him to appalling living conditions and torturing him, really help the fight against terrorism? Its doubtful. In fact, subjecting innocent men to such conditions only fuels hatred for the West. Guantanamo Bay should serve as a reminder of what can happen when we give up human rights for security. Yes, Abu Qatada’s deportation was slowed down by human rights law. But, human rights are an absolute. There can be no exceptions. If we start making exceptions for terrorism suspects, where does it end? Human rights laws are not to blame. It should be the government’s ineffective policies and the security services failings that are under scrutiny, not human rights.

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Last Update: April 22, 2018