Volume 15 No 2 Summer 2004
  • Conference Report: The PHR-UK conference The health and human rights of unlawful detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere took place on Saturday June 26th 2004

    “Each one of the fourteen men incarcerated in Belmarsh Prison indefinitely as terrorist suspects has developed a serious mental disorder” said Professor Ian Robbins, head of the Traumatic Stress Service at St George’s Hospital. Professor Robbins is currently assessing those detained without charge under the 2001 Anti-terrorism Crime & Security Act. He was talking at a conference that focused on the health as well as the human rights of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other detention sites around the world.

    Three of the prisoners have become psychotic - one is so ill he has been released from Belmarsh to become the first prisoner in Britain to be held under house arrest because he is too mentally ill to stay in prison.

    Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who successfully appeared for the Guildford four and the Birmingham six earlier in her career, is acting for British men who were released from Guantanamo Bay in March this year. She spoke of the brutal conditions they endured there. They were repeatedly shackled to the floor in extremely uncomfortable positions throughout interrogations which lasted many hours. They were also stripped naked in public and photographed in degrading situations.

    The men are currently completing a formal record of their experiences for the benefit of the ICRC and human rights organisations. The regime punished any lack of cooperation by sending in a group of soldiers called the Extreme Reaction Force who pinned them to the ground and assaulted them.

    Mr Begg, whose son Moazzam is one of four British nationals still detained in Guantanamo Bay, and one of two Britons to have been selected for trial by a military tribunal, spoke movingly of his family's distress. He explained how the families of the detainees suffer from the uncertainly, and the lack of contact with loved ones who are incarcerated indefinitely - a situation that has worsened since reports of torture have emerged.

    Gisli Gudjonsson is a leading expert on the psychology of interrogations and false confessions. He explained how the two least psychologically robust of the Birmingham 6 were the ones who gave false confessions. Interrogators are trained to seek out weaknesses that they can play on. According to Ms Peirce the Guantanamo Bay interrogators focussed their sexual taunting on the more devout of the British detainees because they were most vulnerable in this respect.

    The legal status of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre was questioned by Ms Louise Arimatsu, a specialist in international humanitarian law. Mr Bush has determined that Talibans and Al-Quada suspects are unlawful combatants and therefore cannot claim any POW rights under the Geneva Conventions. Ms Arimatsu explained that until the precise status of each individual detainee is established by a competent tribunal they enjoy the same rights to the Geneva conventions as civilian or captured former combatants.

    PHR-UK contacted the UN Committee against Torture last month about reports of torture at many detention sites but especially those in Iraq. The Committee replied that they were bringing forward their examination of the UK's report from May 2005 to November 2004. PHR-UK will be taking evidence to the committee about the health and human rights of detainees.

    "It is vital that the international community becomes aware of the dangers of detention without trial" said Dr Peter Hall - chair PHR-UK

  • PHR-UK adopts a motion urging the UK Government to ...

    1. acknowledge that detaining uncharged and unsentenced prisoners indefinitely amount to cruel, inhuman and unusual treatment or punishment;

    2. condemn the incarceration of prisoners in the legal “black hole” that is Guantanamo Bay;

    3. condemn the practices which amount to torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other places of detention;

    4. condemn the rendering of detainees to other countries where they are at risk of torture.

  • Summary of reported developments concerning detainees since our June 26 Conference

    28 June 2004: The US Supreme Court decided that US courts possessed jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of their detention by foreign nationals captured overseas in connection with hostilities and held at Guantanamo Bay.

    30 June 2004: UK Prime Minster Tony Blair told the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee that some US-held detainees questioned by UK intelligence personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay complained about their treatment; but that on only one occasion did they interview someone who was hooded and shackled, believing this to be a security measure and not realizing that it violated the Geneva Convention. Where MI5 or MI6 staff became aware of inappropriate treatment, their concerns were relayed to the US authorities.

    Daily Telegraph, Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent, accessed from website 1st July 2004.

    June 2004: Pentagon officials tentatively agreed in June 2004 that some detainees would not receive the annual review promised by US Defense secretary Rumsfeld the previous February, and that their existence would be kept secret. It was assumed that these detainees were under the control of other governmental agencies, such as the CIA, although kept in detention facilities operated by the military, as occurred in Abu Ghraib, according to the Taguba Report.

    The Guardian, Suzanne Goldberg, accessed from website 10th July 2004

    7 July 2004: Responding to the Supreme Court’s judgment of 28 June 2004, the US Defense Department announced that it would inform all Guantanamo Bay detainees of their right to a habeus corpus hearing in a federal court, and that Combatant Status Review Tribunals were being established to determine the status of each Guantanamo Bay detainee. It was not immediately clear how other governmental agencies would respond to the decision.

    13 July 2004: The International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concerns that the US was secretly holding detainees in undisclosed locations. Individuals whose arrests were reported in the media or mentioned by the FBI have not appeared on US lists of detainees or during ICRC visits.

    UN Wire 14 July 2004


    28 July 2004: In London’s High Court, Kifa Taha al-Mutari described how how he and other Iraqi civilians were beaten. He alleged that hooded detainees were beaten on their neck, chest and genitals and kick-boxed by soldiers at a military base in Basra. The Court was asked whether the Human Rights Act extended to the activities of British troops in SE Iraq during the period of occupation.
    Reuters 28 July 2004

  • PHR-UK writes to President Bush ...

    President George W. Bush
    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, D.C. 20500

    Dear President Bush,

    I write to respectfully ask if the health of those persons detained on grounds of alleged terrorism or other violations in Guantanamo Bay military base, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere is being sufficiently taken into consideration by the US authorities.

    The ICRC first commented in January 2004 that it had observed a deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of Guantanamo Bay detainees over the two years it had been monitoring their health. The ICRC attributes this deterioration, at least in part, to the detainees' uncertainty of their future under indefinite detention. This conclusion is supported to the extent that a forensic psychologist had found that all 14 detainees similarly incarcerated in the UK indefinitely without charge have developed a severe mental disorder, and three have become psychotic.

    The ICRC has had regular access to the persons detained at Bagram and are increasingly concerned that the US authorities has not resolved the questions of the legal status of the detainees there.

    Additionally the ICRC's observations regarding certain aspects of the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees in Bagram and Guantanamo have not yet been adequately addressed.

    Lastly, beyond Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, the ICRC is increasingly concerned about the fate of an unknown number of people captured as part of the so-called global war on terror and held in undisclosed locations.

  • As the chairperson of the leading UK health and human rights organisation I urge you to:

    1. respond to the concerns expressed by ICRC to your government following its visits to Guantanamo Bay and Bagram in particular those about the deteriorating health of detainees;

    2. permit the ICRC to visit those places of detention that it has so far been denied, including undisclosed locations;

    3. permit the UN human rights delegation to visit places of detention in accordance with its request of 25 June 2004;

    4. remove detainees under the age of 18 years from Guantanamo Bay to a place more appropriate for juveniles;

    5. remove the six detainees named as eligible for trial by military commission from incommunicado detention in windowless cells;

    6. place all detainees within a legal framework that governs their continued detention;

    7. Respect the principle of non-refoulement which prohibits the return or transfer of a person to a country where they fear that their life or their physical or mental integrity might be threatened.

  • The UK Government Report to the UN Committee against Torture, November 2004

    The UK is reporting to the UN on its implementation of the 1984 Convention against Torture in November. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office compiled the Report, and submitted it earlier this year. It is available from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and from its website (www.fco.gov.uk), as well as from the UN [CAT/C/67/Add.2] (www.unhchr.ch). This is the UK’s fourth periodic report to the treaty monitoring committee of ten independent experts. Following receipt of the UK report, the Committee (CAT) sends a written list of issues to be taken up which are specific to the UK. Further questions and comments are raised during the November hearing, which normally lasts one day.

    As a body with expertise on the effects of detention, PHR-UK will take a close interest in the UK’s fourth periodic report to the Committee in 2004. Senior Adviser Bernie Hamilton met with Committee members and staff in Geneva in May 2004, and Chair Dr. Peter Hall wrote to the Committee about alleged abuses by members of the Coalition Force in Iraq at that time. The Committee then brought forward the date of its consideration of the UK’s report by six months. PHR-UK will draw on its recent conference on Guantanamo Bay and other places of unlawful detention, in its work with the Committee.

    The Committee is likely to be interested in the following areas:

  • (1). The derogation from Article 5 of the ECHR and the lawfulness of the detention of overseas suspects at Belmarsh, Woodhill and Broadmoor, as discussed in Attorney General Goldsmith’s speech to France’s Cour de Cassation, of June 25, 2004;

  • (2). The role of the UK in regard to the conditions of detention of UK subjects and residents in Guantanamo and other places disclosed or not;

  • (3). The interrogation of suspects overseas by UK officials, and in particular that of a suspect who was hooded and cuffed for 60 minutes;

  • (4). The supervision of and responsibility for private security forces working in places controlled by British forces overseas;

  • (5). The prospects of the UK allowing the ECPT Committee to inspect British detention facilities in Iraq;

  • (6). The training of military personnel and others in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, with particular regard to the treatment, detention and questioning of suspects [See R (on the application of Al-Skeini) v Secretary of State for Defence referred to elsewhere in the Newsletter – Ed.].
  • On July 28, PHR-UK hosted a meeting of human rights NGOs in London to discuss possible responses to the UK Report. The joint-NGOs will try to meet with the FCO in London, before and after the CAT session. A list of suggested topics will be sent by the joint-NGOs to the CAT Secretariat in mid-August. NGOs will share information, in their work in response to the UK’s fourth periodic report. PHR-UK will submit information to the Committee, and try to attend the hearing in Geneva.

    You can help PHR-UK in this work in two ways. If you hear of any health professional observing or being forced to participate in any abuses in places of detention administered by the UK, whether at home or overseas, please let our Chair, Dr. Peter Hall know. If you are able to contribute towards the cost of this work at the UN, please send a cheque payable to “PHR-UK” to Dr. Peter Hall, 91 Harlech Rd, Abbots Langley, Herts WD5 0BE. Mark your envelope “CAT”.

  • IT WORKED! (Genocide advisor appointed)

    In our spring edition (15.1) we published a letter from member Colin Murray Parkes to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, endorsing PHR-UK’s proposal for the creation of a genocide prevention focal point at the UN to alert the Secretary General and member states of the build up of tensions that might lead to genocide. We are delighted to report that it worked and to publicly congratulate Colin Murray Parkes on the success of his letter.

    The idea was originally put to Kofi Annan by PHR-UK Senior Adviser Bernie Hamilton when they met at a reception in The Hague to mark the investiture of the new International Criminal Court’s 18 judges. On April 7, the tenth anniversary of the start of the genocide in Rwanda, Bernie was in Geneva to see Kofi Annan announce to the UN Commission on Human Rights, that he was creating a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.

    In late July, Juan Mendez was appointed to the post. A former political prisoner, Argentinean Mendez will bring years of human rights experience to the position. He has worked as an advocate for Human Rights Watch and as an academic for the University of Notre Dame. He will have a secretary and to administrators working with him at the UN HQ in New York. His role is to ensure that the Security Council is informed fully and in a timely manner about situations of threats of genocide which also represent threats to international peace and security.

    Bernie spoke with Juan as soon as his appointment was announced, and has arranged for him to meet with experts at predicting genocide. “It is very important that some of the methodologies developed by such experts as Barbara Harff, Ted Gurr and Greg Stanton are made available to Juan’s office,” said Bernie. “This application of science is vital for his role, and I hope that a way will be found to ensure that he can access the very latest programmes on prediction.”

    The new special Advisor is not likely to have much chance to think about methodology or other resources however, as he is likely to come under considerable pressure to visit the Dafur region and assess whether genocide is taking place in Sudan. As we go to press, both the US Congress and the US Holocaust Museum’s Committee on Conscience have declared the situation to be genocide, but none of the other expert bodies who have pronounced on the situation have reached that assessment. PHR-UK’s position is that Dafur represents an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe which requires exceptional measures. It supports the offer of regional assistance by the Netherlands and others, as well as the deployment of sanctions by the EU and UN if the government of Sudan does not conform to its obligations.

    Members wishing to help PHR-UK’s work in combating genocide are asked to send a cheque made out to “PHR-UK” to Dr. Peter Hall, 91 Harlech Rd, Abbots Langley, Herts WD5 0BE. Please mark your envelope “GNC”.


    “…..the six officers tortured me at the Heathrow airport, they cracked my head on the floor at the airport, beat me on my penis. I bled from my head seriously and on my arms, since then no doctor has done any examination or x-ray…..I would then be happy if you people could help me with this problem of my health.”

    This is our interpretation of an extract from a handwritten letter that found its way to us from Harmondsworth detention centre. The writer claims to have refused to board a plane to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because he and his family have been condemned to death there. He appears to be seeking asylum; but what he asks of the outside world is help with medical problems that he says have resulted from the incident at Heathrow.

    A letter of this sort appears about every six months. PHR-UK wonders whether any members would be prepared to respond on an individual basis to such letters, following up on them and seeing that the person receives medical help where necessary. If you would like to volunteer to help with such requests, please send your name and contact details to Dr. Peter Hall, Chair PHR-UK, 91, Harlech Road, Abbots Langley, Herts WD5 0BE.


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