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Thursday, December 08, 2005 

No compromise on torture.

Once again we have the House of Lords to thank for saving this country from a deeply draconian ruling. The Lords today unanimously ruled that "evidence" obtained under torture is inadmissible, where-ever or whoever it was obtained from or by.

The appeal court voted last year that if evidence was obtained under torture by agents of another country with no involvement by the UK, it was usable and there was no obligation by the government to inquire about its origins.

t also means the home secretary, Charles Clarke, must re-examine all cases where evidence from abroad has been obtained by torture.

Commenting on the ruling, Mr Clarke said the government did not condone torture in any way, so the Law Lords' decision was "hypothetical".

"We accept this judgment, which will have no bearing on the government's efforts to combat terrorism: we have always made clear that we do not intend to rely on or present evidence ... which we know or believe to have been obtained by torture," he said.

The detainees, most of whom have been in custody since 2001, were held under Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, which was passed soon after the September 11 attacks in the US.

With the backing of a coalition of human rights groups, they challenged a ruling by the special immigration appeals committee (SIAC) that the Home Office had "sound material" to back up the decision that they posed a threat to national security.

The panel said all eight cases should be sent back to SIAC to be reconsidered.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice who headed the panel, said English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with abhorrence for more than 500 years.

"The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice," he said.

The human rights groups welcomed the announcement. Amnesty International, which led the coalition on the detainees' behalf, said the decision meant the government must reaffirm its ban on torture and evidence obtained by torture.

An Amnesty spokesman said: "This is a momentous decision. The Law Lords' ruling has overturned the tacit belief that torture can be condoned under certain circumstances.

"This ruling shreds any vestige of legality with which the UK government had attempted to defend a completely unlawful and reprehensible policy introduced as part of its counter-terrorism measures."

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "This is an incredibly important day, with the Law Lords sending a signal across the democratic world that there is to be no compromise on torture.

"This is also an important message about what distinguishes us from dictators and terrorists. We will not legitimise evidence obtained by torture by using it in our justice system."

Amnesty International is now calling for an end to the deportation of alleged terror suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture.

And that is where the battle now has to be joined. There are no reasons whatsoever for why those who are at the moment detained (including Abu Qatada, who yesterday issued a message pleading for the hostages taken by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade in Iraq to be released), waiting to be deported should be not tried in this country. If they are so dangerous that they are not "conducive to the public good" we need to be told why. The government also needs to explain why they cannot be tried here. If it is because the evidence they have against them is weak, or if because the evidence they have would expose those who obtained it, then they need to admit it. The government also needs to admit whether it cannot try the men here because of the security services refusal to allow phone-tapping evidence to be used in court. Their excuse is that it would expose their measures, despite the fact that similar evidence obtained by other security services is often used in courts in other parts of the world. At the moment the public only has a rough idea of why these men are being detained, if that. Abu Rideh, one of the men believed to be detained, is seriously mentally ill and has been admitted to Broadmoor. Others are said to have suffered nervous breakdowns during their previous imprisonment without trial.

This Labour government has been economical with the truth on many previous occasions, and is using sleight of hand to deny that it condones torture in any way. Blair pleaded yesterday in the Commons that he did not know about the CIA rendition flights which have landed at airports here, despite the security services almost certainly being more than aware of what they were doing. Now that torture evidence has been ruled inadmissible, it's time for the government to admit what it knows about the CIA's kidnapping of numerous individuals across Europe, and explain its real reasons for the planned deportations to Jordan and Algeria. As Shami Chakrabarti said, it is such moral issues and ethics which separate us from the terrorists and dictatorships we are meant to be opposed to.

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