This clarification has been written in the wake of a number of requests that have been received asking for clarification on the role of Muslim leadership in collaborating with the security services and police in counter-terrorism efforts in the UK. This document specifically analyses the political aspects of this issue and in particular the consequences that may arise from any form of cooperation.
Cageprisoners has the specific remit of dealing with human rights issues in the ‘War on Terror’, with a specialisation on the detention of individuals held beyond recognised systems of law. As an organisation, we now have six years of experience analysing and working on counter-terrorism issues in the UK and beyond and the impact those measures have had on the Muslim community. Based on the work that we have been carrying out, we feel that it is important to clarify the our perspective regarding cooperating with counter-terrorism forces.
Collaboration or cooperation between two entities must be based upon an agreed purpose and shared vision. The cooperation should not be carried out where the repercussions and ramifications of doing so outweigh any benefits attained – perceived or actual. Of course, if any act of unlawful violence is taking place or being actively planned in the UK, the law places upon the individual a civic and legal obligation to report it. Despite this, we hold strongly that there is no obligation to extend support to counter-terrorism forces by offering collaboration and our advice remains that there should only be contact with them in the presence of legal representation.
In our experience we must make clear that civil society, governmental bodies – at local and national level, are not homogeneous entities. Each body will have its own agenda and objective and that agenda it what must be considered when considering working with that body.
Thus working with parliamentarians to oppose a motion on extending the pre-charge period in ‘Terrorist’ cases from 28 days to 42 days or working with the local authority on teaching immigrant communities English literacy is not the same as cooperating with the counter-terrorist and intelligence agencies. We intend to clarify why there is a disproportionate harm in collaborating with these agencies which should preclude community leaders from doing so.
Cageprisoners was invited to give expert evidence to the International Commission of Jurists regarding the impact of counter-terrorism legislation in the UK and abroad; the result of this evidence from the organisation and others was the release of their report Assessing Damage, Urging Action – a report which clearly identifies that the UK’s policies in the ‘War on Terror’ have weakened the rule of law and also have been used to increase fear in the general public and promote a police state.
Any alignment to the policies that are being promoted by the UK government will be seen as tacit acquiescence of those policies, especially in light of the continued unlawful and immoral detention of individuals around the UK without charge.
Some community leaders may perceive that the collaboration is only incidental to the larger strategies, however it is important for the sake of the victims and the affected Muslim community that there be full separation from engaging with the police/security services – otherwise the trust and position of community leaders will be fatally besmirched..
The official government statistics relating to the numbers of those affected by the government’s counter-terrorism strategy suggest that the current situation of the Muslim community is very alarming and continues to deteriorate.
Between 11th September 2001 (the official beginning of the ‘War on Terror’) and 31st March 2007, there have been over 200,000 stop and searches (a profiling tool used on individuals to check if they are terrorists). Further, there have been 1228 anti-terrorism arrests that have only led to 132 people being charged and of them only 41 convictions (the convictions themselves are questionable in some cases).
Naturally, these statistics have not been updated in almost two years but both empirical and anecdotal evidence indicate that the numbers continue to snowball.
The numbers increase in importance when they are considered in light of the trauma that is experienced when the police raid the home of a suspect and storm into the home of an entire family, including women and children.
Thousands of Muslims in the UK have been traumatised by these policies and they are becoming increasingly fearful and are looking to identify with their community leaders who should be standing with them and not the abusers.
On Tuesday 17th February 2009, the former Director of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, criticised the British government for the way in which they were using the threat of terrorism to advance their own draconian agenda,
“It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism – that we live in fear and under a police state.”
Such a damning statement from the former head of Britain’s external intelligence agency indicate to what extent the counter-terrorism measures in the UK have negatively impacted the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. We have become a people who are now living in fear of what laws will be inflicted upon them in order to constrict their lives. Association with such policies will be extremely damaging to the credibility of community leaders, even those with the best of intentions.
British authorities have also been accused of collusion in much of the sectarian violence that plagued Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Whilst the notion of collusion is entirely different to that past conflict the very concept of some religious and community leaders colluding with the state authority today has clearly alienated many people who already feel victimised by both entities.
It is essential that those who wish to comment on issues related to counter-terrorism understand the severity of what Muslims are experiencing in the UK today. To that end, we believe it very important that they familiarise themselves with Paddy Hilliard’s Suspect Community – a work of the utmost importance in analysing the impact of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts against the Irish community.
Understanding their experience and seeing the parallels will inevitably result in the conclusion that the legislation used against Muslims today is even more severe than that used against the Irish – and establishes that there is no room for collaboration with the security services. The overwhelming harm that would result from any form of collaboration would divide an already fractious Muslim community.
Professor Hillyard’s seminal work could be addressing the situation of the Muslims today – replacing the word Irish with Muslim would show the parity between our situations.
He writes in the study,
“What is abundantly clear is that a person who is drawn into the criminal justice system under the PTA [Prevention of Terrorism Acts] is not a suspect in the normal sense of the word. In other words, they are not believed to be involved in or guilty of some illegal act…people are suspects primarily because they are Irish and once they are in the police station they are often labelled an Irish suspect, presumably as part of some classification system. In practice, they are being held because they belong to a suspect community. The distinction between the two different categories was succinctly put by one person in the study when he asked rhetorically: Irish suspect? or Irish suspect?
Eighteen years after the introduction of the PTA, the dangers of hasty and precipitous reaction to political violence is only too apparent. The Birmingham 6, as the world now knows, were innocent of the bombings but were beaten up by the police, made false confessions under duress, and were convicted and sentenced to 21 life sentences in a top security trial in Lancashire castle. It then took the criminal justice system 16 years to admit its error and release the six from jail.”
One of the key points in relation to the treatment of the Irish was the police brutality that accompanied the arrest of individuals. Famous cases such as those of the Birmingham 6 and the Guilford 4 highlighted the extent to which the police would brutalise suspects. Such policies were repeated in the case of Babar Ahmad who was detained by the anti-terrorism police and beaten severely during his arrest. Babar related the abuse that took place against him and his family, abuse which echoes the treatment of the Irish,
“During my first arrest at my London home on 2nd December 2003, I was subjected to physical, verbal, racial and sexual abuse by the police officers. I had nothing to hide when I was arrested so I made no attempt to struggle or resist.
The police officers smashed my head through my bedroom window and punched me all over my body. They pulled my genitals and stamped on my bare feet with their boots. They forced me into the prostration position of prayer and mocked my religious rituals by asking me, sarcastically, “Where is your God now?”
The officers tortured me by deliberately scraping metal handcuffs along my forearm bones and applying tight pressure to my neck so that I had difficulty breathing. I sustained over 73 medically recorded injuries including bleeding in my ears and urine.”
Cases such as Mr Ahmad’s is one of many where the British security services have been involved with the abuse of individuals at home and abroad. The counter-terrorism forces in the UK have been involved in the torture and abuse of Muslims and have even promoted it.
Fear of disenfranchisement in the UK cannot simply be passed off as hysteria by Muslim activists who have taken an anti-government stance, the position has been accepted by some of the country’s most celebrated figures including human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce. In an article for the London Review of Books, she explained,
“We should keep all this in mind as we look at the experiences of our new suspect community. Just as Irish men and women, wherever they lived, knew every detail of injustice as if it had been done to them, long before the British men and women were even aware that entire Irish families had been wrongly imprisoned in their country for decades, so Muslim men and women here and across the world are registering the ill-treatment of their community here, and recognising, too, the analogies with the experience of the Irish.”
To contextualise engagement with the British counter-terrorism forces, it is important to understand the recent history and the difficulties that are attached to doing so.
Cageprisoners has worked in this arena for the last six years and have attempted to use a variety of strategies to prevent any harm to the victims of the ‘War on Terror.’ Such strategies have included pursuing all avenues of dialogue and engagement. Those avenues however, especially within the counter-terrorism forces have proven to be ones fraught with difficulties.
One of the initiatives that Cageprisoners heavily involved in was the Muslim Safety Forum. The forum would meet monthly in order to have meetings with key figures from the counter-terrorism forces in the UK and particularly the Association of the Chiefs of Police (ACPO).
The supposed purpose of these meetings was to air the grievances of the Muslim community directly to the chiefs of police so that we could work together on possible resolutions.
After 18 fruitless months participating as a member of this body, we felt compelled to resign from the forum, as we knew that the body was being manipulated to legitimise and rubber-stamp police policy. The police would regularly state publicly that they have discussed matters with the Muslim community by allowing the forum to raise concerns, however concerns relating to counter-terrorism were inevitably ignored.
Azad Ali, the former chair of the Muslim Safety Forum was recently ostracised for his political views relating to the Middle East, Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire said it was ‘unlikely’ that Mr Ali would be consulted again despite the years of collaboration that they had with him.
Previously organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain have found the government a fickle partner who rapidly disposes and denounces them when a more suitable vehicle comes along.
On Monday 16th February 2009, the BBC programme Panorama exposed a new strategy that would be implemented by the government, known as Contest II. This new strategy has the specific purpose of changing the discourse of counter-terrorism from one that is working against ‘violent extremism’, to one that is against all forms of ‘extremism’.
Thus the agenda being advanced through counter-terrorism agencies will broaden in Contest II well beyond the debates surrounding violence.
It will focus on attacking established orthodox position in Islamic theology on sexual orientation and its judicial and legislative mechanisms -ushering in a new Kafkaesque era where the personal religious beliefs of an embattled minority are under assault – actively denouncing and marginalising those who refuse to tow the Governments line.
The UK counter-terrorism agencies are renowned for abandoning their collaborators once they have outlived their usefulness. One Muslim individual was assisting the UK security forces in their dialogue with Abu Qatada.
Once his outlived his value as a collaborator, he was kidnapped whilst on a business trip and sent to Guantanamo Bay. The UK security services were fully aware of the extensive assistance he had rendered to them yet abandoned him to unlawful detention at the US base.
The above case and others are detailed in the Cageprisoners report Fabricating Terrorism: British Complicity in Renditions and Torture. The research paper exposes the relationship of the British security services in the unlawful rendition and torture of British men around the world. Other cases within the report document that the security services had requested that all the men they had detained unlawfully, come and work for the British government as spies.
From our work specialising in this area, we have reached the conclusion that far from having a mature response to counter-terrorism, the UK’s counter-terrorism policy is marred by a bloody history of abuse, torture and unlawful detention. Any collaboration with its security forces will hinder the efforts of those who are working to help relieve the victims of the ‘War on Terror’ and will cause the collaborator to be actively complicit in the abuses and damage which results.
Dame Stella Rimington (former head of MI5) said that the British security services were “no angels” but insisted they did not kill people – considering such a low benchmark she has set for the security services – are these really the kind of people that should be collaborated with in a misguided attempt to safeguard the Muslim Community?
Those not fully conversant with the complexities of counter-terrorism issues and legislation in the UK should take stances after consulting suitably informed organisations, in order to avoid inadvertently harming the work they do.
 Cageprisoners has produced a number of reports which detail the human rights violations taking place in the UK and abroad. We have a unique position amongst the debate surrounding ‘War on Terror’ through the vast amount of primary source information we have collated from the victims of draconian anti-terrorism legislation.
 There has already been a wealth of literature on the impact of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy. Example: A Counter-Productive Extradition Policy: The effect of the Babar Ahmad Case in Radicalising Muslims in Britain http://www.freebabarahmad.com/downloads/FBA_final_report.pdf
 Home Office: Terrorism and the law, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/terrorism-and-the-law/
 Hillyard P, Suspect Community, Pluto Press
 Cageprisoners interview with Babar Ahmad, 07/05/2008 http://www.cageprisoners.com/articles.php?id=24383
 See Cageprisoners report: Fabricating Terrorism: British Complicity in Rendition and Torture. The report highlights cases from around the world where the British security forces have been actively involved in the torture of Muslim suspects beyond the law. http://www.cageprisoners.com/downloads/FabricatingTerrorism_Report.pdf
 Dodd V, Anti-terror code ‘would alienate most Muslims’, The Guardian, 17/02/2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/feb/17/counterterrorism-strategy-muslims
Dr Asim Qureshi is a Human Rights Lawyer and is Co-DIrector of CAGE UK (previously known as Cageprisoners) where he works as the senior researcher. Asim has led investigations into Pakistan, Bosnia, Kenya, Sudan, Sweden, USA and around the UK. With his team of researchers, he has written and published many reports exposing the use of unlawful detention, rendition, and torture in the ‘war on terror’.
He is also the author of the book, “Rules of the Game: Detention, Deportation, Disappearance”. The work analyses the global detention policies in the ‘War on Terror’ post 11th September 2001 and the impact on those most affected.