Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old Palestinian baker detained without charge by Israel since December 2011, ended his 66-day hunger strike on February 21, which had taken him to the verge of death. Adnan ended his strike only after Israel agreed to release him after serving another two months of “administrative detention”, under which a suspect can be held without charge for six-month periods, renewable indefinitely.
It is not surprising that many politicians in Ireland, north and south of the border, rallied in support of Adnan in recent weeks. Adnan’s act of defiance brought back memories of Republican prisoner Bobby Sands who died almost 21 years ago following his own 66-day hunger strike against the conditions of his imprisonment by the British authorities in Northern Ireland.
Like Sands before him, Adnan is accused of membership of an “illegal terrorist group”, namely Islamic Jihad. He is no stranger to administrative detention. He was previously held under administrative detention by Israel for four months in March 1999 and for a year in December 2002. Six months after his release, he was arrested again and placed in solitary confinement as a result of which he started a hunger strike which lasted 28 days before Israel relented and put him back in with the general population. He was re-arrested in August 2005 for a 15-month period, and then in March 2008, he served six months of administrative detention. Although Israel accuses Adnan of being a very dangerous individual and a leader of Islamic Jihad, in not one of these periods of imprisonment has Adnan been charged, much less convicted of any offence.
Adnan is not alone. He is one of approximately 300 Palestinians in administrative detention in Israeli prisons. Israel justifies its detention without trial of these individuals on the basis that the available evidence against them consists of information obtained by the security services and any trial would reveal sensitive security information, such as the identity of informers or infiltrators. In a recent interview with CNN International’s Hala Gorani, Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev was unable to provide a clear answer to the repeated question as to why Adnan was not being charged and tried in a court if there was so much evidence against him. For those of us involved in campaigning for due process for suspects in the War on Terror, his response was depressingly familiar: “It’s clear that in terrorist cases, often you rely on intelligence information — there are problems with sources and methods — and Israel, like other democracies, like the United States, like Great Britain, there is a certain amount of discretion you have.”
It is the same type of answer that we have been hearing for several weeks recently in the UK in the case of Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada who has been detained or subjected to house arrest in Britain for almost a decade. Despite being accused of having been Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe, Abu Qatada to this day has never been charged with any criminal offence in the UK. Instead, secret evidence which neither he nor his legal team are permitted to see or challenge has been used against him to justify his continuing detention. The purported justification is to protect security sources and methods of obtaining intelligence which may or may not include evidence extracted while being tortured. Abu Qatada is not the only terror suspect to be detained in this way. Adel Abdel Bary, an Egyptian, and Khalid Fawwaz, a Saudi, have been detained without trial in the UK for 13 years awaiting extradition to the US. They each have served the equivalent of a 52-year sentence already between them. Never one to apply a discriminatory policy, the UK also detains without trial British nationals accused of crimes allegedly committed in Britain. Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan have each been detained for over 7.5 years and 5.5 years respectively. Neither has ever been charged with a criminal offence; both are also awaiting extradition to the US based on evidence gathered in the UK by British police which the accused are unable to challenge.
Regev’s purported justification of administrative detention based on secret evidence is also one that is routinely used by the US in its War on Terror to defend its own policy of internment of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, and secret CIA black sites located all over the globe. The last remaining British detainee in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer has also embarked on a number of hunger strikes against his decade long detention without trial.
In drawing attention to the fact that the great proponents of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, also implement a policy of administrative detention and secret evidence in dealing with terror suspects, Regev highlights the hypocrisy of such nations criticizing any other country of such practices. The US and UK have completely lost the moral high ground in such matters as reflected recently in the BBC’s interview with Prince El-Hassan when he was questioned as to whether Jordan could assure Britain that Abu Qatada would be tried in a court in which torture evidence was not admissible. El-Hassan responded, “That is rich coming from a country that believed in rendition agreements.”
Whether it is condemnation of Syrian torture, Zimbabwean extrajudicial executions or North Korean totalitarianism, the West can no longer be taken seriously in its stance on issues of human rights and due process. Perhaps it is for this reason that both the British and American governments have remained silent on the plight of Khader Adnan. The compliant media were also content to ignore the issue until the power of social media changed the agenda after his hunger strike was trending on Twitter for several days running.
This was the real victory for Khader Adnan. He will be detained for two more months after which he may or may not be released. Administrative detention will not disappear in Israel or anywhere else and Adnan may well find himself in a similar situation in the future. However, the fact that activists and campaigners were able to mobilize on a global scale and ensure that his case received the media coverage it warranted, demonstrates once again the ability of the masses to influence social change. Had it not been for the campaign, Adnan may well have been buried today with few even knowing who he was or why and how he died. Administrative detention will not go away soon but neither will those who expose it.