“I am already dead. My soul, my life, my heart — every part of me is dead. I am just like a machine walking, with no other feeling. I have nothing left — I cannot even sleep at night; I have nightmares of what they have done to me, to my wife, my children, my time in prison, the searches… this is enough, I’ve lost my senses, I’ve been driven insane, I can no longer take it. What is the point of living? I’ve lost everything, I’ve lost my wife, I might as well kill myself, that is better for me. I swear by God I have written to Gordon Brown saying that you have two weeks, if I am not helped in this period I will kill myself, whether that’s by throwing myself in front of a train, or slitting my wrists, or throwing myself from a high building, or taking an overdose, whatever it takes. Nobody has lived the life I have or what I’ve had to endure.”
These heart-wrenching words were uttered by terror suspect Mahmoud Abu Rideh in an interview aired on Press TV on 28 May 2009. They are the utterances of a broken man, a shattered soul, a human being absolutely devastated by the cruel mechanisms of a powerful state. Abu Rideh is a man who has never been charged with any offence, terrorism or otherwise; he has never been asked a single question about his alleged involvement with terrorism nor has he ever been told why he is suspected of being a threat or shown any evidence that is being used against him. Yet, for seven and a half years, he and his family have been forced to live a life of humiliation and degradation, the depravity of which is not fit for beasts, let alone decent human beings.
Abu Rideh is the symbol of all that is wrong and immoral about the “war on terror”. He has physically and psychologically been inflicted with every abuse and rights violations that are abstractly debated in conferences, lectures and seminars by lawyers and activists. Abu Rideh is the British government’s key lab-rat in its counter-terrorism experiment. He is a prime example of the state putting a human being through the most torturous living conditions to the extent that death alone appears to be the only hope of liberation. In essence, he has been given a chronic death sentence without ever knowing why.
Abu Rideh’s traumatic ordeal began on 19 December 2001, the second day of Eid, when dozens of armed police officers stormed his home in a pre-dawn raid. Abu Rideh was assaulted in front of his terrified wife and five crying children. Taken away to maximum security prison at Belmarsh, he was placed under 23-hour lock up without ever being told why. Having already spent a significant number of years in administrative detention in Israeli jails where he was brutally tortured, this indefinite imprisonment drove Abu Rideh psychologically insane. He was transferred to Broadmoor Security Mental Hospital where he was frequently assaulted by staff, nurses, and other prisoners. Placed in solitary confinement, Abu Rideh now began to self-harm, drinking detergents and using pens to dig deep into his arms.
After three and a half years of detention, Abu Rideh was finally released in 2005 after the House of Lords ruled the detention policy unlawful on the basis that it only applied to foreigners. But that was only the beginning of his nightmare. Forced to release him along with a dozen other terror suspects, the British government invented a new regiment designed to punish all those suspected of terrorism but against whom there was no evidence for prosecution. In order not to run foul of the law, it applied equally to British and foreign suspects.
Abu Rideh was control-ordered. Electronically tagged and placed under a 7 pm to 7 am curfew, he is required to report to the authorities five times every 24 hours (including in the middle of the night) by telephone using special equipment that had been placed in his home. He is prohibited from having any recording devices in his home, including mobile phones, memory sticks, computer, MP3 player or digital cameras. Any such device if found is confiscated, the home searched thoroughly and Abu Rideh re-arrested. The police have not just stopped at removing electronic items from his home but have even confiscated ostensibly irrelevant documents such as birth certificates, school reports, MOT certificates and the car log book.
Abu Rideh is not allowed to meet anyone and any visitors must first be security cleared by the Home Office. Most make no effort for fear that they may be tarnished and stigmatised by association. He is subjected to this humiliation without ever being asked a single question about his involvement with terrorism. Moreover, any challenge to his treatment can only be made in a Kafkaesque court called the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) where much of the evidence against him is heard in secret without him or his lawyers being granted any access to it, let alone being in a position to challenge it.
For Abu Rideh’s family, life has become unbearable. Through a series of open letters published by the Muslim Prisoner Support Group in June 2009, the full extent of their humiliating existence has come to light. From the day their home was raided in December 2001, they have been forced to endure a hellish existence. At the outset, over 40 days passed before they heard any news of where Abu Rideh was being held. His wife had her veil forcibly removed by strangers on three occasions and rubbish was thrown at their front door. When neighbours resorted to spitting on them, they moved out of the house.
After Abu Rideh was allowed to return home, the situation ironically became far worse for his family as they too became subject to the terms of his control order. His children were compelled to try and pursue a normal education and complete their homework without access to items such as a computer, the internet or even a memory stick. Describing the effect of restrictions on her school life as a “nightmare”, twelve year old Esraa wrote about how she had to do her homework in the library in order to access the internet and when it was closed, she could not complete it. Esraa opted for after-school detention, rather than expose her family’s dark secret to her teachers. Eleven year old Khalid described how after he had saved all his money to buy a phone, he lost it when the police raided their home and confiscated it as well as a Nintendo Wii given as a gift to the children by Abu Rideh’s solicitors. The breach was a severe one — Abu Rideh was sent back to prison. He has been re-arrested and imprisoned on several occasions for breaching his control order — once for having a toy mobile phone in the house, and once for walking into a police station and removing his tag in front of officers in a desperate cry for help.
To help their father comply with the terms of his control order, the children would set several alarms around the house to wake him and them up at 3 am so he could report to the authorities on time. He must again report at 7 am when his curfew ends to let them know he will be leaving his house. On occasions when reporting was delayed by a few minutes, the home was raided by officers. One such raid was witnessed by a girl in 15-year-old Ala’a’s class who told all the girls in her school, leading to embarrassment and even hostility. When the Home Office demanded that even the children’s school friends be security vetted before they could visit their home, their social ostracization was complete.
For Dina Al Jnidi, Abu Rideh’s extremely loyal and faithful wife, she spent every day checking to make sure her husband had not taken his life. She describes in her letter how her husband’s psychological needs have traumatised the entire family and how she once found him “on the floor unconscious, in a pool of vomit foam coming from his mouth” after he overdosed on a cocktail of his depression and anti-psychotic medication. On other occasions, he has slit his wrists in the toilet of a police station, gone on lengthy hunger strikes even refusing water and ice cubes, anything to escape the horrific lifestyle he is forced to endure. Dina has been a rock for her husband and has resisted whispers from the British security services to leave her husband for several years but pregnant with her sixth child, even she could not tolerate this lifestyle any longer. On 25 May 2009, she left with her children for Jordan to give her family a chance to live their lives in freedom and escape the harsh prison which their home had become. This was the last straw for Abu Rideh who now carries a packet of razor blades with him and has threatened to kill himself unless he is allowed to leave Britain. This counter-terrorism experiment, this clinical and systematic execution of a terror suspect may finally take its course, for this is the eventual result of such barbaric policies. Let us not forget that Mahmoud Abu Rideh has never been charged with a terrorism offence.
On 10 June 2009, the House of Lords realised the sheer unfairness and immorality of such a system, particularly where they are based on “secret evidence” and ruled the government’s use of control orders unlawful. This may be a lifeline for Abu Rideh but one must remember that the control orders regime came into existence after the House of Lords ruled that the policy of indefinite detention without charge was unlawful. This government has proved adept at manipulating the law and will no doubt invent something even more barbaric in the interest of that historically favoured excuse for tyranny, national security.