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'The Gaddafi connection' - Gareth Peirce on control orders and Libyan dissidents

Sarah Shin10 March 2011

In an article for the Guardian, Gareth Peirce presents the case for why a full and open inquiry is needed to discover why so many Libyans seeking asylum in the UK were subject to control orders. Following the bombing on 7 July 2004, she writes, Tony Blair had initiated a deportation agreement with Gaddafi in order to remove dissidents whose presence, Blair claimed, was a grave threat to British national security:

In order to achieve the men's removal to Libya, a country whose leader had a grim record of eliminating opponents, the government had created new mechanisms: memorandums of understanding (MOU), whereby regimes known to practice torture might sign up to an unenforceable promise that they would not torture deported individuals. Gaddafi was evidently a man who could be trusted, but for good measure an independent organisation would monitor the wellbeing of the men deported to Libya: the Gaddafi Foundation, headed by Gaddafi's son Saif.

The government presented its assessment to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), the court created to hear secret evidence in national security cases. Deportations would almost certainly have been ordered on the basis of the MOU had not the government's expert witness ventured one observation too many: when asked whether the men would enjoy a fair trial in Libya, the witness replied of course, Gaddafi would personally intervene to ensure that the judges delivered just that. When SIAC refused the deportation, waiting in the wings was a second best: control orders, which impose severe restrictions on the individual affected. In the case of the Libyans our government and intelligence services had thereby ensured for Gaddafi a neutralisation of one small manifestation of dissent to his regime.

Peirce questions why there has been a total silence as to why Libyan dissidents to Gaddafi’s regime form a significant percent of those subject to control orders in the UK, suggesting that:

It is hardly surprising if this is not generally known. The appeals of those subject to deportation or to control orders on the grounds of national security are heard almost entirely in secret (in the Libyan cases we can guess that key evidence undoubtedly emanated from Libya itself). However, the existing record, albeit of only the puny "open" sessions of the Libyan cases, provides an insight into the self-deceiving blindness that determined the relationship of the last government and Gaddafi …

The government's terrifyingly wrong-headed assessments of the Libyan body politic would have led by February 2011 to the probable death of the dissidents had they been deported; after all the Libyan penalty for membership of their organisation was death—and the British government in the MOU had committed itself only to "considering asking Libya to commute that sentence" if imposed after the individuals' return.

Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.

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