LONDON: Shocking new details have emerged about the treatment of 14 foreign terrorist suspects held without trial in two British high security jails.

At least half of them are showing signs of serious mental illness. Their lawyers say they have been pushed “beyond the limits of human endurance”. One detainee is a polio victim, another has lost two limbs and a third has attempted suicide.

The men and their families fear some may not survive their indefinite imprisonment at Belmarsh prison in south-east London, which has been described as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay” or “Camp Delta UK”, and Woodhill prison near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

The Home Office (interior ministry) has said that none will be granted bail unless they are terminally ill.

The men, who cannot be named for legal reasons, have been described as a serious threat to national security. But the two are seriously disabled and most have been on anti-depressant drugs for over a year.

There are particular concerns about a North African in his thirties, who has suffered from polio since childhood. His mental health has deteriorated so much that he has ceased to recognize or communicate with fellow inmates. His mental health worsened after he was confined to his cell by his crippling illness. The prison authorities refused him a wheelchair, and offers by fellow inmates to carry him to education classes and prayers were turned down on health and safety grounds.

A second North African has no arms, and has to be helped by fellow prisoners to carry out everyday tasks.

Palestinian detainee Abu Rideh was transferred to Broadmoor high security psychiatric hospital after trying to kill himself over a year ago and has been there ever since.

The men’s morale was seriously hit by the failure of 10 appeals against the internments. The men’s lawyers fear those who have kept their sanity have become exhausted by acting as full- time carers for the men who have become ill.

The suspects are being held under emergency anti-terrorist legislation introduced two years ago this week.

The highest-profile prisoner is Abu Qatada, a British-based Palestinian cleric whose demands for a holy war are alleged to be inspired Al Qaeda. Videos of his sermons were found in the flat of the leader of the 11 September attacks, Mohamed Atta.

The detainees have been charged with no crime and are unable to see the intelligence evidence against them, and are confined to their cells for up to 22 hours a day. The government used the emergency legislation against them because there was not enough evidence to mount a criminal prosecution.

Gareth Peirce of law firm Birnberg Peirce, which represents most of the men, said: “All these men are refugees and a number are torture victims. It is well-established that victims of torture should not be confined, because this can trigger former trauma.”

Natalia Garcia, a solicitor with two internee clients in Woodhill prison, said: “They have a feeling of total despair. One has told me that he feels he has been buried alive.”

A report from Amnesty International last week condemned the emergency legislation saying that it created a “shadow criminal justice system” for foreign nationals which permitted indefinite detention using evidence from foreign intelligence services extracted under torture.

Matthias Kelly QC, chairman of the Bar Council said: “I am completely opposed to the use of if internment. If the government has the evidence, why does it not have the confidence to put it up in court and have it examined by a judge?”—Dawn/The Observer News Service.

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