Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Brave new justice

I woke suddenly at about four in the morning to the terrifying sound of breaking glass and splintering wood. For a moment I hesitated, afraid to leave the comfort of my bed and confront whatever horror was happening downstairs. But then I thought of my children, threw off my covers and jumped to action, grabbing my trousers off the floor as I ran out of the bedroom door. Before I could cross the landing to defend my children's bedroom door, I froze, confronted as I was with the spectacle of a masked man on the stairs aiming an automatic weapon at my chest. Behind him were countless more armed and masked men, dressed in militaristic style, clearly some kind of attack squad, but without any identifiable features to mark them out as either police or army.

"Drop your weapons" shouted the masked man. For a moment I hesitated, confused, but then I realised that he could only be talking about the pair of jeans in my left hand. I dropped them to the floor and slowly raised my hands. At this moment my youngest daughter emerged from the bedroom, to see me, her father, naked but for a pair of boxer shorts, and countless masked men on the stairs pointing guns at him. I suddenly realised that several of the masked men were now pointing their weapons at my four year old daughter. "point the guns at me right now" I shouted, but the intruders seemed positively disinclined to follow orders from a half naked civilian and continued "covering the space" occupied by my now tearful daughter.

"Is there anybody else in the house" the first intruder asked as he approached, his weapon lowered and something else in his hands. "Yes" I replied, "my other daughter is in that bedroom too". Even in the relative darkness of the pre-dawn light it became clear what he had in his hands, broad white plastic cable ties. The kind I'd seen on the television used as restraints on countless "insurgents" during the Iranian occupation. As he restrained my arms behind my back, the others continued waving their guns around. "Call out your other daughter now" he said before zipping the cable tie tight around my wrists. Somehow I found within myself a calm but loud voice to call "Katie, come out of your bedroom please".

Katie emerged from the bedroom and stood beside her sister as I heard the unmistakable sound of tape being unpeeled from the roll. I knew the tape was for my mouth, so I told my daughters that I love them and instructed Katie to look after her little sister Sarah until Mummy or Granny comes to get them. The intruders didn't even wait until I'd finished speaking before applying the tape to my mouth. Next they wrapped my still near-naked body in a long black sheet of rough fabric, like a cloak and the last thing I saw before a hood was roughly dragged over my head was the sight of my clearly traumatised daughters weeping.

I was then shoved and cajoled down the stairs, out of the front door and into some kind of vehicle, all the while hooded like a terrorist. My cable-tied wrists were attached to a bar near the floor of the vehicle and I heard the sound of a cage door being closed and locked shut. When the vehicle started, I recognised the distinctive sound of a diesel engine. Absurdly, under the circumstances, I found myself wondering what kind of vehicle I was in. Was it a Transit van? Some other make of van? Or was it some kind of military vehicle? I never found out because I remained bound and hooded until long after I'd been taken into the interrogation centre. Aside from wondering at the make of the vehicle and trying desperately to figure out where I was being taken, with only the cornering of the vehicle as my clues, the only other thing I remember was a growing sense of nausea at being driven around with no visual stimulus at all. I worried about what would happen to me if I vomited with this tape over my mouth and, as far as I could tell, nobody else in the back of the vehicle to even witness it. I was certain that I would drown in my own vomit if I allowed myself to be sick, so I fought the growing urge to chunder as if my life depended upon it.

It was impossible to judge how long the journey took, or where I'd been taken. But I could tell from the acoustics, that before the vehicle had stopped it had been driven into a large building, perhaps an underground carpark. The cage door was opened, my wrists were unshackled from the restraining bar and I was roughly dragged from the vehicle, subjected to numerous kicks and shoves that I had no way of anticipating due to the hood over my head. Eventually I was shoved roughly into a small cell. I stumbled and fell, bashing my face against what I later found out to be the only item of furniture, a low cot. As I lay on the floor, my hands still tied behind my back and my nose bleeding heavily inside the hood I heard laughing. I lay silent and as still as possible in the hope that they might remove the hood to check that I was still alive, but the bubbling, gurgling sound of my breathing through the blood in my nose gave the game away and I was left as I was.

It could have been a full day before they came back for me or it could have been much less. I knew that sensory deprivation causes extreme variations in temporal perception. It must have been quite a long time though, because the blood in my nose and on my face and in my hair was caked dry.

I was dragged along a number of corridors and up some stairs to what I anticipated to be an interrogation cell. When the hood was removed and the tape painfully peeled away from my mouth I must have presented a disgusting mess, caked in dried blood as I was. The room was very dimly lit and I could barely see my interrogator. He told me that I'd been arrested under the 2013 Justice and Security Act and began questioning me about my views about the government, about Iran and specifically the Iranian conflict.

I asked repeatedly to see a lawyer, but I was assured that it would do me no good. Eventually I was taken back to my cell, having answered none of their questions. I was left with a bucket of icy cold water and a dirty cloth, presumably to clean the dried blood off my face, but with my hands still cable-tied behind my back, such a task was absolutely impossible. After wetting my face by dipping it in the bucket, I climbed onto the bunk and slept.

With no window in my cell I lost track of time to such an extent that I had no idea whether it was day or night. I was dragged out for interrogation again, before which I had my hands cut free and was allowed to use the toilet. Having spent countless hours trying to avoid the further indignity of pissing and soiling myself, this toilet stop was a blessed relief. I spent a few minutes at the sink washing the dried blood from my face, under supervision from a burly, blonde haired, middle aged man, the kind of man that would have looked more at home in a black jacket working as a bouncer outside some seedy 1990s nightclub, instead of suited up and supervising prisoners in the toilet of this detention centre.

At my next interrogation there were two men, one of whom never spoke. I guessed that he was probably an American. I could only see their silhouettes but there was something about his manner that made me think of the US military. The other one spoke with a posh accent in a clipped militaristic style and grew increasingly exasperated at my refusal to answer questions until I could speak to a lawyer. He told me that by refusing to co-operate I was harming my defence and that a lawyer would do me no good anyway.

I was returned to my cell and left with food. My stomach told me that I hadn't eaten for days, so I savoured the meal of tepid beans on toast and a stale iced bun as if it were the most succulent meal of my entire life.

Before my next interrogation I was allowed to consult a man who claimed to be a lawyer. After answering my questions about my family to tell me that my daughters were safe with my parents but that my ex-wife was also being held under the same legislation, he told me in no uncertain terms that there was nothing else he could do for me. Under the conditions of the 2013 Justice and Security Act neither he nor I would be allowed to know what I had been charged with or any of the evidence against me. We wouldn't be allowed to present a defence, enter the courtroom or even hear the sentencing.

When I told him that the focus of the questions had been about Iran and the Iranian occupation he seemed intrigued. "Have you ever been to, or had anything to do with Iran?" he asked. I wracked my brain but couldn't think of anything, apart from the fact that I'd possibly mentioned the country in my work as an online journalist several years ago. He made me list all of the websites I'd ever written for.  When I mentioned that I'd written articles for the Press TV blog he almost jumped out of his chair with excitement. "I think I know what this is all about" he said. "You'll be tried in secret court for terrorism offences ... there's nothing we can do about it now... In fact, the trial may already have happened for all I know ... I mean they'll have all the evidence they need to convict". After days of trying to remain calm, his gleeful response to figuring out what he thought was going on drove me over the edge. I hammered my fists on the table and began shouting about injustice. Almost immediately an armed guard burst into the room and I shut up. "Any more of that and you'll go back to your cell" he said, fixing me with an icy and contemptuous glare, before stalking out of the room again muttering something that sounded an awful lot like "fucking treasonous lefties".

After a prolonged silence, the man claiming to be my lawyer spoke again; "I'm afraid your Special Advocate hasn't really got a chance of getting you off, if what you've told me is true ... You've contributed to a terrorist website, so in the eyes of the law, you're a terrorist".

"But, wait" I pleaded "I wrote those articles nearly five years ago ... ages before the war started ... they weren't even about Iran, they were about economics ... I haven't written anything for them since long before they were banned by the government ... there must be some kind of mistake".

"There is no mistake" he replied using the kind of sympathetic tone only a lawyer telling his client that he's certain to be found guilty could muster, "the legislation banning Press TV was enacted retroactively, meaning anyone that has ever worked for them can be charged with terrorism offences".

I was in shock, "but ... but ... the Tory-UKIP government have reintroduced the death sentence for terrorism offences" I whimpered. "I'm sorry, there's nothing more I can do for you" he said plaintively, easing his corpulent frame out of his chair and heading towards the door.

"But what about my ex-wife?" I pleaded. "If she's been arrested under the same legislation surely this case must be about something else?" "I'm afraid not" he replied. "She knew you were writing for Press TV didn't she?" he asked. "Yes, of course she did" I replied. "Well then she's probably going to be charged with aiding and abetting terrorism".

I couldn't believe what I was hearing but couldn't find the words to express my outrage. "I'm sorry" he said, "I really do have to go now, I've got dozens of other clients in similar situations you see ...".

So here I am, back in my cell, tortured by my Kafkaesque situation. Knowing that I may have been charged with crimes that could carry the death sentence. Knowing that I cannot appeal against the decision of the court, because I will never even be allowed to know what crimes I've been charged with, making the development of an appeal an impossibility. Knowing that the the court decision about my fate could already have been made. Knowing that I'll never even get to see the face of the man responsible for deciding my fate. Knowing that I'll never find out the truth about my situation. Knowing that the next knock on the door could be an armed guard to take me to face a firing squad. All the time, wondering how on earth the public could have let England degenerate into such an Orwellian dystopia.

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