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British Court Orders Terror Suspect Freed

The Libyan had been held two years without charge. The ruling upholds the first defeat of the nation's post-9/11 emergency powers.

March 19, 2004|From Reuters

LONDON — Britain's Appeal Court on Thursday ordered the government to release a Libyan terrorism suspect held for two years without charge, upholding the first defeat of emergency post-Sept. 11 powers.

The man, identified only as M, made no comment as he walked out of London's high-security Belmarsh Prison. He was driven away in a blue minivan with blacked-out windows.

The ruling upheld a decision by a highly secretive special tribunal, which said authorities had no "reasonable grounds" to suspect that M had links to terrorism and that he should therefore go free.

The ruling came as a surprise to rights groups, which deemed that the government's emergency anti-terrorism powers were so draconian that none of the suspects would ever be released. Britain has 13 other foreigners in jail under the emergency powers.

Defense lawyer Gareth Peirce said: "It is our belief, as we have stated throughout, that the system is profoundly unfair and that it was intended nobody would get out.

"These detainees feel they are forgotten men," Peirce said.

Under the emergency powers, established after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, British authorities can jail foreign suspects indefinitely without charge.

The authorities must show only that they have "reasonable grounds to suspect" the detainees have links to terrorism, a standard far below the "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" needed to convict them of a crime.

Authorities can also present secret evidence to the tribunal, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, without the suspects or their lawyers present.

A spokeswoman for Britain's Home Office said the government's defeat proved "that the system works."

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