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Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 13:12 GMT
Lessons of 'internment'
Imprisonment without trial has long been controversial
Emergency powers are being introduced by the UK Government which could see foreign nationals imprisoned without trial. The move reminds some critics of "internment" policies of the recent past.

Legislation drafted in the wake of the 11 September attacks to protect against further terrorist outrages could result in the UK authorities imprisoning "foreign-born" suspects for six months without trial.

Although the government has stressed its new power will be used sparingly and carefully avoiding the controversial term "internment", the new measures have been compared to those which have on several occasions seen UK residents locked up without their day in court.

Children liberated in a Nazi concentration camp
Many of those interned had fled the Nazis
During World War II some 27,000 civilians were interned in a UK terrified that a "fifth column" might rise up to aid an invading Nazi armada.

Ironically, many of those taken from their homes and thrown into squalid camps both here and in the farthest reaches of the Commonwealth were Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi persecution.

One such internee was Sir Claus Moser, later chair of the Royal Opera Company. Having fled Berlin in 1936, the paradox of his arrest in the UK was not lost on the young Moser.

"We were the fiercest opponents of Hitler there were, but we suddenly found ourselves in prison."

Deadly voyage

Many internees endured the most wretched conditions, particularly those crammed onto troop ships and transported to the Australian outback.

The practise of dispersing internees across the Commonwealth eventually led to the tragic sinking of the Arandora Star - torpedoed by a U-boat on route to Canada - which resulted in the deaths of more than 600 Italian and German "aliens".

Diana Mosley, wife of British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, in Nazi Germany
British fascists such as Diana Mosley (c) were also interned
As the threat of Nazi invasion receded, calls for the end of internment grew thanks to the likes of MP Eleanor Rathbone - who had worked tirelessly to rescue refugees from fascist persecution before the war.

Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed his "distress" at overseeing "action so utterly at variance with the fundamental principles of British liberty".

Professor David Cesarani, who has written extensively on internment, says the experience of 1940 exposed the problems inherent in relying on unaccoutantable security services and closed tribunals to assess the risk posed by an "alien".

In camera

He says much of the intelligence gathered to establish who posed a threat to national security was "absolutely pathetic" and resulted in perfectly innocent people ending up behind bars without the benefit of public scrutiny.

However, 30 years after the war, internment was again employed in the hope of quelling a rising tide of violence in Northern Ireland.

Long Kesh internment camp
Internment angered many in Northern Ireland
On 9 August 1971, security forces attempted to arrest more than 400 republicans in a dawn raid. But the intelligence was so poor that more than 100 of those arrested had to be released within days.

Three days of serious violence following the raids led to 23 deaths, but internment stayed in place.

As the numbers of those interned increased (reaching more than 900 by 1972), so did the anger among Catholics who believed that many of their own were being needlessly criminalised.

Intelligence shortcomings again marred the round up of those thought to pose a domestic threat during the Gulf War of 1991 among the UK's 10,000-strong Iraqi community.

'Fair hearing'

More than 100 Iraqis and Palestinians living in the UK and suspected of having links to terrorism were detained, including writer Abbas Shiblak - whose supporters pointed to his public protests against Saddam Hussein.

US troops during the Gulf War
The Gulf War saw more internments
After months of confining the suspects, the then home secretary, Kenneth Baker, admitted no deportations or trials would result from the swoop.

However, he said that although the powers used had been "unusual", he had been careful to "ensure that everything has been done to give those people a fair hearing".

Deflecting criticism from MP Tam Dalyell - now father of the House - Mr Baker reflected that: "In certain other countries, Iraqis were bundled out very quickly indeed."

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See also:

13 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Terror laws 'threaten civil rights'
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