Stateless in Djibouti

It takes a lot to shock the Daily Mail, as far as the treatment of real or suspected Muslim terrorists by Her Majesty’s Government is concerned.    In October 2012, however,  the Mail  published the story of Mahdi Hashi, a 23-year-old former care worker from Camden, who has apparently been held since the summer at the US Camp Lemmonier base in Djibouti.

Hashi originally moved to the UK when he was five years old, and he returned to Somalia in 2009, where he got married and had a child.   According to the Mail,  Hashi had had his British citizenship revoked by Theresa May since his disappearance, in a letter which informed him that he had lost his right to live in the UK in the interests of  ‘the public good’ and because the Security Services considered that he had been involved in ‘Islamicist extremism’ and presented ‘ a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.’

The nature of these activities was not known, since neither Hashi nor anyone else has ever been informed of them.  In 2009 however,  Hashi complained to MP Frank Dobson and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees M15, that security officers were leaning on him because he had refused to  spy on the North London Muslim community.

According to Dobson, Hashi had been prevented by M15 from flying to Djibouti in April that year to visit his sick grandmother and was told that he was a terrorist suspect, and that his suspect status would only be removed if he agreed to work for them.   Hashi said that he was told that his travel restrictions would only be lifted if he cooperated with M15 and that ‘By co-operating with us we know you’re not guilty.’

Hashi subsequently managed to fly to Djibouti in December on a UK passport,  apparently with the intention of returning to the country to study engineering.   Instead he was captured, though by whom and in what circumstances, and on what charge is not known, and he became one of at least 41 people – most of them Muslims – who have had their UK citizenship withdrawn by the Home Secretary, a decision that can only be used against British nationals with dual citizenship and does not require a court order or any legal conditions at all.

The only reason anyone even knew anything about his whereabouts is because a fellow prisoner released from Djibouti overheard him being ‘mistreated’ and interrogated by ‘men working for America.’  The Americans initially denied holding him and have told his parents to contact the Foreign Office, while the Foreign Office refused either to confirm or deny the allegations made by his family lawyers.

Then in November that year,   Hashi appeared in a New York Court, together with two Swedish men, where he was charged with participating in combat with the al-Shabaab group in Somalia and also of involvement in an ‘elite suicide bomber program.’Since then he has been awaiting trial and mounting a legal fight to return to the UK – a struggle that has been made more difficult by the ‘special administrative measures’ imposed on him in prison which prevent him from communicating with his lawyers.

This sordid and cowardly example of collusion by the UK government  with the US renditions program was apparently too un-British even for the Mail to stomach, but there is another issue at stake here. In the first half of the twentieth century both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany frequently stripped their political enemies, political dissidents or unwanted racial groups of  citizenship in order to make them stateless.

In a world in which statelessness, as Hannah Arendt once observed, removes even ‘the right to have rights’,  the simple measure of removing someone’s passport effectively transformed them into people to whom anything could be done with impunity.    Today, in the early 21st century, statelessness remains synonymous with the absence of protection and the absence of rights.

This situation doesn’t only apply to the de facto statelessness which applied to many of the detainees and ‘enemy combatants’ rounded up by the Bush administration’s detention archipelago and renditions program.  As migrants and refugees continue to discover in countries across the world, to step outside your national borders without a passport is frequently a route to exploitation, danger, violence and death.

These risks have often been exacerbated by the determination of democratic governments  to prevent ‘illegal immigrants’ from becoming ‘legal’ and obtaining any of the rights and privileges associated with national citizenship – and also to evade even the weak human rights protections established over the last seventy years or so.

Few governments have been more active in this struggle than our own.  Successive British governments have gone to enormous lengths to prevent refugees from reaching UK territory to claim asylum – and this government has gone even further in its attempts to deprive all ‘illegal immigrants’ from rights to housing, health, jobs etc that are considered to be ‘national’ rights.

British politicians have also attempted to deprive even longterm ‘foreign’ criminals of these rights by deporting them, regardless of how long they have lived in the country or whether they have already been punished by the law.      So on one level the treatment of Hashi is an extension of the same tendencies.    In cravenly relinquishing its obligations over one of its own citizens to allow their ally to completely circumvent any normal due process in the name of ‘national security’, the government has demonstrated once again that human rights are still essentially national rights.

Once Mahdi Hashi lost his passport, he ceased to be British, European, or Somali, and became a legal non-person to whom anything could be done, and for whom no government was responsible. And the fact that a democratic government thinks that this is an ok thing to do is – or ought to be – just a little disturbing.

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