Terror suspects jailed in Britain losing their minds: psychiatrists

October 13, 2004 

LONDON (AP) - Foreign terrorist suspects detained indefinitely without trial in Britain have suffered severe and possibly irreparable damage to their mental health, a group of psychiatrists who examined the men reported Wednesday.

The experts, who met eight men held under Britain's anti-terrorist laws, said all displayed similar symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-harm and thoughts of suicide. "All of the men I saw were extremely desperate," said Ian Robbins, a clinical psychologist at St. George's Hospital in London.

"All had considered suicide and had attempted self-harm, either through cutting themselves or in one case by trying to hang himself."

In their report, the seven psychiatrists and one psychologist concluded mental health damage "is inevitable under a regime which consists of indefinite detention."

Under measures brought in after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States foreign terrorist suspects may be detained indefinitely without charge or trial if they cannot safely be removed to another country. Seventeen people have been held under the provision of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act; 11 remain in custody.

Britain's top court is currently considering an appeal by nine of the men, who argue their detention is inconsistent with Britain's democratic principles.

In their report, the doctors said all the detainees they saw were depressed and a number suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Several had developed "significant psychotic symptoms."

The experts said they doubted whether prison health care staff were "adequately able to combat the deterioration in mental health."

Three of the men's wives who were interviewed by the doctors also appeared to be clinically depressed, the report said.

The doctors examined the detainees at the request of their lawyer, Gareth Peirce. They decided to release a joint report when they realized "the circumstances of the detainees and their psychiatric illnesses had features in common," said Dr. James MacKeith, another of the report's authors.

"The damage to the health of these people under these conditions is predictable and grave," he said.

"We cannot be sure whether they will be able to recover fully from the damage thus caused."