Wrongful terror arrests: apologies not enough?

Posted on 30/12/2010

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All 12 Somalis arrested on Christmas Eve on suspicion of terrorism have now been released, though three of them remain suspects. The authorities, however, should do more than merely offer an apology, argues terrorism researcher Edwin Bakker. Wrongfully arrested people sometimes suffer considerable financial and emotional damage.

“I once helped two people who had arrested in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US”, professor Bakker of Leiden University says. “Police had been tipped off by people who wanted get at them. They were soon released and compensated. But neighbours kept seeing them as terrorists.”

Signals
Two of the freed Somalis have called for an inquiry and compensation accusing the intelligence service AIVD and the Public Prosecutor of negligence in their investigations. Professor Bakker refuses to condemn the arrests.

“The AIVD only asks the Public Prosecutor to arrest someone after receiving definite, worrying signals that justify taking that step. The AIVD is well aware that many terrorism arrests fail to result in a conviction for lack of evidence. The AIVD cannot fail to do something when there are signs of looming danger.”

Trauma
Wrongfully arrested people should, however, be duly compensated, argues Professor Bakker. An arrest can be all the more traumatic when people are suspected of terrorism.

Often police will ask someone to accompany them. In some cases, however, they storm a suspect´s residence, causing considerable damage. And the arrest often happens in the middle of the night, deeply traumatizing the children and spouses. They think they´re sleeping in the safety of their home and suddenly find themselves surrounded by twelve heavily armed men. Such a shock sometimes affect people for many years.”

Compensation
This year alone, the authorities have paid large sums in compensation to people who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and had spent years behind bars. Those who have been wrongfully arrested can also ask a court for compensation, both for material and immaterial damage, on the basis of article 89 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Good talk
The previous justice minister, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, proposed to create a single office where people affected by the authorities could claim compensation in a speedy fashion. It is not yet clear if such an office will be created.

The authorities, argues Professor Bakker, have the responsibility to help wrongfully arrested people. “At the very least, they could inquire if the victims have any needs. Some people do require psychological help. In some other cases, though, a good talk may be all that is needed.”

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