Fall 2013

Artist Project / Control Order House

Indefinite detention

Edmund Clark

“Be sure he stays inside and that you go straight in. He’ll be in breach of his conditions if he steps outside the front door. And be careful what you ask him. Remember, the house is almost certainly bugged.” That was my introduction to the life of a man known only as CE, when his lawyer allowed me to visit him to discuss a project on living under a so-called control order. A form of house arrest or detention without trial introduced in the UK in 2005, control orders give the government the power to constrain men suspected of involvement with terrorism, including relocating them to live in a house anywhere in the country.

In December 2011, I had received permission from the British government to become the first artist to work and stay in a house where a “controlled” person had been placed. I had worked in prisons and institutions for young offenders, at Guantanamo Bay, and in the homes of individuals previously detained there, but never in a place where the justice system was so explicitly present in a domestic environment.

Between the introduction of control orders in 2005 and the end of 2011, fifty-two men had been held in houses like these for periods ranging from two months to four-and-a-half years. Under the terms of the control order, they were required to submit to a variety of constraints: a curfew of up to sixteen hours a day, reduced from eighteen after a court ruled that this was tantamount to depriving someone of their liberty; wearing an electronic tag; reporting to a police station daily; phoning a monitoring company to notify it of their initial departure from and final return to their home each day; and not straying beyond a predetermined boundary, which might enclose a few square miles or a whole county.

Many, including CE, had been relocated in a process that critics have condemned as “internal exile.” They were permitted to visit a designated place of worship, but not airports or ports, internet cafés, travel agencies, or money transfer bureaus. Social gatherings required prior permission, and each controlled person was given a list of people they were not allowed to contact. They were not allowed internet access at home and only the use of a government-issued cell phone for calls. The control exercised over their lives extended even to the smallest details of their tenant’s agreements—putting a nail in the wall of the house, for example, could result in prosecution for breaking control conditions.

CE had been held for eight months when I first met him in the three-bedroom, semidetached house to which he had been confined, a nondescript property on an unremarkable street. I must not reveal his identity or his location. To do so would be an offense, in breach of a High Court–imposed anonymity order. Likewise, any equipment I brought with me had to be registered in advance and all materials I produced for the project had

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