The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The word internment is generally used to refer to the imprisonment or confinement of people, generally in prison camps or prisons, without due process of law and a trial. It also refers to the practice of neutral countries in time of war to hold belligerent armed forces and equipment which enter their territory, under the Second Hague Convention.


United States

In reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan in 1941, United States Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 allowed military commanders to designate areas "from which any or all persons may be excluded." Under this order all Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry were removed from Western coastal regions to guarded camps in Oregon, Washington, and Arizona; German and Italian citizens, permanent residents, and American citizens of those respective ancestories (and American citizen family members) were removed from (among other places) the West and East Coast and relocated or interned, and roughly one-third of the US was declared an exclusionary zone.

Almost 120,000 Japanese Americans and resident Japanese aliens would eventually be removed from their homes as part of the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history.

See: Japanese internment in the United States

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks at least 2 US citizens, José Padilla and another, have been detained without charge, trial or prisoner of war status by order of the President as "enemy combatants", without Congress even passing a statute allowing internment.

Hundreds of detainees are also imprisoned at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay. They have all been denied prisoner of war status and most have yet to be charged with a crime. Human Rights Watch says they must legally be treated as prisoners of war since an independent tribunal has not ruled that any of them are unlawful combatants on an individual basis. Those who have been charged face Military Commissions (rather than the court martials or civilian federal courts to which they are entitled) condemned by many as unfair.

The majority of the detainees are suspected Afghan soldiers and Al Qaeda militants captured by US troops in Afghanistan. However, several were kidnapped or illicitly transferred from other countries with which the US is not at war. A British national was captured by the CIA in Pakistan, apparently with the collusion of security forces. His transfer was a violation of Pakistani law because he was not extradited. Several men were allegedly abducted by the CIA in Bosnia after a Human Rights Court (which had been set up with US help in the aftermath of ethnic cleansing and war) ruled that the Americans must release them.


During World War II, about 8,000 people were interned in Britain, many on the Isle of Man. They included enemy aliens, refugees who had fled from Germany, and suspected British Nazi sympathisers, such as British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley. British nationals were detained under Defence Regulation 18B. Initially they were shipped overseas, but that was halted when a German U boat sank the SS Arandora Star in July 1940 with the loss of 800 internees, though this was not the first loss that had occurred. The last internees were released late in 1945, though many were released in 1942. In Britain, internees were housed in camps and prisons. Some camps had tents rather than buildings with internees sleeping directly on the ground. Men and women were separated and most contact with the outside world was denied. A number of prominent Britons including writer H. G. Wells campaigned against the internment of refugees.

Initially the British government rounded up 74,000 German and Austrian aliens, but within 6 months the 112 alien tribunals had individually summoned and examined 64,000 aliens, designated them as "friendly aliens" and freed them from internment with no special restrictions, eventually only 2,000 of the remainder were interned.

Overseas, British citizens were also interned by the Axis Powers.

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was passed allowing the indefinite detention without charge, trial or prisoner of war status, of foreigners designated "suspected international terrorists" by the Home Secretary, but cannot be deported under existing immigration powers because they may face human rights abuses. In order to pass this statute, the British government declared a state of emergency and opted out of part of the European Convention on Human Rights referring to the right to liberty. The internees can choose to leave Britain voluntarily, if any other country lets them in. The legislation was judged to be illegal by the British courts and so HMG has initiated house arrest under temporay legislation.

Northern Ireland

One of most famous example of modern internment—and one which made world headlines—occurred in Northern Ireland in 1971, when hundreds of nationalists and republicans were arrested by the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the orders of the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner. Historians generally view that period of internment as inflaming sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland while failing in its stated aim of arresting members of the paramilitary Provisional IRA, because many of the people arrested were completely unconnected with that organisation but had had their names appear on the list of those to be interned through bungling and incompetence. The backlash against internment and its bungled application contributed to the decision of the British government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Stormont governmental system in Northern Ireland and replace it with direct rule from London, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

From 1971 internment began, beginning with the arrest of 342 suspected republican guerrillas and paramilitary members (and no loyalists) on August 9. They were held at HMP Maze. By 1972, 924 people were interned. Internment was ended, but political tensions culminated in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of Bobby Sands. The imprisonment of people under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continued until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, but these laws required the right to a fair trial be respected. However no-jury Diplock courts tried paramilitary-related trials, officially because of fears of jury intimidation.

Many of those interned were held in a prison called Long Kesh, later known as the Maze Prison outside Belfast.

The republican song The Men Behind the Wire was composed in response to the internment.

Internment had previously been used as a means of repressing the Irish Republican Army. It was used between 1939 - 1945 and 1956 - 1962. On all these occasions, internment has had a somewhat limited success.

Republic of Ireland

Internment had previously been used as a means of repressing Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army in the Republic of Ireland. It was used during and after the Irish Civil War (June 1922–April 1923), between 1939 - 1945 and 1956 - 1962.


This nation has had numerous internments during times of war. Property confiscation was common and there have been numerous movements for compensation with varying levels of success.

In World War I, many Ukrainians were interned as enemy aliens although many were refugees from that country. Many of these prisoners were used for forced labor with included the creation of Banff National Park.

In World War II, German, Italian and especially Japanese were interned.

See also

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