Thursday, February 24, 2005

"There is no greater civil liberty than to live free from terrorist attack."

Thus spake the British Prime Minister in defence of House Arrest without trial.

It is a measure of the intellectual poverty of our ruling elite that they can even think like that.

a) its wrong. Such attacks - even on the scale of a 911 every 5 years or so, would only impact the freedoms and lives of a few thousand.
b) such draconian laws constitute an attack on all of us.

Do I believe the present government would abuse such legislation? Not in a major way. I suspect there will be no more than a handful of wrongful detentions per year.

But do I have any reason to believe that this restraint would apply to all possible future governments? Not at all.

And with this law, they could effectively silence and imprison anyone they take a dislike to.

This is the kind of law which dictatorships thrive on.

A day of true shame for those who thought Britain civilised.

As to how to deal with the problem more appropriately; there are many angles to this problem and it is the main focus of the chapter I am rewriting as we speak but, in a nutshell:

1 The government is correct to state that there is a problem.
2 The problem is worse for the UK than anywhere else in Europe (because we are the most active supporters of the US imperialist policies)
3 It is inevitable that we will obtain intelligence, from time to time, which tells us that a given individual is a real threat
4 It is highly irresponsible to reveal the source of that intelligence or to attempt to use it to sustain a prosecution. (Without going into great detail, some naive pundits argue that we should, for example, use telephone tap obtained data as there is less risk of exposure to our intelligence effort. They don't seem to understand that revealing that we can prosecute detainee X because we have telephone tap evidence but we can't prosecute detainee Y on the same basis, tells the world that our intelligence source on detainee Y is something other than telephone based. That immediately places whatever that alternative source is under threat.)
5 It is irresponsible when we know that a fox is approaching the hen coop not to intervene. We can either lock up all the hens or the fox. In other words detentions or expulsions are likely to be essential for our security.
6 The big question, therefore, is not "Should we lock them up (or expel)" but "How should we ensure fairness?" in the resulting procedure.
7 The government is the last body which should be empowered to make such decisions. That is precisely how a dictatorship comes into being.
8 This government is even reluctant to permit a judge to be the final arbiter. (which, in my view, confirms their authoritarian tendencies)
9 In fact the only fair way to make such decisions is to involve the hens. i.e. a jury of the citizens under the alleged threat should be permitted access to the secret evidence and asked to approve (or not) the proposed detention.
10 Such a jury and the relevant hearings would, of course, have to be held in camera and, no doubt, would benefit from the guidance of a senior judge.
11 Not only would the jury have the last word, however, it could also stipulate the conditions of detention, the monitoring of those conditions and a maximum period of detention
12 It could also set its own review dates
13 This would bring an element of genuine democratic control into what is regrettably necessary in the modern world and would ensure that no politician or any other member of the establishment could ride roughshod over the rights of citizens.
14 If such rights must occasionally be trampled, that trampling must be under the authority and supervision of other ordinary citizens.
15 Finally, regardless of secrecy provisions, any jury which believed that the establishment was guilty of an attempted abuse of such powers would be both obliged and entitled to reveal such abuse publicly.

That is an example of the way to deal with this kind of intractable security problem without allowing security to trump liberty.

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