About time…

At long last the United States of America has started back on the road to decency.

US President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as well as all overseas CIA detention centres for terror suspects.
Signing the orders, Mr Obama said the US would continue to fight terror, but maintain “our values and our ideals”.
He also ordered a review of military trials for terror suspects and a ban on harsh interrogation methods. [source: the BBC]

It really is about time, but still, well done President Obama. Soon the US may once again be able to hold its head up high on the world stage.

You can trust the state…

Well, we have talked about the evil madness policy that is the governments proposed 42 day detention without trial for people suspected of terrorism. It is wrong and no amount of fear-woo spreading will convince me otherwise, however there are those who are not so set in their views.

One of the major arguments “for” the 42 day detention is how we live in a “different world” than a few years ago when 28 days was enough. These people often opine how “we” don’t understand the threats the security apparatus face and how much “they” need this time to fight the evil terrorists. Wisely, the actual security organisations themselves have remained quiet on this and I have more than a little respect for that, although it makes it hard to counter the fear-woo.

Wonderfully, today the former head of the Security Service – the organisation charged with protecting the nation from terrorism – has made clear her (personal) opinion on the matter.

Lady Manningham-Buller, in her maiden speech to the House of Lords, said: “I don’t see, on a principled basis, as well as a practical one, that these proposals are in any way workable.”

Well, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Even better, this is not someone who has no idea about the threat. This is not someone who doesn’t understand the problems faced by the security apparatus. Baroness Manningham-Buller spent 33 years working for MI5 combating terrorism and espionage throughout the cold war, the IRA bombing campaign and headed up the organisation in the madness that followed the Jul 2005 bombings. This is not someone who can be dismissed as having “no idea,” she has lived it for almost all her adult life. If she thinks it is wrong, it may well be wrong…(*)

Sadly, I doubt the almost non-existent coverage of her statement will sway much of the UK population.

But it should. The more power we give to the state, the harder it becomes when things go wrong. And they do go wrong with a scary regularity. Also in today’s news was the armed response to a case of mistaken identity:

Three police forces are to be investigated after armed police ordered a man to lie face-down at a railway station in a case of mistaken identity.

Two Dorset Police officers arrested the 21-year-old at gunpoint after his train stopped at Bournemouth on Saturday. He was identified by British Transport Police after Hampshire police told them of an earlier incident in Basingstoke.

Now this is fairly harmless and the poor person in question was simply made to lie down. However the situation where an armed response was going in meant everything was very dangerous. Keep in mind, this is an innocent person. They have committed no crime. What if, for example, they were hard of hearing or simply confused by the instructions shouted by the armed officers? There was an example of what can happen when it goes wrong on the London Underground in 2005.

No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. These are so frequently used it is almost embarrassing to write it here, however it highlights a critical measure. We, as a society, should be aware that mistakes get made. Rather than holding continual, pointless, inquires after the act why not prepare for them by making sure that the damage caused by mistakes is minimal. I am not saying the measures taken by Dorset Police was wrong (although it does smell of the new offence of “being black on public transport”), as they do have a public safety issue to balance. However, the more we give them the ability to punish and detain innocent people, the greater the risk of a serious mistake – and the more power the state has, the harder it is to bring to account.

(*) Don’t think this means I agree with her on torture or the overall “war on terror” approach… It just means she isn’t always wrong… As soon as she reads this blog and realises I am always right the better… ­čÖé

Last irony on 42 days

BBC News24 interviewed the representatives of the “winners”, Keith Vaz and the leader of the parliamentary DUP.

Keith Vaz looked like someone who was eating a mouthful of shit while trying to cover up his innate gagging response. He claimed he would have voted against it, if not for the “concessions.” He’d better hope he gets paid back handsomely for his vote in the next reshuffle or he’ll have shown himself to have been spineless rather than merely careerist.

On the other hand, the DUP representative looked like the cat who’d just swallowed a bowlful of cream. (Possibly with a delicious dead mouse chaser.) He said the DUP voted with the government as a matter of principle. Oh yeah? He denied there was any sweetener for Northern Ireland. Although, if there just happened to be extra wodges of public money coming NI’s way, he would welcome it. He didn’t even try to keep from grinning.

(Vaz only stopped gagging to be caught in a snigger when the DUP guy said that, although their votes weren’t bought, the NI parliament would welcome any coincidental gift from the government.)

Government won by 9 votes. DUP miraculous conversions to Labour votes were … oh, let me see if I’ve got this right… Hmm that will be 9.

With supreme irony, he said the DUP voted with the government because the NI troubles meant they knew about terrorism. Well, almost certainly, they do. Most of us on the mainland find it very hard to distinguish between Unionist politicians and Protestant terrorists, for a start.

Maybe, I don’t understand this boring political stuff. But, this looks disturbingly like a government pushing through its 42-days TWAT measure by buying off a terrorist front organisation to defeat the opposition of 36 principled Labour MPs (and principled Tories and Liberal Democrats. Credit to all)

Tony Benn said that he’d never dreamed that he’d be present in Parliament to see the rights gained by Magna Carta being unmade.

Absolutely spot on, but, if he was less statesmanlike he might have added, “through an alliance that would fit seamlessly into a plot synopsis for Godfather IV.”

*****************************
I almost promise this will be the last on this fiasco. It has driven both T_W and me to distraction (along with Amnesty International, Liberty, the Tory and Liberal Shadow Home Secretaries, the thinking broadsghheet editirs, brave Labour MPs like Grogan and Abbott, long-time Labour stalwarts like Benn, old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all…) It’s probably going to be defeated in the House of Lords, anyway, but I will try not to not mention it until that happy day.

Why it is important…

Over the last few months, I have ranted a few times about how I think that civil liberties in the UK (and to an extent the world over, but I don’t have first hand experience of that) are being eroded as a result of general fear and the media’s incessant pressure to convince people we live in dangerous times.

I also rant about this quite a bit in the real world where, the same as online, I am often faced with arguments which basically say there is nothing to worry about, the security forces are trustworthy and only guilty people need to have anything to hide. These arguments are basically false but it can be difficult to refute them, examples like the Guildford Four or Birmingham Six are distant memories now.

Recently, the latest spate of inept terrorists appear to have provided the impetus for the Home Secretary to be looking at reforms to the UK’s anti-terrorist related laws. As well as on this blog, even sites such as the Register have demonstrated some concern in both the driving force, and the results of this new fear-based-law society.

I have spoken in the past about the problems of detaining an innocent person for two months without even having enough evidence to charge them, and this remains (in my mind at least) still the critical issue over the whole deal. Taking someones life away from them, putting them in a cell and controlling their life is a punishment. Despite what the tabloids may try to make people think, it is not an easy time nor is it a “holiday” camp. Given that most UK prisoners are Christians (interesting considering…) someone detained as a suspected Islamic terrorist is at much greater risk of mistreatment by fellows inmates if they are detained with the general population, or they end up being put in solitary confinement for their own protection. Either way it amounts to a serious punishment that would normally require you were convicted of a criminal offence first (and a reasonably serious one to amount to two months detention).

It would be nice if we could be sure that the police forces across the UK would only enact this legislation on the most solid intelligence possible, and this is certainly what is claimed by the ministers and officials pushing for it. The problem is, this really is not the case. The police have no public accountability (for reasons I agree with) over their intelligence and neither the police nor the security forces are subject to any form of censure should they get it wrong. There is no real incentive for the police to adhere to this high standard — in fact, given the way figures are presented with the totals being more important then the amounts presented for trial, it seems the opposite is true.

A recent example of this has been bouncing through the news since the London/Glasgow terrorist event. One of the key suspects was an Indian born Doctor who was arrested in Australia based on UK police information. Dr Haneef has been identified repeatedly in the tabloids as a terrorist (suspect with lesser emphasis) over the past few weeks and the police were doing their utmost to have him sent back over here (in an ironic reverse deportation) so he could be detained under anti-terror legislation — this would have meant the police could detain him for 28 days under current laws, before having to bring charges.

So that the Australians would co-operate and deport Dr Haneef, the police shared a fair bit of their intelligence with them and this is a good thing. I am not pro-terrorist. As a result of this, the Australians detained Dr Haneef for several weeks and tried to bring a case against him.

Sadly, it appears the intelligence indicating he was linked to the terrorists is heavily flawed. The BBC reports:

Prosecutors had claimed that the doctor’s mobile phone SIM card had been found in the burning car that crashed into Glasgow international airport on 30 June.

But it later emerged the card had actually been found in a flat in Liverpool, some 300km (185 miles) from Glasgow, where his second cousin lived.

Blimey. Call me old fashioned but that is a serious mistake to make and, as the prosecutors were willing to present it as evidence when it was so wildly incorrect, it is worrying — it means they didn’t know their “evidence” was faulty. This is not a problem with intelligence, it is evidence. It seems that the police were unable to establish if they had gathered a vital piece of evidence at the crime scene or in a different country. That worries me. A lot. The BBC continues:

Australia’s most senior police officer, Commissioner Mick Keelty, said UK police had provided the inaccurate information.

“Haneef attempted to leave the country. If we had let him go, we would have been accused of letting a terrorist escape our shores,” he said.

The charges against Dr Haneef were dropped after Australia’s chief prosecutor said there had been mistakes made in the investigation, and because of a lack of evidence.

(read more on the BBCs article titled “Why the Haneef case disintegrated“) Sadly, it is probable that we only know of this because the case was handled by a foreign police force. If Dr Haneef had been detained in the UK, he could have been held for 28 days before any case was even made and if it collapsed in that time, there would be no public information as to what went wrong. Basically, Dr Haneef would have spent a month in jail because the police thought his SIM card was somewhere it wasn’t. Most of the current vitriol against the police over this case is aimed at the Australian police, but does anyone think the UK (or pretty much any other western nation) police are all that different?

I have said before that the main reason there is so much apathy over this is that it seems to target minorities, and that alone is a sign that we should all be concerned about the steady erosion of basic civil liberties. While, for now, it may seem like only the brown skinned ones with beards, funny accents and unpronounceable names are being singled out, once the right has been legally removed it is gone for everyone — Hindu, Atheist, Moslem, Jain or Christian alike (and it brings to mind Pastor Martin Niem├â┬Âller‘s famous poem).

That is why I think it is really, really, important. [tags]Civil Liberties, Hindu, Atheist, Moslem, Jain, Australia, Christian, Dr Haneef, Anti-Terror Legislation, Laws, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Jail, Intelligence, Detention,Pastor Martin Niem├â┬Âller, SIM Cards, Evidence, Trial,Terrorist,Terror,The Register, Society, Culture, Fear, Terrorism, Tabloids, Media[/tags]