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Saturday, September 10, 2005 

"Dame" Eliza Manningham-Buller says forget civil liberties, stopping terrorism is more important.

It really is sad that even those in charge of the top echelons of power haven't realised this is exactly what fundamentalists of all ilks want:

The head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, has publicly warned that civil liberties may have to be eroded to prevent future terrorist attacks in Britain.

Dame Eliza's decision to disclose her comments - first made at a private gathering in the Netherlands - is significant, given that she touches on a controversial issue at the heart of the government's political agenda.

Dame Eliza said she recognised rights had been hard fought for. "But the world has changed and there needs to be a debate on whether some erosion of what we all value may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives."

The MI5 head gave her warning in a speech in the Hague on September 1 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Dutch security service, the AIVD. She subsequently decided it should be published and it was posted yesterday on MI5's website.

Dame Eliza described what she calls a "central dilemma - how to protect our citizens within the rule of law when intelligence does not amount to clear-cut evidence and when it is fragile". It is in this context that she warned of the potential erosion of civil liberties.

Tony Blair has repeatedly asserted that the security services backed the government's system of control orders - restricting people's liberties without a trial in a court of law.

State prosecutors have also said that the 14 days the police can now hold suspect terrorists before they are charged or released is too short.

Government lawyers and MI5, meanwhile, want a system of "intelligence only" interviews - a kind of plea bargaining whereby valuable information provided by a suspect would be taken into account in the subsequent trial.

Security sources said yesterday that Dame Eliza was not advocating particular proposals put forward by the government, notably control orders, deportations, and far more broadly-defined offences in new anti-terror laws which would not require the evidence now needed to secure a conviction.

But her message was clear: information acquired through intelligence gathering was often insufficient to allow police and prosecutors to bring criminal charges, yet that information could prevent a terrorist attack if the suspects were rounded up.

Her comments are rather measured, it has to be said. Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty, has said that her remarks are a lot more reasonable than those by politicians, especially the Prime Minister. Despite this, "Dame" Eliza is just as much the problem as she is the solution. Her organisation still refuses to allow wiretap surveillance evidence to be used in the courts as they fear it would expose their practices. It's ignorant decisions such as these that are leading to alleged extremists being deported to countries that practice torture, rather than trying them here. Secondly, the world has not changed. Only the politicians believe that the world has changed, in America more than elsewhere. They have seized on the terrorist attacks of the last few years to push their own agendas which were already well pre-planned. The gradual removal of rights, the use of identity cards and CCTV has grown massively year on year, with hardly any questions being asked, especially about the latter.

More than anything, we need to get terrorism into perspective. They (whoever they is) do not threaten the life of this nation. As Lord Bingham said, it's bad laws that threaten the life of the nation, not terrorists who only managed to kill 52 people with their pathetic attacks. That is not to belittle those who died. As I have said before, would those who died have wanted their deaths to be used as an excuse to limit civil liberties? We're not only rewarding the use of violence, we're also disrespecting their memory. Only by challenging beliefs, by not reducing those they view as their brothers to shreds in Iraq and Afghanistan, by pushing for a balanced solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict will we improve our safety. In the mean time, what is needed is improved intelligence on those in this country who do pose a threat, not draconian measures which impact on all of us.

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