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Thursday, September 15, 2005 

No Trousers Charlie carries on with his determination for 3 months internment for "terror" suspects.

The cross-party consensus on anti-terror legislation broke down today, as the home secretary, Charles Clarke, proposed detaining terror suspects without charge for three months.

The Liberal Democrats immediately opposed both longer detention periods, which the police have requested, and the intention to create a new offence of "glorifying terrorism".

David Davis, the Tory home affairs spokesman, echoed the first objection, saying the government had "yet to make a convincing case" for extending the maximum period of detention.

After seeing the details of the offences, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, said: "We still want to try to seek consensus. However, two sticking points have emerged for us." Those sticking points are longer detention, and "glorifying terrorism".

The Liberal Democrats oppose the "glorification" offence on pragmatic grounds of how it would be drafted and interpreted by the courts, a spokesman said, rather than the principle of endorsing terrorism.

On detention without charge, they argue that if the police have difficulties amassing a case for a charge within a fortnight, that is a question of police and forensic resources, rather than a reason to increase the detention period.

A spokesman added: "The period has only recently been increased, from seven days to a fortnight, so that, plus more resources, should be tried first."

Mr Davis meanwhile repeated long-standing Tory concerns that the government was unwilling to allow security service phone tapping as evidence, but welcomed Mr Clarke's statement he was now willing to look at the possible use of such material.

The plan to increase detention periods was also immediately denounced by civil rights campaigners as "a new British internment".

3 months is a ridiculously lengthy amount of time to compile a case worthy of charging a suspect, whatever they are accused of doing. I accept that cracking PGP keys or encryption is obviously time-consuming, but three months? If anything this just shows under-staffed with specialists the police are. Note that it's only recently been agreed to extend the time to 14 days - the suspects in the July 21st "attacks" were charged before that period had even elapsed. A month, even six weeks may have been acceptable. Instead the government has followed the most draconian measures which the police and security services have demanded. It also brings into question how suspects will be treated during their time in custody. It needs to be clarified exactly how long they can be questioned for without a break. When arrested now, you are handed a piece of paper explaining your rights in detail. Those arrested under the terrorism acts need to be even more aware of what can and cannot be done.

The Lib Dems are also right in at the moment opposing the glorification offence. As has been shown at the UN in the last few days, defining terrorism itself is difficult enough, so what exactly would "glorification" be? Would it be daring to call Palestinian suicide bombers martyrs? If so, the current leaders of mainstream Islamic organisations may well be in trouble. Those glorifying acts of violence against innocent populations are obviously deluded and a possible danger, but so is the BNP. We've dealt with them and the far-right without banning them for half a century. Exposing their arguments for what they are has worked for a long time. The rush to make free speech illegal is worrying. Instead of engaging with Islamic groups, we've had BBC's Panorama which was a very one-sided and unsubtle veiled attack on the current leadership. The banning of peaceful but radical grouping Hizb-ut-Tahrir is also a retrograde step. At the moment the government and the media seem intent on provoking rather than helping and understanding.

Even more disgraceful is the move today to attempt to deport some of those who were acquitted in the so-called ricin case. It certainly seems to be taking revenge on those who humiliated the government when their case fell to pieces. While most of the media followed the government line, especially the BBC, whose reporting was some of the worst on the case that I have ever seen on the corporation, the Guardian demolished the government's case and reported the truth.

Evidence in the trial showed the British and US govern ments had made exaggerated or misleading claims based on the raid on the north London flat where Bourgass lived.

Making the case for the Iraq war in February 2003, the former US secretary of state Colin Powell said in his speech to the UN security council that ricin had been found there and that that demonstrated a link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. No such evidence was produced in court. Mr Powell spoke of a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network".

The marathon trial, estimated to have have cost at least £20m, also revealed that government claims that ricin had been found continued after their own scientists concluded that none had been. The London flat where Bourgass's poison recipes were found had been raided on January 5, but within two days experts at Porton Down concluded that no ricin had been produced, according to a court document seen by the Guardian.

It can also now be reported that the attorney general took the rare step of warning his ministerial colleagues about prejudicing the jury after comments by the former home secretary David Blunkett. The trial judge wrote to Lord Goldsmith after Mr Blunkett, when in office and as the jury was hearing the case, said last November: "Al-Qaida is seen to be, and will be demonstrated through the courts over months to come, to be actually on our doorstep and threatening our lives. I am talking about people who are and about to go through the court system."

Lord Goldsmith has decided Mr Blunkett's remarks did not amount to contempt but yesterday the trial judge criticised Mr Blunkett for comments made during the trial.

Last night Muslim groups condemned the publicity over the plot. Azad Ali of the Muslim Safety Forum, where top police officers and Muslim leaders discuss terrorism and other issues, said: "The ricin plot was part of government thinking and public justification in bringing in control orders. This will confirm the feeling in the Muslim community that it is being victimised on the basis of intelligence that was not tested in anything like a court, and when it is, it is thrown out."

What also emerged was that an early test on a pestle and mortar, conducted when the flat was raided, showed possible traces of ricin.

But a more advanced test on January 7 found none, a result confirmed by a DNA test.

Professor Alastair Hay, an expert in biochemical poisons, reviewed Porton Down's tests for the defence.

Porton Down documents show that by January 8 scientists at the defence research facility had written to the police declaring there was no ricin on several items from the flat.

The jury heard that the plan had been to kill people by smearing ricin on door handles in Holloway, north London. But Prof Hay said: "With these recipes they could not have killed people. Ricin is not absorbed through the skin."

The government hyped the case from the beginning. Colin Powell used it in his now hilariously funny UN presentation on Iraq's "Weapons of Mass Destruction". When the jury acquitted the men, they had passed judgment that they were innocent. Now instead of the government trying the men again, they are deporting them, probably back to Algeria when they come to an agreement with that country on torture. If this isn't to be seen as a government lashing out for being humiliated in spite, they have a lot of explaining to do.

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