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Friday, September 16, 2005 

Was Clarke overruled by Blair?

Seems the Charles Clarke definitely had doubts over the possible imprisoning of terrorist suspects for up to 3 months. Was he then overruled by the Dear Leader who demanded that he follow the requests from the security services and police?

Signs emerged today that Charles Clarke shared opposition doubts about the detention without trial of terror suspects for up to three months, as proposed yesterday in his draft anti-terrorism bill.

Close examination of the letter the home secretary sent his opposite numbers by email yesterday showed that in an earlier draft Mr Clarke had himself been unsure about acceding to the police request for longer detention periods. Both Liberals and Conservatives immediately objected to the proposal on receiving the letter.

Mr Clarke's doubts were revealed by the accidental inclusion of an earlier draft in an "annex" to the letter. In a version of the letter later released to the press this annex had been removed. However, the slip will reignite speculation, fuelled by Sunday newspaper stories recently, that the prime minister regards Mr Clarke as too soft on civil liberties, and may replace him in a future reshuffle.

By the time the letter was sent, Mr Clarke had hardened his stance to agreeing with a three-month detention period - putting the onus on the opposition to make the case against.

The three-month issue - dubbed "internment in all but name" by Amnesty International yesterday - was the main sticking point in reaching cross-party consensus on the bill, which will be introduced when parliament returns in October.

In the first draft of his letter, Mr Clarke said: "I think the case for some extension is clear, though I believe there is room for debate as to whether we should go as far as three months, and I am still in discussion with the police on this point."

But the correspondence actually sent reads: "It may be that you are convinced by the case for some extension but feel that three months is too great an extension. I would be interested in your views on this particular point."

Is Charles Clarke going to turn out to be another critic of government policy when/if he leaves the cabinet? It was rumoured when he was promoted to Home Secretary following David Blunkett's resignation that he had been firmly against the introduction of ID Cards; he soon rectified that rumour by continuing with Blunkett's campaign to get them through parliament as quickly as possible. That still doesn't explain what his personal view is though. In recent weeks there have been persistent reports that Blair is not happy with Clarke's performance, that he is "too soft". That this is nonsense doesn't matter; the tabloids loved Blunkett until he became an easy scapegoat for their hatred of Labour before the election. The Daily Mail especially put the knife into his back. The tabloids this time are not supportive of Clarke. That Clarke still seems to have some doubts about the way the new terrorist laws are being seemingly drafted by Blair is encouraging - what's depressing is that he seems to be failing to have much input on them.

As well as this, yesterday's annoucement on the offence of "glorification" has today been further clarified:

The government's proposed anti-terrorism laws published yesterday are so widely drawn that anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" any terrorist act committed over the past 20 years could face a sentence of up to five years in prison.

But the small print of the draft terrorism bill published yesterday shows that the home secretary is preparing to go even further and draw up a list of historical terrorist acts which if "glorified" could mean a criminal offence being committed.

A Home Office spokeswoman said 9/11 was such an example; it would become a "listed event", the appropriate ban lasting longer than 20 years. However, the 1916 Irish Easter Rising would be exempt.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said the offence of "glorification" was so broad it meant the home secretary was now acquiring powers to determine which historical figures were terrorists and which freedom fighters.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, said the power was needed because the "celebration of despicable terrorist acts over the past weeks has only served to inflame already sensitive community relations in the UK". But he acknowledged that the proper exercise of freedom of speech meant the offence had to be carefully drawn. His proposals came as it emerged that the Crown Prosecution Service was preparing guidelines for "intelligence-only" interviews, whereby terrorism suspects could give information which would not be used against them. Senior prosecutors are convinced that this, plus other measures such as intercept evidence and plea bargaining, would strengthen their hand against international terrorism and organised crime.

An earlier draft of the letter made clear that powers allowing the police "to close down places of worship used to foment extremism" had been dropped.

Two other measures outlined by the prime minister - refusal of asylum to anyone who connected with terrorism anywhere in the world, and a maximum time limit on extradition cases - were also absent from yesterday's package.

Making the gloryifying of historical terrorist attacks a criminal offence smacks of countries which make Holocaust denial an offence. There is no doubting that such people are misled, stupid or willing to make others think that the opposite to the truth is the actual reality, but what is the point of wasting time legislating and then prosecuting such people? I'm not sure whether Holocaust denial falls under incitement to racial hatred in this country, but even if it does the point stands. Why can we not tackle these people through debate and summaries of the facts? Also as mentioned yesterday, the UN can't even decide what an act of terrorism actually is. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

What is good to see is that some of the most extreme measures which the Dear Leader previously outlined have been quietly dropped or sidelined for the moment - hopefully for good. Closing down Mosques on reports of extremism is only going to enflame the situation around the country. As the Finchley Park debacle showed, the Mosque there was reclaimed while the likes of Abu Hamza just went outside and carried on their preaching in the street, solving little. The refusal to asylum of anyone associated to "terrorism" would have been an unworkable mindfield that may have condemned some to death at the hands of despotic regimes. The government seems to have seen sense on that point. Hopefully the government, with opposition from civil liberties groups and other political parties, will yet see sense on other measures of this draconian and mostly unnecessary bill.

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