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Friday, August 18, 2006 

Sun-watch: You knew it was coming.

Less than a week after the alleged terror plot was foiled, the Sun is already calling for the legislation that proposed up to 90 days detention for terror suspects to be reintroduced:

TONY BLAIR’s first act on returning from holiday must be to reopen his battle for 90-day detention orders.

More than two-out-of-three voters back his view that terror suspects should be held for up to three months while inquiries are under way.

The absurdity of the present 28-day limit is clear as police race against the clock to amass evidence on the Heathrow suspects.

Detectives have to shuttle between London and Lahore to unravel a complex web with links to al-Qaeda.

Computer wizards are sifting through a mountain of encrypted programmes. And two dozen contradictory statements must be checked and re-checked before charges can be laid.

Parliament’s perverse rejection of 90-day orders MUST be reversed.

And the sooner the better.

The Sun mentioning that two-thirds of the population apparently support up to 90-day detention without charge is based on the survey that was in yesterday's Spectator, and also lead its sister publication the Torygraph. BSSC has already had a look through it, and found that it contains some seriously leading questions, loaded towards harsh action against both terrorist suspects and "terrorist" nations. This increasingly reflects the Spectator's own political outlook, which has changed from the one-nation Toryism which it advocated under previous editor Boris Johnson, to more of a neo-conservative agenda under its new editor Matthew D'Ancona.

Besides, the men currently held have only been in the police cells so far for a week and a day.
A judge has already given police another week to question the majority of those held, with police being given 5 more days for another 2. There are also another 2 weeks available after that, with permission of a judge needed to be sought again. The whole system is something approaching a farce: no judge is going to release men that police lawyers suggest are involved in terrorism in any way if they say that they haven't yet finished their inquiries. The Sun's panic that the police are racing against time is clearly rubbish. Some of those previously held, as well as their lawyers, have even suggested in the past that the police have just left suspects to stew in the cells for up to a week before they were even questioned, which gives the lie to the need for even longer detention.

The problem for the police may be that they have found little actual evidence so far that there was a plot about to be put into action, or at least that we have been told of so far.
The suitcase supposedly found yesterday is the only major find, and even that hasn't be confirmed. As it is, we have to take the Sun's words at face value when they state that "computer wizards" are trying to crack encrypted programs. There's already a law that gives the police the power to demand encryption keys, as David Davis has pointed out. If they refuse, they can be instantly charged, something which hasn't happened yet. PGP itself, the encryption standard most often used, is already assumed to have been broken by top-level government agencies, although some think that only the original algorithms have been cracked.

The links with Lahore are also starting to be questioned. The arrest of Rashid Rauf, with the information apparently coming from him and others detained at the same time or in the aftermath, is looking increasingly like the desperate singing of a canary having its wings slowly broken.
That the Pakistani authorities are by the day revealing more and more sensational details of the alleged al-Qaida links with the plot, details which still have never been confirmed over the 7/7 bombings, suggests that it's all part of a media frenzy designed to show that the men held in both countries are clearly guilty, even when not yet charged with anything. That every single terror attack or plot ever exposed is linked almost immediately to al-Qaida is absurd; the organisation was nearly destroyed by the attack on Afghanistan, but has since re-emerged more as a common idea than as a network. Autonomous operating cells with aims similar to those of al-Qaida now appear to litter the globe. It is these that pose the real threat to the west, through their shared jihadist ideology, not a tiny actual organisation led by two men perceived to be sheltering along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. We seem to be determined to give bin Laden and Zawahiri more credit than they deserve.

What's most unnerving about the Sun's demands for 90 days to be reintroduced though is that it seems unlikely they would have already gone ahead in calling for it if they didn't already have some insider information that it is exactly what the government intends to do. The Sun always wants to be on the "winning" side of the argument, whether it's on prisons, terrorism, or even Big Brother. The real perversity is not those who rejected the Scum and government's sensational demands,
but rather that the newspaper called those who voted against "traitors". The true traitors are the ginger ninja and the Australian-born tax avoiding American megalomaniac, who'd rather that they were in power than the democratically elected representatives of the people.

Those who oppose the ever increasing attacks on civil liberties therefore need to perform a pre-emptive strike on the governments plans, making clear that 90 days is completely unacceptable in any situation. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest, despite the Sun's increasingly hysterical pleading, that anything longer than 28 days is needed.
As Craig Murray has pointed out, only 12% of the over 1,000 British Muslims arrested under anti-legislation have been charged, and of that 12%, only 20% were convicted. If other new laws are necessary, we need to demand that we get intercept evidence made admissible in British courts, however much the spooks complain. The security services also desperately need a watchdog, as the "war on terror" results in intelligence agencies worldwide indulging in unethical and immoral methods that are simply unacceptable and counterproductive. It's only then that we should accept that yet more restrictions of liberty may be needed.

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