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Tuesday, November 05, 2013 

The same old priorities.

There's a really simple answer as to why it is the likes of Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed and others before him have managed to go missing despite being under TPIMs or control orders: it's because they're not considered dangerous enough to truly be concerned about. Those connected with terrorism who really are dangerous, or at least pose a threat to the public in this country either directly or indirectly are prosecuted, or in the cases of Babar Ahmed and Abu Qatada, deported.  Clearly, this can never be an exact science: MI5 knew of some of those who went on to carry out the 7/7 attacks as they were on the periphery of other watched groups, and you suspect much is yet to come out at the trial of the two men charged with the murder of Lee Rigby, but for the most part those considered to be a present threat have been properly dealt with.

The fascinating thing is how much certain newspapers suddenly know about these individuals when they do manage to give those monitoring them the slip. All that was known yesterday was Mohamed was the man referred to as CC in this appeal against his control order, and that he was strongly linked to al-Shabaab, the case against him described by the judge as being "overwhelming". Not overwhelming enough for him to face any charges here, natch, and the judge also found that his arrest in Somaliland was against the law there, but this wasn't an abuse of process by our good selves. Equally naturally, the reason why it wasn't an abuse of process is only explained in the closed judgement.

Luckily for all concerned, we now know Mohamed is in fact so dangerous he's a "disciple" of the "white widow", none other than Samantha Lewthwaite herself, as both the Sun and Mirror tell us. Their evidence amounts to, err, she's connected with al-Shabaab and he's connected with al-Shabaab, therefore QED. The tabloid obsession with Lewthwaite seems to mean little things like accuracy don't apply; reading their articles gives the impression she leads the whole damn group, while previously they were near certain she was involved in the Westgate mall siege. She wasn't, and she's almost certainly just another western jihadi, only female and the widow of one of the 7/7 attackers, but when has the press ever let facts get in the way of a good scare/outrage story?

The only other point of interest is it illustrates how Labour is still undecided on civil liberties. The tighter control order regime didn't stop people on them from absconding, so how on earth would either resurrecting them or reintroducing "internal exile" make any difference? Those determined to go on the run will, and without more intrusive surveillance they won't be stopped from doing so.

Such inevitabilities do however distract from the cases where the secret state quite evidently oversteps the mark. Earlier in the year Justice Tughendhat ruled that the women who were misled by police spies into either long term relationships or sex could not have their cases heard in open court, instead having to go to the investigatory powers tribunal. There is no guarantee that the IPT will hear their case, and even if it does, all evidence will remain secret. Unsurprisingly, the IPT has upheld only 10 of the 1120 complaints made to it, and as such is an integral part of the regulatory system GCHQ boasted was less onerous than that of our American cousins' NSA.

Today the court of appeal upheld Tughendhat's ruling, although they did not repeat his bizarre argument that the regulation of investigatory powers act could be used to authorise spies relying on sex to get information they otherwise could not, as fictional accounts such as Ian Fleming's James Bond gave credence to the idea that such things did happen.  The only consolation for the women was the court overturned Tughendhat's other ruling that they had to go through the IPT process before claiming for damages under common law, something they can now go ahead with.

Our old friend "national security" also reared its head at the court martial of three marines accused of murdering an injured fighter in Afghanistan.  The entire incident was captured by one of the marines on a helmet cam, yet the judge advocate ruled the footage could not be released as he had to balance "the risk of members of the armed forces being killed if the DVD is released against the right of the press to have access to and publish information".  Unless he was seriously suggesting the video could lead to more Woolwich style attacks, the risk of being killed on operations abroad is one soldiers take on signing up, and it's extremely dubious one video is going to directly lead to dozens more recruits joining the Taliban.  It might well be a propaganda gift, as the Ministry of Defence argued, but that isn't a reason for not letting the public see both what troops are being asked to do in Afghanistan and the reality of what sometimes happens, allowing them to make up their own minds.

The default position when it comes to state subterfuge or embarrassment over defence remains secrecy.  More than anything else, this continuing refusal to allow proceedings in open court is at odds with our expectations of both government and business.  It invites cynicism and ridicule, and leads to people like me being dismissive of the state's case in its entirety.  There may well be instances where the only way to gain access to a violent protest group considering turning to terrorism would be to seduce one of its members; when it's been used as a matter of course to further infiltrate either peaceful groups or those using civil disobedience though, and the state refuses to defend itself in public court, it only encourages the demand for a full end to the policy.  Then again, when rulings such as today's get next to no coverage, just as the initial one did, while the disappearance of a terror suspect deemed to pose no threat to the UK public makes the front pages, the potential for reform remains as slight as ever.

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There's an interesting omission from your introduction:

Those connected with terrorism who really are dangerous, or at least pose a threat to the public in this country either directly or indirectly are prosecuted, or in the cases of Babar Ahmed and Abu Qatada, deported.

Control orders were brought in specifically to deal with the "none of the above" category - those who weren't British nationals but couldn't be deported for human rights reasons. In other words, to deal with the people who had been released from indefinite detention in Belmarsh - but this guy seems to be a British national, so he would never have been in Belmarsh. Yet nobody - politician or commentator - is saying "why didn't we prosecute this guy?". It speaks volumes for the way in which new security measures, introduced to deal with specific threats, are naturalised and become part of the furniture.

Very true, how control orders came into being had slipped my mind. And one of the main reasons we still can't prosecute some of these people we now also know is the security services were fearful if intercept evidence was made admissible their wider than known surveillance would become public. A very tangled web.

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