Monday, July 16, 2007 

Is it that time again already?

Yesterday was Sunday, which must mean that it's time once again to examine the clearly overwhelming and by no means wafer-thin argument for up to 90-days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects". Or, as this case now appears to be, with both Lord Carlile and Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers speaking of their support for it, indefinite detention without charge.

Jones himself, having given an interview to the Observer, felt the need to argue with the semantics with which the paper had presented his opinion. It took his use of "as long as it takes" to mean potentially indefinite detention, way past even 90 days, for instance. That was most certainly not what he meant, as he also stated that while the police needed to have as long as it takes, they should also not be held for a day longer than it takes, which is obviously a great comfort. Just to be absolutely sure:

"It needs to be as long as is proportionate and necessary, subjected to sufficient judicial checks and balances," Mr Jones told the BBC. "But I can tell you now, Acpo is not calling for indeterminate detention."

So when does as long as is proportionate and necessary not mean as long as it takes, potentially meaning an indefinite period, if someone is considered that dangerous? No answer was the sad reply.

The whole basis of the argument is fatally flawed. As we have seen when previous alleged plots have been foiled, on most occasions there is at a least one or two who are arrested that are subsequently released without charge, as the wife of one of those still being held over the failed car bomb attacks has been, and two other doctors who were also detained. When we start getting into the potential deprivation of liberty from those who are under suspicion for, as Jones himself stated, as long as it takes, even with the judicial oversight being proposed, there is a great possibility that those who are completely innocent will be held for far greater lengths of time than they are currently. Giving in effect carte blanche to the police, only having to inform a judge once a week of how their case is progressing, as is currently the system, will greatly shift the balance from presumed innocence towards presumed guilt, with the police having inordinate amounts of time not just to question the suspects, raising the spectre of the gradual wearing down of suspects as happened in previous decades, but also to keep searching and searching until they find absolutely anything incriminating, even if there is nothing to find.

This is perhaps the ultimate conclusion to the gradual drift away from the principle of being innocent until proved guilty. Since 9/11 we've seen tougher measures introduced year after year, and still, despite Peter Clarke previously stating that the police were now more or less happy with the new offences introduced and the new powers handed across they're not fully satisfied. Rather than these new laws helping to counter the threat, we're now told that there are up to 2000 individuals actively plotting to bring "mass murder" to the streets, up 400 from when Eliza Manningham-Bullshitter delivered her lecture last November. All those arrested now under the Terrorism Act, whether they have been conclusively linked to an attack or not, are effectively guilty until they're proved innocent, and unless the police really cocked up, as in Forest Gate, those that have their lives either temporarily or permanently destroyed as a result of being detained and subsequently released without charge never get so much as an apology.

It's quite true that we have to balance the liberty of ourselves against collective safety, the right not to be blown apart by religious radicals and their deluded, maniacal lust for the 72 virgins in exchange for their souls and their bit towards moving Sharia, the caliphate and withdrawal from Iraq even further away, but we also have to realise that tearing up our hard-won freedoms is never something we should do lightly. We don't know how long this "threat" is going to be with us; it could be 10 years or 100 years, although a figure in the middle is most likely. Once it has dissipated, will we quickly move to restore those original measures? Or is it easier to believe that by then we will have expanded such a scheme far beyond just the realms of terrorism?

Even if we ignore these theoreticals, the actual case for any longer period than 28 days still seems to remain to be made. It doesn't look as though that length of time is going to be needed to deal with the London/Glasgow bombers; the only case in which the full 28 was needed was for a couple of suspects involved in last year's liquid bomb plot, and many assumed that the police were then making a point after the Commons rightly rejected Blair's efforts to introduce 90 days. Previously we were told that the need for longer was because of the vast use of encryption on the computers used by the suspects; Jones this time only mentioned the "complex, global nature" of terrorist cells, which seems to point towards the involvement of other police forces across the globe who don't have the resources to respond in the way which ours can. This certainly isn't much of a justification, and by no means a convincing argument for indefinite periods of detention without charge. Although the police claim that since the 90 days' defeat the reasons for having such a period of time available to the force has changed, it seems unlikely that the entire proposal, put across then by Andy Hayman in a letter which was up on the Home Office website, will differ that much from the case made then. Spy Blog went through them at the time, and found them mostly wanting. Little is likely to have changed.

While we know only too well of this government's contempt for the Human Rights Act, an indefinite period of detention, even monitored more than once a week by the judiciary is likely to fall foul of Article 5. There has to be some sort of limit, whether it's 45, 60, 90, 120 or even 365 days. It may even be that this new consensus on "as long as it takes" is purely a measure to take away the sting from how long 90 days seems looking at it straight, as although there was apparent public support for up to 90 days without charge, there was also a substantial opposition to such a period, which went far beyond the usual civil liberties circles.

The whole thing then is on unquestionably shaky ground. The police, government and everyone else asking for more time though can always depend on one fair-weather friend that will always support such measures:

The Scum

Back our cops

The PM vowed tough action after his first days in power were marred by bomb attacks — and now he must show he means it.

He can start by giving police power to lock up and question suspects for as long as it takes.

See how one simple intervention can change the language used irrevocably?

The 28-day detention limit has left them working with one hand tied behind their backs, cops’ leader Ken Jones warned yesterday.

The Sun has surely picked the wrong metaphor here. Jones' case is not that they're struggling, but that they're racing against time.

Security chiefs are at full stretch watching 2,000 suspects and their warnings must not go unheeded - as in the past.

Ministers did nothing when told terrorists were flooding in because of poor immigration controls. Now we learn one in four terror suspects arrested in Britain is an asylum-seeker.

Seems odd - previously we were worried because of all the homegrown bombers, now we're scared again because the Glasgow/London attempts at explosions were by foreign born suspects that all the terrorists are immigrants. Not sure what difference the fact one in four terror suspects is an asylum-seeker makes either; are we going to start refusing those fleeing tyranny, war and insurgencies of their own refuge because 20 years down the line they might become terrorists themselves? It's something unfortunately that we're going to have to deal with, and it'd be nice for once to forget about finding someone to blame for it.

Hate preacher Abu Hamza had poisoned hundreds of young Muslim minds before they heeded The Sun’s call to lock him up.

Ah yes, it was the Sun wot did it! If anything, it seems that most of those who went to see Hamza's sermons and speeches were already radicalised in some way, even if they weren't then prepared to act. He's a useful hate figure, but little more.

Mr Brown cannot afford more delays or mistakes. He must raise the limit NOW.

More bitch-slapping. Anyway, he can't raise it NOW, he needs parliament to agree too, something which isn't going to happen until the autumn at the earliest, and that's if it concurs, something currently looking rightly unlikely.

Two weeks ago, he said he would not yield to terrorists. Nor must he yield to the civil liberties brigade.

Except the Sun is urging him yield. More freedom lost, while the "civil liberties brigade" can at least claim to be on the side of innocence until proven guilty, even if the opposition can more emotively depend on the imagery of the blood-splattered streets of July the 7th.

He must show strong leadership by giving police the tools to get on with the job.

Except they have them, they just want more time to be able to use them, the case for which is still far from being proved.

Related post:
Nether-World - Another Step Closer To Internment

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