Thursday, January 24, 2008 

Indifferent to rhyme or reason.

Jacqui Smith must tonight be thankful that Peter Hain's falling on his sword didn't come a moment too soon. The fallout from his forever delayed but inevitable resignation has managed to firmly cover today's horlicks from both her and the government over the decision to continue to push for 42 days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects". Brown's promotion of James Purnell and Andy Burnham, both witless Blairites like Smith herself, the latter of which was responsible for this vacuous, impenetrable garbage in the Grauniad only a couple of weeks ago, only magnifies again that his real aversion was never to Blairism, but just the way Blair practised it.

Brown's hand is almost certainly also behind the continued execrable obsession with extending the detention limit. Smith's heart certainly isn't in it, to go by her performance on the Today programme:

If in the future, in exceptional circumstances, a case could be made that there is an operation, an investigation, a number of multiple plots, a really difficult situation in which the police and Director of Public Proscecutions want to be able to apply to a judge to decide whether or not they could hold somebody for longer, that we need to find a way to facilitate that in those circumstances.

To be fair to Smith, she's probably got fed up with making the same tedious points over and over again. I know I am, having argued against first 90 days, then the Brown government's ever decreasing numbers of 56 and now the magic, meaning of life affirming figure of 42. The number of individuals and newspapers that support it can be counted on one hand: Brown, Smith, Iain Blair, Lord Carlile and the Sun. That the police support it isn't a surprise: if it means they don't have to hurry themselves quite as much as they currently do, they'll quite happily go along with an extension. The only one who should know better is Carlile, who for a supposed independent reviewer of the terrorist laws seems to have become the government's chief individual supporter on both 42 days and against the introduction of intercept evidence. MI5 and others seem to have done a bang-up job in disseminating to him their most lurid intelligence.

As it is, the government's laughable attempts at reaching a consensus when it has no intention of actually doing so have created the worst possible, most vindictive law they could have come up with, so much so that you think it's deliberate. What better way to shaft those who wanted safeguards and who said it wasn't necessary, like Ken Macdonald, head of the DPP, than to force that person into authorising it when the police demand it? Could they really have thought up such a pitiful consultative measure for parliament which means that the vote on whether they agree with the extension being put into place is likely to take place after the 42 days has long gone accidentally? And indeed, what sort of MP would ever even contemplate voting down the decision to extend while the 42 days were still ongoing? The Sun and others would be campaigning for them to be thrown out at the next election for letting "terrorists" go free.

It would be difficult to turn in a more woeful argument than Jacqui Smith, but Tony McNulty, another minister who makes you wonder whether there's a lab located in the darkest depths of Sevenoaks where they create obstinate, fury-inducing, mentally challenged ignoramuses made to order, making his case to the Mirror somehow managed it. He talks of imagining the consequences of multiple attacks on the scale of 9/11 and 7/7, but doesn't seem to have gotten his thick skull around realising that 42 days wasn't needed after 7/7, or indeed, 9/11, because the perpertrators were dead. It's a little late to arrest what remains of them and lock them up for 42 days while the police gather a case against the viscera, although the way we're going I wouldn't put it past them. When you can't even scaremonger like a pathetic toad, you really know it's time to give up.

The thing is, just where is the government going to go when this gets defeated? Last time round Blair told us that he was right and everyone else was wrong and the Sun called everyone opposed traitors. Even so, once Blair was defeated for the first time in parliament and was only ever beaten once more, it was the beginning of the end. His invulnerability had gone, and unlike even on Iraq, he'd gone too far. While it's not quite as potentially chilling on civil liberties terms this time round, what it certainly does point towards is Brown's own inadequacies. Why is he trying to ram something through that will do him no favours yet looks to mean he'll have a humiliation on his record that Blair didn't have to face until 8 years into his tenure? The only explanation is that he's doing it to look tough, but the time for doing that has long gone. He just looks forlorn, opportunistic and most of all, completely indifferent to all reason.

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Monday, December 24, 2007 

Standing in the way of control.

It's Christmas Eve, so let's have a shooting fish in a barrel contest. Tony McNulty, the ghastly minister of state for security, counter terrorism, crime and policing writes into the Grauniad to defend control orders after Gareth Peirce, one of the lawyers acting for some of those under them savaged them last week:

Gareth Peirce's article (Britain's own Guantánamo, December 21) seriously exaggerates both the use of, and conditions for individuals on, control orders.

How then does McNulty defend control orders? By, err, exaggerating the safeguards, and being downright evasive and selective in regurgitating some of the facts.

The UK faces an unprecedented threat from terrorism and the government's top priority is to protect the public. There are certain individuals who we have strong suspicion are involved in terrorist activity but who we cannot prosecute or, if they are foreign nationals, deport.

This to begin with is nonsense. If the evidence held against the men was made admissible, most of which was obtained through phone-tapping, then they could almost certainly be tried. There is of course another suspicion as to why they haven't been prosecuted: that the intelligence is so thin that even if wiretapping was admissible it still wouldn't be enough for the CPS to authorise a prosecution. McNulty strangely doesn't mention that they are attempting to deport many "terrorist suspects" under "articles of understanding" to countries where torture is endemic, a piece of paper promising that such brutality won't be used against our returnees.

Peirce's claim that considerable numbers of people don't know the case against them is simply wrong. We use control orders only in a limited number of carefully selected cases. Fourteen people are currently subject to a control order and none of them is under house arrest. Control order obligations are tailored to the risk posed by the individual concerned.

I don't know about you, but I would describe a 16-hour home curfew, which is what most of those on control orders are under, where they are electronically tagged, have to report to a police station daily, are denied access to the internet or telephone, and are only allowed very select visitors who are authorised in advanced as little better than house arrest.

There are also strong safeguards to protect their rights. For example, where a controlled person cannot see the evidence against them for security reasons, an independent legal representative is appointed who can see the evidence and make representations on their behalf. And each control order is subject to mandatory review by the high court.

But that representative, who is appointed by the state, not the defendant, still cannot inform the person under the control order what the allegations against them are. To know what you are accused of has been a right since the dark ages, that's how far the Kafkaesque control order system has dragged us back. That each control order is subject to mandatory review makes little difference:
when Mr Justice Beatson quashed an order on a Tunisian and made clear that he felt he should be prosecuted, the former home secretary John Reid just imposed a slightly less restrictive order on him and completely ignored the judge's recommendation.

The House of Lords recently endorsed the principles of the control order regime, and the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, concluded in his last annual report that control orders remained a necessary and proportionate response to the current threat.

Now this is where the bullshit really starts to fly. The law lords most certainly did not endorse the "principles of the control order regime"; it was asked to rule on whether 18-hour curfews under control orders were in breach of Article 5 of the Human Rights Act, the right to liberty, which they duly found that they were. They did however rule that 12-hour curfews were permissible, and because Lord Brown in a dissenting opinion wrote that he thought 16-hour curfews were also potentially legal, the wonderful Jacqui Smith immediately pounced and in some cases made the orders more restrictive as a result. The law lords also ruled that those under the orders and their lawyers must be given access to some of the secret evidence currently held from them, although how this will work out in practice is still yet to be ascertained. As for Lord Carlile, he seems to have gone native.

I wish we did not need control orders. Sadly, given the threat we face and the activities certain individuals are undertaking to harm us, we do.

If the government really wanted to, it could easily prosecute all of those under the orders, some of whom have never even been questioned by the police. That it still refuses to and also seems to continue to refuse to make phone-tap evidence admissible shows up McNulty's closing remarks as utterly self-serving.

So, err, merry Winterval! Be back in a couple of days and I'll probably do a best of, best and worst music of the year and most likely some other tedious shite. Have a good one.

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