Monday, June 02, 2008

Goodbye Freedom, Hello Gitmo

Gordon Brown will be pushing ahead today to inflict another blow on liberty. He plans to increase the amount of time someone can be held without trial to 42 days, from the already excessive 28 days it currently is. This measure is being introduced as part of the Counter-Terrorism Bill which does have some sensible parts, but could so easily see function shift - like the recent RIP Act abuses - into non-terrorist areas.

Britain already has one of the longest periods of detention without trial in the West. As you may be able to see from the picture below, Canada has one day, the US two, Russia five, France six, Ireland seven and Turkey seven and a half.

There are, as Liberty suggest, alternatives to extending the period.
Remove the bar on the use of intercept (phone tap) evidence because its inadmissibility is a major factor in being unable to bring charges in terror cases. Liberty welcomes the Government’s proposed Privy Council review into the use of this evidence in terror trials.

Allow post-charge questioning in terror cases, provided that the initial charge is legitimate and there is judicial oversight. This will allow for a charge to be replaced with a more appropriate offence at a later stage.

Hire more interpreters: Prioritise the hiring of more foreign language interpreters to expedite pre-charge questioning and other procedures.

Add resources: More resources for police and intelligence services.

Liberty has pointed out that emergency measures which exist under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) would allow the government to temporarily extend pre-charge detention in a genuine emergency where the police are overwhelmed by multiple terror plots. These powers would be subject to parliamentary and judicial oversight, something which is not guaranteed under the legislation about to go before Parliament.

Liberty also believes that even such an extreme measure would be preferable to creating a permanent state of emergency. Which does seem to be the direction in which the government are heading. A direction the US has already headed, and look how successful that is. Oh, and by the way, there's no need to call a General Election if the country is in a state of emergency. Handy if you happen to be trailing in the polls by a significant amount, eh Gordon?

To put the detention issue into perspective, here's a very interesting piece from The Economist magazine from October 2007. You'll note in the sixth paragraph:
"Britain likewise suspended habeas corpus in the second world war to allow it to detain around 1,000 suspected fascists. All were released after three years. During the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, nearly 2,000 suspected extremists were interned. But the practice was scrapped in 1975, as it was clearly fuelling support for terrorism — just as Guantánamo is doing now."

The removal of habeas corpus - freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, coupled with the right to challenge it in an independent court - is unnecessary. We have legislation in place that would allow any genuine terrorist suspects to be held longer than the current 28 day period anyway. With the removal of other pieces of restrictive police legislation, investigations wouldn't need to take longer than 28 days, plus evidence gathered by wiretap would be admissable. By increasing the length of detention without trial, the Government are actually encouraging terrorism - as happened in Northern Ireland - and restricting the liberty of British citizens.

UPDATE: There is an excellent dissection of this over at SpyBlog

This is a disgrace. We can end it.

I am the Revolution and I want my fucking country back.

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