DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL: CHASING SHADOWS WITH WHIPS
Detention Without Trial: The 42 day treachery
Gordon Brown, like Tony Blair before him, cried that the Terror facing us must not be underestimated. It was the same battle cry which led us into the Iraq war: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.
Fear is a fundamental tool in the hands of dictatorships. Without it, there is no power with which to hold a population to its knees. This government, like the one led by Blair before it, is using Fear as a weapon in the battle over its detractors to win any argument. Yet, although we must all be alive to what is a significant threat, no doubt, to the security and safety of this country in light of developments over the last few years, there has to be a convincing, lawful and rational response to it.
Today, as before the last war, opponents of Blair’s “45 minute” scare-mongering (and the voices grew quieter and quieter) spoke reasonably and logically of any misguided war in Iraq creating a real terror threat to Britain which did not exist before. July 7th 2005 in London was living proof of that. Yet, here is Brown wearing the same cape as Blair and trying to scream Terror in an attempt to dismantle a fundamental principle of any lawful system: That there be no imprisonment without charge.
Brown is trying very hard to appease those who denied Blair his 42 days, and wish to deny Brown the same lip-smacking tyranny. He has come up with a number of so-called soft option amendments, chief of which allows Parliament to have a say in whether the 42 day provision is lawful in any individual case of “grave and exceptional” threat, which upon close reading amounts to no more to a case where “serious loss of life” is foreseen, no different then to any of the terror plots which have found themselves successfully prosecuted on the current system.
Allowing Parliament to be the ultimate arbiter of whether or not the 42 day provision is a clever ploy, designed to appease the revolting backbenchers but which, in fact, only transfers judicial power to the legislative. Let the blind obvious be spoken clearly. The role of judging in any functioning democracy should lie with Judges. Dictatorships take judicial decisions. Autocracts take judicial decisions. In Britain, we have bombed such countries and spoken sanctimoniously about the need for “human rights”. Yet, here we are, doing the same. One has to ask when it will ever end? Will 42 days stretch into 84 days? Can 84 days stretch into six months? Is it feasible that six months could stretch into an acceptance of “gentle” torture? This is not dramatic licence. This is a country which has knowingly conspired, failed to speak out about the American atrocities of Guantanamo Bay, about the disgusting policy of extraordinary rendition. Currently, there is not even a requirement for the police to tell the suspect what he or she is doing banged up for weeks on end. Such policies did not work during the IRA’s bombing campaign on the UK mainland, and it will not work now.
Judges are qualified, impartial and understand – one hopes – the competing provisions which have to be applied. By contrast, politicians hope only to last that bit longer in their jobs, selling out on principle and ethic to survive. We saw Parliament buy the rubbish over the Iraq War, which any neutral could easily have questioned. Why are they likely to do any different now?
Gordon Brown says that information can be put before Parliament which would allow it to decide in each individual case whether 42 days is required in the circumstances. But if, and it is a big If, the security services are willing to put such sensitive information in the public domain, there must be enough material with which to charge the suspect.
Under the current regime, police have 28 days in which to question and charge a suspect. That period is already longer than in most other European democracies. If we keep chasing ghosts long enough in Britain, we will create armies of them shadows chasing us until the fear becomes very real.
London, June 7th 2008