Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Internment

This afternoon the government of the United Kingdom tried to pass a law giving the police powers to detain people on suspicion of terrorism for 90 days without charge, trial or representation. Spearheaded by Tony Blair and his authoritarian chums in response to demands from "the police" (interestingly, I have heard high-ranking police officers claim that internment would be a disaster and would make community-based intelligence gathering next to impossible... so when Tony Blair says "the police" it's wise to keep in mind that he means "those police I choose to listen to and who say roughly what I want them to say").

Of course, there are those who complain that this policy is not internment (in the Northern Irish sense) at all. "Look at the details of its implementation!" they cry, as though the people alienated by this policy - the very people the police are trying to woo as part of their intelligence gathering - will be interested in the minor procedural differences between "being locked up without charge or representation for 90 days" and "internment".

Internment proved so good at recruiting disaffected people into extremist organisations in Northern Ireland, that one can only assume Tony Blair is actively seeking to increase the number of terrorists in this country. The theory must be that more terrorists means more arrests, and so makes the police look better. Hence why "the police" want this law so much I guess.

That more terrorists may also mean more carnage on our public transport is clearly not worrying Blair or his minions who only use buses or the tube for photo-ops when they want to seem like they're doing something for the non-chauffeur-driven plebs.

Over at a blog called Harry's Place, a commentator called "brownie" has explained just why we need those 90 days of internment. Actually, no they haven't. Brain-dead brownie, in the piece entitled "Uncivil liberties", has instead merely trotted out sub-Daily Mail wankery, irrational prejudice and deeply flawed reasoning in a demonstration of intellectual paucity unrivalled since Oliver Kamm's recent book (which I haven't read, but the man's an oaf so I'm comfortable with my prejudice).

However, as I'm feeling in a particularly foul mood, let's have a closer look at brownie's "reasoning" and allow it to unravel before our eyes. We begin with the classic tabloid tactic of demanding new laws based upon whatever shocking hypothesis the writer chooses to invent.
So the next atrocity occurs and it transpires that all three perpetrators were known to the security services and had in fact been in police custody some weeks earlier, only to be released before charges could be brought. Police had indicated that insufficient time was available to collate data they were in the process of extracting from the hard disks of several computers. Incriminating documents that had recently come to light in another EU country had also yet to be delivered by the relevant authorities when the 14-day detention period expired.
There's no evidence at all that any of the bombers that struck London were ever investigated by the police, let alone arrested and held for any period of time. This bears repeating... the extension of the current internment period from 14 to 90 days would have had precisely zero impact on any recent terrorist acts that occurred in the real world (as opposed to the imagination of fevered authoritarians). There are reports that one of the bombers was "known to the police". This is rather vague, and is only relevant if the police are also expecting to be granted powers to detain everyone they know for 90 days.

Brownie's point, above, invents a specific danger that might be alleviated by the imposition of a 90-day period. But let's imagine that the 90-day thing had passed through the House of Commons and was now law. Let me restate brownie's opening paragraph as an argument against that 90 day period...
So the next atrocity occurs and it transpires that all three perpetrators were known to the security services and had in fact been in police custody some weeks earlier, only to be released before charges could be brought. Police had indicated that insufficient time was available to collate data they were in the process of extracting from the hard disks of several computers. Incriminating documents that had recently come to light in another EU country had also yet to be delivered by the relevant authorities when the 90-day detention period expired.
See? It turns out we actually need more than 90 days. In fact I have no problem imagining a scenario where the police would require powers to lock up suspects for 5 years without trial. Y'know... so long as we're using imagination as the basis for important legislation.

Brownie continues with the convenient fiction...
The Independent newspaper devotes 12 page of copy to a system process failure that has left 50 people dead and scores of families missing a father, mother, son or daughter. The Prime Minister, a stalwart defender of civil liberties who ignored the advice of the security services and police chiefs to permit suspects to be held without trial for a maximum 90 days, even with the safety net of continuous 7-day judicial review and an annual sunset clause, is forced to resign amid opposition claims that he has "blood on his hands".
Just so you get the point, by the way, let's restate the above paragraph...
The Independent newspaper devotes 12 page of copy to a system process failure that has left 50 people dead and scores of families missing a father, mother, son or daughter. The Prime Minister, a stalwart defender of civil liberties who ignored the advice of the security services and police chiefs to permit suspects to be held without trial for a maximum 1,825 days, even with the safety net of continuous 7-day judicial review and an annual sunset clause, is forced to resign amid opposition claims that he has "blood on his hands".
"Ah, but hang on", you say, "the police aren't asking for five years... they only want 90 days". And that's true. But when 90 days doesn't stop the next attack (bearing in mind it wouldn't have stopped the last one) then who knows what the police will ask for?

Which brings me conveniently to the important point. "The police" are not asking for 90-days. "The police Blair's listening to" are asking for it. Some others may be asking for 42 days, or 28 days, or 5 years. But listen; even if all of them... every single person wearing a police uniform... agreed that 90 days was required, so what?

The police do not make the laws. They enforce those laws that we, the people, believe are required. They work for us and they do what we tell them to do. They do not tell us what powers they should have. We grant them such powers as we choose to grant. If they cannot fulfill their duty using their existing powers, then I suggest we fire them and hire some who can.

To repeat: internment for 90 days without charge would not have prevented the July bombings in London. These extra powers are being requested based upon hypothetical scenarios. And the fact is; I don't trust the police. Sorry, but there you have it. I trust them slightly more than soldiers and slightly less than drug-dealers. So when they tell me that they want additional powers to detain people without charge, I'm naturally sceptical.

"Show me evidence", is my natural response, "that these powers will make me safer, and will not merely make you more powerful and the rest of us less so". No such evidence exists. And giving additional powers to the police based upon the stated desires of those officers favoured by Tony Blair, as opposed to actual evidence, is a shoddy way to draw up legislation.

Brownie continues the demand for more powers with the classic tabloid trick of holding a tragic image under our noses and claiming that means whatever they say it does. In this case, we have poor Mrs. Johnson...
Mrs. Johnson, newly widowed and childless after her family was wiped out en route to football match, is asked by Jon Snow of Channel 4 news about striking the right balance between preservation of civil liberties and defence of the realm and its citizens.

Except she isn't, because such questions posed in the aftermath of yet another atrocity, directed at a grieving relatives, just sound like so much offensive, platitudinous hogwash.
Of course she isn't asked those questions! Not only doesn't she exist (which makes asking her anything at all very difficult), but if she did exist it would be insensitive in the extreme to discuss her recent loss in the abstract terms of national legislative policy.

But, and let's be clear on this; that does not mean that national policy on issues such as terrorism-prevention and civil-liberties should be set by the families of dead victims. Perhaps it is brownie's intention to hand over the running of our country to policemen and grieving parents, but it's not something I want to see. Imaginary Mrs. Johnson doesn't get to pass laws for the rest of us just because her family was murdered. She has no more right to lay down the rules of society than do the police.

7 Comments:

Blogger Jarndyce said...

Next week: Brownie recommends the adoption of shariah law as the only way to ensure the true feelings of victims receive proper consideration.

9/11/05 21:57  
Blogger Nick said...

Why stop at 5 years? As Chris Lightfoot points out in the comments here, the police claim that they need these powers to access encrypted information on computers, a process that can take several billion years.

HMP Great Britain and Northern Ireland, anyone?

9/11/05 22:07  
Anonymous Pete said...

"Brain-dead brownie, in the piece entitled "Uncivil liberties", has instead merely trotted out sub-Daily Mail wankery, irrational prejudice and deeply flawed reasoning in a demonstration of intellectual paucity... "

Having read that piece and his pathetic attempts to defend it, I think you're being unduly kind. He seems to have missed the '-nose' of the end of his name.

One thing I find most despicable is that you know fine well that if this legislation were being proposed by a Tory government that all the fawning New Labour toadies currently cheering for it would be queueing up to denounce it. This unthinking desire to support whatever bollocks New Labour come out with is more redolent of football fandom than of people with any political principles - my party, right or wrong. Well, it's OK to support your team when they are crap, it doesn't really matter. Politics is a bit more serious.

Harold Wilson said 'The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.' Blair seems to have mis-heard that as 'an amoral crusade'.

9/11/05 23:56  
Blogger merrick said...

The whole discussion of the issue seems to have conflated the concept of 'enough evidence to charge' with the concept of 'enough evidence to convict'.

If the police have been watching someone and reasonably believe they've been up to no good and are confident incriminating evidence will be on the hard drive, at their house or is in the post from some other EU police force, they can charge the suspect and have them remanded in jail.

The whole point of charging is that it is not the trial, it just says what the rozzers think you've done and gives both sides a chance to get their evidence together.

Charges are often dropped before trial. Defendants at trials are often acquitted. Charging is about likelihood.

If you've got a terrorist suspect then presumably you've got the hefty resources of anti-terrorist coppers to throw at the investigation. If you can't find something that really implies guilt within a week, they're really not likely to be guilty.

10/11/05 02:03  
Anonymous Charlie Whitaker said...

Merrick,

Good comment - I think it's well worth considering the likely police processes in a twenty-eight day (was to be ninety day) detainment period. What types of evidence gathering require the police to hold a suspect for a long period?

If the police don't have enough evidence to charge from the outset, thereby stepping beyond the detainment process into well-established remand and pre-trial procedures, then what do they hope to accomplish by making the arrest that they can't accomplish under existing powers?

Is it a problem with tipping-off suspects when making searches? That's already a problem with organised crime investigations but we don't hear calls for ninety-day detention powers on account of it.

It can't be a problem with the time taken to perform e-mail and communication intercepts - the police and security services can work on intercepts and decrypts without alerting the suspect.

Is it information stored on the suspect's PC that the police want to get at? How did the information get there in the first place? The suspects (and their network) will already be under surveillance (otherwise why are they suspects?) and if there's a conspiracy, there'll be communications, and hence intercept opportunities.

Is it, after all, about interrogations? The police have heard that a person belongs a certain suspicious group. They don't have any hard evidence. So they hope that, with a series of intensive interviews, that person will start to 'leak' information? Information which may lead to further searches, arrests and interrogations. Is that it? Ninety days (now twenty-eight days) to try to crack the buggers?

10/11/05 14:16  
Blogger Rachel said...

http://rachelnorthlondon.blogspot.com/2005/11/90-days-and-90-nights.html
I tried to post a reply to Marcu s and Brownie, but it wouldn't allow comments, so would it be ok if I put it here, as I bet they will read your site, and it is pertinent to what you wrote.

'Would you feel better if I told you that I was on the bombed train at Kings X, Germaine Lindsey detonated his bomb seven feet away from me, and I said to you I still don't want 90 days?

I expect terrorists to try to cause fear and panic, to divide us and to frighten us, to set faith against faith, and Muslim against Christian, and to take away our ancient freedoms, top destabilise our liberal and tolerant society. I don't expect my government to do the same.

The panicky doom-mongers are not helping, and emotive rhetoric 'in the name of the 7/7 victims' is not helping either.

(A) Nobody has actually asked 'the victims' what they want and

(B)even if we all had the same point of view about it, which we don't, we shouldn't make the laws, nor have laws passed on our behalf, as we are far too emotionally involved. And habeas corpus is too important to be f*cked about with to look like you are Hanging Tuff on Terrorism.

Of course I'm scared of stepping over more dead bodies on my way to work. That's because I'm deeply traumatised. But rushing through panicky laws just makes me think everyone else, inc. the police and the PM is as scared as I am. Which is the most scary thing of all.

I might have good reason to be scared but if I can still go to work on the tube everyday then please can everyone else stop panicking and just get on with our normal lives. It's our best defence. It's pretty much our only defence.'

13/11/05 15:40  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Many thanks for stopping by Rachel. I'd actually read your piece already (via Chicken Yoghurt) and it was one of the things that inspired my week of anti-Sun and anti-Terror Laws ranting.

Thing is though, you write:
But rushing through panicky laws just makes me think everyone else, inc. the police and the PM is as scared as I am.

Part of me wouldn't be so angry if I thought they were removing our rights because they're genuinely "scared" of the terrorists. It'd still be entirely unacceptable, but far easier to empathise with and understand.

As it is however, the police plus certain elements of government and the media appear to be cynically capitalising on the fear that the attacks inevitably generated. Far from passing laws because they are scared, they seem to be implementing their own agenda... and whipping up and manipulating fear in the general population to do it.

Anyways, it took far less than 90 days to get all the information they needed from the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6, so I don't know what the police are complaining about.

14/11/05 13:30  

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