The Institutionalisation of Anti-Terrorism as a Civic Principle by Tareq Ali
We are making available the text of the paper given at the Islamic Youth Conference 2004 at Cape Town by the distinguished Muslim lawyer Tareq Ali, which can still be downloaded at this website. In the light of its ever more urgent content we ask you to download it, print it, disseminate it, send it to the media, and in particular to Members of Parliament. It is increasingly important for the future of the nation and our own safety that we take an active leadership in civic affairs.
To this end, I call for an organised and systematic lobby to assure categoric electoral opposition to the return of a Blair/Blunkett government. We also warn the government not to use its scandalous anti-terrorist legislation as a cover to pre‑empting the political rights of the citizens in electoral strategies and programmes, for that is the Georgian/Ukrainian model.
As-salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.
My name is Tareq Ali. My father and mother were born in British controlled India. I was born in a small town called Middlesborough in the county of Yorkshire, in the north east of England. I played football for my school team and cricket for my house team. My cousin played rugby for the County team.
I speak Punjabi but English is my first language. In my youth I enjoyed walking in the North Yorkshire Moors and trips to the seaside at Whitby and Scarborough.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I consider myself an Englishman descended from parents and grandparents of the Indian sub-continent. I believe I would satisfy the Home Secretary of England’s citizenship test. I am telling you this because I am unhappy at what is happening in my country, England, and because I am unhappy at what the British government is doing in the name of and to the British people. I am telling you this because despite all of the injustice that is happening, I care for the people of England and want them to wake up to the sense of fair play they have and which sadly their government has lost, having become servile to capitalism and its rapacity.
And so to the subject matter of this talk, which is the Institutionalisation of Anti-Terrorism as a Civic Principle.
I will concentrate on developments in and examples from the United Kingdom, with reference where relevant to the international situation.
We have seen over the last few years, and indeed stretching back over thirty years, an ongoing policy of the erosion of so-called democracy in the United Kingdom as a reaction to alleged, and of late rarely real, terrorist activity on the mainland. The response by the British government to Irish terror tactics, the latter at face value in support of the liberation of Ireland, was legislative measures such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1973.
A review of this Act and later legislation reveals the extent to which these measures have become accepted and integrated into the fabric of English society, its institutions and its outlook.
Civil liberties in the UK have been considerably eroded under both Conservative and Labour administrations. The current government’s response to the attacks on the World Trade Centre has been yet another serious attack on civil liberties and a significant accumulation of power by the Executive. In the long run, the accumulation of power by the state over the individual is as serious a threat, if not greater, than the terrorist activity the response is purported to protect the individual from.
It can be seen that much of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001-the government’s main legislative response-went far beyond a genuine attempt to deal with terrorism. It was instead the speeding-up of a long-running trend whereby the fundamental freedoms and protections from arbitrary state power in Britain are being progressively dismantled in the service of an agenda that becomes clearer day by day.
Properly speaking, from the 1980s onwards legislation has been brought into force which increases state power over the individual and communities.
By way of an overview, the following legislation was put in place prior to the event of the destruction of the Twin Towers.
In 1987 the Serious Fraud Office was created, and in cases handled by this department the much-vaunted right to silence was effectively abolished. It became an offence not to answer questions to the best of your ability-the Criminal Justice Act 1987.
In 1994 the right to silence in custody was as a result of ss34-39 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 weakened by allowing Courts to draw adverse inferences from not answering questions. The Courts therefore can now presume you have something to hide if you refuse to answer police questions when first arrested and interviewed. The long-respected right to silence whilst being questioned by the police becomes heavily qualified.
The Police Act 1997 sections 91 to 108 enabled the police to break into any property and place bugs or other surveillance equipment within it if the Chief Constable of a jurisdiction believes it may help in fighting serious crime. The police do not have to suspect the owners of the property of being involved in crime in order to do this, and the decision is internal to the police.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 enabled the authorities to perform mass surveillance of electronic communications, including an individual’s electronic communications, and legislated that service providers were to allow the government access to their customers’ communications and to keep the fact that they gave such access a secret forever.
The Terrorism Act 2000 enabled the government to ban organisations without a trial or hearing, making it an offence to be a member of the group and also making it an offence to arrange or address meetings in support of that group. The wide scope of this provision damages so-called freedom of expression and freedom of assembly-as it subjects political activities to criminal sanctions, even where there has been no criminal activity. Several offences contained within the Act involved the reversal of the presumption of innocence.
The Terrorism Act 2000 (Section 1) also defined terrorism as any (threatened) action taken for the purpose of furthering a political, religious or ideological cause that is aimed at influencing any government or intimidating any population and involving:
(a) serious violence against a person (b) causing serious damage to property (c) putting someone's life in danger other than the person taking the action (d) threatening the health and safety of the public, or (e) taking action designed to seriously interfere with or disrupt any electronic system.
One only needs to threaten such action against any government, no matter how repressive that government may be or what the political, religious or ideological purpose is that is “threatened”.
One can see a pattern emerging which attacks the right to silence, the right to a fair trial, freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, the right to protest and the presumption of innocence.
The next legislative development of significance was
The Anti-Terror, Crime and Security Act 2001.
This Act has been described as a ragbag of diverse provisions, some of which are completely unrelated to terrorism, and was brought into force in the wake of and riding on the publicity of the Twin Towers affair.
In summary this Act contains the following measures:
(1) It enables the police to access confidential information held by government departments and public bodies for the purpose of any criminal investigation, including passing the details on to other police forces around the world (ss17 to 20). There is no need to produce any evidence of a crime having been committed, nor do the police require judicial authority. The information they are allowed to access includes financial and medical records. One commentator stated that the police could now access such information on the “flimsiest of excuses”. The scope for abusing this power is considerable and it can be invoked without scrutiny.
(2) It requires communications providers to store details of users’ communications as the Home Secretary orders and provide them to the police for the purpose of any investigation (ss102 to 107).
(3) It allows the Home Secretary to extend criminal justice and anti-terrorism legislation via secondary legislation and without prior parliamentary approval (s24) thus allowing the government to legislate on criminal justice matters by decree, a power usually exercised by dictators.
(4) It permits the indefinite detention of foreign nationals.
The Home Secretary has been given the power to certify that a foreign national is a suspected terrorist and a threat to national security, based on his (or the security agencies’) suspicions (ss21 to 36). That person can then be detained indefinitely if he cannot be deported, subject to reviews held in secret, where evidence that would normally be inadmissible in a UK court can be adduced, and such evidence can be kept secret from both the accused and his lawyer.
To push this legislation through, the government had to suspend Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to liberty, and in doing so, put any foreign national in the UK at risk of being detained indefinitely without explanation. This provision has been challenged and at first instance was found to be incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to non-discrimination in respect of Convention rights) because it discriminated between nationals and non-nationals. The Court of Appeal, under the blanket phrase of “policy grounds” overturned this decision.
It has been argued that there are safeguards in that some of these measures are time-limited, but it is worth remembering that there is explicit provision for renewing the powers and that the Prevention of Terrorism Act originally introduced in 1973 was supposed to be temporary, but was renewed each year until it became entrenched in permanent legislation in the form of the Terrorism Act 2000.
In addition to these measures, existing provisions have been extended which go to the heart of all financial transactions in the UK.
Most notably the Money Laundering legislation has been extended and strengthened. Originally this legislation was introduced to prevent the movement of money from the proceeds of drugs and terrorism. This has been extended to include the proceeds of all crime. So, for example, money upon which tax has not been paid now falls into this category.
But that is not what would necessarily cause anyone concern. As a lawyer I have been aware of this legislation for a number of years. However, the recent extension and inclusion of wide-ranging and draconian penalties has brought it into the civic domain, affecting virtually every financial transaction in a commercial environment.
The Money Laundering and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is now fully in force. Its affects have been far-reaching and the subject of some controversy as the law applies to lawyers, banks, estate agents, bureaux de change, and anyone working within a defined regulated sector. There also exists provision within the legislation to extend the definition of those falling within the regulated sector.
It is important to note that it introduced an objective test which means that for those in the regulated sector, failure to disclose information about money laundering will amount to the commission of an offence where a “reasonable person has grounds” for knowing or suspecting that another person is engaged in money laundering, even if they did not actually know or suspect that money laundering was taking place. In effect incompetence or oversight will result in the commission of a criminal offence and possibly imprisonment of up to 14 years.
Once money laundering is suspected, then the party is under a duty to inform the National Criminal Intelligence Service, in acronym known as NCIS-a government body-of the suspicion. Thereafter the money involved is effectively frozen until the go-ahead is given by NCIS or there is a failure to respond by NCIS within a specified period.
If the fact that a report has been made to NCIS is disclosed to the party the money belongs to, then you, the reporter, would be liable to a period of imprisonment. There therefore exists a duty to inform on your client/customer coupled with a duty to hide the disclosure from him under threat of imprisonment. Failure to abide by this duty results in an offence known as “tipping off” which is punishable by up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
One of the effects of this legislation is that when withdrawing any sum over £1000 from a bank, even if you are known to the bank officials, a form has to be completed and identification documents such as a passport or driving licence and proof of address have to be produced.
When selling your house through an estate agent you are required to produce your passport or driving licence together with proof of residence. When hiring a lawyer to sell your property or deal with your divorce you are required to produce your passport or driving licence together with proof of residence.
The result of this particular piece of legislation is that there now exists a climate of suspicion, for if you as a regulated party get it wrong, you are at risk of being imprisoned. Effectively your trust in the other is destroyed because you have to consciously maintain a suspicion, for to drop one’s guard could result in the deprivation of one’s own liberty.
That is a summary of the relevant legislative measures which are now incorporated into the British legal system and by their nature into institutions throughout the land where people have almost daily transactions.
There is another aspect which supports, sustains and promulgates the ethos behind this legislation which is in the form of government statements and media coverage.
We have heard statements from the British government in its support of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan based in part on the need to counter a terrorist threat. Until the attempt to tie Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda became clearly discredited, the now equally discredited WMD theory was the only alleged basis for war in Iraq. The jingoistic phrase of a War on Terror, legally unsustainable, resulted in the war with Afghanistan and Iraq, both in reality wars of occupation in support of the commodities barons.
Yet almost on a daily basis we hear from government sources, amplified by the mass media, details of renewed terror threats to the UK. Allegations of impending ricin poisoning, biological weapons attacks on the Underground, attempts to blow up nuclear reactors, suicide bombers entering football stadiums-these have all been regular news items. Just before I left England to come to South Africa, the news reports stated that aircraft would not be allowed to fly at a low level over London because of “received intelligence” of a threat to public buildings. Media coverage itself has insinuated these threats into the daily life of the UK citizen and he passes his time wondering when, and now if, a terrorist attack will ever take place.
The public are indeed bewildered. Warning leaflets have been distributed to every UK household describing what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
I listened recently to a BBC Radio 4 debate as to whether it was now time for active as opposed to passive torture to be accepted, by so-called civilised societies, given “the impending terrorist attack that was now inevitable” and “which would result in hundreds of fatalities”. The inevitability of a terrorist attack is the mantra of the inseparable government-media regime in the UK.
Whilst reporting on the recent intrusion into the Inner Chamber of the House of Commons, the seat of British government, by a group protesting against the fox-hunting ban, the BBC commentator stated, “If they had been a group of terrorists they would have been able to murder at will.” The distinction between the possible and the actual blurs.
In this way terror and anti-terror are now the focus of media coverage and government policy, yet the irony of placing giant concrete blocks outside the Houses of Parliament to deter suicide bombers, while supporters of fox-hunting gallop gaily into the House of Commons and are chased by elderly men wearing stockings with symbolic swords in sheaths, is clear.
The reality of the situation into which such statements are made and the environment into which recent legislation has been enacted, is that there has never been one proven act of terrorism by a Muslim in the United Kingdom. Yet the application of the anti-terrorist legislation and the media coverage has been disproportionately against Muslims.
Most of those convicted under these laws are non-Muslim even though most of those arrested have been Muslim. According to the Home Office’s own figures, 609 arrests of alleged terrorist suspects have been made in the United Kingdom over the last three years. Of these, up until 30 June 2004 there have been only 15 convictions. The majority of those arrested have been quietly released without charge in spite of the high profile given to the raids when carried out by the police and the media.
Only three of the 15 people convicted under anti-terror laws in the past three years are known to be Muslim-and two of these have been granted leave to appeal against their convictions. This is a 0.5% conviction rate.
In comparison, two thirds of those arrested were Muslims. A report into the figures concluded there was evidence of “excessive and discriminatory use of arrest powers”. It went on to state that “since arrests under anti-terrorist laws attract widespread media coverage [?] most people are left with the impression that the criminal justice system is successfully prosecuting Muslim terrorists in Britain,” and, “the reality is that large numbers of innocent Muslims are being arrested questioned and released [?] without charge.”
Figures are interesting, more so from a statistician’s point of view, but as someone who has seen the result of the arrest and detention of a suspect who is then released without charge there is a more important human factor involved in every case. The affects on the individual and his family must also be taken into account.
I would like to outline by way of illustration two case studies highlighted in a recent report.
“Mahmoud Abu Rideh came to the UK in 1995 with his family, and was granted refugee status in 1997. The Home Office accepted that he had been the victim of torture while imprisoned in Israel. He was arrested in December 2001 under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001-within weeks of the Act coming into force-and was detained without trial at Belmarsh high security unit. Several psychiatrists gave evidence at his bail hearing on 22 June 2002 that Mahmoud should be released to a low-level secure mental hospital because of his fragile health. The application was rejected. On 24 July 2002 Mahmoud was transferred to Broadmoor psychiatric hospital on the orders of the Home Secretary David Blunkett. Mahmoud has been on numerous hunger strikes since his incarceration and has serious mental health problems. He was at the time of writing being held at Broadmoor high security hospital on the orders of Home Secretary David Blunkett.”
“Rebaz Ali and Shadman Sofi were two of ten men arrested under anti-terror laws in high-profile raids in March 2004. The raid, their arrests and the allegations against them were reported in the newspapers and given extensive television coverage for a number of days. Within hours of the arrests the media were connecting the arrests to an Al-Qaeda plot to blow up Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United Football Club. Police sources were quoted in the newspapers as saying, ‘The plot involved several individual bombers in separate parts of the stadium.’ All of the men were held for eight days and then released without charge in relation to the reason for their arrests, the anti-terror legislation.”
Their so-called connection to the plot to blow up Old Trafford came from evidence found at their home: a Manchester United match fixture list, T-shirts, posters and old ticket stubs. The reason the men had these items in their possession is that both of them were life-long supporters of Manchester United. Two weeks after the arrests, without the sensationalist coverage that accompanied the arrests, Greater Manchester Police officers met with the Kurdish community and issued a joint statement: “We discussed the negative implications of media coverage of the background of those being detained being of Iraqi Kurdish origins, including the fact that Greater Manchester Police confirmed those details […] the Police regret the impact this has had on the wider community.”
Such arrests and certainly lengthy detentions often leave wives without their husbands and children without their fathers.
We have to remind ourselves once again that there have been no proven acts of terror carried out by Muslims in the UK.
As a stark contrast to this, terror as a tactic had been utilised to assassinate the Queen’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and in the attempt in the Brighton Bombing to assassinate the British Prime Minister and her entire cabinet, as well as in the bombing of civilian, military and financial targets on the UK mainland by non-Muslims-yet legislation of the all-encompassing nature we now have was never enacted.
Let us now look for a moment at one particular aspect of foreign policy as practiced by the British government.
The response of the British government to the actions of the US administration against British citizens in Guantanamo Bay has revealed the full extent of the abdication of any claim to the rule of law. When a government abandons its citizens to ongoing torture and incarceration without trial, what legitimacy can they claim to rule?
The US administration holds up to 650 detainees from 42 countries in the notorious concentration camps in Guantanamo Bay.
They are held in cells 2.4 m by 2.0 m, locked up for twenty-three and a half hours a day and bound hand and foot when out of their cells. They are allowed three twenty-minute periods of solitary exercise a week in a large concrete-floored cage followed by a five-minute shower. They are entitled to a copy of the Quran and a prayer mat: an arrow in each cell points towards Makkah. The temperature at the camp often exceeds 40 degrees Celsius. There have been over 30 suicide attempts. The youngest detainee is thirteen years of age.
Detainees at Guantanamo have been interrogated continuously for almost two years, in conditions that amount to torture. US-based Australian lawyer Richard Bourke, who represents some of the detainees, said, “The US military are engaging in good old-fashioned torture, as people would have understood it in the Dark Ages. One of the detainees had described being taken out and tied to a post and having rubber bullets fired at them. They were being made to kneel cruciform in the sun until they collapsed.” (ABC News, 8 October 2003)
The American government describes them as “illegal combatants”, a definition unknown in international law. By law, of course, their status should be determined and the Geneva Convention III.5 lays down such a procedure; the Convention is incorporated into the American army’s regulations. “All persons taken into custody by US forces will be provided with the protections of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War until some legal status is determined by a competent authority.”
Despite this, the initial approach of the American judiciary was that the detainees did not have the right even to petition American courts to consider their claims for a right to a hearing. It meant that “aliens” could be held indefinitely without charge, without right to legal representation, and without access to any judicial oversight or review. Decoded, this meant that the administration was relieved of any obligation to explain its actions or justify them. The Supreme Court reviewed these earlier decisions by considering two cases. In the first case, 03-6696: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the US Supreme Court held that “although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged here, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision-maker.” In the second case, 03-334: Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court held, among other things, that “United States courts have jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay.”
The US Administration had, prior to the decision, held that, although Guantanamo Bay was leased, run, administered and controlled by the United States, the land was still effectively Cuban, and that therefore US courts should not have jurisdiction over that tract of Cuban territory.
The reality is that, despite the Supreme Court decisions, the detainees are still in threat of being tried by military tribunals. Whilst the US authorities maintain that the detainees have no rights as illegal combatants it is worth noting that under the US Endangered Species Act the cyclura nubila nubila, the Cuban Iguana that populates the US base at Guantanamo Bay, is a protected species and is therefore granted greater protection than the detainees. There exist ironies within ironies.
The British government itself is reluctant to accuse the American government of breaking the law in its detention of aliens because it is doing the same thing in the UK. The British government holds aliens, under the Anti-terror, Crime and Security Act 2001, without charge, indefinitely, in prisons such as Belmarsh and Woodhill, on British soil. They have been described as Britain’s Guantanamo.
Twelve Muslims were incarcerated in these prisons and have been in custody for over two and a half years. Only in the course of the last week has one been released. Eleven remain imprisoned.
Their cases came before the Court of Appeal in August of this year. None of the men is accused of terrorist acts, only that they belong to banned organisations. In the ruling two of the country’s senior judges granted the Home Secretary the right to hold terror suspects on the basis of evidence from tortured prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other US detention camps.
Lord Justice Laws stated “I am quite unable to see that any […] principle prohibits the Secretary of State from relying […] on evidence […] which has or may have been […] obtained by torture by agencies of other states over which he has no powers of direction.”
The men’s solicitor Gareth Peirce described as “terrifying” the suggestion in the judgement that evidence obtained through torture could be admissible. “We have lost our way in this country. We have entered a new dark age of injustice and it is frightening that we are overwhelmed by it.”
It is indeed true we the British people behave as if we are overwhelmed.
So much has been aired by the government and through the media, largely based on lies, half truths and distortions, that anti-terror has become as much part of the civic principle as “democratic values and ideals, the sanctity of human life, individual freedom and integrity, equal values of all people and respect for the weak and vulnerable”-yet the contradictions are so obvious.
To stand against so called anti-terror measures now means to stand against legislative measures that in reality are instruments of oppression and control as well as to stand against government and media opinion.
The covert experiment in injustice is now, in the words of Gareth Peirce, an overt experiment into how willing the public and those concerned in the passage of legislation are to allow basic safeguards to be jettisoned without protest.
Gareth Peirce is a lawyer who specializes in terrorist suspect cases and has also taken cases to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Chechens following the Russian invasion. I would like, time permitting, to read out an article she wrote entitled “This covert experiment in injustice” which was published in the Guardian newspaper on February 4 of this year.
“This covert experiment in injustice”
Blunkett’s proposals for secret trials will shame the country
Gareth Peirce Wednesday February 4, 2004 The Guardian
In the course of 12 months, 31 years ago, more than 20 innocent Irish men and women were branded “terrorists” and convicted by English courts. That the evidence was false was known only to the accused and their accusers. For the accusers, even that clarity undoubtedly became blurred, since in their minds the means-twisting and coercing evidence-justified the ends: combating terrorism. Brutality, falsification, exaggeration of scientific evidence, concealment of prosecution evidence and of intelligence pointing in a different direction was the order of the day.
So is it possible that the Home Office is suffering from collective amnesia? What lessons should any home secretary have learnt from these terrible cases? David Blunkett, adopting the same dangerous justification of the means justifying the end, this week proposes trials based on evidence that will never see the light of day, the abolition of juries, substitution by judges, and a reversal of the burden of proof so that suspicion is enough.
The eventual revelation that so many innocent people had been buried alive in English jails was a shaming exercise for the country. Lessons, it was said then, must be learnt. And anyway, those were crude times, when investigators might have resorted to brutality.
Also in question was the ability of the judiciary to correct those injustices. But the judiciary-which Blunkett now proposes to substitute for juries where the issue is terrorism-for decades showed itself as seriously wanting. In the cases of the more than 20 innocent men and women, at least 30 senior judges had come to wrong and unjust conclusions, even where-as happened in the case of the Birmingham and Guildford appeals-they saw evidence that would have driven any jury to acquit. In the Birmingham appeal, for example, a master plan for fabrication of police interviews in the handwriting of the senior officer in charge of interrogation caused the court of appeal only to comment that they did not think that the officer had the brains to orchestrate a conspiracy.
For the Guildford defendants, extraordinary evidence was put before their appeal court. Members of the IRA who had, in fact, carried out the bombings for which the four young defendants had been convicted were prepared to provide compelling detail of their role. Instead of quashing the convictions, the court of appeal returned the four innocent defendants to prison for another 13 years.
There were only two honourable exceptions, seen as critical in guarding against future injustice. The court of appeal, considering the case of Judith Ward, by then imprisoned for more than 18 years, thundered that it would not permit “trial by ambush” in this country. What the prosecution knew, the defence should know.
Equally authoritatively came the voice of Lord Devlin, who saw with a clear eye that juries-constitutionally the arbiters of fact-could not find a substitute in the judiciary. When judges attempted, as happened in appeal after appeal, to consider fresh evidence as if they were a jury, they were committing a constitutional sin in addition to the fact that they then went on to demonstrate grotesque incomprehension of the evidence on which they were commenting.
Those voicing concerns about these new proposals should be aware that they are the second part of an experiment that has been ongoing for the past two years, largely without protest. A number of men, all foreign nationals, have been locked up indefinitely without trial on the basis of the suspicion only of the home secretary that they have links with terrorism.
The suggestion that I and other lawyers are representing them is in itself a travesty; neither they nor we know the evidence against them. We know only that it is claimed to be in large part based upon “intelligence”, and this is why-it is argued-the men cannot be prosecuted in a trial with mandatory safeguards before the only tribunal of fact allowed to consider criminal offences in this country: a jury.
What is “intelligence” and why does it ask to be heard in secret? In particular, what is likely to be the source of intelligence that relates to refugees from regimes known to practice torture as their interrogative method of choice? Defence lawyers who represent members of Muslim refugee communities in this country know, on the basis of almost daily reports, that the security services have been pressing for information through methods likely to produce unreliable testimony-offering regularised immigration status as the carrot, and return to the countries from which those individuals have fled as the stick.
Exposed to scrutiny, the falsity of informant evidence can be exploded. But secure in the knowledge that neither the identity nor the content of the information will ever be known to the accused or to the public, not only the informant but the accuser remains safe in the security of secrecy. As far as the regimes are concerned from which those refugees have fled, we know with sickening certainty, that there is now two-way traffic between our intelligence services and theirs to exchange “intelligence”.
While our government publicly sheds crocodile tears for the British detainees in Guantanamo Bay, it has emerged only recently that British intelligence agents have been there, and in Afghanistan’s Bagram airbase, interrogating those detainees. This country has been wholly complicit in obtaining the product of sustained interrogation in the absence of any safeguards of due process. Then, very deliberately, it has been putting it to use in our own secret hearings. So far these have been confined to foreign nationals, and have stirred scarcely a breath of protest. Now the home secretary says he wishes to extend secret hearings to all those accused of the mere suspicion of terrorism, even though short of evidence that could be proved beyond reasonable doubt in a public trial before a jury.
We should not be deceived. What is happening in Guantanamo; what is happening in the secret hearings with foreign nationals already taking place in this country; and what is proposed for the future, is in the nature of an ongoing experiment. This is the pooling of access to internationally condemned methods of investigation. Since their utilisation will be covert, the overt experiment is into how willing the public of this country and those concerned in the passage of legislation are to allow basic safeguards to be jettisoned without protest. The lack of protest over the imprisonment of innocent men and women in 1974 is a badge of shame for this country. The confidence with which this home secretary can express so unchecked an appetite for further powers that violate every international minimum norm is in itself a further badge of shame that hardly needs legislation to compound it. For this time, unlike those convicted in 1974, the men and women detained or convicted now will never have the possibility of knowing, let alone undoing, the false testimony that has buried them alive.
With other measures in the pipeline such as the Home Secretary’s proposal for trials based on evidence that will never be disclosed, a reversal of the burden of proof so that suspicion is enough and a European arrest warrant, what we can see is an ongoing experiment.
The experiment is the inevitable symptom of the failure of what has been called advanced capitalism.
Its tyranny is subtle, yet obvious, insidious but open to view, and determines and shapes the lives of everyone. This tyranny has been weaved into every facet of human activity and thought under the beguiling “mesmeric cover of democracy, legal and juridical pronouncements, freedom and security. Whilst the masses spend most of their working hours under the tyranny of capitalism in the factory or office they return home to movies, TV and entertainment shaped by the very same capitalism ruling them during the day in their workplace.”
Bolstering and propagating a world-view based on so-called anti-terror, liberation and freedom. One need only look to the detainees at Guantanamo, Belmarsh, Woodhill, Abu Ghuraib and numerous other concentration camp facilities being run by those who falsely claim the moral high ground.
Yet these are the very claims made and now embodied in the civic principles of the capitalist democracies that have killed over 10,000 civilians in support of their anti-terror measures.
The erosion of civil rights within their own nation states, disguised as a method by which to protect their own citizens from the external threat of terror, is the tyranny they have now chosen to impose on those very same citizens.
The body politic of society in this capitalist phase is by its very nature and in its essence diseased. Anti-terror as a civic principle is one among many surface eruptions on the dying body of capitalism coupled with its ideological partner, false democracy, and by its very nature is found in the opposite of all it lays claim to.