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Internment

Although Samizdata concerns itself with more important things than mere politics (thankfully for our collective sanity), it seems wrong that we should pass let without record the government’s announcement of its intention to introduce indefinite executive detention for UK citizens. For those who missed the vigourous Parliamentary debate (which must have lasted at least 15 minutes), in future anyone may be locked up indefinitely in their own home on the say-so of the Home Secretary, based on evidence known only to him.

The Daily Telegraph appears to blame the Human Rights Act, noting that this decision is ostensibly being taken because the Law Lords said that it was illegal to empower the Home Secretary only to detain foreigners arbitrarily. This view is advanced notwithstanding Lord Hoffman’s ditcta that applying such a equally rule to British citizens is no more defensible. But it is an absurd idea that such unlimited arbitrary power of arrest and detention is something the government reluctantly finds has been thrust upon it.

On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I am tempted to wonder about the timing. Is this just a good day to bury bad news? Is it some kind of sick joke? Is the government double-daring libertarians to announce the beginning of the police state on the day we remember the ghastly outcome of arbitrary rule? Whatever the truth, it is a black day.

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25 comments to Internment

  • I suggest the ‘bad King John’* campaign. Every time a member or ex-member of the Cabinet appears in public, particularly Clarke, Blunkett and Blair, sober citizens should shake their heads, tut quietly, frown, turn to each other brows furrowed in consternation and murmur, “Bad King John! Naughty, naughty King John!”. Try making a public order offence out of it. (Who will vote for anyone who looks ridiculous?) Presumably eventually the barons will arrive. *The title is taken from a poem for children by Eleanor Farjeon about Magna Carta and all that which begins: ‘John, John, bad King John/Shamed the throne that he sat on/Not a scruple, not a straw/Cared this monarch for the law/Promises he daily broke/None could trust a word he spoke…’ Whoops, forgot: we’re all going to be under house-arrest for tutting.

  • Della

    Man you guys are so slow, I realised it was going to go down something like this about a year before he got elected the first time. I distinctly remember on the day before Blair took power looking at some mountains and saying “So ends freedom”. Maybe I was a tad quick of the mark.

  • Verity

    Della – snap!!

    I was at home from Asia visiting my late mother when I had my first encounter with the image, on TV, of Toxic Tony. I said to my mother: “That is an evil individual”, and she said: “Yes, he is. And he’ll get in.”

    Well, he got in and gnawed at the pillars of the state of Britain, and unpicked, with madly busy little fingers, the fabric of British law and civil society – and Della, how interesting that you sensed it too before it actually came to pass, and you weren’t even in Britain (so far as I know).

  • Della

    They were Blighty mountains in Blighty where I live.

  • Meanwhile, in the Colonies:

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/01/26/store.shooting.ap/index.html

    It is interesting to note that the robber’s gun jammed. I remember reading in the invaluable anthology MURDER INK that your Scotland Yard had done a study of criminal’s guns and had found them to be almost uniformly ill-maintained.

    Honest citizens who responsibly use guns know what to do with them.

    I can see why there are those who would fear that.

  • dearieme

    In Feb ’97, a friend so forgot himself as to say in a lecture to undergraduates “New Labour will prove to be Christian Fascists”. At least half right, then?

  • Euan Gray

    Perhaps now some people will better understand why others have made such a big deal about detaining suspects without trial in places like Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh jail.

    EG

  • The Last Toryboy

    I skimmed a bit of the debate before I got bored.

    I do notice that the Tories and old school labour types were the only side voicing their unhappiness with the proposed measure. So clearly the Tories have a use.

    What struck me more was that the so called “Liberal” Democrats were mad up for this measure. What happened to the party that wanted to legalise pot smoking?

    Therefore, the Tories are the only party that will put even a halfhearted brake on things.

  • Pete_London

    Verity, Della and dearieme

    What was that about the the evil and fascist Blair? Thanks to the Englishman and Laban Tall we have this piece from the Scotsman:

    Speaking after the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, announced new laws to control the movements of terrorist suspects, Mr Clarke’s adviser, Stephen McCabe, told The Scotsman he saw this extending to other groups suspected of using violence to further their ends.

    The Labour MP said: “We can envisage this applying to animal rights extremists and the far-Right, for example.

    These people are locked up because we believe they are a genuine danger based on what we think is pretty reliable evidence, even if it cannot be divulged in a court of law.

  • Last Toryboy: the Lib Dem position is that this measure is still in breach of the HRA, and the best solution would be to allow wiretap evidence in court. And unlike the Tories, the Lib Dems complained repeatedly about the original indefinite detention laws.

  • Della

    john b,

    allow wiretap evidence in court

    If you allow wiretaps you will find they go wiretap crazy like the Chechs:

    Wiretaps installed on 100 out of every 100,000 inhabitants

    They would almost certainly add to such an act the ablity to use mobile phone location data, so practically everyone could find their mobile phone was being used as a tracking device. “It’s for the children!”

  • Euan Gray

    ‘Normal’ Czech police practice: Wiretaps installed on 100 out of every 100,000 inhabitants

    So 0.1% of the population have their phones tapped, which implies than only 99.9% do not? Something like 11,000 people in the whole country are being listened to?

    Doesn’t sound like “wiretap crazy” to me. I suppose also in Czech Republic if this sort of thing is legal one has a chance of finding out details of how often it is done, for what reasons, etc. Here in Britain, how many people have the slightest idea just how often phones are tapped?

    EG

  • Della

    Euan writes,

    Doesn’t sound like “wiretap crazy” to me

    In Scotland, UK there are 5 million people and recently there has been 25 – 50 wiretaps a year as far as I can remember, (not 5000). Taps require permission of the Scottish First Minister and he said how many there were one time, I don’t know if there’s figures for England. This is comparable with the US figure according to the original Czech article.

    The thing that caused the scandal was tapping the phone of the leader of one of the oposition parties and transcribing the conversation, also it seems like these are long term installations like they had before in Communist Eastern Europe and not limited time stuff like we have here.

  • Euan Gray

    In Scotland, UK there are 5 million people and recently there has been 25 – 50 wiretaps a year as far as I can remember, (not 5000).

    I’d have thought more. One lives and learns. Is this all taps, or just the ones in criminal investigations, I wonder?

    these are long term installations like they had before in Communist Eastern Europe and not limited time stuff like we have here

    By “installation” do you mean the physical tapping? As I understand it, this is not necessary on BT and any line can be tapped remotely by computer at pretty much any time, and untapped just as easily. Wonderful stuff, this digital communications technology.

    EG

  • Della

    I’d have thought more. One lives and learns. Is this all taps, or just the ones in criminal investigations, I wonder?

    I doubt there’s terrorists in Scotland, probably the nearest there is are drug dealers from Northern Ireland’s former terrorist orginisations trying to break into the local industry.

    By “installation” do you mean the physical tapping? As I understand it, this is not necessary on BT and any line can be tapped remotely by computer at pretty much any time, and untapped just as easily. Wonderful stuff, this digital communications technology.

    Maybe they use the modern method, maybe they use what they had.

    They seem to have been fairly thorough, even listening to the conversations of the President of the Czech republic.

  • Cobden Bright

    This is a very troubling piece of legislation. As with all laws, it should be judged not on what a perfectly omniscient and well-intentioned wielder of authority would do with it, but rather what incompetent, petty, and unaccountable power-mad political types can get away with in future. As one real-life example, under the Prevention of Terrorism legislation, a college acquaintance of mine was detained for a year without having been found guilty of any offence – his crime was to have hosted an Irish-themed party (he was Irish and studying in England at the time), to which (unknown to him) a suspected IRA member attended. That was all that was needed for him to disappear for a year – none of us knew what had happened to him for months.

    Now, similar if not worse abuses will happen to anyone remotely related to alleged Islamic extremism. Friends, distant relatives of suspected radical Muslims (and eventually any pariah political group) will be carted off or subject to house arrest indefinitely without any ability to get redress, purely on the whim of the all-powerful state. A thousand years of common law wisdom and tradition has been thrown onto the scraphead thanks to the mindless knee-jerk reaction of a few politicos whose knowledge of history extends no further back than 1960. They simply cannot conceive of why anyone objects to this law, of course *they* will implement it reasonably, they believe. Just as the Americans first thought Guantanamo Bay was necessary and would be run reasonably, so our elected overseers think this unaccountable power will not be abused.

    Luckily we still have a fair bit of freedom of speech and media scrutiny. It will be interesting to see how long before the first outrages and abuse occur. This is one area where the blogosphere could make an important contribution. With luck, the law will be abused so badly that it will draw protests and eventually be repealed. However, I am not convinced that the general public can be roused out of their apathy – after all, it’s only radical Muslim extremists who will be affected, right?

    Quite frankly I thank my lucky stars I am not a Muslim. The ones that know what this law means must be crapping their pants – they are now officially 2nd class citizens, their very freedom at the mercy of shadowy unaccountable intelligence officers and a Home Secretary drunk with power. Kafka would be turning in his grave if he knew that this was going on in Britain, once (now it seems so long ago) the birthplace of liberty.

  • Pete_London

    Cobden

    I agree with you up to a point. My opinion is that muslims will have nothing more to fear than anyone else This government has bent over backwards to accommodate them for electoral reasons; Blair has managed to wrangle them out of Gitmo, they have been released from custody, Mike O’Brien’s blatantly anti-semitic slur against Michael Howard to a Muslim audience, the proposed law against incitement to religious hatred, the recent, ridiculous, arrest of the leader of the BNP (and let no-one say I agree with him please) et al. Reading again that which was reported in the Scotsman it seems more likely to me that terrorist suspects have been used as a Trojan Horse for the purpose of expanding the power of the Home Secretary:

    Speaking after the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, announced new laws to control the movements of terrorist suspects, Mr Clarke’s adviser, Stephen McCabe, told The Scotsman he saw this extending to other groups suspected of using violence to further their ends.

    The Labour MP said: “We can envisage this applying to animal rights extremists and the far-Right, for example.

    Such a measure of course doesn’t stand in isolation. Set this next to the Civil Contingencies Act to see the extreme limits of government power existng in Britain today. We are now at the point where this government can detain political opponents with impunity.

  • Della

    I’ve noticed Blair of late has recently started doing things that seem to be designed to piss of the IRA.

    Do you think he is looking for that Reichstag moment trying to piss them off so much they go back to terrorism and he gets to use these “marvelous new powers”? You do know that if there is a terrorist attack he can use it as an excuse to grab absolute power (due to the civil contingencies act).

    Am I being too cynical, or not cynical enough?

  • Guy Herbert

    Della:

    They would almost certainly add to such an act the ablity to use mobile phone location data, so practically everyone could find their mobile phone was being used as a tracking device. “It’s for the children!”

    Such a power has existed for some time already now. And it is used in evidence too. Very occasionaly it has been exculpatory.

    Some mobile phone tracking data isn’t all that useful, because pre-paid phones can be bought anonymously. As the regulatory impact assessment (sic – it reads more like a mission statement) attached to the Identity Cards Bill (again, sic) makes clear, the government intends to put an end to that.

  • So the next terrorist outrage in the UK will take place under the most draconian regime in peacetime.
    It will be perpetrated by those who have impeccable IDs,who have never been under surveillance by the police or security services,who do not care about being apprehended because they have no intention of surviving.

    They will be here to do a one off job and will not even transgress to the extent of running a red light,they might even have been born here.The police willl probably be able to trace their entire life history up until the point where they and their ID card vapourised in a fireball

    Clarke will panic and have hundreds people arrested who have absolutely no connection with the outrage and the government will announce a crack down and a new security innitiative

  • John K

    So, British subjects will be liable to indefinite detention based on secret intelligence seen only by the Home Secretary of the day. I don’t have a problem with that, provided we could be sure that no government would ever distort or misuse secret intelligence to further its political ambitions. But would a British government ever “sex up” intelligence in this way? Andrew Gilligan should get some fresh air whilst he still can!

  • John K writes:

    I don’t have a problem with that, provided we could be sure that no government would ever distort or misuse secret intelligence to further its political ambitions.

    But that proviso highlights the problem. I don’t trust ANY government with this sort of power. History provides far too many examples of the abuse of aribtrary unaccountable power for that.

    Consider this govt. I suspect a lot of the motivation behind the draconian laws we’re seeing is to be seen to be “doing something” about terrorists. They’d probably rather they be criticised now for trashing civil liberties than criticised after a terrorist bombing for not doing enough. But it’s the perceptions (generated by the media) they’re worried about, not the reality.

    Suppose there’s a major terrorist bombing in Britain under these rules, perpetrated in a manner that makes it difficult to track down who did it. The govt will likely impose house arrest on anyone the security services suggest regardless of the strength of the intelligence, just for the appearance of “doing something” about the problem. And of course the friends and families and other associates of those subjected to house arrest will be made to suffer house arrest or other restrictions too.

    These laws, and the accompanying climate of fear, create opportunities for the jackboots to take control. I don’t believe Blair’s a jackboot, or Clarke for that matter. But they might as well be stooges for such.

    Things may not be like that now, and might not go that bad in the forseeable future. But as the ratchet is turn up notch by notch, the path back becomes more and more costly.

    The British govt has got away with the most sustained and systematic attacks on civil liberties and the rule of law this country’s seen in modern times. It even has an enabling act on the statute books.

    By the time of the next general election, we might have legislation enabling house arrest, identity cards, an offence of incitement to religous hatred and a new directly govt controlled police force (SOCA) whose agents will have the power of arrest for all crimes, on the books.

    They’re ratcheting these powers up as fast as they can.

    When will it stop? More to the point, when will people stop it?

  • Winzeler

    Can you say “martial law?”

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Pete_London: Yeah, you’re right in that Muslims have nothing to fear from Labour because they’re in power and sympathetic to Islam.

    But what if there is an election upset? And another party that is less amiable to the Muslims appear?

    That’s the whole damn point behind giving the state more power, even in democratic ones: how that power can be used may be quite frightening.

    TWG