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UK Parliament Again Turns Blind Eye to Terror Threat

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the UK's upper house of Parliament dismissed two key provisions from the government's new Counter-Terrorism Bill. WHY? Political EXPEDIENCY.

Ministers base their opposition to the legislation on both human rights and constitutional grounds, but politics is surely the overarching principle of the day; a very dangerous game indeed.

First to be dropped from the bill was an extension as to how long terror suspects can be held without charge. The current limit is 28 days, while the proposed legislation would have allowed 42 day detentions. Both Conservative and Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords united to adopt a measure that would reinforce their commitment to the 28 day limit. A government spokesman said they would not attempt to reverse this decision.

Advocates of the extension cite the increased complexity of terror cases, often spanning several countries, dozens of computers, mobile phones, and prolonged travel. Supporters also highlight the 2006 airline plot to bomb several transatlantic flights to the United States, pointing out that authorities had to rush their investigation and nearly released several suspects as they approached the 28 day limit.

`Some may take the security of the British people lightly. I don't,” said Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary, then claimed opponents of the legislation were "prepared to ignore the terrorist threat for fear of taking a tough but necessary decision."

Meanwhile, opponents of the bill cite its lack of transparency as a threat to civil liberties and human rights. `The government's climbdown over 42 days detention is a victory for everyone who cares about the civil liberties we enjoy as British citizens,” said Nick Clegg, leader of the Opposition Liberal Democrats.

The Second provision dropped from the new terror bill was the government's proposed plans for private or "secret' inquests. The new measures would have allowed judges and officials to ban juries, family members, and the public from taking part in terror cases involving national security. Officials in favor of the bill mention an increased sensitivity involving wire-taps and undercover agents, pointing out specific examples where open trials have damaged the government's ability to execute ongoing investigations.

Again, critics of the plan say it is an affront to the United Kingdom's judicial history of transparent government and fair trials. Various family members of the July 7 Bombings were worried the new amendment would allow the government to remain quiet on what they knew about the bombers prior to the attack. Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights had also expressed concern in regards to the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot and killed by London police as they mistook him for a suicide bomber. The Committee argues that government officials must be held accountable for their actions, and the proposed bill would have limited oversight and regulations in regards to terror investigations.

All of these arguments are true. The 42 day extension would absolutely benefit the investigation of complex and intricate terror plots, and yes, there would indeed be cases of abuse and mistaken identities. Likewise, "secretive' inquests would have increased counter-terror officials' ability to isolate one investigation from the other. Several investigations could have existed simultaneously in the same neighborhood or mosque, without others being tipped off or forewarned. Would this system have been abused by overzealous officers and politicians? Absolutely. What's distressing is NOT the fact that the two relatively controversial provisions were dropped, but the fact that they were dropped based on politics, not merit. Politics, again, rules the day.

Those supportive of the bill, mostly those in the governing Labour party, saw the legislation as a way to subvert Conservative gains in matters of national security. PM Brown and his cronies wanted to be the "tough guys' for once. However, as the national mood shifted towards economic concerns, again giving the edge to Labour, the Prime Minister's office became less interested in launching an all-out political assault based on counter-terrorism. Conservatives, too, are trying to regain authority on the economic crisis. The debate “distracts us at a time when there are more pressing issues that we should be concentrating our attention on — the economy, for one," said Conservative spokeswoman Pauline Neville Jones.

The economy? Yes of course. The economy is in full-on meltdown mode, but since when has Parliament been unable to handle more than one crisis at a time? Does this legislation really contradict or limit any economic relief package? I don't fully understand what one crisis has to do with the other. Oh wait, yes I do, it's about votes.

 

Author

Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is an International Relations theorist, with expertise in terrorist ideology, American foreign policy, and war / conflict resolution. He currently holds a Master's of Science degree in International Politics from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the George Washington University. Josh's most recent work, his M.Sc. thesis, is a comparative analysis between Marxist / Leninist ideology and Osama bin Laden's global jihadi movement. He currently resides in New York.

Areas of Focus:
Terrorist Idealogy; American Foreign Policy; Conflict Resolution;

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