Terrorism

42 Days

The BBC has a list of the Labour MPs who rebelled in the recent vote to allow people to be locked up without the evidence to charge them for 42 days.

  • Diane Abbott
  • Richard Burden
  • Katy Clark
  • Harry Cohen
  • Frank Cook
  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Jim Cousins
  • Andrew Dismore
  • Frank Dobson
  • David Drew
  • Paul Farrelly
  • Mark Fisher
  • Paul Flynn
  • Neil Gerrard
  • Ian Gibson
  • Roger Godsiff
  • John Grogan
  • Dai Havard
  • Kate Hoey
  • Kelvin Hopkins
  • Glenda Jackson
  • Lynne Jones
  • Peter Kilfoyle
  • Andrew MacKinlay
  • Bob Marshall-Andrews
  • John McDonnell
  • Michael Meacher
  • Julie Morgan
  • Chris Mullin
  • Douglas Naysmith
  • Gordon Prentice
  • Linda Riordan
  • Alan Simpson
  • Emily Thornberry
  • David Winnick
  • Mike Wood

Ann Widdecombe voted for the government bill, as did the DUP.

If I were in a labour held constituency, the only way I'd vote for them is if one of those people were the MP. The reverse goes for Ann Widdecombe (although she is quite popular in her constituency, and I can appreciate that she went out on a limb here as a matter of conscience - she's wrong though).

Six Weeks

So, Brown gets his way to lock people up for six weeks without the evidence to charge them. Still, it's one way to get the kids out of the way for the summer holiday...

The arguments used are pitiful, 'the police tell us they need the extra time, so...'. The police, with the best will in the world, aren't going to argue for a shorter time. They're the ones who get it in the neck if wrong, it's a tough job. It is the job of the lawmaker to balance the interest of the individual against the rest of the public. Do we really want to have a society when someone can be locked up for a month and a half because they are a suspect?

It's worth remembering that a Terror Suspect is just that. A suspect. Not a convict. Suspicion is not evidence.

Surely, it would be much less of a compromise to allow for questioning after a lesser charge?

For a millennia the rule has been that one could not get locked up without evidence and a trial. A six week detention, equivalent to a three month sentence (with good behaviour) can now (at least, assuming the Lords don't throw it out) be served without trial.

Strange, how in this 'free and democratic' country, once again we look to the Lords to safeguard our rights.

We never came anywhere near this even when the IRA made a successful bomb attack which threatened the cabinet and nearly killed the prime minister.

Brown is playing the politics of fear, long may his electoral approval slide.

Guantanamo

I've been rather ill for a few days, but have been getting better. Today it's been variable - ups and downs. I'm currently in an 'up' and decided to catch up on the world. I stumbled upon this article which contains the lovely quote:

We have become overly focused on the fairness of what the government does to terrorists than the danger of what terrorists might do to us.

Hmm, rather missing the point of due process there. These people, as guilty as they may ultimately be, are still suspects - they have not been shown to be guilty. They have been locked up with the key thrown away without any recourse to law as we know it.

The article also says:

The government ought to conduct a triage and determine which detainees present no serious threat or are innocent of any charge

Yep. That's going to happen. 'Sorry we locked you up for more than seven years without trial, you're totally innocent, off you go'.

For the US Government, that's a massive lawsuit waiting to happen.

No, what'll happen is that people will be released in a drip-like fashion in such a way that the stain on their record isn't removed - but just that there was 'insufficient evidence to charge'. They'd be released on the understanding that their home countries monitor them, or take responsibility for them.

I'd be amazed if any of them ever got through US customs once released as a true innocent would (though I'd be even more amazed if they wanted to). In this way the US can save face: "We know they're bad'uns" without ever having to test that accusation with evidence.

I am not suggesting for one minute that everyone in Guantanamo is innocent. Just as I'd hope that those with the "hang 'em high" tendency would admit that not everyone in there is guilty just because they're in there.

What I'm saying, and what the article is saying, is that whilst I don't think the US will start putting its house in order anytime soon(*) natural justice demands that it does - that it takes the risks of lawsuits for wrongful incarcerations and undertakes due process. If it did wrong, as I'm sure it knows it has, then it needs to be a nice grown up superpower and put things right.

If the US is serious about reducing terrorism in the future, Guantanamo Bay should go, it's a clarion call for Al Qaeda - just as internment was for the IRA.

(*) (though Bush could conceivably do this over the summer if it looks like a democrat might have to deal with the aftermath - cynical, moi?)

Bruce Schneier on terrorism (again)

Bruce Schneier has another good article on terrorism, essentially saying in an eloquent way what I've been boring anyone who'll listen with for the past couple of weeks.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they've succeeded.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that's basically what's happening right now.

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

Quite so.

Stupid Security

Privacy International has opened up nominations for the 'Stupid Security Awards 2006'.

The Stupid Security Awards is an open competition run by Privacy International to discover the world's most pointless, intrusive, annoying and self-serving security measures. The awards aim to highlight the absurdities of the security industry. The awards were first staged in 2003 and attracted over 5,000 nominations from members of the public from around the world.

The competition is judged by an international panel of well-known security experts, public policy specialists, privacy advocates and journalists. Together they decide on the following award categories:

  • Most Egregiously Stupid Award
  • Most Inexplicably Stupid Award
  • Most Annoyingly Stupid Award
  • Most Flagrantly Intrusive Award
  • Most Stupidly Counter Productive Award

Unworkable security practices and illusory security measures do nothing to help issues of real public concern. They only hinder the public, intrude unnecessary into our private lives and often reduce us to the status of cattle.

It's hard to know just where to start, but the recent scares about airports have lots of possibilities, for example the reduction in hand luggage size - as if someone could smuggle something nasty in slightly larger luggage, but not slightly smaller. In addition there's the fact that liquids can't be taken through security - but can be bought on the far side of security but not if travelling to the USA, bottles of water bought at the airport are much more dangerous when flying to the US. Obviously.

There's also the whole idea that ID cards will axiomatically make us secure (potential terrorists would have valid ID too).

The full announcement is here, and says:

The airline industry is the most prominent offender, but it is not alone. Consider the UK rail company that banned train-spotters on the grounds of security (e.g. see this article(external). Or the security desk of a US office building that complained because paramedics rushing to attend a heart-attack victim had failed to sign-in. Or the metro company that installed a $20,000 biological weapons/gas detector and placed it openly next to a power plug so terrorists could conveniently unplug the device.

In 2003, the final list was published with this leading paragraph:

"The extraordinary number of nominations indicates that the situation has become ridiculous" said Mr Davies. "Security has become the smokescreen for incompetent and robotic managers the world over".

The Friday thing on 'Going with the Crowd'

The Friday Thing has a nice take on the difficulty on maintaining a classically liberal perspective in the face of the propaganda that 'The evil-doers Want You Dead' all the time. (Note, original link broken, link amended)

The media can't help but be somewhat complicit in the terrorist agenda, because without the media we wouldn't know we're meant to be terrified...

...however often you remind yourself that you're vastly more likely to get hit by a bus than blown up on one, you're never immune to the threat of fear-based bigotry...

Feasibility of airline plot

Over on 'Interesting People', a chemist discusses the feasibility of the recent 'airline plot' which caused so much disruption at Heathrow (after it was supposed to have been foiled).

You also need quite a bit of organic peroxides made by this route in order to be sure of taking down a plane. I doubt that just a few grams is going to do it -- though of course the first couple of grams you are likely to go off before you make any more. The possibility of doing all this in an airplane lav or by some miracle at your seat seems really unlikely.

So far as I can tell, for the pragmatic terrorist, the whole thing sounds really impractical.

The article goes into some detail of the chemistry involved, and then discusses the 'slippery slope' of trying to eliminate all possible risks (you can't).

It concludes with a sanity check about the level of risk involved in various everyday activities.

So can someone tell me where the madness is going to end? My back of the envelope says about as many people die in the US every month in highway accidents than have died in all our domestic terrorist incidents in the last 50 years. Untold numbers of people in the US are eating themselves to death and dying of heart disease, diabetes, etc. -- I think that number is something like 750,000 people a year? Even with all the terrorist bombings of planes over the years, it is still safer to travel by plane than it is to drive to the airport, and it is even safer to fly than to walk!

At some point, we're going to have to accept that there is a difference between real security and Potemkin security (or Security Theater as Bruce Schneier likes to call it), and a difference between realistic threats and uninteresting threats. I'm happy that the police caught these folks even if their plot seems very sketchy, but could we please have some sense of proportion?

Update: The Register discusses the chemistry of the situation.

Osama is Good?

A senior official in the Bush Campaign has said:

"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."

A senior GOP strategist added, "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush."

He called it "a little gift," saying it helps the President but doesn't guarantee his reelection.

It's good for Bush that Bin Laden is still out there? That explains a lot...