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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 11:57 GMT
Terror powers: Should there be detention without trial?
Home Secretary David Blunkett has come under fire from all sides in the Commons over proposals to imprison terrorist suspects without trial.
He told the House of Commons, "circumstances and public opinion" following the attacks of 11 September "demanded urgent and appropriate action."
He denied the proposed new laws were a knee-jerk reaction to events in the United States and said 10 weeks had been long enough to produce a considered response.
But former Labour minister Mark Fisher warned: "When this House acts quickly, it seldom acts wisely."
The 128 paragraph bill includes controversial measures to detain suspected terrorists, tighten airport security, freeze suspected terrorists' funds and create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.
Are the powers necessary to protect the UK from attack? Do they threaten civil liberties? Will they be effective in combating terror?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Jake Hodgson, UK
The rights of the individual are extremely important. The rights of 60 million people of the UK are therefore 60 million times more important. Why is it when freedom is removed by the state people react with this with so much horror. My freedom is far more likely to be removed by an individual that is nothing to do with the state, such as the freedom to live. The state has a responsibility to protect my freedom not just from agents of the state but individuals within it. I therefore consider strong and robust Anti-Terror measures a means of protecting freedom and not violating it.
Some say, "If you have done nothing wrong, what do you have to be scared about?" Yet THOUSANDS of suspected men and women are thrown in jail as we speak without fair trial or any contact to even their respective embassies. There is so little news coverage of these suspects and the procedures used for investigation, so why should I be so trusting that my government is playing fairly? What exactly constitutes a legitimate detention and how long does one have to rot in jail before found innocent? Our government is notorious in such situations to take advantage of public paranoia and find absurd reasons to make certain parts of our populace "disappear".
Internment was introduced to Northern Ireland in the 1970's, and it was the most abysmal failure associated with Northern Ireland. Many people who were interned had not been active in the IRA since 1916 and it led to civil rights marches. Internment not only failed to stop the IRA's campaign, but increased support and sympathy for them. I'm not saying that there would be more support for al-Qaeda, but in my opinion this is the wrong way to go about stopping them.
Liberal, do-gooder, compassion,
requiring of proof - these are bad
are they? Crikey, I never realised
I was such a bad person. Maybe I
should be locked up - but hold on
I am a citizen, phew, not me, not this
To "Matt, UK", the point is that you don't HAVE to do anything wrong to be detained for up to six months without trial under the new proposals.
All that is required is that you be SUSPECTED of having done something wrong.
If you haven't done anything wrong what have you got to be scared of?
Let's be clear, this is not a temporary "state of emergency", this is facing up to the way the world has really been for a couple of decades and will still be decades from now. And so powers taken for this "emergency" will be equally long lasting.
Virtually every regime that makes serious inroads into civil rights does so on the basis of "this current emergency".
I think there are some very confused people out there.
This law allows the government to hold people against their will who have done nothing wrong.
No trial or proof just some pen pushers decision.
I am fed up of this government attitude to law and order. I can get a job any where in the world and if this continues I will (somewhere else in Europe - better healthcare, schools and human rights)
Having just read the messages about the internment legislation, one point is very clear. This is a debate between two groups of moderate, civilized people, indulging in the luxury of "intellectual banter", from the comfort of their cosy homes, in front of their P.C.'s. Those people against the new legislation should remember two things. One, Bin Laden's terrorists are not moderate, civilized people; they are fanatical extremists, who want to destroy the West. They will perceive your unwillingness to take action against them as weakness and decadence and they will exploit it to the full to bring death and destruction to the U.K. They despise all infidels and will not stop to ask your opinion on internment before killing you.
Second, our ancestors gave their lives to protect your civil liberties, they defeated a fanatic of the kind you are now so scared of upsetting.
Tommy B, Germany
In 1975, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India suspended all civil liberties and imprisoned all leaders opposed to her without trials. It came back to haunt her. She lost the next election badly. Suspending civil liberties is not the way democracies should operate. True, extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. If the democracies want to suspend civil liberties and hold people without trial, they should and people who have done no wrong should not fear it. However, the democracies must also be ready to pay the price of suspending civil liberties, as India did in mid-seventies.
I am getting increasingly worried at the way in which the British and US governments seem to be using the attacks of 11th September as an excuse to push through legislation which erodes civil liberties. It isn't good enough to try to pretend that the risk of terrorism has increased. It hasn't, of course; what has changed is the perception of the risk of terrorism. What will be the next thing to fall to this hysterical reaction from politicians? Will we suddenly find troops taking over the job of the police on the streets, or people who's faces don't fit having their houses raided and being arrested? If there is evidence against someone, then bring them to court. If not, then put them under surveillance until evidence comes to light one way or the other. Don't go down the neo-Nazi route of locking people up without trial. In that direction lies the fall of democracy, and the ultimate victory for the terrorists: the destruction of civilisation.
To Neil (UK): I would like to take the opportunity to remind Neil that turning a blind eye, 'cause it doesn't effect you is a pretty sad attitude. It should be remembered that such apathy resulted in the Nazi's, who started simple human rights abuse such as making the Jews wear arm bands, graduating to genocide.
While I am not suggesting that such danger exists within the United Kingdom, we would do well to learn from history and realise that the first step is the biggest. Once the first step toward the erosion of civil liberties has been taken it is relatively easy to gradually erode as much as you want. The apathy displayed by people like you is the greatest assistance that any government with such designs could possibly wish for.
I never cease to be amazed at the whining on behalf of the most evil people on this earth by bleeding heart liberals who claim to be interested in peace and life. Whose peace and life? Why not spare a thought just once for all the victims, their families and friends and more so, all the victims who have yet to die and be injured, all the pain that so many more innocent people have to face rather than concentrate on the small risk that some innocent, but most likely guilty person, might spend a short time at her majesties pleasure by mistake.
No. Never. Once the ball is rolling and this is allowed, the rules will change and boundaries will be constantly redefined...no matter how strongly people feel against terrorists, allowing a law such as this would simply be opening the flood gates to a whole new legal system...one that defies the rights of the individual.
Yoko, London, UK
This restriction of fundamental
human rights is a significant victory
for the terrorists.
I think we have to deal with the real world where things are seldom black and white.
As the consequences of allowing in terrorists are so terrible we cannot have a 'one size fits all' law. It is unreasonable to expect the immigration service to investigate every immigrant to the Nth degree.
If there is doubt, then the suspect should be turned away. If there is certainty of wrongdoing then the suspect should be imprisoned.
If we are to give refuge to real refugees we need to be sure that our own safety is not compromised or the whole process wil collapse.
No-one has yet suggested that this legislation could be subject to regular review in order to retain its validity as law, like the old Prevention of Terrorism Act. This would ensure that it is subject to democratic scrutiny, and that if circumstances change, the curtailment of rights under the law could be rescinded again. This would act as a check against the abuse of this kind of legislation, and we are foolish if we think this could never happen.
Eoin Donnellon, UK
I remember this debate from last time round. Internment (detention without trial) was introduced in Northern Ireland and was absolutely disastrous. The Catholic community was alienated, there was an increase of membership to the terrorist groups and the level of violence increased. Can we seriously expect this legislation to be any more successful?
If a state in Asia or Africa were proposing to intern British citizens without trial, we would be rightly outraged. Why can't we apply the same values to others that we expect to be applied to ourselves?
Whatever measures are necessary to prevent further attacks by Al Qaida fanatics must be taken until the peril is no longer there and the fear and anxiety engendered by these unscrupulous and devious madmen is also eliminated from the world. Here in Canada we had to enact special legislation during the Second World War. No-one then thought this infringed 'human rights'. We were at war with a madman then and, once again, we are in the same hazardous position.
Our leaders have no choice if they are to fulfil their responsibility and enact stringent laws to protect the people who elected them. I am a Canadian, but I'm also a Brit and have dual citizenship so feel entitled to speak out about this issue.
Anu Menon, United States
We are going through the same debates in the United States. I think one problem is that people are tending to overlook the fact that the detainment is for NON-CITIZENS suspected of terrorism. Also, what is it that the people who complain are doing on a daily basis that might be confused with terrorism?? If someone is so worried about being picked up on suspicion of terrorism - maybe he or she should pay attention to what it is they are doing.
Yes, there should certainly be detention without trial of that small group that the law addresses: foreign nationals who are suspected terrorists but cannot be deported because they are likely to be tortured or killed if they are. This is a tiny number of people. The UK (and Europe as a whole) needs urgently to introduce rights of citizenship that differentiate between nationals and non-nationals. The Mad Mullahs of Finsbury Park have outstayed their welcome, and if the government doesn't remove them no doubt there are others who will.
Yes, OUR human rights should be protected. But maybe SOME people don't deserve civil rights- terrorists for example. As long as this only goes for suspects who try to enter the country, detain them while their case is being investigated, or they always have the option to go home. Otherwise a terrorist can be at large here taking advantage of OUR freedoms instead.
"The government say..." Isn't this the same excuses that nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union used for doing what they did? Do we Europeans really want to walk down that road again?
Taking away the civil liberties by legislation or by an Executive order, recently in the US, is not a correct method of fighting Terrorism.
In many parts of the world legislation like this has been used to suppress the masses, the minorities or the opposition.
There are other ways to fight terrorism, one of which is ensuring a just and equitable foreign affairs policy.
I can accept I have an enemy without but feel much more strongly about my enemy within - namely, the civil rights lobby who wish to tie the government's hands at every turn when they are trying to protect me.
So when the Chinese embassy was bombed and they found a spy plane in their back yard, should they have arrested every Yank and Brit and then thrown them in a hole?
I'm sorry to suspect that while the British people are "accustomed" to domestic (Irish) terrorism, many opinions here will change if/when an act of international terrorism occurs on your own soil. Still, some will not understand that there is a war on and that we are "allowed" to fight back!
Linda NYC, USA - what would America have done if Sept 11th had happened in the UK? Probably the same as they did after Canary Wharf, Warrington, Enniskillen and many other terrorist attacks on British soil over the last 30 years, nothing. It took the loss of mainly American lives in the US to shake you into action. Civil rights on both sides of the pond took years to be established, if Americans are prepared to give theirs up that's up to them. While Americans are in a flap over terrorists I wonder how many US citizens are dying by American guns while you defend your right to bear arms.
In response to Linda, NYC, USA-civil rights and liberties, with respect to a fair trial, are guaranteed, even for foreigners, by both the US constitution (and by UK laws). In light of this, and the long history of militias and other extreme right wing elements in the US, it would be prudent to be more carefully analyse your own country's constitution and your own citizen's scepticism of it, rather than criticizing us for ours.
So Linda, NYC you'd be happy for US citizens living and working in the UK to be detained without trial? As a foreign national living in the US this idea scares the life out of me. It's a dangerous thing to give a government this kind of power and the "non-bleeding heart liberals" amongst you should be clear about your understanding of what it entails. I'm sure you all have visions that the vast majority of people detained will deserve to be so - after all there's no smoke without fire, is there? Until it is a friend or relative or YOU that is detained, with no rights of defense or trial.
I had thought that laws should apply to everyone, regardless of nationality. Certainly the US Constitution makes no mention of having to be a US citizen to enjoy its provisions. But the real problem is that these laws are being rushed through with no debate and without proper democratic scrutiny. That can't be right. As we all know, governments do not easily give up powers already granted to them - they only try to take more. So, today foreigners, tomorrow our friends, the day after...?
This legislation (in spite of what the right-wingers might say) is a gross infringement of fundamental human rights. If the best they can do is accuse those of us who see what the government is truly doing of being "hand-wringing, bleeding heart liberals", their argument must be weak. I was on the anti-war demo in London yesterday which was disgracefully reported by the media. What, if that legislation is introduced, would stop the police arresting me if I went on another?
This legislation is, we are told, to root out terrorists but it will serve the dual function for the government of silencing growing dissent and unrest among its people.
For all those who want detention without trial, please move to a dictatorship. Our freedoms have been bought with the lives of our countrymen. How they must be turning in their graves at your weakness in the threat of madmen.
Tez Houghton, UK
Of course the Government should have detention powers. I am sick of hearing about these human rights idiots going on about erosion of freedom. Because of these misguided people, we openly have terrorists, living off our society, conducting their activities in comfort, in the knowledge that all they have to do is pick up the phone and a team of human rights activists and lawyers will protect them from prosecution or extradition.
Let's imagine that a major terrorist attack is carried out in a Middle East nation and a few thousand people are killed. Now let's imagine that the perpetrators were Americans and Britons. How would we feel if the government of that country rounded up hundreds of Americans and Britons with little cause, put them into prison, refused them a trial, held them on secret evidence, refused to provide a lawyer if they couldn't afford one, refused to let their families know where they were being held, etc. How would we feel? Would we say, "Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures." I think not. We would be furious. We should treat foreigners here the way we expect Americans and Britons to be treated when they are in foreign lands.
The sensitivity and compassion displayed for terrorists is admirable. Perhaps you should reserve some of your goodness for the families of those who were incinerated without cause on 9th September. Or those who were killed by a deadly bacterium while opening their mail. My own post office has been closed down for anthrax contamination and I just diagnosed a case in one of my patients. Let's have some compassion for her. Freedom has a price. Perhaps those Brits who remember the Nazis can explain this to you.
With a government so full of ex-lawyers they seem to be unaware of the term "precedent". Once an article on the human rights convention is suspended - even for a short while - it makes it that much easier to start suspending other articles when they become politically inconvenient.
To suspend one part of the charter invalidates the entire agreement. In which case, why bother?
This is the thin knife of terror jammed into the heart of liberty! Let's get real here. If Bin Laden wanted us down at his level we're there now. We can't allow the pressure we are under to erode our way of life. I am so sad to see what Britain is becoming. We must resist this unlawful action by people who would cast aside our hard won freedom and replace it with WW2 style concentration camps..
Wendy Goldberg, Britain
What's all this do-gooding nonsense about infringement of civil liberties? Of course the Government is not planning on a mass round-up of people willy-nilly but they will detain those who are known to pose a serious threat to this country. Isn't the safety of the majority of ordinary, peace-loving people in this country more important to those of you banging on about civil liberties, than those few who use the freedom of our democracy to encourage heinous acts?
This is no doubt a very difficult question. Detention or internment has a very, very poor history in recent times.
However, there is a real problem. Someone can claim asylum here who is accused of terrorist activities in their home state but we cannot deport them as they might be in danger of torture or 'unusual punishment'.
No one should have their civil rights and liberties taken away, with long periods in jail for suspicion, rather than proof and an impending trial. Should we lock up every motorist because they might break the speed limit in the future?
The contradictions inherent in this government are staggering - how can it grant early release to convicted IRA terrorists, yet threaten to imprison without trial suspected foreign terrorists? Why the distinction between domestic and international terrorism? If an individual is granted asylum, then they are also granted the right to live by and under the law of this country, including the right to a trial. If they have entered the country illegally, then prosecute under immigration laws.
Some of you need to get real. They will not just pull anyone off the street who looks like they might be a terrorist. The government knows who it is looking for, and if those people enter our country and are a danger to our citizens, then we should have the right to detain them.
I am not sure I agree fully with detainment without trial, but we have to take proactive steps in reducing the effects of terror.
Sue Hudson, London, UK
If you have no National Security there is no need to worry about "civil rights". Destroy the country - destroy rights, automatically. At least you have a fighting chance if you give up a few rights!
If we allow detention without trial, what distinguishes us from the likes of Saddam Hussein and the Taleban?
It is better that a guilty man goes free than an innocent is punished for a crime he didn't commit. In our free and democratic society these measures don't make sense. You will never stop a person hell bent on suicide. Unless we have evidence we shouldn't give the police the right to harass any Middle Eastern looking person. Look at the over reaction after the Oklahoma bombing!
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland
What next on the human rights erosion conveyor belt - summary execution?
Please take into account that you are at war. And you have British Moslems walking round your streets saying that they are off to join the Taleban to fight against the British. Those criticising this plan would be the first to attack the Government for lack of action if England is attacked in the same way as the US.
It was not long ago that the government talked of detaining anyone with a mental illness if they were thought possible of committing a crime. This was done for the sake of the public at large.
Now they want to be able to detain people without trial on suspicion that they are capable of committing a crime.
What next? To be imprisoned because your words are considered incitement to crime, or your thoughts are those that may very well be criminal?
Where do we stop, when we live in a military state under permanent "State of Emergency"?
There is a war on and the ultimate casualty may be freedom.
How do you know they're terrorists unless you try them properly? If you can be detained indefinitely on suspicion, then our regime becomes no better than those under which to be accused is almost the same as being guilty. Perhaps its one way of deterring asylum seekers - making our regime no better than the ones they're trying to escape from.
Paul Kenton, UK
There has been unlimited detention without trial for years, in England. It's called, REMAND.
Of course our civil liberties are being threatened: Bin Laden has already said that he will use nuclear weapons if he wants to. We need to take firm security measures against possible terrorists for our own security - we owe it to our children. But also, how dare we kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism if we can't even lock up some suspected terrorists in our own country?
So the government will have the power to lock up anyone they want, for as long as they want, with no evidence? I've protested against the government in my time; can I be sure I'm not on their list? Can you be sure you're not? We need to learn from history; every dictatorship began this way, and always with the excuse of 'national security'. We can't protect freedom by giving it up.
Keith Foley, UK
Benjamin Franklin said once: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
It is exactly what you will get with it. Instead of tracking down terrorists, which is a very sophisticated task, police will lock up any suspected person, which is very simple. I saw here, naive comments, saying, that "better to imprison ten innocent, as let one terrorist go". My dear, it is better, until you yourself are taken into custody. And, by the way, it will not be guaranteed that, among the mass of innocent people you wanted to imprison, there will be at least one terrorist. Terrorists are smart and tend not to behave suspiciously, as we could see on example of some so-called "sleepers" in Germany.
I suppose to New Labour this is just a logical extension of its desire to restrict the right to trial by jury. We should be very, very cautious indeed about allowing the right to detain without trial. We should not allow the emotion and heat of the moment mask the grave and fundamental erosion of liberty that this proposed measure represents. It is the proverbial thin end of the wedge.
What is being proposed here is imprisonment without a trial! What will be the criteria? A person may have "dodgy" eyebrows, but that doesn┐t give anyone the right to lock such a person up without any proof. Where is the justice for innocents who would have no recourse to the law? If anyone is suspected of terrorism then arrest, charge and remand such people, at least that would give them a chance to protest their innocence.
Arresting suspects is always permissible. Whether they are to be held or not raises all kinds of concerns and ethical questions. Therefore I suggest that if charges are not laid, say within 48 hours, the suspects should be released subject to the government removing their passports, attaching a radio beacon bracelet to their ankles and let them go. If later you need to pick them up again you know exactly where they are, or conversely you know if they are trying to flee the country.
Prevention is better than cure.
Yes the government not only has the right, but the duty to protect citizens from another group who intends harm to a nation - especially if they are guests in the country. To those of you who said no, if it was your friends and or families, you would get over your self righteous attitudes and protect your country.
Once again the bleeding hearts leap in to foil any attempt to curb terrorism. Yes, some innocents will be detained and when their innocence is proven I am sure they will have grounds for adequate compensation. How do you compensate the dead and innocent victims who have been killed and maimed by terrorists who walk amongst us only because there is a lack of sufficient evidence to convict them? We, the general public, are cannon fodder and hostages for the politicians and extremists who wish to impose theirs doctrines as violently as they see fit. I don't hear of anyone wanting to protect the Human rights of us potential victims and of those who have already suffered.
Of course we should. There is no way that if there is any chance of some one being a terrorist they should be allowed out onto our streets. Give them a trial after they are banged up in jail.
A poster from The
"We didn't create
the human rights
bill to be brushed
aside whenever it
to do so."
Remind me again who
restored the freedom
of the Netherlands
Without Britain and
the US, civil
rights issues in
Europe - or "Greater
Germany", as it was
called - would be of
We didn't create the human rights bill to be brushed aside whenever it suited governments to do so.
A poster from the Netherlands wrote: "We didn't create the human rights bill to be brushed aside whenever it suited governments to do so." Remind me again who restored the freedom of the Netherlands in 1945?
Without Britain and the US, civil rights issues in Europe - or "Greater
Germany", as it was called - would be of purely academic interest today.
K Wilson, UK/Australia
I agree with the proposed legislation. The Government and the Police need more power to prevent, rather than just pick up the pieces
Definitely not. I was wrongfully arrested in the US and the charges dropped. I would not wish that experience on anyone. The law is not above the law and never should be.
This gave the IRA a huge advantage in convincing young men in particular to join up to their cause. One huge injustice in the USA doesn't mean that a sovereign government should perpetrate another injustice on people it might view as a threat. Don't let law and order break down. The UK prides itself, as do other democracies, on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Don't change that and for all our sakes don't introduce bad laws which will in the long run cause more hurt and bitterness and convert people to the terrorist cause.
I thought this war was meant to be about protecting the democratic and liberal ideals we hold so dear in the west. Instead it seems to be an excuse for governments to just throw them away.
Have Mr Blair and Blunkett ever looked into the recent history of the Northern Ireland conflict?
Now that Mr Blair has realised he's losing the media battle, he's come up with a great way to stifle anti-war campaigners! Use Mr Bush's logic of "you're either with us or the terrorists", and detain or threaten to detain anyone who disagrees with government-approved policy in order to shut them up.
Time will tell whether this comment is sarcasm or prophetic.
As we have seen in the past with Irish 'terrorists' the system allows police to fabricate evidence to ensure heavy jail sentences for innocent people. If trial by jury cannot eliminate a miscarriage of justice then how can we expect detention without trial to avoid similar 'errors'?
The right to a fair trial is indeed one of the fundamentals of a free society. It should not be set lightly aside and certainly not on a permanent basis however severe the crisis. If there are terrorists here then they should be brought to trial, the evidence shown and justice done "though the heavens fall". If there is no evidence, perhaps the accused are not really terrorists at all?
If we are not prepared to submit to the discipline of proving the facts in a court of law we are lowering our standards closer to those of our opponents. Justifying such actions by reference to a "state of emergency" calls to mind a number of dreadful historical precedents.
Sam Perlo-Freeman, UK
It is better to detain ten innocents than let one terrorist commit his(or her) deadly ordeal.
Markus, is that what they do in Finland? You'd better hope that they aren't searching for a suspected terrorist called Markus then!
Long-term detention without trial is certainly an infringement - and a dangerous one - of civil liberties. However, terrorism is a dangerous abuse of civil liberties too. So it's a case of trading off one hazard against the other.
My concern is that detention under a law that allows arrest and imprisonment without charge is a double-edged sword just begging to be abused. Theoretically, absolutely anyone could be hauled off the streets and locked up at the whim of the local police force. In other words: the fact that you might not be a terrorist will be the reason for your eventual release, rather than your initial arrest! This genre of jurisdiction has hitherto been a hallmark of the Draconian governments that we tend to find ourselves at war with. I'm not at all sure that we should resort to such measures here.
David, Glasgow, Scotland
If they have evidence then they can charge the person. If they are investigating then they can apply to the courts to detain someone for longer. Why should they need any further powers?
Would we rather send someone back to a regime in which it is highly likely they will die, or detain them and thus protect not only themselves but the country in which they pose a threat? I'd suggest in principle this idea isn't so bad. However, the real issue is the criteria by which the government will decide if someone poses a threat to national security or not. I'm sure legislation exists which can be found but really - the government should be more forthcoming with details like this if they wish to win the support of those whose opinions are based on detailed facts rather then vague prejudices.
11 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Emergency move to hold terror suspects
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