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Posts Tagged ‘sweeping new powers

The Sun says…

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It’s hardly news that pundits and columnists often talk at cross purposes and contradict themselves, but to do so within two paragraphs of the same article takes some talent.

Today’s Sun newspaper editorial begins in a familiar vein:

IT is shocking that Indian authorities believe British-born Pakistani terrorists took part in the Mumbai massacre. If true, it proves we have still not learned the lessons of London’s 7/7…

That is why we must give our security services the surveillance powers they require. And we must let police detain suspects for as long as they need.

Then in the next paragraph we are told:

The arrest of Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green is a terrible blow to our democracy. Mr Green was pounced on in raids involving 20 anti-terrorist cops. His homes and offices were searched and his private files and computers seized. His Commons room was turned over apparently with the consent of Labour Speaker Michael Martin. Why was MP Mr Green treated like an al-Qaeda bomber?

The answer, at least in part, is that newspapers like The Sun have, for years, slavishly supported every New Labour demand for “sweeping new powers” to bug, and detain indefinitely on vaguely-defined charges anyone who they say might be a terrorist.

All the while the government has been progressively widening the definition of “criminal” or “terrorist” activity – amid barely a squeak of protest from the supine tabloid media.

That paranoid state officials would end up using these arbitrary powers to harass critics and attack opposition politicians was completely predictable.

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look at the strange nexus between politicians who stoke public fears about terrorism in order to extend their own power, and tabloid newspapers that make their money from enthusiastically regurgitating every torture-tainted government scare story.

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Echoes of Sally Murrer case as senior UK opposition politician arrested by counter-terrorism police

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the extent to which government demands for “sweeping new powers”, ostensibly to protect public security, often lead to those powers being used in ways far beyond those originally intended. One among many recent examples was the use of anti-terrorist legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in the UK.

Now counter-terrorism police have arrested the Conservative shadow Home Office minister Damian Green, after he published documents recently released by a government whistle-blower. Green was charged with “aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in public office”.

Following his release on bail, Damian Green said:

“I was astonished to have spent more than nine hours under arrest for doing my job. I emphatically deny that I have done anything wrong. I have many times made public information that the government wanted to keep secret, information that the public has a right to know.

“In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the government to account. I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so.”

Interestingly, this charge closely resembles the spurious case brought against the local journalist Sally Murrer, in an apparent attempt to intimidate the police whistleblower Mark Kearney. According to the Press Gazette, Murrer was charged with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring Kearney to commit the offence of “misconduct in a public office”.

Richard Norton-Taylor on the UK authorities’ latest abuse of the “national security” trump-card

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue for ultra-scepticism about government trump-card excuses for evading public accountability.

Recent years have seen a profusion of unverifiable claims from UK politicians about the disasters that would result from them coming clean about what they’ve been up to. These range from catastrophic breaches of “crown copyright”, “commercial confidentiality”, and “MPs privacy”, to the joker played by cornered politicians the world over, that revealing the truth would damage “national security”.

One of the most transparently bogus cases in recent months has been the revelation that the UK government withheld, for four years, a police report accusing the Foreign Office of “inconsistency and contradictions, falsehoods and downright lies” in its handling of the notorious Julie Ward murder case.
The authorities claimed, preposterously that “national security” would be compromised if their mendacity was publicised – and have still made no apology for this additional abuse of power.

More worrying still, according to the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is now urging that the government award itself sweeping new powers to suppress any news story that it chooses to regard as a threat to “national security” (for which, going on past form, we might reasonably substitute “the reputations of government ministers”).

Norton-Taylor writes that:

it is ironic that some members of the cross-party committee – chaired by former foreign office minister Kim Howells – is using “national security” in defence of their quest for new ways to curb the media precisely at a time the high court is inviting editors to oppose the government’s use of “national security” to cover up extremely serious allegations.

Two high court judges have invited the media to challenge the goverment’s claim that information relating to the mistreatment and, it is alleged, torture, of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained in Guantánamo Bay cannot be disclosed for reasons of “national security”.

Ministers first obtained the information from the US. Britain’s national security in this case means the American threat to stop sharing intelligence with the UK if the information is revealed.

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, has asked the attorney general to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA by colluding in torture. The ISC has not been told the full story of the role of Britain’s security and intelligence agencies in the Mohamed case and others involving the secret rendition of terrorist suspects by the CIA.

The parliamentary committee should regard the media not as an enemy, but as an ally in the search for the truth behind “national security” claims and as a protector of fundamental rights.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 11, 2008 at 10:00 am

Outgoing chief prosecutor warns against “mediaeval delusions” and “the paraphernalia of paranoia”

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Ken MacDonald, the outgoing chief prosecutor of England and Wales, has warned against paranoid fears over terrorism being used to justify giving the government ever more “sweeping powers”, the BBC reports.

“We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state”, he said in his final speech.

Following the heavy defeat of government proposals to allow itself to detain people for 42 days without charge, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced plans to create a giant database to monitor the telephone, email and internet usage of everyone in the UK – ostensibly on the basis that this will help to fight terrorism. Opposition parties have described the plan as “Orwellian”.

In his speech, Ken Macdonald urged resistance to what he called the “paraphernalia of paranoia”:

“Of course, you can have the Guantanamo model. You can have the model which says that we cannot afford to give people their rights, that rights are too expensive because of the nature of the threats we are facing.

“Or you can say, as I prefer to, that our rights are priceless. That the best way to face down those threats is to strengthen our institutions, rather than to degrade them.

“We would do well not to insult ourselves and all of our institutions and our processes of law in the face of these medieval delusions.”

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I look at the strange nexus between journalists who whip up public fears over terrorism in order to sell more newspapers, and politicians who exaggerate the threat so as to justify their demands for ‘sweeping powers’ to invade our privacy, evade public scrutiny, and control our behaviour.