Preventive detention has already played a shocking part in Britain’s “war on terror”.
Home secretary Charles Clarke’s new proposals for “control orders” are intended to answer the Law Lords’ judgment against the internment powers of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
Such has been the opposition to Clarke’s proposals that he has watered them down somewhat. Judges will have a larger role in confirming control orders than Clarke at first wanted.
But these orders would still involve punishment without trial. Thousands of British Muslims may be at risk of these control orders in the current climate of racist suspicion — possibly losing their jobs and reputations.
Control orders would restrict people’s movement or freedom of communication just because of what the authorities think they might do. Like the internment powers that they might replace, they would breach the most important principle of justice — that people are innocent until proven guilty.
The four British men recently returned from Guantanamo were allowed home without charge.
But now Clarke says they might be subject to control orders because of further information received from the US authorities about the “confessions” they made. By giving any credence to these “confessions”, the British government would clearly be making use of evidence gained under torture.
Many of the detainees held at Belmarsh prison, south east London, are not even allowed to know all the evidence against them—and will be none the wiser if they leave prison for a regime of electronic tagging and other restrictions.
If the extension of the detention powers to British citizens goes ahead, the range of people who might be affected could be as broad as the definition of terrorism in the current law.
The Terrorism Act 2000 defined terrorism to include serious damage to property. Not long ago right wing journalists suggested that striking firefighters could be arrested for “terrorism”.
The control orders could be an extension of the idea of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), which have already been used to restrict the freedom of movement of young people, and have been threatened against peaceful protesters.
Both create the possibility of a jail sentence for someone who disobeys the order. New Labour is now well equipped to clamp down on protest. Bit by bit this government is building a police state, and it must be stopped.
Long before the timing of the 28 February vote in parliament was known, a major lobby of MPs in their constituencies on anti-terrorist internment was planned for 11 and 12 March.
It is being co-ordinated by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, which has been fighting anti-terrorist laws since before 9/11.
Respect, the Muslim Association of Britain, the Green Party, Stop the War Coalition and Stop Political Terror have all agreed to support this lobby.
There’s also still time to fax your MP, make an appointment and highlight the importance of civil liberties as an election issue.
For more information go to www.cacc.org.uk