What do the words ‘anti-terror legislation’ conjure up in your mind? For me, it is the hooded and shackled; the abused and forgotten. ‘Fair enough’, you might say. Terrorism is a terrible thing, and any measures to stop this kind of abuse should be welcomed. Not when it is the government doing the hooding and shackling. The government’s announcement that it is resurrecting the defeated ninety day detention legislation –albeit in a watered down, forty two day guise- fills my heart with another ounce of cynicism. It’s getting harder and harder not to see Labour as a collective reprisal of The Terror’s Robespierre; their methods ever more draconian, their arguments ever more spurious. I may just be an angry, human rights loving onlooker, but when the home affairs committee, whose raison d’être it is to conclude on such matters in the interest of national security, says there are no grounds for the extension of the detention period, then I’m inclined to agree. How then, in the wake of mass public and professional opposition, and –let’s not forget- the first commons defeat for Tony Blair in 2005 over the matter can this be back on the agenda?
I’m not exactly keen on the idea of phone tapping as a legitimate source of evidence as the committee suggests, but I find it immensely preferable to that of forty-two days spent in limbo, without crime and without trial. Such situations are more likely to breed sedition and ‘home grown terror’ than if a fair legal process was undergone. I don’t want to sound like I’m flogging a dead horse here; this has all been said before, but by abandoning the very liberal, democratic and just principles that define our society when dealing with terror suspects, we not only leave ourselves open to justified accusations of hypocrisy –which could have detrimental consequence for those soldiers kidnapped in Afghanistan or Iraq for example-, but more importantly we sacrifice the very things that we are supposed to be fighting to preserve. By introducing this forty-two day detention, we act as the best recruiting sergeant for those who wish to criticise and damage us, including the allegedly ubiquitous terrorists. As Nick Clegg summarises, ‘the obsession with forty-two days is undermining, not supporting, the battle against terrorism.’
We must be aware of the affects that constant suspicion and ostracism from society can have on minority groups. It’s something that members of my family experienced to an extent during peaks in the Provisional IRA’s campaign in the 1970s and 1980s. Accent was the only discriminating factor there though. By exacerbating the perceived attacks on a community that already identifies more with its religion than its ‘Britishness’ through introducing new anti-terror legislation we are hardly likely to win the hearts and minds campaign. If the time period of the detention weren’t enough, the creation of a list, much like the sex-offender’s register, for those convicted of crimes relating to ‘terror’ ices the proverbial cake. The government envisages some offenders being on the register for life. Traditionally if you commit a crime and serve a sentence, you’re considered to have paid your debt to society. Apparently this isn’t the case anymore. We can only hope that the thirty-four labour MPs needed to block the legislation will do so, and save the last vestiges of fair legal process in this country. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to prevent the police from conducting the investigations necessary our security and welfare, but once mechanisms are in place, it is hard to remove them. The same measures which are used to counter terrorism today could be used against anyone tomorrow.