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Thursday, June 29, 2006 

Don't you just love being in control?

The government knew full well that it was coming. It knew almost from the moment that the control orders were given royal assent that they would be found incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Liberty, the Tories and lawyers all warned them. They went ahead regardless, and then yesterday and today have the temerity to once again blame the judges.

John Reid went in at full pelt, as you might expect, "strongly disagreeing" with the decision of Mr Justice Sullivan. Control orders, according to Reid, "are necessary to protect the public and proportionate to the threat that these individuals pose." The normally sane Labour MP John Denham, who resigned from the a ministerial position over the Iraq war, said that judges have sparked a "constitutional crisis", and added that "we have got to have a serious discussion between lawmakers in parliament, ministers and judges about the way through here."

Yet you can imagine the cries of certain members of the media if the judges got a hand in deciding policy, especially as some already view them as "soft". There is no reason for judges to be involved if the government properly consults before-hand, takes on board the views of lawyers, which considering the fact that there's a fair number in the cabinet shouldn't be too hard, and then legislates accordingly. Yet this still doesn't happen.

The whole issue over control orders has still not even been properly discussed. In the case yesterday, it involved 6 men, 5 of whom were Iraqi and one of whom was of either Iranian or Iraqi origin. All the men were arrested under the anti-terrorism act, and then later released without charge, only to be then held immigrations laws, likely to be deported under the "not conducive to the public good rule". Once it was discovered that they could not be deported back to Iraq or Iran, they were placed under the control orders.

If these men are such a threat to society, why were they not initially charged when they were arrested? Was there a lack of evidence, or was that evidence obtained via wire tapping, something which MI5 is still refusing to allow to be used in court, despite the recent use of bugs and listening devices in the on-going case against the men who discussed bombing the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London. Such tapes were not only played in court, but also given to the media in full. Is the intelligence on these men so top secret that it can't be disclosed, or gathered in such a way that it would expose the person who did so? The problem with this now is that we've seen in the last month what poor intelligence can lead to - and it doesn't inspire confidence that these men may be being held on incredibly flimsy information.

I have yet to hear a convincing reason, or even a reason from a minister on why these men on control orders or waiting to be deported for alleged links to terrorist groups or acts of terrorism cannot be tried in this country. Is it because it's just easier to get rid of them rather than go through the whole possibility of a trial failing, as it did in the case of the so-called ricin plotters? The men accused who were acquitted are now set to be deported, although whether they will be or not remains to be seen. Is it because it would expose MI5 officers and suppliers of intelligence to do so? If that is the case, then why can't the whole trial be held in secret, if necessary with just a judge, with the outcome then being given to the media once the trial has finished, along with all the evidence and countering arguments made, some blanked-out and protected if it needs to be? That seems a much better option than the current system of making men prisoners in their own homes, with contact with the outside being as minimal as the authorities would allow, with all visitors having to provide exactly when they would be visiting and what for. Even then their conversations would no doubt be taped. Their families are under the same conditions.

There is no doubting that there are men in this country who are plotting further terrorist atrocities. Yet the response from the government has been out of all proportion from the beginning; the original holding of prisoners without charge in Belmarsh applied only to foreign nationals, when it was home-grown militants who attacked London on 7/7. It also put Britain in the unenviable position of being next to the United States in locking up terrorist suspects without charge or trial. When that was rightly struck down by the courts, control orders were the answer, despite everyone warning that they too would do more harm than good. So it has been proved. After 7/7 we returned to the draconian measure of 90 days possible detention without charge or trial, and even then the police said they'd like to have even longer. We're now threatening to deport those "who are not conducive to the public good" back to their home nation, whether they are likely to be tortured or not. A piece of paper that says the likes of Algeria or Jordan won't isn't worth the paper it's written on. Yet recently two detainees awaiting deportation gave up their fight and elected to take their chances back home.
Doesn't that say something about British justice and the effect that this Kafkaesque system is having on anyone seen as a potential threat?

The government could still change all this. It could devise a way that these men could be brought to trial that all could agree on and that doesn't break the vital Human Rights Act. It could instead of appealing against Mr Justice Sullivan's verdict start doing this immediately with the help of the Tories, Lib Dems and eminent lawyers. Instead it's continuing with its sure to fail quick fixes, same as always. The tabloids will scream, the government will react, and we'll be back where we started. Just don't say we didn't warn you when it happens again.

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