Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sadly familiar

The Independent has a report today on the "evidence" used by British intelligence services to justify the (unlawful, according the Britain's highest court) imprisonment without trial of twelve suspected terrorists. The men have spent up to three years in jail (mostly in solitary confinement) in the basis of information which has later been admitted to be "flawed and innaccurate". For example,

  • A security service assessment was embarrassingly withdrawn after it emerged that the purpose behind a visit to Dorset by a group of Muslim men had not been to elect a terrorist leader but to get away from their wives for the weekend.
  • Confirmation that the Government is using evidence of association with the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg to hold at least two of the foreign terror suspects under its emergency powers.
  • False allegations made against one of the Algerian detainees in relation to his association with Mr Begg arose from an MI5 surveillance operation of Mr Begg's Islamic bookshop in Birmingham in 2000. MI5 wrongly claimed that weapons had been found there.
  • The Home Secretary has been forced to concede that some of the funds raised by the detainee Abu Rideh for alleged terrorist activity were sent to orphanages in Afghanistan run by a Canadian priest.
  • Testimony against two of the detainees came from an affidavit sworn by a man who was offered a lenient sentence in return for evidence.

And the list goes on...

If this seems sadly familiar, it's because our own Security Intelligence Service has applied the same low standard in the Ahmed Zaoui case. "Evidence" against Zaoui has included "unsourced extracts from various news reports with no attempt to excise opinion from fact", material sourced from the website of American conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, a poorly shot home video taken by him in Malaysia and Vietnam, and a videotaped interview which was mysteriously "lost", then found again... except for the part they claim is actually incriminating, where we'll just have to take their word about what was said.

The lesson from this is that spies the world over seem to either be remarkably paranoid, willing to believe anything "just in case" - or remarkably gulliable. They also seem to have a nasty habit of interpreting all information so as to support their desired conclusion, no matter how innocuous - and if they don't have any such information, they seem more than willing to simply make it up. This is simply unacceptable when people's rights are on the line. Western democracies did not fight long and hard to eliminate the arbitrary power of kings, only to replace it with the arbitrary power of spies.

Depriving someone of their freedom is the sort of thing which requires actual evidence. if our intelligence services are unwilling - or unable - to provide this, then they should be told to go away and come back when they have something which passes the laugh test. It's that simple.