Thursday, February 08, 2007

The problem with detention without trial

The war on terror has seen a general erosion of human rights in the west, with many governments passing draconian anti-terrorism legislation as a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat. A common element of such legislation is the power to detain suspected terrorists for an extended period of time without trial. In Australia, ASIO can detain those suspected of planning a terrorist act for up to two weeks - and prosecute them if they even tell their families they've been in jail. In the UK, the government tried (and are still trying) for 90 days detention without trial, but "compromised" on a "mere" 28 days - itself an appalling violation of Habeas Corpus.

The problem with detention without trial has just been clearly illustrated in the UK. Last week, British police raided houses in Birmingham and arrested 9 people under the Terrorism Act. The suspects were detained for an extra seven days on the order of a magistrate to allow the police to continue their investigation, but two of those detained were released without charge yesterday. They had each spent seven days in prison, and during that time they were questioned for a grand total of four and a half hours between them - and not even asked about either terrorism or extremism:

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor for the two freed men, said: "They have left the police station without any better understanding of why they were there than when they first arrived seven days ago. Not a word was ever mentioned to either of them about a plot to kidnap, or the grisly suggestion of a beheading - or even of a soldier at all." Ms Peirce added that the pair were not told why they had been detained - despite their repeated demands for an explanation - and were never questioned about any terrorist activity or Islamist extremism. "They were asked about their family, questioned about a blank CD and asked about an electricity bill," she said.

One of the men was questioned for three hours and 20 minutes before being released, while the other was questioned for one hour and five minutes.

So, seven days in jail for four hours of unrelated questioning. Abuses such as this are precisely why we limited the ability of police to detain without charge in the first place. Arrest and detention are significant infringements of a suspect's liberty, and should not be used lightly. In this case, however, it looks as if the police simply rounded up anyone who "fit the profile", without paying too much attention to the evidence against them, and then continued to detain them "just in case". The result is two men being jailed for a week, without being convicted or even charged with any crime at all - and having no idea why they were treated in this way. It is unjust, immoral - and stupid. One of the victims has denounced the UK as "a police state for Muslims", and given his treatment, he's not entirely wrong. After all, what else do you call it when the police can smash their way into your house in the middle of the night, drag you away at gunpoint, and stick you in a cell for a week, all without any explanation...?

We should not be giving in to authoritarians in the war on terror - their "cure" is worse than the disease. If the police feel they do not have sufficient evidence to lay even a holding charge within 48 hours of arrest, then perhaps they should do their fucking jobs properly and gather some, rather than eroding vital safeguards which protect everybody against lazy policing and abuses of state power.


Trackbacks aren't working, but I wanted you to know this post has been chosen for the Carnival of the Liberals - Thanks!

Posted by The Ridger, FCD : 2/15/2007 06:03:00 AM