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Four years ago sixteen people were detained by the authorities under the anti terrorism legislation that had been hurriedly placed upon the statute books of the United Kingdom. They were said to be involved in terrorism so dire that they could be regarded as “Enemies of the state”. Most of them were held at the now infamous Belmarsh prison under “Lock and key”. Their arrest was not as a result of a police investigation but upon the orders of a politician, The Home Secretary. Over the ensuing four years twelve of the cases have been resolved in one way or another but four have not.

It might be expected that if a “body” were arrested then some sort of investigation into their alleged crimes would follow, some form of questioning perhaps acknowledging their presence in a penal institution, maybe an investigation involving forensic evidence or at the very least an interview but these men were not actually arrested until August 2005. To date no such chain of events has become a reality. However, the four detainees have been moved to their own private dwellings from where they were held incommunicado. Their removal from the penal institute was as a result of a piece of anti terror legislation in July of this year. At the time eight men were being held on the orders of The Home Secretary as the anti terror legislation began its tortuous route to the statute books in the House of Commons but ideally a law has to be passed by both The Commons and the House of Lords before receiving the “Royal Assent” in order to have the “Force of Law in England”. It is possible for the “Lords” stage to be circumvented but this would have involved the invocation of the Parliament act and there simply was not time to invoke the act.

The order upon which the men were held was one which had to be periodically renewed and up to that point it had been renewed but the event that brought matters to a head and made the anti terrorism bill a necessity came from a British court of law.
More than three years of imprisonment had passed for the eight men held under the order of The Home Secretary with no prospect of trial, investigation or any formal charge against the men. They had in fact been denied the basic human right of “Due process of law. The court held that their imprisonment was “Illegal” and that the Home Secretary’s order when it expired in July 2005 could not be renewed. This left The Home Secretary with no means at his disposal to restrict the activities of what were “British citizens or familiars” engaged upon what he saw as “Acts of Terrorism”. The anti terror laws were hurriedly cobbled together and set upon the course through The Commons on their way to the statute books. The law passed through the Commons and began its route through the Lords. The House of Lords contains many members of the Judiciary that sit to regulate any facet of law which may become “Unsafe” should the law result in a conviction and subsequent imprisonment. The Lords were not disposed to “Rubber stamp” the bill’s passage and returned it to the Commons for amendment on several grounds. The rules of The Parliament Act permit the Lords to return a bill twice for amendment but if it is returned a third time it is the prerogative of the Commons to invoke The Parliament Act which precludes the Lords and passes the bill directly to the Monarch for assent.
The trouble was that the invocation of the Parliament act takes time and time was the one commodity that the Commons did not have because if the Home Secretary’s last order ran out he could not legally renew it without showing contempt for the judiciary and the legal system of the UK and it was due to expire toward the end of July.
The Lords legal offered a compromise that gave the Home secretary that which he sought but not the “Carte blanche” power of detention codified in the anti terror bill.
It was a “Sunset” clause which meant that the bill could pass under protest but it would have a “Shelf life” and would have to be renewed by the Commons and the Lords every year to maintain its force in UK law dependant upon whether or not it was still required. The bills renewal date was 30th November 2005 but there has been little mention of it to date.

The Anti terror laws of the UK have their parallels in the USA, there it is called The Patriot Act but both bills have one common safeguard “A sunset clause”. The Patriot Act is due for renewal on 31st December 2005.
In post 9/11 America the mood was one of shock and dismay, the spectre of the twin towers of the world trade centre burning was a graphic illustration of America’s vulnerability to acts of terrorism and the “Knee jerk” reaction of this sleeping industrial giant gave birth to a law which at the time was felt necessary is now being questioned. The Patriot act by and large does much to reassure the “John/Jane Doe” on the street that thy do have some protection against further terrorist activity but it comes at a price, a price that was not realised as it became law. The price was the loss of some “Civil liberty” and the watering down of civil rights enshrined in the constitution of The United States.

The concerns of the American people can be said to be reflected in the elected members of the Senate and the renewal of the provisions of The Patriot Act have brought to the surface some of its provisions that are at the very least the “Clandestine province of such institutions as, The CIA, The FBI, The NSA and the office of the Presidential White House itself. The CIA and The FBI were there at “Ground zero”, a highly visible instrument of possible retribution but the NSA and for that matter The White House only became involved as events unfolded which to some extent has given rise to the impression secrecy that can surround both institutions.

The admission by The President that he had authorised the monitoring of phone calls without reference to the courts and without a warrant carry out such surveillance has done little to allay the suspicion by the American people that the Patriot Act is being used for purposes other than it was intended for. The President however pointed out that only “International calls were monitored without a warrant and domestic calls did not fall into the same category but the same unwarranted intrusion applied to any call made from overseas to an individual within the USA. It is obviously a matter of National security to discover how many “Mince pies” the average family had consumed over the festive season in the UK so have a care when making that one phone call a year to your relatives in the states someone will be taking notes. To most it would not make the slightest difference how many ears were pressed to the earpiece listening in but to The Senate it does. The Senate consists of mainly Republicans and Democrats outwardly seeming to be two separate parties but both sharing a common root, there is much credence to the premise that inwardly the USA is a one party state.
The democrats seem to have taken issue with some but not all of the provisions of the act and are largely responsible for impeding its progress through the Senate. Yet their concerns would hold echoes here in the UK. We have seen the appeal court sit to decide whether Evidence obtained by torture in a foreign country would be admissible in our courts. There are people in this country who have been locked away without trial or kept under house arrest because a politician “believes” they may be terrorists.
It is possible for almost anyone to be arrested and held under the provisions of the terrorism act, the gamete of which includes 80 year old men that do not agree with a speech at a political party meeting and have the courage to say so and make no mistake, although it has not been said publicly telephone calls and internet communications in the UK are monitored as much if not more than they are in the states.

The Difference between the two countries is a simple one, in the USA there is a credible opposition in the political system, here there is not. There have been several leading opponents of the Patriot Act’s renewal but two that stand out are Senator Carl Levin asks “Where does the President find in the constitution the authority to tap the phones of American citizens without a court order?” whilst Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin maintains that the phone taps are illegal and is quite sure that the American people elected a President and not A King last fall. Yet it was probably the voice of The Senate Minority leader that set the perspective under which The Patriot Act’s renewal should be considered, he said ”Americans live by the constitution of the United States, it tells them what they can and cannot do” and the Man from Nevada added “when we start putting security before the liberties of the American people this country is in trouble”. A view that might be shared by the people with a much older parliament where you can now lock people up for……..well almost anything.

The latest developments in the passage of the Patriot Act saw the Senate permit the bill to pass on a temporary basis, The Republican majority in the Senate were prepared to allow a futher year to determine the full impact of its surveilance provisions whilst the Democrats were prepared to let the bill pass but for only three months.
A balance of risk was struck between the two factions of six months on 21st December 2005 just 10 days before the provisions expired. The bill will come back to the Senate in six moths and if it is passed the surveilance provisions will become permanent.

In the same week District Judge James Robertson resigned fron the panel of eleven Judges that sit in the Foreign Intelligence Surveilance Court, his resignation is said to be a protest against the Presidential orders authorising surveilance of phones and computers that are carried out without a warrant from the court.

A Happy Christmas to anyone that reads this and a Prosperous New Year, May your god go with you everywhere you tread.


Posted: December 21, 2005 ,   Modified: December 22, 2005

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