The so-called party of law and order is failing on counter-terrorism

15th February, 2012 9:38 am

On Monday, Abu Qatada, widely recognised to be one of the world’s most dangerous men, was released on bail. Everyone thought it was wrong, including the government. But when the executive starts blaming the judiciary for the implementation of the laws its own leaders are responsible for drafting and maintaining, something is usually wrong.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper gave rather a good summing up:

“…the Government could have appealed the decision and begun urgent negotiations with the Jordanian Government. Instead the Government did nothing, leaving a judge to decide there was little progress being made in deporting Qatada”

It was handy for the Tories to have a Euro-bogeyman, the European Court of Human Rights, to blame, and it is true that the ECHR’s tunnel-vision about possible torture of suspects, irrespective of the circumstances, did not help. But it was operationally inept; plus, if the government hasn’t got good enough legal controls, it needs to get some in place, fast.

In any event, this is only the tip of the iceberg. A counter-terrorism strategy needs to work across government: it encompasses police, border security, armed forces, judiciary, education and so on. And all of those strands must work, both separately and together: the failure of any one can create a breach into which terrorism can and will filter.

Looking at the evidence from outside the Westminster bubble, you can’t help feeling that it doesn’t seem to be working.

Not only is a dangerous man is released from detention: there’s the problem of stopping undesirables getting in, who look to radicalise the young. Racist preacher Raed Salah was ultimately excluded from the UK, but only after a long drawn-out appeal process – and having been invited to speak at the Houses of Parliament, for heaven’s sake – when he should never have been let in in the first place.

A revised Prevent strategy, aimed at stopping the radicalisation of young people into terrorists, has reportedly had some modest success, but then only in Islamist-related terrorism – not in the growing problem of neo-fascist groups.

In education, the apparently wilful stupidity of some of the educational establishment allows openly anti-Semitic groups to operate on campus and to invite preachers with terrorist links to preach. UCL, among others, has a history of inviting such people while denying there is a problem. The East London Mosque still manages to invite similarly unpleasant men to preach such as Haitham Al Haddad or Sheikh Saad al-Beraik. It is playing with fire, whatever its noble history as a place of worship for thousands of decent Muslims.

And finally there is the reaction of the media and much the public. The week before last, four Islamist terrorists were jailed for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange. It’s not often I agree with James Delingpole, but this time he was spot on. Our reaction was very British: we tittered about them, we said “bless those pretend terrorists, far too incompetent ever to do anything serious”. How soon we forget. We laugh nervously, because we don’t want to go back to the paranoia of 2005. We prefer to make them into harmless, inept characters from an imaginary film, Carry On Jihad. Not so funny when they start making bombs, though. Oh, no.

Now, that’s not to say Labour did a great job in recent years – it didn’t. The government was right to point out that, despite its tough rhetoric, Labour had somehow ended up funding organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain, which stopped when it was found defending terrorists. And at the same time, it sometimes went too far: even anti-extremism group Quilliam protested that the original Prevent strategy was collecting too much information on the entirely innocent.

In 2012, it’s worse: even the signals from the Labour front bench are mixed. It’s true that Cooper is making a decent, robust fist of her shadow role. But it does not help when the Labour leader himself suggests in his conference speech that Britain should be more, not less, liberal on counter-terrorism. And it is not putting things too strongly to say that the wider labour movement is in real danger of being captured by a far-left tendency sympathetic to Islamist regimes, a caucus now visible in all major unions as well as the Labour left.

What all our well-intentioned, tolerant, civil-liberties-minded folk may not realise is how things look from outside Britain. Or how close our own civil liberties may be to being ruthlessly violated. Or just how attractive the UK – particularly London – looks to a terrorist, for several reasons. Our easy-to-get-to capital with its wonderfully diverse population, where foreign nationals go entirely unnoticed. Despite the normality and tolerance of the vast majority, the pockets of home-grown radicals in our Muslim communities, among whom extremists may be welcomed and even abetted. And we have handily stopped those nasty control orders. Where better to strike than Britain, especially if security is not quite what it was?

And, oh yes. Unlike most Continental countries, who see them as common sense, we eschew identity cards, because we see them as an affront to…ah yes, our civil liberties. Lib Dem supporters particularly, and the Tories – who, ironically, were the first to suggest the idea – in opposition brazenly committed to can them, in a moment of anti-Labour hubris. This all makes it, quite simply, harder to trace people. Identity cards are not about some Daily Mail reader’s wet dream to curb mass immigration; their overriding value is on specific threats: crime, and particularly terrorism.

And then there are the various crazies with a grudge against the UK. Bin Laden may be dead, but Al Qaeda most certainly is not, particularly not in the Arabian peninsula, and there are other radical groups apart from it, not all of them Islamist. Theresa May is right about one thing: the Olympics beckon as a golden opportunity for terrorists.

Picture the conversation: “So, let’s go over this once more, Permanent Secretary: in addition to all the things we’ve discussed, we have this summer an over-stretched police force, millions of foreign visitors and the eyes of the world on London.” Yes, what could possibly go wrong?

One site well worth visiting is that of the government’s threat level to the UK, published since 2006. Despite being currently only “Substantial”, meaning a terrorist attack is merely a “strong possibility”, it is interesting to note that it has spent the greater part of the last six years at the higher rankings of either “Severe” or “Critical”.

All sides of the House need to wake up. This problem is real. Alarm bells sound, but they go unheeded in a cross-party mess of naiveté, politicking, misplaced fears for civil liberties and sheer incompetence.

What it all tells us is simply this: despite our attempts to brush off the prospect with bravado, there will, in all probability, be another attack in the UK. And it is difficult not to conclude that its likelihood is high, in part, because our politicians, and we who hold them to account through our own opinions, do not seem to have a firm grip on the issue.

We need to, because one defining thing about terrorism is that it needs to be dealt with ex ante, not ex post. The difference between the two might be the difference between the dismissive relief with which we react to the Stock Exchange plotters, and the horrific tragedy of King’s Cross.

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  • trotters57

    “One of the world’s most dangerous men”

    What evidence is there for this statement? He has never been convicted of any offence, not even promoting terrorism or distributing material likely to aid a terrorist.

    One would think that after years in this country he would have been convicted of something.

  • ‘And, oh yes. Unlike most Continental countries, who see them as common sense, we eschew identity cards, because we see them as an affront to…ah yes, our civil liberties. ‘
    Ok, before this one creeps up on us again, let’s get some perspective. The opposition to Labour’s ID card scheme was much more about the database behind it (which truly was Stasi-esque in its projected scope – with the Home Office quite open about the database being updated every time the card was checked, whether opening a bank account, going to hospital, etc. – a govt. controlled audit trail of major life transactions). Many said ‘no thanks’ to that who might well have been perfectly relaxed about a driving licence-style ID card with a photo and hologram.

    But on the point that ID cards could ‘stop crime, and particularly terrorism’, I’m afraid to say I call BS. Try telling that to the victims of the Madrid bombings. And how, pray, would ID cards have prevented the tragedy of 7/7. This article questions – and it is a valid question – the rights of people visiting this country who hold disgusting views. But of course these people would not have our ID cards. And yet foreign visitors can pass unnoticed quite legally without having their views questioned until it is too late (cf. 9/11 – and here the problem was intelligence ignored, not identities unknown).

    Those who dismiss civil liberty concerns rush to defend ID cards – usually on the basis ‘they must be good for something’. I don’t object to a simple photo ID card per se but I have no illusions that they will do much good and I *do* object to the cost of such a scheme at a time of budgetary restraint when the cost/benefit analysis leaves so little to be desired.

    Finally, this article – as so many on this subject have done – does not address why Qatada cannot be tried here and why politicians in this country cannot chart a course for the eventual use of intercept evidence in court as is so successful in other countries (without compromising intelligence sources).

    • John, Well your first para is sensible – I am not debating about the type of system, merely whether cards are a good idea or not. If they’re such a bad idea, I wonder why most other countries have them?

      Your second you have fallen for the same straw man as several other commenters. Of course you cannot trace a direct line back to a bombing that’s already happened. You can, however, see that a better analysis of who is where in the country at any one time could be extremely useful.

      Your p0int on cost is a fair one, but the cost-benefit is always tricky, isn’t it? How much financial value can we put on a human life? We can’t. So not so easy.

      Finally, the piece is not fundamentally about Qatada, although it mentions him. But I think your fourth point is an interesting one. I’d like to know more about why, too.

      • ‘Your second you have fallen for the same straw man as several other commenters. Of course you cannot trace a direct line back to a bombing that’s already happened.’
        I’m not sure this is a straw man argument at all. How does an ID card provide a ‘better analysis of who is where in the country’ without GPS?! Or a level of stop-and-search that even those in favour of the old ID card scheme might well have blanched at? Most terrorists are either from abroad, but legally in the country they are operating; or home-grown with the (hypothetical) ID card by right. Unless the ID card has a little badge on it saying ‘this is a potential terrorist’, I fail to see how they could be useful.

        You say it is too easy to look back on previous terrorist incidents and point to whether an ID card would’ve stopped them. But what else is our point of reference?

        For this argument to stack up – that ID cards could save lives – (as the Labour govt admitted openly), the card needs to be backed up by a database that creates an audit trail of when it is checked. It requires terrorists adopting a new identity to be stopped by police (or a private body – bank, landlord, etc.) and have their card checked against biometric data on the database to prove they are a particular person – who the authorities are already looking for.

        Without the database (or without regular checks against it), you simply forge the card – or, as now, do not require ID in day-to-day transactions.

        With it, you run the risk of false positives, false negatives, huge inconvenience if card readers fail, the serious undermining of witness protection schemes (organised crime would take fingerprints of their underlings and threaten to find them via the database – with hundreds of thousands of readers in hospitals, benefit offices, police stations, the database would be very porous – either open to hacking or blackmail) and an unacceptable level of central govt collation of private citizens’ data – all without any clear evidence that this would stop a group of like-minded individuals legally present in this country from plotting together.

        As I say, given so many terrorist plots have not relied in the slightest on false identities, it is fanciful to assume that plotters would not adapt to the ID card system easily.

        • John, you are missing the point, which is a simple one. Other countries have a unique key to all government and corporate systems. We do not. It would be good if we did, because we could search far more effectively and it would be harder to disappear.

          • And as I said: ‘…given so many terrorist plots have not relied in the slightest
            on false identities, it is fanciful to assume that plotters would not
            adapt to the ID card system easily.’

            I lived quite happily for a year in Paris without having the slightest interaction with the French state. I daresay a terrorist being bankrolled by shady backers could do what was required in cash to avoid transactions that would flag up their presence (this already happens).

            I don’t object to a unique identifying number for govt interactions – but fail to see how this will stop someone taking out £1,000 in cash and moving somewhere to complete a plan.

          • KonradBaxter

            “because we could search far more effectively ”

            ONLY if you knew exactly who you were looking for, they kept the database 100% accurate and the suspect used their card a lot.

            “…and it would be harder to disappear.”

            ONLY if you wanted to continue to use the card to access government services and want them to be able to track you. If you did not – if you were, for example, a terrorist, fugitive or criminal, then you would not use the card.

  • Chris Cook

    Sorry Rob, but this is the sort of authoritarianism that brought New Labour into disrepute.

    Identity cards are completely unacceptable and are a political disaster in waiting. There is a massive security industry which has built up in this country busily thinking of ever more costly ways to make our lives a misery – in our own interests of course.

    We had none of this when the IRA were bombing their way through the UK.  

    We need a smart approach to Islamism and this is certainly not it – this approach merely serves to polarise UK society still further, which is exactly  what the terrorists want.

    • If identity cards become compulsory we’ll have terrorists with identity cards.

      The London underground bombers would have been issued identity cards. As would neo-nazi nail-bomber David Copeland.

      • Dave, that is a facile argument. No-one said id cards would stop terrorists (particularly of crimes which have already happened, unless you have supernatural powers). But they do help to track them down.

        • John Ruddy

          Err, they did. Successive Labour Home Secretarys made exactly that argument.

          • I don’t think they did. I think they said exactly what I said, that it would help in tracking them down. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that if someone exists on a national database that it’d be easier to find them?

          • Anonymous

            So long as this suspect keeps their details up to date on the national database, is not a tourist or visitor and has an ID card you are correct.

        • Hugh

           ” Identity cards are not about some Daily Mail reader’s wet dream to curb
          mass immigration; their overriding value is on specific threats: crime,
          and particularly terrorism.”

          • We are getting into semantics here. Yes, they can help track down those people suspected of terrorism, and therefore have “value” in combatting this threat.

            No, they are not a cast-iron guarantee of stopping all terrorism, and you cannot possibly demonstrate that any specific act already carried out could have been prevented by their use. Obviously, because that is impossible what-iffery, as explained below.

            Clear enough?

          • Anonymous

            So they might help track down ‘suspects’ * and there is no evidence that having them would ever stop any terrorist action.

            Pretty clear….

            *how? they would have to have them and keep them up to date

          • Hugh

             So they “can help” and have “value” – sounds a little vague, almost “what-iffery”, to me. In comparison  pointing to existing attacks and arrests where it doesn’t seem ID cards would have made the slightest bit of difference seems rather concrete.

    • Chris, your argument seems to be along the lines of “it’s wrong, because I don’t like it”. They have had them already for years in most European countries, and nobody died.

      The IRA has no relevance whatsoever to this discussion. So what if we didn’t have them then? That does not mean they might not have helped.

      Polarising UK society – where on earth is the causation of one thing from the other? I haven’t seen that happening in Spain, Germany or any other countries where they have ID cards.

      •  I don’t have any problem with ID cards, but they are not a part of our tradition and are so presented as a major attack on liberty. I agree they are not, but how to sell this is another question

        • Agreed.

        • I think they are an attack on liberty.  

          At some stage someone will suggest that implanting Rdef chips is a good idea “to help with security”.

          The state does not have a right to this sort of control over people, and I agree with the commentators who have suggested New Labours authoritarianism turned away many voters.

        • Chris Cook

          I have no problem with a voluntary ID card – indeed a card integrated with a generic networked payment utility clearing system would be pretty compelling.

          But data must be held by a trusted third party under our control and available to government only under very tightly circumscribed conditions with accountable and transparent oversight.

          Our government simply cannot be trusted to hold our personal data.

      • Anonymous

        As others have observed, it was not just that identity cards are “foreign” and that they are useless against home-bred terrorists but the last government’s sinsister proposal for a database logging use of them which makes them so utterly objectionable.

    • John

      Chris

      Are you the same Chris Cook who writes on racing for the Grauniad?

      • Chris Cook

        @c001ea180d1aab708f7517c502cacb29:disqus 

        No, but it sounds like fun.

        And neither am I the Chris Cook who writes on education for the FT.

        Too many Cooks.

  • Hugh

    Is there a single concrete example of a terrorist attack anywhere in the world to date that was or would have been thwarted by identify cards?

    • Anonymous

      None at all

    • Rather daft what-iffery. How could we ever know what would or what would not have happened with a specific attack:

      • Hugh

         Yes, how daft to ask for some evidence that this very expensive, intrusive idea would actually provide the benefits claimed for it.

        • No, that is not what you are asking for. You are asking for a proof which is impossible, a “concrete proof” that an alternative reality would have happened if ID cards existed. That would not be possible in this case or any other subject. A straw man, if ever there was one.

          • Hugh

             No, I asked for an example. It shouldn’t be terribly hard if they exist: simply a case where a terrorist remained undetected even partly because there is no requirement to register their identity with the state; or a case where the requirement to do so enabled the authorities to identify and trace a terrorist. You don’t need to look to an alternative reality – there have been plenty of attacks and plenty arrested planning attacks. Has the presence or absence of ID cards been pivotal or even important in any of them? It may well, I suppose, but then it may not. Either way, I don’t think it’s a terribly unreasonable question to ask.

            In fact, I’ll settle for any evidence of any sort at all that takes us further than the observation that other countries have ID cards. So far that’s all you’ve offered.

          • Well, your first para just says the same: give me an example of solid proof of something which might have happened, which obviously is not possible, so best not spend any more time on that redundant argument.

            On the second, it’s a matter of common sense. Here it is possible to register for anything only using your address and some basic id. So it’s not cross-referenced to anything.  Go to Spain, for example, and you can’t do anything without a DNI, your unique reference number for everything. This means you can pull information from ten different databases with the same key. It’s hard to disappear. Here it is not. It’s easy.

            You see the problem?

          • Hugh

             No, I’ve never said “solid proof” of something that “might” have happened. I’m asking you to look at the available evidence of what has happened. We have had attacks in the UK; had any of the perpetrators disappeared before the attacks?

            We’ve had arrests of terrorists outside the UK; were  ID cards  important in facilitating any of them?

            You, however, seem to be dealing entirely in hypotheticals – that a 6 billion quid project (at a minimum) might have some value in helping thwart an unspecified future attack. Since that’s a lot of money and I’m sure could be spent in other ways to tackle terrorism, I’d think you’d need a fairly strong argument that ID cards are the most effective way of doing so with that budget.

          • Hugh, you have a national database of people, you find people more easily. You also identify people who shouldn’t be there more easily, because they’re not on the register. It’s not brain surgery.

          • Hugh

             No, evidently not. Nor is it convincing. To my knowledge none of those arrested or responsible for attacks were here illegally, and none were difficult for the authorities to track. And the idea that those who do want to disappear in a population of 60 million will be unable to do so because you’ve introduced ID cards is fanciful.

            In the last 12 years there have been 11 successful terrorist attacks (most by the Real IRA) and 6 thwarted attacks. It doesn’t look like ID cards would have made any difference to any of them.

            Leaving aside the civil liberties argument, the idea that they are the best way to spend anywhere between £6 and £18 billion – between triple and nine-times the annual budget of the UK Border Agency – to tackle terrorism strikes me as extremely unlikely.

          • KonradBaxter

            ” you have a national database of people, you find people more easily. ”
            ONLY if that databse is kept up to date, does not have flaws and foreigners, tourists, immigrants, terrorists, fugitives and criminals all have one as well and use them on a regular basis.

            You seem to be mistaking ID cards for implanting RFID chips in everyone.

          • That is patently silly. Only if all the things you mention are in place can you find a person more easily? Of course not. If all those things are not in place you cannot have a perfect database. But you can have a database, which like all databases will be imperfect.

          • KonradBaxter

             So you want to build a database that – before creation – you admit will be full of holes and not even work for the one very dubious ‘benefit’ you have suggested.   

  • Anonymous

    Then why not put in jail through the court of laws if he is guilty.

    But reading this we are at war rationing will be next and we will need ID cards ration books and do not speak to dark people because they might be planning to blow you up,.

    Yet why are they now doing this, could it be the open door policy, well no because most of the people who want to blow us up are British born and have been here for a lot longer then the Iraq war.

    So why the hate, why is it Labour did not think the Iraq war the Afghanistan war might well annoy the Muslims here, was money that much more important then the feeling of our Muslims.

    What has Iraq done it made money for a lot of people, cost a lot and left a nation in civil war, what will Afghanistan leave a country full of wars battles and corruption

    Yet why did we not have all these when the IRA tried to blow us to bits.

    All these Terrorism laws and regulation to arrest imprison with out trial put us in the same boat as some of the countries we have hated for so long .

    The Rule of law, the right to a trial has to be kept

    Rendition we told no never, we know nothing, then yes ok sorry I apologies redition has made it impossible to send this bloke to any country because like it or not he has been tortured or so he says and we have not refuted it.

    Jordan has told us honestly we will not use that, yet Jordan’s own legal system is not that great it can use execution, it can be well not to great with the rule of law it’s self. but better we let  him go them keep him here because he will cost us money, all boils down now to Thatcher and New labour ideal on Justice Money. 

  • Anonymous

    Sad to see Mr Marchant parrotting the daft line taken by Ms Cooper, namely that the government should have appealed from the decision of the European Court of Human Rights.  There is no appeal from the decisions of that court!

    As to whether we should be locking people up for ever without trial, making everyone have identity cards etc. I rather agree with Mr Cook below.

    • Oh, well that’s fascinating. Because they have recently appealed against a different ECHR ruling: http://jurist.org/paperchase/2011/03/uk-to-appeal-echr-ruling-on-prisoner-voting-rights.php

      Please explain how there is no appeal, I await your detailed response.

      • Anonymous

        The only basis on which you can appeal to the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR is if “if the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention or the Protocols thereto or a serious issue of general importance”: Article 43.

        This is strictly applied and the Grand Chamber will only agree to hear an appeal in exceptional cases, as explained by the Statement of Practice here: http://www.echr.coe.int/NR/rdonlyres/DA180F75-F341-4617-9CB2-8392A62B74FA/0/2011_Note_sur_la_pratique_du_coll%C3%A8ge_GC_EN.pdf 

        The issue of prisoners’ votes (to which you linked) fell within the criteria because it satisfied this test: “A serious question affecting the  application  of the Convention is raised when a judgment necessitates a substantial change to national law or administrative practice”.  In the prisoners’ votes case an existing statute would have to be repealed or amended.

        The case of Abu Qatada did not go anywhere near meeting the test.  It was about the application of a well-established principles about a fair trial/freedom from torture to particular facts.  There is, therefore, no appeal from the decision.

        • That’s funny, because what you said was, “there is no appeal from the decisions of that court”. So you have just contradicted yourself.

          What you are now saying is, “there is an appeal from the decisions of that court”.

          Which is it, exactly? Yes or no?

          • Anonymous

            There is no appeal from teh decisions of that court unless they are of a different class to that to which you and Ms Cooper referred.  I am sorry if i tried to spare the readers of LabourList a lecture on the limited rights of appeal from decisions of the ECtHR.  But the point remains that there was no possible basis for even trying to appeal so Ms Cooper – whom you quoted – was talking nonsense in criticising the government for not appealing.

        • Dave Postles

           There is nothing there, IMHO, which prevents a request to the panel to refer the issue to the Grand Chamber, unless it is excluded by the following:

          ‘(c) Cases which are suitable for clarifying the principles set forth in the existing case-law. In some cases referred to the Grand Chamber, the Chamber judgment, without being per se innovative, touched on an area in which it was felt that clarification of the relevant basic principles was needed. For instance:
          – In Üner v. the Netherlands (no. 46410/99) the Grand Chamber had the opportunity to enumerate and make more explicit the relevant criteria for assessing whether an expulsion order of an alien was necessary in a democratic society and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued;’

          as having determined the matter.  There are legal opinions out there on the web which refer to the possibility of referral to the Grand Chamber.  The request for a referral can be made, even if the panel rejects it.

          • Anonymous

            Yes, you can apply, but in the case of Abu Qatada you would not get.

          • Dave Postles

             I wouldn’t even take that as a judicial obiter dictum let alone a ratio decidendi  – you seem to be making it up as you go along.

          • Anonymous

            Do you have any basis for thinking that Abu Qatada’s case was “suitable for clarifying the principles set forth in existing case-law”?  I can see none whatsoever.

          • It doesn’t matter. You can appeal. You may not succeed. You can *always* appeal. End of.

            As Dave says, you seem to be making it up as you go along.

          • Anonymous

            You can always ask to be allowed to appeal: but if the criteria for granting appeal mean that the application will be refused you cannot appeal.  And it is silly, politicking to criticise the government for not wasting time and money on a pointless application.

          • Dave Postles

             The panel decides; it is unwise to preempt the judicial authorities or to offer legal opinion unless you are counsel.  It just looks like ‘silly, politicking’ and that you are more informed than the shadow Home Secretary.

          • Anonymous

            As it happens I am a barrister.

          • Hugh

             “more informed than the shadow Home Secretary”

            Because that’s unlikely?

  • The issue here is the reluctance of Jordan to stop carrying out torture. If they did this, then he would have been deported

  • Anonymous

    “Identity cards are not about some Daily Mail reader’s wet dream to curb mass immigration; their overriding value is on specific threats: crime, and particularly terrorism.“

    How – specifically – do ID cards help to fight crime and terrorism? Or does the entire argument boil down to ‘after they have bombed / robbed / burgled / raped / mugged / attacked it is sometimes somewhat easier to track the criminals / terrorists down’? Provided of course that the criminal / terrorist has been identified in some way already (leaving an ID card at the scene of the crime perhaps?), is not a foreign visitor or tourist, has an ID card, has an ID card in their own name, keeps the central database updated about their movements, does not get a false one and carries it on them.
    “…it is interesting to note that it has spent the greater part of the last six years at the higher rankings of either “Severe” or “Critical””
     Do we actually need a well funded Security and Police infrastructure with enough staff and resources rather than another massive and error riddled government database?
    “misplaced fears for civil liberties”
    A Labourite contempt dismissal of civil liberties is one of the reasons we are in this mess.
    “No-one said id cards would stop terrorists…Identity cards…their overriding value is on specific threats: crime, and particularly terrorism.”
    “The IRA has no relevance whatsoever to this discussion”
    Quite right. After all, the IRA was only a highly dangerous and motivated terrorist group which bombed, shot and assassinated its way successfully across the UK for decades in a far more active and dangerous fashion than current islamic terrorists before being defeated without the need for ID cards.
    “That does not mean they might not have helped.”
    Daft what-iffery.
    “You can, however, see that a better analysis of who is where in the country at any one time could be extremely useful.”
    So long as all visitors, tourists and refuges all have some form of ID, provided the border is essentially sealed, provided that the central database is updated and accurate, provided that people have them in their real name, provided that people don’t use stolen ones or identity theft….Interesting that your scheme would allow the police to know WHERE is the UK a person was at all times.
    It would also be extremely useful if the State could detain people for 10 years without evidence or trial, there was a 10PM curfew, we all had ID numbers on the backs of our clothes, there was a comprehensive DNA database of all UK residents  and you needed a passport to travel more than 50 miles in the UK. That does not mean we should do it.

    • Anonymous

      It’s been a worrying week on LL – earlier in the week we had two old relics from the New Labour museum creeping out of the crypt (H Blears and D. Mandelson), now the return of the Jack Straw “Laura Norder” appreciation society

    • It’s interesting the convergence between right libertarians and left liberals on this issue, which you can see on this thread. But it doesn’t make either right.

      I’m not quite sure we can compare the “success” of the IRA over 30 years with Islamist terrorism over 11 years since 9/11. One was only to do with this country, the other attacks multiple countries with total population (say, Britain, US and Spain to start with) around 7 times the size. A bit of a flawed comparison, there.

      • KonradBaxter

        Flawed comparison? Total nonsense.

        The IRA were a major terrorist threat for decades and we did not use ID cards to defeat them. The UK is now fighting against islamic terrorists in the UK who are less well armed, less cohesive, with less access to weaponry and without a generally safe base on UK territory.

        All you have suggested is they *might* help identify *suspects* and usually  after an event has alredy happened but have nothing to back that up with nor answers to how this database could be circumvented, flawed, etc.

        What have ‘other countires’ got to do with this? Other than you avoiding the argument. How would someone having, for example, a Spanish ID card stop them from commiting a terrorist attack in the UK? Or are you saying there needs to be a world wide ID card system with all nations sharing all the data?

        • We did not use ID cards to defeat the IRA, therefore ID cards are useless, is the thrust of your argument. What on earth is the logical connection between those two points?

          We did not use nuclear missiles to defeat the Nazis in WWII. So nuclear missiles are useless.

          Any other points of logical reasoning you’d like to try?

          • KonradBaxter

            I am not making the argument you ascribe to me. I am pointing out the fact that we did not use ID cards to defeat a UK terrorist menace that was far more organised, armed and cohesive than the current threat.

            Did we use ID cards to defeat the great menace of the IRA? No.

            Did ID cards stop the Madrid bombings? No.

            Did ID cards stop the ETA campaign in Spain? No.

            The anti terrorist argument for ID cards is weak based on UK and foreign experience. This is the point I am making. We can see that they failed in Spain and were not used in the UK.

            If you want to change the UK  and the citizen-state relationship by bringing in ID cards then you’ll have to actually have an argument, which you clearly do not at present.  You will have to show their value which you have failed to do.

            All you seem to have is the guess that your admitted flawed central database might help track some suspects who dilligently use their cards and only achieve this after they have committed an act.

    • Ah, Konrad. I thought my dissing the Daily Mail would bring you out. I refer you to my earlier explanations on why other countries do it and why it would be useful.

      • KonradBaxter

        Straight into a personal  attacks? A shame, I would have thought you were better than that.

        Your earlier explanations are no justification for ID cards at all as you have not backed up what you have claimed and failed to address some clearly important points. Your abject failure to address other points – such as the IRA for example and your own what iffery – merely compound your failure to address the real and valid concerns peorple have raised.

        • No, a gentle tease. I’m sure you are not that sensitive, Konrad. Well, you’re just repeating earlier points so I’m not going to repeat my answers already given.

          • KonradBaxter

            Your answers were inadequate.

  • John

    New Labour’s casual attitude to civil liberties is exactly the reason I did not vote for them at the last general election. Habeus Corpus anyone? Magna Carta perhaps? Trial by jury? Blair was at his worst when he used to talk about these things as if they were a hindrance to the justice system rather than ancient guarantors of our liberty under the law.

    Read the chapter on identity cards in Peter Hitchens’ book “The Abolition of Liberty” for a total laceration of the argument put forward on this blog. I need hardly remind most of you that Hitchens can hardly be characterised as a soppy liberal.

    Also, I have been to Spain many times. If you are walking around central Madrid and happen to look a bit like an immigrant the police think nothing of stopping you and demanding: “papeles por favor.” Failure to produce your compulsory identity card can lead to a night in the cells. I often think that General Franco would be proud of them.

    • Bonkers. Honestly – anyone else think that modern Spain is a quasi-dictatorship?

      • KonradBaxter

        You are avoiding the point again.

        It seems in Spain – where they have ID cards and they failed to stop the Madrid bombings and where the state has been fighting Basque terrorists for decades –  you can be told to show your papers and thrown in the cells for not carrying your ID card. That does not make Spain a quasi-dictatorship but most people would think that was wrong.

        So here we see more of the failure of ID cards and how the state uses it as a tool against people.

        • Knowing a great deal of Spanish people, I’m afraid I have never heard of one who has spent a night in the cells for not carrying ID. I think you’ll find they ask you to turn some kind of ID in within 24 hours, like with a driving licence in the UK.

          I’d really like to hear some examples of being thrown in the cells.

          • KonradBaxter

            *Can* lead to a night in the cells, not automatically will.  It may also depend on if you look like an ‘immigrant’ as John says.

  • Just thought it is interesting to note that the comments on this thread seem to have homed in almost exclusively on the subject of identity cards, a subject which is only one paragraph of the above and is not even espoused by the present government. Can I take it that everyone is comfortable with the government’s policies on counter-terrorism, the theme of the piece?

    • It comes down to a matter of trust.

      Following the Iraq disaster Labour have some way to go if they are to gain the confidence of the nation regarding matters of security.

      What we don’t want is a PLP populated by those who hold fast to their mistakes and, in the words of Neal Lawson, leave us with a party “blighted for decades by a generation of politicians who refuse to admit they got it wrong.”

      http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/02/labour-party-david-wrong 

      • Ah, you see I was with you there till you quoted Neal Lawson. So, New Labour aside – since it is now pretty much irrelevant – are you comfortable with Tory policy or not?

        • Is Neal Lawson the new Great Satan?

          No, I do not support Tory policy.

          The release of Qatada, in my view, has become a vehicle allowing the Tories an opportunity for disingenuous opposition to the ECHR (which, in the wake of Adolf, I strongly support).

          Of course, very soon Qatada will be deported with a blaring fanfare of “Tory ministers working hard behind the scenes to protect Britain.”

          It’s nothing more than using national security as a playing field for political advantage.

          • I agree with you about ECHR in general – it’s a good thing and the Tories are point-scoring. But on this point it’s wrong and the law is flawed. And, frankly, it’s difficult to argue that it wouldn’t be great if Qatada were deported, because he’d be unlikely to be able to harm British people as he clearly desires to, and probably wouldn’t have the same urge to hurt Jordanians, if he were able to.

  • Oh yes, he’s just a nice old bloke, going about his business and being persecuted by the nasty British state.

    Look, if you’re trying to defend Qatada, I really can’t be bothered to answer that. Go and read any newspaper article that has ever been written about him, or government reports, the trial transcript, or even the views of his own lawyers.

  • Anonymous

    I have mixed feelings on this Rob.

    I think you’ve written a powerful article, and make your views very clear.
    (Although I’m still struggling with points about links to unions etc-
    but will take your word for it; it’s just so far out of my experience.)

    All I want to say on a general level is, I think it’s highly complex
    and sensitive as a bigger issue.It’s very important to take a balanced
    and cautious approach; not to play into the hands of would be
    antagonists by coming down like a ton of bricks at a moment when
    things seem just about manageable? They would probably look for
    ammunition and justification at the slighest provocation.

    I agree a firm hand is needed at all times; but equally there is a danger
    about appearing gung ho and making a huge song and dance
    over a situation that has been around for some time?

    I think the response has to be very firm, but low key;
    certainly not political point scoring or opportunism;
    whipping up a storm in the media- as you rightly point out?
    Otherwise it becomes  a populist bandwagon, and considering
    the seriousness and sensitivity of cases like these-
    that could be a risk in itself.

    I also don’t think it’s helpful to take a particular party line on issues
    of national security, although it’s possible to be critical or supportive.
    I’m sure there is no simple solution; it’s probably a step by step
    approach- but public safety is always paramount.

    I understand your instincts on this Rob, but I think there are
    wide factors to have to be taken into consideration.
    I think this guy should leave- but it has to be managed carefully;
    and I’d prefer there was a lower key approach.

    The Tories may be making out they have some kind of moral imperative;
    but this is a shared problem for all governments?

    Anyway, finally- could I say again- much appreciated that you make such an effort
    to engage and respond to people here Rob, even if it’s a difficult debate.
    It makes things much more meaningful in my view.
    You’re brave to tackle these kind of issues head on!

    Jo
     

    • Will come back to you shortly!

      • Joanne28

        Hi Rob,

        Thankyou for reading and getting back to me.
        I’m sorry but I’ve decided to take a break from LL for a while,
        so just wanted to save you the time on this occasion.

        May I just say I really admire and appreciate your efforts, firstly
        in writing these articles, which are about hard hitting subjects;
        but secondly- in showing the respect by getting back to so many people,
        often who can appear antagonistic via blogging forums.

        I don’t agree with all of your views Rob, but I totally
        respect your integrity and the fact you engage with people
        on very tricky subjects.I think that’s courageous.

        Don’t want to say too much more, other than the fact
        I’m having my doubts personally about writing online.

        Wishing you luck Rob, and all best wishes.

        Jo

  • Brumanuensis

    Just to get the identity cards issue out the way: having grown up in country where they were mandatory, I don’t feel any strong aversion to them, but neither do I have much confidence that they’ll make it easier to prevent organised crime – not just terrorism, but almost any category – or necessarily facilitate catching perpetrators. Certainly the Belgian legal system never seemed blessed with any additional efficiency on account of the existence of ID cards. If someone could direct me to a peer-reviewed study illustrating the effectiveness of ID cards in preventing criminal acts, or assisting in the apprehension of those guilty of committing those same acts, I would be much obliged*. Either way, it would be nice to rely on something more than ‘common sense’  intuition or hypotheticals.

    As for the rest of the piece, I don’t disagree with most of the specific points, but I am slightly confused by the overall logic.

    First, on the ‘hilarity’ or nay of the bomb plotters, I think complaining that people are being flippant misses the point that the individuals in question are incompetent cretins. It’s hard to be afraid of people as consistently stupid as Islamic extremists. Choudary – whom even Delingpole, no stranger to cretinism, concedes is ‘very likely, a ridiculous oaf’ – hardly comes across as a menace to British society. I think it was either Victor ‘Vicky’ Weisz or David Low who remarked that the only thing dictators don’t like is being portrayed as buffoons. Being portrayed as horrible ogres reinforces their self-image as ruthless terrorising influences upon the enemy. Being portrayed as bumblers humiliates them. If the country had followed Delingpole’s advice, I suspect we would have suffered a nervous breakdown during WWII. Indeed, I think levity is a much better coping mechanism than fear, especially if we’re not sure who to direct the fear against or where its precise source is, in which case it induces paralysis, no vigilence.

    Second, the quote ‘A counter-terrorism strategy needs to work across government: it encompasses police, border security, armed forces, judiciary, education and so on, education and so on’, induces reservations. The judiciary shouldn’t work ‘with’ the government, because the judiciary isn’t a branch of the government, but of the state – a small, but important distinction. It was Lord Denning who commented in the late 1970s that ‘When the state itself it is danger our cherished freedoms may have to take second place. and even natural justice itself may have to suffer a setback’. This attitude led to such crowning glories in our legal history as the Birmingham Six and the Guilford Four. Obviously Denning was right up to a point, but the danger of judges trying to co-operate rather than scrutinise the government, is a real one with historical precedents. Judges shouldn’t aim to impede the government either, but they musn’t get too close to its priorities, otherwise the principle of the separation of powers starts to break down. Lord Steyn once offered this anecdote by way of illustration.

    ‘[quoting Charles Clarke, then Home Secretary] “I have been frustrated at the inability to have general conversations of principle with the law lords…because of their sense of propriety…I have never met any of them. I think there is a view that it’s not appropriate to meet in terms of integrity…I think some dialogue between the senior judiciary and the executive would be beneficial, and finding a channel is quite important [end quote]”

    Mr Clarke apparently fails to understand that the Law Lords and the Cabinet Ministers are not on the same side. In the public interest the principle of the separation of powers requires that it should be so. A cosy relationship between Ministers and Law Lords would be a worrying development’. 

    Lord Steyn, ‘Democracy, the rule of law and the role of judges’, 2006

    I don’t agree with all Steyn’s views, but I think he was on the money here and we should be very wary of encouraging a common strategy across all areas of the state.

    On the issue of the terror threat level, I’m sorry but this is farcical. I can’t think of a single time in the last 40 years when the level wouldn’t have been at least ‘substantial’. It doesn’t help the public and it clearly doesn’t deter terrorists. It’s just white noise. Why should the government publish a threat level when without the relevant intelligence – which they can’t publish for obvous reasons – no one will understand what it means and how we should react. And what does a ‘strong possibility’ mean, specifically? There are always threats to our national security, but I fail to see how encouraging paranoia is a good counter-terrorism tactic.

    In a way, the observation that the level has invariably been at ‘critical’ or ‘severe’ these past six years perfectly demonstrates the utter uselesness of the measurement, for public consumption. Because we have nothing to contrast it too, and as I noted above, don’t know why the levels are set the way they are, the public zones out and doesn’t pay them any heed. As for the Olympics, undoubtedly the threats are real, but then again they were real at the time of the Royal Wedding and at every FA Cup final or Wimbledon. Being mindful of a threat and being panicked are not the same, nor is suggesting that on balance some threats may be overstated, necessarily complacency.

    As for Abu Qatada, I’ll restrict myself to saying that if the evidence against is so compelling – and I’m not suggesting it isn’t – then why not simply put him on trial in this country? Why go through all the hoo-ha of deporting him to Jordan? @twitter-24968664:disqus 
    think Richard Norton-Taylor was on to something, in The Guardian the other day, when he noted that this suggested the Security Services were trying to hide something embarrassing. Qatada almost certainly is guilty of something, but that’s not much use if there’s no hard proof and if there is hard proof – admisible in a British court – then why don’t we use it and put him away?

    Britain is not a police state and the terrorist threat is real, but the release of Abu Qatada hasn’t changed the underlying fundamentals in the slightest. The idea that a man effectively under house arrest, being followed by Special Branch everywhere he goes, is a threat, is ludicrous in itself. Ultimately I’m not even sure what Marchant is suggesting we do? Ignore the rule of law? I’m agree Raed Salah should have been denied entry, but is the fact that he spoke in the UK really the deciding factor in encouraging terrorism, when his videos are available on the internet for all to see? It’s good to be vigilant, but I we need to be mindful that becoming exercised at every possible threat could result in us spreading our resources either too thinly or deploying them against the wrong targets. I don’t envy the MI5 or MI6 their roles, but a balance has to be struck.

    *And the contrary way too, i.e. their ineffectiveness

  • Brumanuensis

    Not quite sure how that link to John West got inserted. Apologies.

  • Thanks for the detailed response. I’m at work now, but will certainly come back to you.

    • Brumanuensis

      Thanks. Looking forward to reading your response. Much appreciate how you always come beneath the by-line, even if in this case I was quite harsh on some of your comments.

  • Your first point is a reasonable one: it would be good to see an academic study on the subject (although my guess is that, like most subjects, you could find academic studies to “prove” it either way). But I’m just a blogger, and this is – as I’ve tried to point out several times – hardly the key point of the pieces, although the issue seems to have touched a raw nerve amongst the more civil-liberties-minded, non-Continentals on this thread.

    Interesting point on Delingpole’s stance: we, the public, dealt with Hitler as a buffoon because it helped our morale, however the truth was that the Nazis were evil but rather competent and efficient. And, of course, the British government knew this, so the attitude was publicly disdain them, privately take them very seriously indeed.
    Is it accurate to say Islamist terrorists are bumblers? No, I don’t. Some will be. Some, like the 9/11 terrorists, will not. Do mind the technique of using humour to deal with a troubling situation? I do not, as long as we recognise it for what it is: useful propaganda to keep our morale up.I’m not asking us to step over judicial/executive boundaries, so I don’t really agree with that point. You just need to have strategies that work across departments and complement each other.On the threat level, well I do think it’s useful. You may be right that there may be some natural bias in the level stated (i.e. if they said “minor”, we’d take away MI5’s funding). But to know whether we are in relatively benign area or not, yes that’s useful. We can debate how much and I agree the measures sound probably somewhat subjective, although I suspect there is a more detailed methodology behind it than just saying “oh, today I feel a bit more threatened, let’s up the level”.

    Why Qatada has not been found guilty is indeed a very good question. But one beyond the scope of this little blog (I have already written a piece double the normal length, I’m afraid).I fundamentally believe you are wrong to say so categorically that the release of Qatada doesn’t change fundamentals – we don’t know that. What we do know is that he is widely accepted to be dangerous. If I had to call it, I’d say that the government will, in some way or another, find some way to deal with him because it thinks so too.

    There is always a risk involved with these things, as you rightly point out. But at the moment I fear the balance is too far towards not dealing with security issues, for political rather than practical reasons. All three parties have political reasons to at least sound more liberal than in the bad old days of post-9/11.

    The real issue for me is not that Islamist terrorists will necessarily be bombing us this summer. The issue is that the world changed when terrorists showed it was possible to kill thousands of people rather than a few, which opened the door to *any* kind of crazies to do the same. Ten years on, we seem to be pretending that the world has not changed, because it suits us to think so. But it’s a mirage – it has.

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