WDIE Masthead

Year 2001 No. 176, October 17, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

No to Anglo-American Aggression against Afghanistan! For a Just and Peaceful Solution!

Step Up the Struggle against State Terrorism, Aggression and War!
- Call of RCPB(ML), October 13, 2001 -

The Disquiet over David Blunkett’s "Anti-Terrorist" Legislation

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Emergency Legislation:
The Disquiet over David Blunkett’s "Anti-Terrorist" Legislation
For Your Information: Announcement of Emergency Anti-Terrorist Bill

Commentary:
Behind the Justifications

News In Brief:
Ghent European Council

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The Disquiet over David Blunkett’s "Anti-Terrorist" Legislation

The government’s measures announced on Monday to toughen existing asylum laws and introduce emergency "anti-terrorist" legislation, follow from the speech given by David Blunkett at the Labour Party conference, at which he said: "The measures we take will be measured...We are not undermining people's rights, we are only threatening those who seek to take our rights away from us by terror".

Similarly, in the House of Commons, the Home Secretary referred to the "essence of our democracy" which is "that we safeguard rights and freedoms" and that he is "determined to strike a balance between respecting our fundamental civil liberties and ensuring that they are not exploited".

The argument presented is that the more terrorism there is in the world, the more should civil liberties be curtailed, in the interests of striking a balance between respecting civil liberties and ensuring that civil liberties are not "exploited". If too much is given in the way of civil liberties, then these civil liberties can be exploited by "terrorists". Their curtailment can thus be justified on the basis that the most basic of "rights and freedoms" is that to "live safely in peace". This argument in turn is built on the premise enunciated by Tony Blair that the main enemy in today’s world is "terrorism".

There are many who would question this premise that the main enemy today is terrorism, at least in the definition given to it by the British government. It should also be noted that the Home Secretary has to defensively refer to the safeguarding of rights and freedoms (which he does not define or explain how this should be done, while moving on to the distinct question of the liberties of civil society, i.e. what is or is not proscribed or allowed by government legislation). It could be countered in addition that the "essence of democracy", if the question is to be posed in this way, is surely that the people are the ones who are the decision-making power in society. In which case, where is the authority for the government’s emergency legislation? The mandate of the government, elected by 49% of the electorate who voted, is questionable, but such a mandate becomes completely untenable when such emergency legislation is tabled with the backing of so specious an argument. This is not to mention the fact that the proposals will escape even a proper parliamentary process of full scrutiny, despite the "urgency" created by the events of September 11.

The disquiet felt by democratic people, civil liberties organisations, religious and national minority groups, and others, is intensifying in the light of the proposed emergency legislation, not least because the proposed laws actually deepen a reactionary trend already evident in society and the direction of the government. The way "asylum seekers" (often coupled with the epithet "bogus") and "immigrants" (often "illegal") and "refugees" (often merely "economic") have been singled out for abuse and the undermining of their rights and freedoms – defined, for example, by the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and other international legislation – by the government, backed up by the mass media, has given rise to great concern. What was not able to be fostered at the time of the June general election – the whipping up of racist hysteria so as to pit community against community and divert from the underlying anti-social offensive – seems set to be put on the agenda once more by the definition of terrorism and the targeting of certain religious and national minority sections of society. There is cause for concern that the racism being promoted in the name of anti-racism is now going to be supplemented by religious divisions in the name of opposing incitement to religious hatred.

Furthermore, it is to be regarded as convenient for the government, to say the least, that it had just put in place its Terrorism Act 2000, which came into operation in February this year. This has just widened the definition of terrorism to include acts other than violence which cause large-scale disruption, and motives other than political, namely religious and ideological. It had already been widened to include terrorism organised abroad from Britain. Just by a Statutory Instrument, it is possible for the government to add any organisation which the government decrees is covered by this definition to the list of proscribed organisations.

In the wake of September 11, the government has already stepped up security at home by placing extra police on the streets, invoked Public Order legislation to restrict political protest and tightened procedures at airports and offices. The government is telling the people that intelligence reports have linked a number of people connected with the US attacks to Britain, where they might have lived or passed through. This is the basis for giving, for example, customs officials full access to air, sea and train passenger and freight information.

Britain's previous extradition procedures are being described as "sluggish". Not that that has been any consolation to those who have been detained in little more than jails, or indeed have been put on a "fast-track" system where their appeals are summarily dealt with and dismissed.

Article Index



For Your Information:

Announcement of Emergency Anti-Terrorist Bill

Details of the government's emergency legislative package, the stated aim of which is to combat terrorism, were outlined to the House of Commons on October 15 by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

In announcing the Emergency Anti-Terrorist Bill, David Blunkett said:

"It is the first job of the Government and the essence of our democracy that we safeguard rights and freedoms, the most basic of which is to live safely in peace." He added: "I am determined to strike a balance between respecting our fundamental civil liberties and ensuring that they are not exploited."

The Emergency Anti-Terrorism Bill will cover the whole of the United Kingdom with specific provision as needed for the devolved administrations and other parts of the UK.

The Home Secretary announced that the Bill would include:

The Bill will also contain "robust and streamlined" procedures for dealing with those suspected of terrorist acts who "seek to misuse the British asylum and immigration systems". These measures will:

The Home Secretary also announced that he would be establishing a new anti-terrorist finance unit and that in addition he intended to bring forward an Extradition Bill to "modernise" and place British laws "within the context of the new international situation".

Outlining the current domestic security situation, David Blunkett said:

"At the time of the Millennium a great deal of work was undertaken to ensure the security of key utilities. I want to assure the House that both in the Civil Contingencies Committee and more widely, we have examined and put in place, further work to update our preparedness, preventive action, and remedial steps, should they be necessary." He went on to say: "There is no immediate intelligence pointing to a specific threat to the United Kingdom, but we remain alert, domestically as well as internationally."

According to the Home Secretary: "The legislative measures which I have outlined today, will protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them. Justice for individuals and minorities are reaffirmed, and justice for the majority and the security of our nation will be secured."

The Home Secretary also informed the House of Commons that he intends to "modernise the nationality and asylum system" in the weeks ahead.

In a separate statement to Parliament, Gordon Brown set out proposals to seize financial assets and halt money laundering. Under the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which has already been drafted, police will be given new powers to monitor and freeze bank accounts if there is a suspected terrorist link, instead of only being able to take action once a link with terrorism has been proved. Bureaux de change, which are being said to launder about £2.6 billion annually, much of it drugs money, will also face more scrutiny. Financial institutions will have a duty to report any suspected criminal transactions or face prosecution themselves.

The Chancellor reported that Britain has now frozen 35 suspect bank accounts immobilising more than £63 million pounds of suspect terrorist funds. The government has frozen all UK bank accounts associated with the individuals and organisations named in the US Treasury suspect lists, including action last weekend where bank accounts have been frozen, with £180,000 already seized belonging to those identified in Friday’s updated lists. The government proposed to establish and fund within the NCIS a new multi-agency terrorist finance unit, fully supported by additional Special Branch investigative resources.

The Chancellor said that G7 Finance Ministers and central bank governors met in Washington on October 6 and concluded that a special plenary of the international financial action task force would meet later this month to agree the imposition, enforcement and monitoring of a new international standard to combat terrorist finance. He said that Britain is also pressing: for the UN to establish a permanent monitoring unit; for the IMF to provide expert help to countries setting up economic crime units; and for the early ratification of the EU second money laundering directive and the UN convention for the suppression of financing of terrorism.

Article Index




Commentary

Behind the Justifications

When the British and US governments unleashed their war of aggression against Afghanistan, they cited the attacks on New York and Washington and the alleged responsibility of Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaida organisation for these attacks as the justification for their actions.

In an attempt to overcome the widespread opposition to their war plans and to silence those demanding evidence to support their claims that particular individuals and organisations were clearly guilty of the attacks in the US, the British government on October 4 published a 70-paragraph document entitled "Responsibility for the terrorist atrocities in the United States".

Given the title of this document, it is rather startling to read the first paragraph, which boldly states: "This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama bin Laden in a court of law." Commenting on this statement in The Times newspaper of October 5, Anthony Scrivener QC, former chairman of the Bar, noted: "…it is a sobering thought that better evidence is required to prosecute a shoplifter than is needed to commence a world war."

What then of the evidence presented in this document, whose title suggests that it contains sufficient to attribute responsibility for the attacks in the US? In paragraph 1, the document presents a number of conclusions, including the assertions that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida planned and carried out the September 11 attacks, that they possess the will and resources to carry out similar further attacks, were able to carry them out as result of their relationship with the government in Afghanistan and that the United Kingdom and its citizens are potential targets of such attacks. The striking thing about this approach is that assertions are presented first as though they were fact and then evidence is sought to justify the already reached conclusion, rather than the evidence being presented first and then reaching a conclusion on the basis of the evidence.

Paragraph 5 asserts again that the planning for the September 11 attacks was carried out by one of Osama bin Laden’s close associates, but no evidence is provided to support this contention. It further states that of the 19 people involved in the hijacking of the planes in the US, at least three had links with Al Qaida. However, given that paragraph 1 states boldly that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida planned and carried out this attack, it seems rather strange that only three out of the 19 hijackers "had links with Al-Qaida". Paragraph 5 also offers as further evidence of the guilt of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida the fact that the attacks were suicide attacks, meticulously planned over a long time and that there was no warning. These features are surely not evidence of the involvement of any particular individual or group in the September 11 attacks, since they are likely to be features of any well planned attack of this type and could have been carried out by any group.

Paragraphs 8 – 34 are taken up with statements from Osama bin Laden clearly stating his hatred for the US and opposition to its policies and assertions about the organisational structures and activities of Al-Qaida. Apart from the quotes taken from interviews with Osama bin Laden no evidence is provided in support of these assertions.

Paragraphs 35 – 60 purport to link Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida to attacks on US troops in Somalia, to the embassy bombings in East Africa and to the attack on the US warship Cole in Yemen in October 2000. With regard to the embassy bombings, these links rest on confessions of those arrested at the time in East Africa, while their subsequent identification of particular individuals is brought forward as evidence of this organisation’s involvement in the attack on the Cole.

Finally paragraphs 61 – 69, titled "Osama bin Laden and the 11 September attacks", continues the same thread of presenting assertions as if they were fact and seeking to draw conclusions from facts which cannot be supported. For example, paragraph 62 states that bin Laden was mounting a propaganda campaign justifying attacks on US targets in the time leading up to September 11. However, since paragraph 54 already outlines his views on this score from an interview in December 1998 and the entire document makes it clear that his views were well known, it is hard to see how this constitutes evidence of his complicity in the attacks of September 11. Paragraph 62 states: "There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release." What is anyone to make of this? We have evidence that is compelling, the whole world demands that we provide evidence to support our claim of this group’s guilt, but we can’t release it because it is too sensitive!! Despite their heading, paragraphs 62 – 69 produce no further evidence to support the claim, which is being used as a justification to rain bombs on the people of Afghanistan.

Finally paragraph 70 simply restates the conclusion which was set out in paragraph 1. Therefore we have gone from a conclusion back to itself, 69 paragraphs later, with nothing in between to justify either the conclusion at the beginning or end of the document and certainly nothing to justify the unleashing of the present military aggression against Afghanistan.

Article Index



News In Brief

Ghent European Council

On Friday, Tony Blair is leaving to participate in the forthcoming European Council in Ghent.

The Ghent European Council is the mid-term Belgian Presidency Council and a staging post for the Laeken European Council in December. It had been due to focus on the future of Europe debate. However, as a result of 11 September, it would now also focus on the whole terrorism agenda following the Special European Council in Brussels last month.

Article Index



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