This article was originally published in 2006 in the book “Whose Justice? The Law and the Left” edited by Colin Fox, Gregor Gall and John Scott. A few new footnotes have been added to provide additional background and  updates. The issues raised in the article have still to be addressed. I hope they become part of the discussion surrounding Scottish independence.

Home and Abroad: How Britain’s foreign policy reshaped justice in Scotland

I found myself in the mind of the Masquerade. I saw the world through its eyes. I surveyed its extensive, universal kingdom of fear. Dread for those who oppose, protection for supporters, nightmares for the silent. I saw far across the lands, into the hearts of nations whose heartbeats had accelerated and been taken over by the powers of fear.” Ben Okri, Songs of Enchantment, 1993

A week before the Christmas of 2002 three Edinburgh men – Algerian expatriates as it happened – were woken by armed police and driven off to places the press described as “secret locations in Scotland.” A fourth man was arrested later in the day when he turned up at one of the flats where the earlier arrests had been made. Another four men were arrested in London and brought up to those “secret locations in Scotland.” And then a ninth man was arrested in Scotland. The men were all charged with offences under the Terrorism Act 2000.

An MI5 “source” told Scotland on Sunday newspaper that there was a plot to bomb Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party. Official police sources flatly denied any “specific threat.” By the time the men’s bail hearings came up on 14 March 2003, it was clear that there was no evidence against them at all. But the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was just 6 days away. Tony Blair was getting ready to tell Parliament that terrorist groups and the Iraqi regime jointly constituted “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.” It would have taken a brave Procurator Fiscal to shrug and drop the charges. So the men went home on police bail but the charges weren’t dropped until the following December.

Empire and Resistance

Gleneagles 2005

G8 summit, Gleneagles, Scotland, 2005 Photo © Gareth Harper

One way to gauge the issues that concern the ruling class is to look at the way Parliament passes its time. Between 1980 and 1992 the UK Parliament introduced a new piece of anti-union legislation every two years1. With the law behind it, the British ruling class detached its sources of wealth, as far as it could, from the influence of the organised British working class. This was accomplished partly through the continued migration of manufacturing industry out of Britain. Yorkshire folk used to say that “where there’s muck, there’s brass.” For the builders of the new economy, keeping muck and brass apart is usually the way to go.

More capital flows in and out of Britain than through any other country in Europe2. The economic power of wealthy Britons can be rooted anywhere on earth, but their political power is still largely dependent on the British state. It hardly matters whether you describe this as post-colonialism, as globalisation or as imperialism. What matters is that Britain’s role in this system is exceptionally well-developed.

For the British elite, this is an arrangement filled with enchanting opportunities. The rest of us hardly notice it until it becomes manifest as a deadly threat. People in flight from the threat are moving around the world with unprecedented fluidity. Usually they have no choice but to move to a neighbouring country where the threat is hardly less than at home. But in the 1980s refugees began to show up in countries like Britain – countries that are home and powerhouse for the global elite. Regulating the flow of people and ideas between the domains of muck and brass has become a key objective of the ruling class. Between 1993 and 2002 the UK Parliament introduced a new piece of anti-refugee or anti-immigration legislation every three years. After 2002 it became an annual event.

The new laws exclude refugees from justice unless or until they have obtained some form of protection (asylum, exceptional leave to remain, discretionary leave or humanitarian protection). Something like 6,000 Glasgow refugees3 are in this predicament. They are the people often referred to as “asylum-seekers” – a bureaucrat’s term that I will not use again in this chapter. The normal word for people in need of refuge is refugee. Before the spin-doctors got their hands on it, the word was applied without qualification to anyone in flight from war or disaster, and it is still used that way as long as the refugee stays out of the nations of brass. We should return it to its full meaning and stop speaking of refugees as if they were maniacs in search of an institution.

The most urgent call that refugees make on the state’s sense of justice is their request for protection – a life or death matter. This is decided not by a proper court, but by an adjudicator operating in a para-judicial framework where the burden of proof lies with the refugee, where there is no provision for record-keeping and where accountability is minimal. The authorities possess immense and arbitrary powers over the life of a refugee who has not been granted protection. Such refugees can be sent to a detention centre or jail, separated from their children, or put on a flight out of the country by administrative fiat. These powers are being exercised with increasing brutality. Since the summer of 2005, Glasgow’s refugee communities have been terrorised by a series of dawn raids leading to the deportation of whole families.

It is often said that the world changed on 9/11 2001. For people living in Britain, the world changed seven months earlier, when the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force4. The Act means that every government on earth is protected from every people on earth by British law. Its opening section declares that:

“‘The government’ means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.”

It has long been axiomatic on the left – and the not-so-left – that the people of a country hold the right of regime-change there, and that foreign powers have no such right. The Terrorism Act stands this principle on its head. Most of the activities necessary to dislodge a government fond of power fall within the Act’s definition of terrorism. Action intended to influence a government with the aim of  “advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” constitutes terrorism not only if it involves violence against the person, but also if it involves serious damage to property, or if it endangers a life, or threatens the “health or safety of the public or a section of the public”, or is intended to interfere with an electronic system. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could shift even a mildly obdurate government, or indeed gain its attention, without doing one or another of these things.

The powers contained in the Act are so extensive that the government could find little to add to them after 9/11, despite an irresistible impulse to add something. In the end they went for the one thing missing from the Act – internment. But rather than antagonise the whole population they fell back on an old principle: if in doubt, blame the refugees. The internment powers in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 were limited to foreign citizens who couldn’t be deported because they were at risk of torture. Apart from that, the main thing that changed after 9/11 is that the government began backing up its legal powers with ugly appeals to racism and Islamophobia.

The Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Home Secretary to outlaw any organisation that he believes is “concerned in” the redefined activity of terrorism. Forty organisations are currently (2005) on the banned list . They include groups like the Tamil Tigers, the PKK and Kashmiri separatist groups that pose no likely threat to people in Britain, and that have substantial popular support in the areas where they operate. Operations against these movements and their popular base have created vast numbers of refugees. The effect of a banning order on such people is incalculable. A refugee who doesn’t claim association with an organised political movement risks being dismissed as an economic migrant;  a refugee cites such an association risks prosecution. It’s impossible to guess how many asylum applications have foundered on this catch 22.

International law has never granted indiscriminate protection to everyone put to flight by politics, and it has never condoned acts that can properly be called terrorism. The 1951 Geneva Convention explicitly excludes from protection anyone who has committed war crimes or acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. But Britain’s re-definition of terrorism threatens to extend the exclusion to anyone who has engaged in any concrete form of opposition politics at all, anywhere in the world. It is a unilateral attempt (paralleled in the US) to round off the cold war in much the same way that the 1815 Congress of Vienna rounded off the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars – by entrenching established power and putting a freeze on popular regime change.

Like so many instruments of empire, “new terrorism” was made in Scotland. Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for Studies in Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at St Andrew University served as adviser to Lord Lloyd of Berwick’s Inquiry into Legislation Against Terrorism, set up by the Major government, and wrote the second volume of the inquiry’s two-volume report5.

The CSTPV was founded in 1993 by Bruce Hoffman of the US RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organisation created by the US defence industry. It continues to maintain close links with RAND. Brian Jenkins, Senior Adviser to the President of RAND Corporation, sits on the CSTPV Advisory Council. Many Labour voters might have expected that their government – which came to power promising an “ethical foreign policy” – would ditch policy advice from outfit with a pedigree like that. Not at all.

The Lloyd report became the foundation for the Terrorism Act 2000. The expansion of the definition of terrorism to include “violence” to property was taken straight from the Lloyd report, which in turn borrows almost word for word from the working definition of terrorism used by the FBI since the late 1980s6. And the focus that Paul Wilkinson put on cross-border “ideological, political or diplomatic support” for terrorist campaigns helped make the case for a global, politicised view of terrorism.

The prohibitions surrounding organisations proscribed under the Act go far beyond a simple ban on membership. It is an offence to organise or speak at a meeting of more than three people if you know that a member of a proscribed organisation will speak at it. If you fail to inform on members of a proscribed organisation, that is an offence. Demonstrating in support of a proscribed organisation or displaying their symbols is an offence. All this has had the effect of criminalising a large portion of the social, political and cultural life of expatriate communities, who often identify strongly with liberation struggles in their homeland.

The Kurdish community in London was an early target of the legislation. Kurdish people and their friends and supporters led the resistance to the new laws and early in 2001 were instrumental in setting up the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) – a broad-based campaign against anti-terrorism powers and the criminalisation of political activity.  Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) was set up two years later in response to the “terrorism” arrests in Scotland at the end of 2002, and the wave of Islamophobia that accompanied them. The Stop the War Coalition has been committed almost since its inception to defend civil liberties and resist the racist “backlash”. Then at the end of 2003 the Stop Political Terror campaign7 was set up – a Muslim-inspired campaign that is open to everybody. All these groups work together routinely and effectively, and have changed the shape of human rights activism in Britain.

The Terrorism Act wasn’t introduced in response to some urgent and deadly threat. On the contrary, the British mainland enjoyed an unusual degree of peace in the last few years on the 20th century. The new measures were pre-emptive. That’s not to say that the government second-guessed 9/11, but rather that it was consciously forging the instruments for a new and more violent relationship between Britain and the world.

New Labour sent British forces to war on three occasions prior to 9/11. Britain bombed Iraq in 1998, bombed Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 and sent troops to Sierra Leone in 2000. It’s often said that the current phase of US militarism has come about because US military power exceeds its economic clout. The same remark applies to Britain a fortiori. Britain’s military strength in relation to the US has declined over the last few decades. It’s to be doubted whether Britain could fight even a small war without American help. But Tony Blair is still one of the few world leaders who could decide, if things were to go badly on the battlefield, that he’d destroy the planet instead. Compared to the rest of the world, Britain remains a bonnie fechter. And that is just what British players in the global economy need of it. The Terrorism Act 2000 created the domestic instruments to fit Britain for more of this. If people in Britain go off-message and talk to people overseas with their own voice instead of the voice of the fighter-bomber and the diplomat, they can be jailed for it.

Back in 2000, there was very little sign that the people that Britain bombed might bomb Britain back. The only serious irritant to the state was the anti-capitalist movement, manifested most notably at a series of Mayday demonstrations in London and at the WTO talks in Seattle in 1999. Many people concluded that this movement was indeed the real target of the Act, despite government denials. Five months after the Act came into force in Britain, police in Genoa unleashed massive violence against anti-G8 protesters. Many demonstrators were viciously beaten and one of them – Carlo Giuliani – was murdered.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington came less than two months after that. It became a commonplace to predict that George Bush and Osama bin Laden would between them squeeze the life from the anti-capitalist movement. Those who said such things must have been surprised to see 400,000 anti-war demonstrators marching through the streets of London the following September, and even more surprised when the biggest mass mobilisation in British history took place on 15 February 2003. The look and feel of the demonstrations wasn’t very different from the look and feel of the anti-capitalist movement.

Hearts and Minds

The Madrid bomb blasts of March 2004 left 191 people dead and 1800 injured. But demonstrations against the bombing quickly turned into demonstrations against the government. They cost Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar his job and brought the Spanish troops home from Iraq. British counter-terrorism policy since then has been tightly focussed on making sure that neither Blair nor his army would be forced out by a terrorist attack on Britain.

As in earlier colonial episodes, an army of privateers and adventurers has settled into Iraq. The first western security firm to establish an office in Iraq was Janusian Security Risk Management Ltd, a security company set up in 2001 by CSTPV founder member David Claridge. The company claims to have a “unique relationship with the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, the institution at the forefront of academic research in terrorism and low intensity conflict.”8

During the spring of 2004 Bruce Hoffman, founder of CSTPV, was senior advisor to the Constitutional Provisional Authority in Iraq. None of this stops the British press from featuring regular speculation by CTSPV chairman Paul Wilkinson and other CTSPV staff about the domestic terrorist threat. The unwary might suppose them to be independent academics, or even to be people working for peace. Nothing is said in the media about CSTPV’s pivotal role in government policy-making or its stake in the exploitation of Iraq.

The attack on domestic dissent has been pressed beyond the refugee community and into the settled community of British Muslims. It is nothing less than the application at home of a counter-insurgency methodology developed in the British colonies9 – a methodology that seeks to play to the state’s strengths by applying a military analysis and military ruthlessness to political problems. Used in partnership with New Labour presentational skills, it is a formidable political tool. Any doubts about the militarisation of anti-terrorism policing were abandoned when British and American forces attacked Afghanistan in supposed hot pursuit of the 9/11 terrorists. If you use cluster-bombs as a fast-track extradition process, you have to expect a degree of structural adjustment in your domestic legal arrangements.

Discussion of the “war on terror” discriminates relentlessly between “us” and “them.” “Our” camp is a place of privilege and safety, where dissent is possible. “Their” camp is a place of danger. But the strategists of Empire make no such distinction, either in their methodology or in their lives and livelihoods. And they’ve made no promise to stick to kid gloves in either camp.

The path away from the lifeless chessboard of counter-insurgency theory lies through the lives and experiences of real people, and especially through the many British people – 2 million of them Muslim – who have ties of family and culture with places overseas. Their involvement in the wider anti-war movement keeps it out of the paternalist dead-end that has trapped sections of the peace movement in the past. That is why the Muslim community has become a particular target of the state. And it’s why the state and the media constantly titillate popular racism and Islamophobia. The message to British Muslims is clear – whiten up, or you’ll find yourselves in a British enclave of “their” camp, where the supposed protections of liberal democracy don’t apply.

Muslims were put under relentless pressure after the Madrid bombings. No such pressure was put upon followers of other philosophies – nationalism, for instance – that had influenced the bombers. In the end, the Muslim Council of Britain felt compelled to write to every mosque in the country asking them not just to condemn terrorism but to “observe the utmost vigilance” and to give police “the fullest co-operation.” It’s reminiscent of the tried and tested tactic of encouraging colonies-in-making to invite their occupiers in.

Most of the time, the Muslim community handles all this with grace and aplomb, rolling with the punches and refusing to surrender its identity or its sense of justice. But only an idiot would deny that Muslims need all the help they can get.

Cabinet documents leaked in May 2005 revealed a project targeted at the hearts and minds of young British Muslims10. Foreign imams were to be vetted before being allowed into Britain. “Moderate”, home-grown imams would be given government support. There would be funding for “moderate” Islamic newspapers, television and radio stations. There would be intervention at “key trigger points.” A briefing paper talked of the need to “understand the terrorist career path.”

All this was linked to a strategy promoted in government and police circles by Dr Magnus Ranstorp, director of CSTPV at that time. Dr Ranstorp has a clear view of the “terrorist career path.”11 He argues that it begins with spiritual training, then progresses through an “acclimatisation” phase involving exposure to “propaganda” about struggles in places such as Algeria and Chechnya.

On this view, the whole of Muslim life is fair game for the police, and political activities are objects of particular suspicion. Is this the core of Dr Ranstorp’s strategy, or is it just co-lateral damage? His recommendations for government action in the event of a terrorist attack give a clue. He says that the “psychological ripple effect” of an attack is the key; “addressing the nation immediately and effectively” is as important as “the mitigation of physical effects.” Evidently the political consequences of an attack matter to Dr Ranstorp at least as much as the human cost.

Stories appear in the press regularly about “extremist” Islamic activity in Scottish universities, particularly in Glasgow and Dundee. They are generally based on information from sources in the security services. Given the government’s working model of the “terrorist career path,” the term “extremist” could mean anything. Fears sown by these reports have made it harder for student Islamic societies to attract new members. This kind of assault on community activity is deeply felt amongst Muslims.

Early in 2005, MI5 launched a well-publicised campaign to recruit 1000 new agents – a huge increase to their existing staff of 2200. Much of the expansion appears to have been targeted on Scotland and reports appeared in the press12 of plans for a new “operational” base in Glasgow – MI5’s first permanent base north of the border.

Overt surveillance of the Muslim community has also been expanded. Shortly after the London bombings, plans were announced for new Special Branch units to be set up around the country, modelled on the well-established Muslim Contact Unit already operating in London13. A number of London Muslims have praised the MCU for being well informed on the affairs of their community –a refreshing change from the prejudice and ignorance usually shown by the police. But the work of the MCU is based on a protection racket. In the words of a senior police source, “you protect them against Islamophobia, and work with Muslims to protect them against extremists.” Police say frankly that the MCU engages in “intelligence-gathering.” Linking this to the policing of racist attacks is deeply unethical. It undermines community solidarity and encourages people to buy in to the policing of political activity.

Police in Scotland are taking this policy a step further under a scheme being piloted in Tayside. A “community contact unit” staffed by special branch officers has been sent into secondary schools in the area. According to John Vine, Chief Constable of Tayside, “what we have to change is the mindset which questions whether it is appropriate to gather intelligence in schools.”1415

To Deter and Disrupt

Government efforts to treat the law as “war by other means” are creating deep rifts in the British establishment. So far, conflict between the executive and the judiciary has centred on the government’s tooth and nail fight to scrap the right of habeas corpus. The 17 or so refugees from North Africa and Jordan on whom the Home Office has tested its strength have had to run a gauntlet reminiscent of Les Miserables. They were initially detained under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, which allowed the Home Secretary to order the internment of foreign nationals if he “suspected” them of “links” with terrorism, but was unable to deport them because they were at risk of torture. The men were taken to high-security prisons, but no charges were brought against them, and they were never questioned by police.

Internment was ruled unlawful by the Law Lords in December 2004. Then in March 2005 a new law – the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 – was rushed through Parliament allowing the Home Secretary to impose various forms of house arrest on anyone (British citizen or foreign national) he “suspects” of “terrorism-related activity.” Orders of this kind were placed on a number of the former internees. They are currently (2006) back in jail as a result of a government attempt to deport them, notwithstanding the risk of torture they face if returned to their home countries.

Almost all the former internees have experienced serious mental health problems as a result of their treatment in Britain. The effect of all this has been devastating for their friends and families and for the little community of refugees they live amongst, and salutary for the wider public – especially the Muslim public.

In the aftermath of the London bombings the government tried to change the law to allow police to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days before bringing charges . Pre-charge detention had previously been limited to 14 days for terrorism suspects and just 36 hours for people suspected of “ordinary” offences. Three-month detention would have been qualitatively different. It would have accelerated the tendency of the police to arrest people first and look for evidence afterwards, and it would have added a strong punitive element to detention. In other words, it would have been internment by another name. In the event, MPs rejected the proposal after an intense lobbying campaign by civil liberties groups. It was Blair’s first parliamentary defeat. But the House of Commons approved detention for 28 days – still a very long time to spend in a police cell without knowing the charge against you.

Police have in the meantime been applying a makeshift internment policy of their own with very little fuss. Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to “possess an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that… possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.” It makes suspicion the basis not just for arrest, but for conviction. The burden of proving that a “suspicious” article is unconnected with terrorism is placed upon the defendant16. Any article will do, however ordinary – it is the circumstances that are said to make it suspicious. This catch-all offence is used regularly as a holding charge.

South of the border, people are often held in jail for a year or more on a Section 57 charge while police look for evidence of a real offence. Scottish law provides a degree of protection against this. The 110 day rule limits the length of time for which a person can be held before the start of a trial. The Algerian “terrorist suspects” charged in Scotland under Section 57 were bailed when the prosecution found themselves without a case at the end of the 110 day period. If the men had been charged south of the border, they would be probably have been kept in jail until an opportune moment arose to release them without any publicity embarrassing to the government.

Extradition provides another means for the state and its friends to persecute people unlikely to be convicted in a British court. The Extradition Act of 2003 allows people to be extradited to the USA without any opportunity for the evidence against them to be heard in Britain. Babar Ahmad, a British citizen, is facing extradition under this process for offences under US law that he allegedly committed while running a website from Britain. At a hearing in May 2005 the judge, while allowing the extradition, noted that “the defendant is a British Subject alleged to have committed offences which, if the evidence were available, could have been prosecuted in this country”. Babar Ahmad cannot contest the evidence against him, but he is appealing against the extradition on human rights grounds17.

Atif Siddique walks free, after his conviction is quashed

Atif Siddique walks free, after his conviction is quashed, Edinburgh High Court, February 2010 Photo © Julia Davidson

There have been many hundreds of terrorism arrests since 9/11, but only a handful of convictions for terrorism. Mike Todd, Manchester’s chief constable and spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on terrorism, told the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs18 that we shouldn’t worry about this. “I do not necessarily regard that as a failure. Often it is a disruption, a deterrent,” he said. When pressed for clarification, he used a preposterous fairy-tale of his own devising to illustrate the difference between intelligence and evidence.

Common sense suggests that drag-net operations fuelled by rumour – intelligence-led operations, in police terminology – are unlikely to hinder a serious terrorist. On the other hand, they are likely to be quite effective at deterring and disrupting political activity, whether or not the immediate targets are activists. Activism is a step towards terrorism in the eyes of policy advisors like Magnus Ranstorp, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find the police acting in this way. It hardly matters whether or not individual officers, even at a senior level, appreciate the effect of their actions. The multi-agency intelligence assessments19 that trigger anti-terrorism operations are held behind closed doors. There is no possibility of any check being applied to their institutional predispositions, and it would be safe to guess that there isn’t much to prevent one agency or another injecting “intelligence” calculated to achieve purposes unconnected with crime prevention.

The “disrupt and deter” strategy has been extended beyond the Muslim and refugee communities into the wider field of opposition politics. In the months leading up to the 2005 G8 Summit at Gleneagles, police, government and media colluded in a sustained campaign to scare people away. People attending demonstrations around Scotland in the days immediately prior to the summit suffered a multi-dimensional assault of police disinformation, provocation and outright brutality. A number of people travelling to and from Scotland were questioned under the Terrorism Act, and hundreds of people were arrested under other laws. Despite all this, and despite the deployment of helicopter-borne riot police at Gleneagles itself, at least 10,000 people gathered there for a peaceful protest on 6 July. The London bombers struck on the following day.

The anti-capitalist and anti-war movements haven’t been scared from the streets. Many tens of thousands of anti-war protestors marched through London on 26 September 2005, and 2000 marched through Edinburgh on 12 November. But the Terrorism Bill currently (December 2005) going through Parliament20contains the most serious challenge to the movement so far. The Bill seeks to make it an offence to encourage the public to commit acts of terrorism. Terrorism means “new terrorism”, as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000. The “public” means any public in the world. Glorification of actions in the “past, present or future” is taken to be a form of encouragement. This makes any serious discussion of resistance to imperialism – and much else besides – fair game for surveillance, harassment and possibly prosecution.

It’s hard to see how this can be squared with Britain’s obligations under Resolution 42/159 of the UN General Assembly. This landmark resolution condemning terrorism was passed in December 1987 with just two countries voting against it (the United States and Israel) and one abstention (Honduras). It includes a clause saying:

nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right referred to in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation or other forms of colonial domination, nor, in accordance with the principles of the Charter and in conformity with the above-mentioned Declaration, the right of these peoples to struggle to this end and to seek and receive support.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has already drawn attention to the problems created by building new legislation on top of a broad and politicised definition of terrorism. In a report published in December 200521 it recommended that any new offences along the lines of the proposed ban on “encouraging” or “glorifying” terrorism should be decoupled from the definition of terrorism contained in the Terrorism Act 2000.

Challenging the Security State

The only thing likely to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks on Britain is to pull British troops out of the Middle East, abstain from further anti-people interference in the region and call a halt to the escalating militarisation of Britain’s role in the world.

The police nevertheless have a duty to prevent acts of mass murder and acts of racism. They are hampered in both these tasks by a deeply politicised anti-terrorism policy. The terrorism laws have created new, political, offences. They are more likely to drive people to terrorism than to help police catch bombers. Their function isn’t crime prevention, but political control. Police officers make day-to-day operational judgements based on their assumptions about the political climate. Conversely, the police and the courts hand key decisions over to the secret state, where they are beyond the reach of public scrutiny, but within the reach of influences from security agencies around the world. The police have been deeply penetrated by the counter-insurgency culture. The problem is likely to prove as serious and as deep-rooted as the institutional racism unearthed by the 1999 MacPherson report into police handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder

The repeal of the terrorism laws is the indispensable first step to honest policing. Actions that are illegal under the ordinary law are best investigated and prosecuted under the ordinary law; actions that are legal under the ordinary law are best not prosecuted at all. We need a single justice system, not one system for citizens and another for non-citizens. And we need to reject secret courts and secret para-judicial hearings. If justice can’t be seen to be done, it’s a safe bet that it isn’t being done. We often hear about “intelligence-led operations.” We should remember that the invasion of Iraq was an “intelligence-led operation.”

In the imperial heartlands, the war on terror is a war on freedom of expression. In this climate, to refer to our parliaments as talking-shops is by no means to belittle them. For people of the left who are elected to Parliament – whether at Holyrood, Westminster or Strasbourg – the first duty is to speak out in defiance of authoritarianism and injustice. If the so-called “glorification” clause of the current Terrorism Bill becomes law, this duty will be an especially heavy one. Westminster MPs are generally protected from prosecution over anything they say in Parliament; Holyrood MSPs are not. But serious debate about the affairs of Iraq, Palestine and many other places will be stillborn if Parliamentarians accept a ban on saying anything likely to encourage people engaged in struggle against their government.

Justice will not be won by quiet argument. The state is careful to heed the representations of human rights campaigners and community groups. The problem is that it formulates their concerns in the weakest possible way. It sets up straw men, then it either blows them down or invites them to take a seat at the table of tokenism. In Britain, it seems, the road to fascism is paved with thoughtful parliamentary committee work.

Despite the race for new legislation, existing laws are not enforced to anywhere near their full extent. The wide powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 have mainly been brought to bear on enemies of the government who are isolated enough to be picked off, and on unlucky folk who happen to have encountered over-keen policemen. The balance of forces decides which parts of the law are enforceable. We shouldn’t simply withdraw from political spaces that the government targets. And we shouldn’t comply with laws that deny our basic human rights if we can help it.

For groups like CAMPACC and SACC, campaigns for civil liberties are above all campaigns in defence of the right of solidarity. We need to insist on solidarity across borders, across industries and across lines of race and community. That way, another world is possible.

In the words of Babar Ahmad: “today it is my turn. Tomorrow it will be your turn.”

Free Shaker Aamer, Close Guantanamo, Edinburgh, January 2012

Free Shaker Aamer, Close Guantanamo, Edinburgh, January 2012 Photo © Julia Davidson

Recommendations

  • Britain’s current anti-terrorism laws and the Extradition Act 2003 must be repealed
  • Any move to repeal or erode Britain’s Human Rights Act must be rejected
  • Any form of detention without trial must be rejected, as must any other serious sanctions imposed without trial
  • The banning and blacklisting of organisations must be rejected
  • Complicity in torture is illegal under British, Scottish and International law; this law must be enforced
  • People must not be deported for political dissent , whether they are British citizens or not
  • Any laws built upon a wide, politicised definition of terrorism like that contained in the Terrorism Act 2000 must be rejected
  • Any move toward secret courts or removal of the right to trial by jury must be rejected. Vulnerable defendants and witnesses may sometimes need protection, but this can’t justify systematic secrecy.
  • International agreements obliging countries to enact oppressive anti-terrorism measures must be unravelled. We need to build a people’s security, not a global security state.
  • All new legislation must be viewed in the light of state efforts to criminalise political activity; we must be ready to resist the erosion of hard-won rights
  • Any move to erode Scotland’s 110-day rule must be rejected
  • hen institutions that promote human rights come under attack, they must be defended – whatever the pretext for the attack
  • An effective Scottish Human Rights Commission must be set up22

  1. Every two years, plus one extra – the Employment Acts of 1980 and 1982, the Trade Union Act of 1984, the Public Order Act of 1986, the Employment Acts of 1988, 1989 and 1990, and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act of 1992 

  2. Both the average inflow of foreign investment to the UK and the average outflow from the UK over the period 1991-2002 were larger than for any other European country. Source: World Investment Report 2003, United Nations 

  3. Available statistics are based on the provision of publicly funded support by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). According to the Home Office, 5720 people in Glasgow were receiving such support at the end of June 2005. There are probably several hundred Glasgow refugees without such support. Sources from 2003 show 329 people in the area receiving non-NASS support. For more information see Asylum-seekers and Refugees in Glasgow 

  4. The Act received royal assent on 20 July 2000 and came into force on 19 February 2001 

  5. Wilkinson, P (1996) Inquiry into Legislation Against Terrorism, Vol 2, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. 

  6. U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, Terrorism in the United States, 1988. (Terrorist Research and Analytical Center, Counterterrorism Section, Criminal Investigative Division, December 31, 1988). The various definitions contained in US legislation are quite different from this working definition. 

  7. Stop Political Terror was later incorporated into cageprisoners  

  8. CSTPV director Magnus Ranstorp later denied that CSTPV has any “active” link with the company 

  9. See, for example, Clutterbuck, R (1973) Riot and Revolution in Singapore and Malaya 1945-1963. Faber and Faber 

  10. The Sunday Times, 30th May 2004 

  11. John Upton (2004), John Upton (2004) In the streets of Londonistan, London Review of Books Vol 26 No 2, London Review of Books Vol 26 No 2 

  12. MI5 plans Scottish base to target terrorists, The Scotsman, 20 January 2005 

  13. Special Branch to track Muslims across  UK, The Guardian, 20 July 2005 

  14. Intelligence Gathering to take place in Scottish classrooms, The Scotsman, 8 October 2005 

  15. The unit in Tayside became the target for a vigorous campaign by SACC, with a number of meetings including a lively and very well-attended public meetings in Dundee University. For more background about the unit, see the  SACC Briefing issued in November 2006 

  16. At least, that seems to have been the intent of whoever initially drafted Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000. But Section 118 of the Act goes fair way towards restoring the usual principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  Section 118 says that if a defendant “adduces evidence which is sufficient to raise an issue with respect to the matter the court or jury shall assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecution proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not.”  

  17. After a long legal battle, Babar Ahmad was extradited to the US in October 2012, along with Talha Ahsan, Abu Hamza, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz 

  18. Minutes of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, 8 July 2004 

  19. Minutes of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, 8 July 2004 

  20. This article was written in December 2005. By the time it was published in summer 2006, the Terrorism Bill had finally been passed by the House of Lords after a lengthy parliamentary battle. A day or so after the new law came into effect, 20 year-old Mohammed Atif Siddique was arrested at his home in Clackmannanshire, Scotland. He was detained for almost 14 days and then charged with several terrorism offences, including the new offence of “glorification”. It is hard not to conclude that his arrest had been delayed in order to allow the new crime to be added to the charge-sheet. He was convicted in September 2007 and given an 8-year sentence. His conviction on the most serious of the charges (Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000) was quashed by the Appeal Court in February 2010. Mohammed Atif Siddique then walked free, having already served his time for the other charges – including the crime he had only committed for a day. 

  21. Counter–Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Terrorism Bill and related matters, Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 5 Deecember 2005 

  22. The Scottish Human Rights Commission was established by an Act of the Scottish Parliament and started work in 2008 

Leave a reply