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The Telegraph reports tonight that Tony Blair has pushed through a new bill granting extraordinary emergency powers to the Home Secretary that allows the executive branch to hold terrorist suspects for weeks without any due process or judicial review. Conservatives howled and Labour MPs began to defect as Blair argued that civil liberties would have to take a back seat to security:
Protecting Britain against a terrorist attack must take priority over civil liberties, Tony Blair states today.
Writing in The Telegraph, he mounts a strong defence of the Government's decision to take powers unprecedented in peacetime to curtail the activities of British citizens and foreign nationals suspected of terrorist activities.
During last night's Commons debate on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, disclosed that the Government was braced for an attack during the election campaign.
Emphasising that it needed the ability to "move rapidly" against terrorists, he said: "The Madrid atrocity took place during the Spanish election campaign and it may be that such things can also be possibilities here too."
The Home Secretary didn't do a great job of convincing MPs of the necessity of suspending civil liberties, regardless of the high level of threat the UK believes it faces in its upcoming election. Labour lost over half of its gap over the Tories in Parliament. His own party made references to apartheid in speaking about the bill, while others noted that the government already had the power to detain terror suspects for fourteen days without a judge. Blair argued in his editorial that the new bill only allows for seven days before an arrest gets forwarded to a High Court judge.
Without seeing the bill, it's difficult to know exactly how much this impacts on British civil liberties. However, I am struck by the rhetoric coming from Labour's leader on the issue of civil liberties. Can you imagine the outcry from Democrats or Republicans here if the head of state tried to sell a new criminal process by telling Congress that America should put safety ahead of civil liberties? We still have people crying about the Patriot Act, and all that did was to allow intelligence gatherers and law-enforcement agents to share information and for investigators to use the same processes four counterterrorism that are alreay allowed for child-pornography and Mafia cases.
The British don't sound particularly enthusiastic about Blair's newest anti-terror initiative. While I am usually a supporter of strong enforcement of our laws governing terrorists, I don't much care for the elimination of habeas corpus.Sphere It View blog reactions
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