In the wake of the London bombings, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is now seriously considering new anti-terrorism laws that could potentially lead to suspects being imprisoned without trial for up to three months. To be fair on the PM, he has not made any decision yet, but the idea is there all the same.
Some find such an idea appealing, arguing that these are dangerous times, and require special responses to deal with it. Others, like myself, cannot support such an idea because of the huge risks to the ideals that our western nations hold dear.
But, some may argue, it is easy for people like me to sit at my keyboard and pontificate. After all, I have not been directly affected by any form of terrorist action. I have not seen the bloody results of a suicide bombing. I have not had any cuts or broken bones or lost limbs from such an event. I have not sat by the phone with dread, waiting to find out if my loved ones are safe or are dying in hospital.
But bloody, vengeful attacks can often lead to bloody, vengeful responses, with innocent people suffering all round. We have an advantage over the terrorists in that we live in a civil society that follows the rule of law. We have police, courts, judges and forensic experts at hand to ensure that the guilty are punished and the innocent are set free. It may be tempting to weaken our system of laws in order to feel more protected, but we will all suffer if and when that occurs.
The history of Britain's handling of terrorists is a case in point. In Ireland during the 1970s, British forces had the right to hold suspects without trial for long periods of time. This was due entirely to the terrorism that had been perpetrated by the IRA. Moreover, pressured by public opinion and hasty politicians, many innocent people were tried and convicted for terrorist activities - such as bombings - on either flimsy or contrived evidence.
In hindsight, we acknowledge that these people were subjected to a grossly incompetent justice system. We remember the suffering that the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven underwent as they fought for years to prove their innocence. Evidence from these events showed that law enforcement officials were willing to lie in order to force convictions.
British law eventually exonerated these people. But it was obvious that police investigators were pressured from above to get results that the public wanted. There is no difference between the events that occurred in the 1970s, and the events that occurred in the last few weeks. Already we have had one incident where an innocent man was executed by police. With the British PM seriously considering holding suspects without trial for three months, we may again be falling into the trap of blind revenge rather than dispassionate justice.
We cannot safeguard our freedom by destroying it. We cannot uphold our values by forgetting them. We cannot promote peace and harmony by being vindictive and emotional.
By all means let's get the terrorists. Train more police and give them generous pay rises. Spend time and money setting up a covert spy network within known extremist Islamic groups. Train more sniffer dogs to detect explosives at tube stations. There are a lot of simple solutions that will help. And, to pay for it, raise taxes - most people would be happy to directly pay the government to keep us safe.
From the Department of "Wha Happnin?"
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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