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"Anti-terror" laws are no solution
THE GOVERNMENT'S proposal to increase the period that "terrorism suspects" can be detained without charge from 28 days to 42, comes before parliament as we go to press. It is the fifth set of anti-terror laws that New Labour have introduced since 2000.
Socialists have always opposed oppressive legislation such as this. These laws curtail democratic rights and would lead to many innocent people facing arrest, imprisonment and even deportation.
The government, and sections of the press, have appealed to people's understandable fears of terrorist bombings. But there is still huge opposition to what are widely seen as desperate moves, from a desperate government, to restrict and remove democratic rights. Even Tory ex-prime minister John Major, seeing the plight of a mortally wounded government, has attacked the legislation in The Times (6 June).
The government claims that giving the police an extra fortnight to get information would have a significant effect on lessening terrorist attacks. But it can produce no evidence to back up its claim. In fact, the government already has more than enough powers to arrest suspects and prosecute them if there is any evidence of terrorist activity.
Even some senior police officers say that the proposed new legislation could severely damage relationships with Muslim communities and increase pressures upon detectives to manufacture evidence against arrested suspects.
The Socialist has frequently warned that increasing police powers of detention could lead to a repeat of the situation after the Tories introduced internment without trial in Northern Ireland in 1971, citing increasing IRA activity. This law was dropped in 1975 because, far from countering terrorism, internment policy had become a potent recruiting sergeant for the IRA and terror attacks - rare in 1971 - had multiplied.
In the four years from 1971 to 1975 nearly 2,000 people had been detained under the internment law, in conditions of considerable savagery. Those arrested included trade union activists with no connection to any terror group. No wonder that Major's article did not defend his fellow ex-Tory Prime Minister Heath's internment legislation; it had precisely the opposite effect from what was intended.
New Labour is depending for parliamentary support on MPs from the sectarian and misnamed Democratic Unionist Party, formerly led by Ian Paisley. But MI5 denies asking for this legislation, Director of Public Prosecution Sir Ken Macdonald opposes it, so do many police chiefs. So, for many reasons, should trade unionists and socialists.
Anti-terror laws have been used to stop peace protesters at Fairford military base, to stop a pensioner heckling at Labour Party conference and to try to stop a teenager protesting against Scientology.
This legislation is a danger to all who oppose war or who fight for justice in society. In the 1970s, governments claimed that internment and the later Prevention of Terrorism Act would end, or significantly reduce, terrorism in Northern Ireland. Socialists in Ireland and Britain disagreed and concentrated on building a lasting solution based on working-class unity.
We should do likewise now - no to capitalist anti-terror measures. Yes to building a mass movement against war, poverty and terror.
In The Socialist 11 June 2008:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Defend Tommy Sheridan
Campaign for a New Workers Party
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party workplace news