It's for your own good, you know...
I'm not sure if I have words to express just how angry, exasperated, disgusted and terrified I am about our lovely Home Secretary Charles Clarke's latest wheeze.
Following the government's official pronouncement that anything they do is fine because WE SHOULD ALL CONSTANTLY BE SHITTING OURSELVES WITH FEAR, and the ongoing arguments that IF YOU'VE GOT NOTHING TO HIDE YOU'LL BE FINE, our dear government have demonstrated that, despite the party dropping Clause Four, they still haven't forgotten all the lessons they learned from when they toed the line of the Soviets' Comintern.
Yep, having been told by the Law Lords that the detention without trial of foreign terror suspects is illegal, Clarke has interpreted their ruling in such a way as to justify the adoption of a truly wonderfully Stalinist policy. Because, hey - what the Law Lords were obviously objecting to most of all was the discrimination, right? So if you end the discrimination it'll all be fine!
Yes, if Clarke's plans go ahead, then ANYONE - including British citizens - whom the government suspects of having links to terrorism can be locked up, just like that. For ever. (Or put under house arrest to ease the strain on the prisons or some other guff to keep the Guardian readers voting the right way...)
I hate giving historical quotes out of context, especially from this man, but here's old Churchill from November 1943:
"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian regimes, whether Nazi or Communist... Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilisation."And yes, I did leave a bit of that quote out - it is this:
"It is only when extreme danger to the State can be pleaded that this power may be temporarily assumed by the Executive, and even so its working must be interpreted with the utmost vigilance by a Free Parliament. As the danger passes, persons so imprisoned, against whom there is no charge which courts and juries would accept, should be released … Extraordinary powers assumed by the Executive with the consent of Parliament in emergencies should be yielded up when and as the emergency declines."When exactly will the threat of terrorism decline? After we've finished "liberating" Iraq? After we've "liberated" Iran? Zimbabwe? North Korea? China? Russia? When Churchill said that stuff he was leading the country in a regular war. One that would one day - one way or another - come to a definite end. The war on terror will go on precisely for as long as those who wage and define it want it to. It could be declared over tomorrow; it could last another century. Considering how broad is the definition of terrorist, it could go on for ever.
What threat IS there, in any case? Since September 11th 2001 there has been precisely ONE terrorist attack in Britain - a failed car bomb in Birmingham on 3rd November that year, by the Real IRA. We've had fewer terrorist attacks in the last 40 months than any time in the last thirty years.
Of course, according to Clarke, this is falling into the trap. We're all underestimating THE DAILY THREAT OF IMMINENT DOOM THESE EVIL TERRORISTS POSE. He said as much, in almost those words, in an interview on Channel Four News this evening - including mentioning the possibility of the London Underground being "poisoned", explosions and the like. Because, hey - the government doesn't want to be alarmist, right?
As Clarke also said, we, the public, need to be educated about the INTENSE DANGER WE'RE ALL IN. That way we'll happily sign up for biometric ID, and be phoning the government to shop our suspicious neighbours, relatives and friends for their subversive, terrorist-supporting ways before you can say "oh, we'd better have a few show trials to make it look like we give a shit".
As Clarke also told Channel Four News presenter Jon Snow, it is the media's job to help the government spread "the truth" about the terrorists lurking around every corner, in the wardrobe, under the bed and behind the curtains (gotta love the Murdoch press). If the media carries on questioning the government, people might start to think that our wondrous leadership is doing things wrong. We can't have that now, can we?
Oh... Hey... Would you look at that? There's a General Election coming up! You don't think that - just possibly - the government might want to remind us of all those people who they say want to kill us so we vote for our brilliantly strong leader, dear Mr Blair, and his big, powerful buddy George, do you?
Come, come - as that nice Mr Clarke says, you can trust the government not to abuse its position... Those silly old ideas of "checks and balances" and "the rule of law" are so outmoded and quaint...
And if you say otherwise, you're effectively supporting the terrorists - so off you go and report to the nearest
Update: More reactions - to be added to as I find 'em: