The Irish Times
Monday, November 12, 2001
Anti-terror courts in Britain to have no jury
From Frank Millar, London Editor
BRITAIN: The British Home Secretary, Mr David Blunkett, will invoke a threatened national emergency to take the power to detain foreign nationals suspected of involvement in international terrorism.
In what looks like a re-run of the second phase of internment in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, Mr Blunkett is believed ready to establish special courts to hear evidence against terror suspects from members of the security and intelligence services in camera, without juries and without right of appeal for judicial review.
Details of Mr Blunkett's anti-terror strategy emerged as the Defence Secretary, Mr Geoff Hoon, confirmed British troops were on the ground in Afghanistan while the Foreign Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, again left open the possible extension of military action to other countries suspected of harbouring or sponsoring terrorists.
Speaking on the BBC's On The Record war report, Mr Straw echoed President Bush and the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, in repeating the formula that "the only military action on the agenda at the moment is that in Afghanistan."
Asked about Czech claims to have confirmed a meeting between one of the attackers on America and Iraqi intelligence, Mr Straw said action against any country would be taken only where there was "the clearest possible evidence arguing for it" and where military action was "the only option available to achieving a necessary end."
At the same time, Mr Straw stood firmly behind the coalition's stated desire to see a broad-based government replace the Taliban regime, after Mr Hoon had caused confusion about immediate military intentions in respect of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Following the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, the British Defence Secretary was quoted as saying: "I would be quite happy to see the Northern Alliance steam across northern Afghanistan and take Kabul." This was in embarrassing contradiction of President Bush who, standing alongside Pakistan's President Musharraf on Saturday, declared: "We will encourage our friends to head south . . . but not into Kabul itself."
Mr Straw's allowance that a future redefinition of war aims could see military action extended to other countries will compound unease on the Labour backbenches at Westminster where there was evident alarm at the emerging detail of Mr Blunkett's proposed new anti-terrorism Bill.
Human rights and civil liberties campaigners vowed to fight Britain's proposed derogation from Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the courts.
Mr John Wadham, the director of Liberty, branded the move "a fundamental violation of the rule of law, our rights and traditional British values."
Mr Blunkett is expected in the next 24 hours to begin the legislative process he expects to carry his new emergency powers on to the statute book before Christmas. Given Labour's majority, and guaranteed bipartisan backing from the Conservatives, the Home Secretary seems certain to succeed. However, it will not be without some cost to the domestic political consensus.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Mr Charles Kennedy, said he would oppose any move to scrap an individual's right to challenge his or her detention in the courts: "David Blunkett is talking about getting rid of that as I understand it, and having some independent commission to which people can appeal.
"But who appoints the independent commission? I suspect, the Home Secretary. So that is a serious erosion of civil liberties and one up with which we will not put."
Labour MP Mr Mark Fisher also told GMTV's Sunday programme: "In attempting to tackle the threat of what is, by now, probably a known number of terrorist cells that may be operating in Britain you could lose a lot of human rights and in the whole of our civic society."
Mr Blunkett said he was determined to "ensure the right to a properly constituted legal hearing and appeal for those suspected of engaging in terrorism" under the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.