Britain Proposes New Anti-Terror Powers - House Arrest Among Measures Pushed (WASHINGTON POST) By Glenn Frankel LONDON, England 01/27/05 Page A10)
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LONDON, Jan. 26 -- British officials proposed sweeping new powers on
Wednesday to control and monitor suspected terrorists without charge
or trial, including house arrests, electronic tagging and curfews.
The measures were designed to address legal challenges to a post-
Sept. 11 law under which the government has kept 11 foreign nationals
imprisoned without charges for up to three years for allegedly posing
a threat to national security. Under the new proposal, the power to
impose what officials called "control orders" would apply to British
citizens as well as foreigners living in Britain.
Like the United States, Britain introduced new measures aimed at
suspected terrorists following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some of
those steps have drawn public criticism that they violate British law
Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the cabinet minister in charge of
internal security, told the House of Commons that the 11 detainees,
all of them Arab Muslims, would either be deported to their home
countries or subjected to the new measures once a new bill passed
"There remains a public emergency threatening the life of the
nation," Clarke told lawmakers. "I believe that the steps I am
announcing today will enable us more effectively to meet that threat."
Members of the two main opposition political parties cautiously
welcomed the proposals. But David Davis, Conservative Party spokesman
for internal security affairs, said he was concerned that the new
measures would apply to British citizens as well as foreigners.
"Millions of British subjects have sacrificed their lives in defense
of the nation´s liberties, and it would be a sad paradox if we were
to sacrifice the nation´s liberty in defense of our own lives today,"
he told Commons.
Human rights activists said the proposals could prove as draconian as
the law they would replace. "Temporary restrictions upon a subject´s
liberty are only legitimate as long as a criminal charge and trial
are in prospect," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a
London-based human rights group.
Under the law used to lock up the 11 men, foreign citizens living in
Britain who were suspected of terrorism but who faced the prospect of
torture or execution if they were deported to their home countries
could be held indefinitely.
The detained include Omar Uthman Abu Omar, a Jordanian-born
Palestinian cleric known as Abu Qatada, who allegedly helped recruit
young Muslims for terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States
and provided spiritual justification for such acts. The men, all of
them alleged to belong to extremist organizations, are from Egypt,
Jordan, Morocco and Algeria.
The measure was declared illegal last month by the Law Lords, a panel
of judges that act as Britain´s highest court of appeals, who ruled
it violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The nine Law
Lords said the law was discriminatory because it applied only to
foreign nationals, not to British citizens, and because it was not
proportional to the potential security threat posed by the men.
In their written judgments, some of the Law Lords branded the law a
totalitarian measure that threatened fundamental freedoms. Human
rights advocates have dubbed Belmarsh prison in London, where terror
suspects are held, "Britain´s Guantanamo," a reference to the U.S.
military detention facility in Cuba where about 550 foreign terrorist
suspects have been imprisoned indefinitely.
In his address to the House of Commons, Clarke said the new measures
would allow him to impose control orders if there were "reasonable
grounds" for suspecting terrorist activity.
Measures would include restrictions on the use of cell phones and the
Internet and would allow curfews, tagging and a ban on contact with
certain individuals, as well as house arrest, Clarke said.
Meanwhile, four British citizens who were flown back to England
Tuesday from detention at Guantanamo Bay were released without charge
by British authorities Wednesday. U.S. officials had held them for up
to three years, branding them as likely terrorists. (© 2005 The
Washington Post Company 01/27/05)
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