Britain Detains Foreign Radicals
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DAN RIVERS: Since Abu Qatada arrived here 12 years ago he hasn’t exactly fostered good relations with the authorities. But after years of outrageous statements and sermons, now he and nine other men deemed a risk to national security have been rounded up as the government tries to deport them.
Police and immigration officials swooped at 6:00 this morning on addresses in Luton, London, Leicestershire and the West Midlands. Seven of the men are Algerian, and like Qatada were the subject of control orders. They had been in Belmarsh Prison until their detention was ruled illegal by the House of Lords in March. They were then released and effectively put under house arrest.
Tonight Qatada and possibly some of the others are here at Woodhill Prison, the government having reached agreements with the men’s native countries that they won’t be tortured if they are returned.
HAZEL BLEARS: Clearly our national security is of the utmost importance now and where we’ve got foreign nationals in this country whose presence is not conducive to the public good, then I believe they should be deported, with proper assurances.
DAN RIVERS: But experts say there could be months of legal wrangling.
GEOFFREY BINDMAN: There is then the possibility of further appeals on legal arguments, just as when these people, or some of them were detained before, in Belmarsh. Their case went all the way up to the House of Lords.
DAN RIVERS: So what do we know about Abu Qatada and his links to international terrorism? Well, it’s a complex puzzle, but one that reveals some intriguing relationships. Qatada’s been described as a truly dangerous individual. Labeled as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe,” he has links to both the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and the accused “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui. Both sought religious advice from the militant cleric.
NEIL DOYLE: Abu Qatada really is jihad royalty in Britain, and his influence extends towards Europe and across the Middle East really. His speeches have inspired hijackers on Sept. 11. The shoe bomber, Richard Reid, was also inspired by him.
DAN RIVERS: Today’s raids represent a fundamental shift in the government’s attitude to clerics like Qatada. Despite the legal and moral problems, these men will no longer be tolerated in this country.
JIM LEHRER: Jeffrey Brown has more.
JEFFREY BROWN: Today’s deportation order comes just days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced to his country and the world that “the rules of the game are changing.” Responding to last month’s London bombings, Prime Minister Blair set forth a series of new anti-terror laws and administrative acts, including measures that would make it easier for the government to: Deport foreigners who preach hate; refuse asylum to people with terrorist links; monitor people involved with radical web sites and bookstores; and allow police to hold terror suspects up to three months without charge.
We get two views of these measures. Robin Niblett is director of the European Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ken Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch. Welcome to both of you.
Mr. Niblett, starting with you, before we address and debate some of the specific measures, at a general level, why do Prime Minister Blair and others in Britain think that they need to address last month’s bombings with new laws?
ROBIN NIBLETT: Partly this is — this has been UK’s Sept. 11 — not so much because perhaps the extent of the amount of people who died, as terrible as it was, the numbers were far less. The attacks were expected. You could say, people have always been waiting for some attack to take place in London or the UK. But the amount of destruction that was caused, the fact that these came — these were suicide bombers who were home-grown, who were second-generation British has been a real shock to the system and has really necessitated, I think, some drastic action at a political level.
Secondly, this has been a political moment where there’s been a lot of opposition over the last three or four years, even since Sept. 11, to the ability of the Blair government to really make a real dent on changing the culture and the legal environment for the combating terrorists. The UK has lived in an environment where those terrorists were based in the UK — or most people who supported terrorism who were extremists were based in the UK — and were concerned about overthrowing regimes back in their home countries. What’s changed since the war in Iraq, what’s changed in the last three of four years is these radical extremists are now people who target the UK as part of the problem itself. So we’re in a very different environment to the one we faced maybe two or three years ago.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Roth, would you agree with this assessment of the general threat and the general idea of dealing with terrorism through new laws?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, clearly the threat is absolutely real. July 7 was a horrible series of bombings and deaths. July 21 could have been that. Clearly, Britain needs to deal with this serious security threat, and indeed some changes in law would have been appropriate.
For example, Britain is one of only two countries in the entire western world that does not allow wiretap evidence to be introduced in criminal trials. That is obviously a major drawback if you’re going to try to prosecute terrorism cases. A change in the law that would have been entirely appropriate is to permit wiretap evidence after a judicial warrant, the same way it’s done in the United States and has been for many, many years.
For inexplicable reasons, Tony Blair did not choose that logical lawful path, but instead started to flout some of the most basic values of decency and fairness that most expect our government to abide by.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let’s look at some of the things that he has done. Mr. Roth, one as we mentioned involves making it easier to deport people, and that’s something we’ve just seen today. What is wrong with the British having a greater ability to deport people, such as Abu Qatada?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, Abu Qatada is a perfect example, where if he really is the spiritual ambassador of al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden, he should be prosecuted; there’s no question about that. Instead, what the British government is now proposing to do is to send him to a government, Jordan, that is known for torture. In fact, if you read the U.S. State Department’s country report on Jordan, it describes the systematic torture that takes place there. And up until a couple of days ago, the British government itself would not have dared to send Abu Qatada or anybody else to Jordan.
What they’re now trying to do to sort of subvert that basic law against sending somebody to a situation where they’re likely to be tortured is they are seeking assurances from the Jordanian government. Now, those assurances are basically worthless. Already Jordan has ratified all the international laws that prohibit torture, that make it a crime. Why should it obey this, you know, informal assurance that it’s now given the British government?
Americans have actually had experience with that. You may remember the case of the Canadian, Arar, who was picked up at Kennedy Airport and after the proper assurances sent to Jordan and then Syria, where, of course, he was tortured — surprise, surprise. We can expect the exact same thing to happen to Qatada or anybody else who is sent to a country like Jordan or Egypt or Algeria, the countries that Britain is negotiating with, that systematically torture. If they violate the law every day, why are you suddenly going to believe their self-interested promises?
JEFFREY BROWN: How do you respond to that? What do you think we are able – that the Brits are able to believe?
ROBIN NIBLETT: Well, I think from the British point of view this is now a matter of national security. And having people like Abu Qatada in the country, and when the realizations come we have second-generation young British men in this case willing to kill their fellow citizens, inspired by some of the radical preachings that’s taking place of the sort of Qatada and others have practiced in the UK, changes the whole spectrum of the political content; this is a political decision as much as a legal decision. I think for the government not to act would be extremely difficult in this particular way. And the option is they can’t stay in the country, if they can’t be imprisoned indefinitely, and the law lords have prevented indefinite detention and British government itself always saw that as a less good solution, they’ve been opposed to the Guantanamo process. For example, they had to move to some other system.
I’d also point out that this isn’t just a UK move. This is happening across Europe. France has taken fairly draconian actions on deportations just in the last month and plans to deport potentially ten more imams in August. Italy has just deported a number; Spain takes some more actions. There is to a certain extent a concerted effort, I would argue, here politically, amongst European leaders, to crack down on people who’ve used asylum and the ability to remain in the countries, not just to preach against their home countries, but actually treat the countries in which they reside as their enemy.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Roth, certainly many of these measures are tied together, but one of the most controversial areas would be, of course, policing speech. And there’s a new laws would make a new crime of condoning or glorifying terrorism. And what concerns you about that?
KENNETH ROTH: Well, first, if I could just respond for a moment to the prior point. This is a political decision, that’s correct, but it’s an illegal political decision to send somebody to a country where he’s going to be tortured. The rules against torture are absolute. There’s no national security exceptions. There’s no war exception. It is a crime ever to send somebody to be tortured, and that’s a prohibition that Tony Blair is now about to breach. George Bush and others have done the same thing; that doesn’t make it right.
Now, the other thing that Tony Blair is doing as, as you mentioned, he is criminalizing types of speech that are frankly inappropriate. Certain speech would be quite appropriate to criminalize. For example, if I solicit you to commit a terrorist act, that’s speech, but it’s criminal speech, and of course that should be criminalized. If I incite you, if there’s a mob and I say “let’s go lynch that guy over there” and the mob goes and lynches him, there’s that immediate connection between the speech and the action — again, very appropriate to be prosecuted.
But what Tony Blair is proposing to do is to criminalize a couple of crimes: One is either justifying or glorifying terrorism anyplace in the world. So for example, if I were to say, “You know, I think that it was appropriate for the pre-Israel Jewish underground to bomb the King David Hotel as a way of gaining Israel’s independence,” I would have committed a crime in Tony Blair’s UK.
Similarly, he is urging criminalization of something that he calls “expressing extremist views that conflict with Britain’s culture of tolerance.” Now, that all sounds like, you know, motherhood and apple pie, but when you start realizing how incredibly expansive that police power would be. For example, Britain is known for the rights that it gives gays and lesbians. If I were to come in and say, “I think that the gay lifestyle is wrong,” that would be expressing a view that is incompatible with Britain’s culture of tolerance, and I would have committed a crime, at least conceivably.
Now, we understand that that’s not the point that Tony Blair is aiming at now, but when you use this incredibly expansive language to criminalize speech — not conduct, but speech — this is what you open up to that kind of governmental abuse. It is a blank check for the government to go after whoever it doesn’t like at the moment.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are you worried about the expansive nature of that kind of language?
ROBIN NIBLETT: I mean, it is expansive. At the same time, this was a statement made by the prime minister. It’s letting out and it’s setting out what I think he believes to be a commonsense approach for the future. As you’ve said, this will lead to months probably of battle. This is a consultation process.
JEFFREY BROWN: Between the parliament and the…
ROBIN NIBLETT: In the parliament and the law lords; let’s not forget the law lords in the UK are independent and are powerful, and they’ve already struck down the previous terrorism legislation that was passed after 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, and have forced the government into several changes in their approach.
So I think on the one hand he’s trying to set out a political vision of what most people expect to be acceptable or not acceptable. He’s relying both on the consultation process and also on the law lords themselves and the legal process to set some of the boundaries. There’s a European context as well, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European court will have a say in the final outcome as well.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you both very briefly because we only have a minute here, is the baseline, when you look at the totality of these measures, will they be effective? Mr. Niblett?
ROBIN NIBLETT: I think in the near term they provide more space potentially in the UK for the moderate Muslim community to start the terms of the debate and give them more space to control. But this is a long-term process. If you have home-grown suicide bombers, second-generation, none of these orders will change that sense of alienation or radicalization in the next fifteen-twenty years but it does start the process. And I think it’s an important necessary first step.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Roth, a response?
KENNETH ROTH: I think that this is a huge diversion from the real problem. Britain has a serious terrorism problem. But rather than prosecuting somebody like Qatada, they’re sending him off to be tortured and then possibly released to create further problems for Britain from Jordan.
And instead of going after the real criminals, the bombers, the planners, the orchestrators, they’re going after people who might commit speech crimes. This is a huge diversion for the police. Obviously, they’re going to start exercising this new power, but is that really going to make Britain safer? Is that going to go after the people who are committing the acts of terrorism? I don’t think so.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ken Roth and Robin Niblett, thank you both very much.