Morning Report 3/7/05 Civil Liberties Alert! The Brits Are Coming!


Wake up, Americans. There’s a monumental debate in the House of Lords about Blair’s new set of Draconian measures

IT’S A WEIRD world when you have to count on the House of the Lords and Tories to protect civil liberties. But that’s the Zero Decade for you. With the U.S. Congress so firmly in the grip of the GOP that full-scale hearings on George W. Bush‘s War of Terror are out of the question, we continue our retreat from enlightenment. Someone’s got to take up the cudgel. Lords, help us.

Later today, the wig-wearers will take up Tony Blair‘s frightening new bill, which passed the House of Commons last week and which Blair wants passed by March 14, which is when (I’m simplifying here) Britain’s existing version of our Patriot Act measures expires.

What’s going on right now in Britain should serve as a sort of early-warning system for Americans—anyone can be deemed a “suspect,” people. If you want to continue surfing, instead of being turned into a serf, check out this brewing story.

You’ll have plenty of time to ponder Martha Stewart‘s yearning for freedom—the civil-liberties topic currently dominating the U.S. media—when you’re under house arrest and you can’t use the phone or your computer. That’s what you do with “suspicious” people in the brave new world as Blair and George W. Bush see it. As the BBC explains this morning:

Under the new [Home Secretary] orders, people suspected of terrorism could be subject to house arrest or other restrictions on movement, such as electronic tagging or curfews. Association and communication with specified people could be restricted, as could telephone and internet useWhile the orders would mean an end to detention of suspects, breach of a control order could lead to imprisonment. The new orders could also be applied to British citizens. . . . It is proposed that the orders would be imposed by the home secretary, rather than the courts.

For our purposes, think of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, not a court, deciding whether you should be detained.

Once again, as the BBC explains:

MPs are now debating and will vote later on proposals to give the home secretary the power to order terror suspects to be held under house arrest without trial. The new system of “control orders” could also impose curfews, tagging or bans on telephone and internet useThey would replace current powers to detain foreign terror suspects without trial, which the law lords have ruled against.

Those wig-wearing aristocrats—Britain’s version of the U.S. Supreme Court—may be up to it. As I wrote in December, the lords struck down some of Blair’s Draconian measures, including plans to jail suspects without trial. Those are among the measures set to expire.

There’s angry debate in Britain about the new measures. And to add fuel to the flames, former top London cop Sir John Stevens claimed that 200 Al Qaeda “terrorists” were actually on the streets of London. A typical attempt to scare the shit out of people, just as Tom Ridge used to do.

Here’s more from the BBC about the political maneuvering:

Lord Harris, former chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said it was “crucial” the government could intervene to stop a terrorist attack as soon as intelligence about previously-unknown individuals came to light.

But Lord King, a Conservative former chairman of Intelligence and Security Committee, said of the rush to get the bill through Parliament: “It’s the worst way in which to legislate for what could be very significant changes in our legal system and very significant changes to the rights of British citizens.”

The December decision by the Law Lords (Britain’s version of our U.S. Supreme Court) just made Blair and his people ask for even creepier new laws—worse than our so-called Patriot Acts—and aimed at British citizens. Cleverly, the new laws avoid seeking actual imprisonment, making them supposedly “less stringent.”

Naturally, this astounding attack on basic civil liberties isn’t deemed “news” by most of the U.S. press, even though Blair and George W. Bush are partners and coordinate strategy.

If you’re sure you want Alberto Gonzales to decide whether you can use the phone or surf the Web, go back and read about his confirmation hearing.