Lords Have Mercy


U.K. gets new ‘anti-terror’ laws, but not without a fight—and some concessions

Well, the House of Lords beat back an attempt by Tony Blair‘s government to bypass the British courts in detaining terror suspects. That’s the way I prefer to look at it, because I have the sorry-ass non-performance of the U.S. Congress as a template on this issue.

Yes, Parliament did finally Blair’s new terror laws (sort of a partial version of our own Patriot Acts), but at least it got Blair to agree that it would review them within a year. It’s a “sunset clause,” no matter how much face Blair saved, and Great Britain’s Home Secretary will not have the unilateral power to detain people and ban them from using telephones and computers, as the Blair government originally demanded. So this is at least a partial victory for civil liberties—are you listening, Congress?

In the meantime, a Yank in England writes to defend me against charges from a Canadian reader, Duncan MacKenzie, that I’m ignorant about the British political system (which I am).

Kevin McCandless writes:

Hi. Don’t feel too bad. I’m an American who lives in London and while I could tell you (just) about the difference between the law lords and the broader House of Lords, it is pretty obscure. A lot of English people don’t know the difference either and are about as ignorant of their country as we Americans are about ours. For example, it’s a big shock when I tell them that I can visit relatives in Northern Ireland but not leave the United Kingdom.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that being brain-dead is pretty much the universal condition. Hope that helps.

Thanks for writing, Kevin. But it’s the continued functioning—or non-functioning—of George W. Bush‘s brain that really worries me. He’s the one who has all the guns and money at his command. Just thinking about that makes my head hurt.

Also regarding the House of Lords’ historic battle against Blair’s demented and Draconian new laws, Alex Dunn wrote me last Friday afternoon:

Long-time reader, love the site, love the work you do. Wasn’t sure if you had heard this or not, but thought I would pass it along. The House of Lords gives in because Blair “promises” chances to amend it later. What kind of bullshit if that?

Thanks for writing, Alex. I appreciate your kind words, and I take your point. But let’s be realistic about this. The lords did give in, but they extracted some really important concessions—for instance, Home Secretary Charles Clarke will actually have to ask the courts to issue the orders. Compared with the way our Congress lay down before Bush on the Iraq invasion and before John Ashcroft on the Patriot Acts? No comparison. We need a parliamentary democracy. At least some of these things would be hashed out.

And the link you sent along with your note—to a Reuters story on the U.K. anti-terrorism law—does note that passage came only after “one of the longest parliamentary sittings in British history—a 30-hour marathon which started on Thursday morning and ran all through the night.”

Again, I point to our Congress as a frame of reference. With notable exceptions, such as Henry Waxman and Carl Levin and the late Paul Wellstone.

I mean, here we are on the eve of Congressional hearings, supposedly, on steroid use by baseball players. What a dog-and-pony show, if it actually happens. Meanwhile, Congress refuses to hold hearings on the ‘roid rage exhibited by the Bush administration toward the rest of the world since 9/11.