Control order: no, not difficult, just harsh

The debate over house arrest for terrorist suspects divides the Coalition and exposes the difficult balance between liberty and security, says Philip Johnston.

No, there is no difficulty here. There is only a very harsh calculation and some very harsh words.

This is the age-old dilemma confronting all governments: how to achieve the proper balance between security and civil liberties – and never is it more starkly exposed than during an international flap of the sort we have seen since bombs were found on two freight planes last Friday. After all, which government would risk looking soft on terrorism at such a moment by watering down one of the few means at its disposal for keeping suspects in check?

Let us imagine, for the sake of argument, that the latest plot required the remote detonation by mobile phone of a device on a plane coming in to land at a British airport. Activating the bomb from the ground was someone the security service had long suspected of connections with al-Qaeda but was unable to prosecute because it did not have the evidence to put before a court. Instead, it had sought and obtained a control order against him – but it had been removed because the Government scrapped the regime. Although surveillance had been maintained on the suspect\’s activities, his watchers were too late to stop him setting off the bomb.

What would the arguments be then about the relative importance of civil liberties and security? How would Mr Cameron, Mr Davis or Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, explain to the families of those killed that the terrorist responsible had been under suspicion but the restrictions on his movements were removed because they were, you know, not the sort of thing we do in Britain?

There is no dilemma here. We go the civil liberties route because that is indeed the British way. It\’s pretty much something we invented, this idea that no, the State cannot just lock you up because you\’re a wrong un.

The harsh calculation is that yes, of course, over time, people will die as a result of such a decision. And the harsh words are that the politician handed that unsavoury dish must simply say that those who have are martyrs to our way of life. They have died, just as much as those who died storming ashore at Sword Beach, in order to preserve the liberties and freedoms of the freeborn Briton.

As such we should indeed mourn them, honour them even, but we certainly shouldn\’t react to their deaths by taking away the very thing they died for, the liberties and freedoms of the freeborn Briton.

Control orders are an anathema. Abolish them.

35 comments on “Control order: no, not difficult, just harsh

  1. The converse would be those not in posession of such UK passports should not also be allowed all privileges of them. But the pass has been sold on that one….

  2. Don’t these people know that 24 was entertainment? That Jack Bauer was a fictional character?

    In this case if the security services suspected there was a bomb on a plane ready to be set off by a mobile device on the ground, they’d tell the pilot to fuck off to another airport while they dealt with it and found the suspected terrorist.

    I’ll bet Benjamin Franklin is spinning in his grave over this one.

  3. Idiots @1,2: if they’re not British, we kick them out unless we believe foreigners would torture them to death if we did. I admire your dedication to living in a country that abandons people to be tortured to death; do feel free to fuck off to one.

    Simon @3, whilst I agree 100% with your sentiment, I suspect “Britain does an appalling illiberal thing” might not shock Mr Franklin all that much.

  4. john b

    non British citizens who abuse our hospitality deserve *no* refuge from torture or worse. We have no moral compulsion to entertain our enemies, and those that request asylum have no right to abuse this.

    British citizens *do* have those rights. Once you grant those without citizenship the same, the citizenship itself becomes meaningless. Soon afterwards, the state itself will be ignored and will die, and the likes of Binyam Mohammed can relegate you to dhimmi status. Be aware I will have fucked off at this point 🙂

  5. I’ve always found the best way to shut up apologists for these Control Orders is to explain how closely they resemble the Banning Orders imposed by the old South African government. Since many of these people are of the nice-librul persuasion they find this a rather painful thing to be told.

  6. Care to identify any of these “nice-librul” types? I am not familiar with their existence in any significant number.

  7. Rupert, what level of ‘abuse’ of our ‘hospitality’ would be enough for you to feel OK about sending a person back to a country where they will probably be tortured?
    Plenty of asylum seekers are looking for a safe place to earn a living, they’re not all looking to gouge out benefits.

    Or do you consider freedom from torture a right that only applies to UK passport holders?

  8. @Niels, if they’re “looking for a safe place to earn a living”, they’re welcome. But they have to behave themselves according to our laws, that’s all.

    Any nonsense*, back you go. If where you go back to is a less than delightful spot, well you should have thought of that before committing your special crime.

    * Subject to proper conviction according to evidence, with all necessary safeguards as per the Great Charter, of course.

    Which is what Tim said in the first place.

  9. @Andrew Duffin

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. Rupert taqlks about deporting those that ‘abuse our hospitality’, which is a sweeping and subjective statement. I wanted to know whether he’d throw an asylum seeker to the wolves over shoplifting, say.

    Your comment raises the same question.

    And neither seem to tie into Tim’s post at all, which tries to point out that we don’t punish suspects, because by definition they haven’t been “subject to proper conviction according to evidence, with all necessary safeguards as per the Great Charter”.

    That we accept the risks of an imperfect system for defending our liberty and life (without being complacent about improving that system) because the only perfect systems for doing so rob the concepts of liberty and life on any meaning.

    As Mr Franklin pointed out rather more eloquently.

  10. * Subject to proper conviction according to evidence, with all necessary safeguards as per the Great Charter, of course.>

    “…neither they nor their lawyers are told what the case against them is.”

  11. “… what level of ‘abuse’ of our ‘hospitality’ would be enough for you to feel OK about sending a person back to a country where they will probably be tortured?”

    Parking ticket or overdue library fine will do it for me.

    We owe these people nothing.

  12. Timmy:

    “They have died, just as much as those who died storming ashore at Sword Beach, in order to preserve the liberties and freedoms of the freeborn Briton.”

    I might well be prepared to die for the same thing. But no-one has the right to volunteer me for that service, without my knowledge or permission, and then airily cast me in the role of martyr.

    The other aspect of this is, I’m pretty damn sure I’m not prepared to take any risk to safeguard those who aren’t freeborn Britons, and simply demand continued shelter here in the UK so they can spout their invective against the freeborn Britons who are forced to pay for their welfare. The entire asylum system has degenerated into a complete farce.

    Tim adds: This isn’t about asylum nor is it about asylum seekers. It’s about whether the government can lock you up just because some nark somewhere has a suspicion that you might be a bad un.

  13. Monty, please name the asylum seekers that (1) have spouted invective against freeborn Britons and (2) are or have been subject to control orders.

  14. From the CSC report, as of December last year, at least 58% of detainees under the Control Order system are foreigners who applied for asylum. A further 16% have absconded and may now be abroad. 20% are British citizens.

  15. “Tim adds: This isn’t about asylum nor is it about asylum seekers. It’s about whether the government can lock you up just because some nark somewhere has a suspicion that you might be a bad un.”

    So, for the UK citizens, test the evidence in secret courts. We already have secret courts, in which the defendant is not permitted to know the evidence against him. They are the courts which have the power to take your children away from you forever.
    Start with that, build in some safeguards, and get the evidence against them tested in a secure court.
    As for the foreigners, deport them.

  16. So, for the UK citizens, test the evidence in secret courts. We already have secret courts, in which the defendant is not permitted to know the evidence against him

    Already happens in control order cases; insufficient disclosure of evidence is infringement of fair hearing and leads to quashing of the order.

  17. We have these principles and standards which have evolved, over centuries, as a result of our shared history, and the consensus between the governors and the governed. It only ever works within the territory of a reasonably cohesive society. For example, the principle that we are all innocent, unless and until proved guilty of a specific offence, has been a treasured one. There are many more in that vein. They are all predicated upon the monoculture that spawned them, and they are all falling victim to radically new circumstances.

    The principles of English Common Law are far from universal, and under the rubric of multiculturalism, the foundations of these concepts have been eroded in recent years. The old consensus has been smashed. We have been visited by an influx of people with contrary views, and a profoundly illiberal outlook. And we are told to suck it up and make allowances for this, by open-borders spokesmen who reckon the British are just the folk who happen to be standing here, on this territory, right now. History, heritage, shared experience, count for nothing. Anyone who can get here, is conferred with the “right” to stay here, regardless of the criminal or terrorism hazard they present.

    You can not demand all the benefits of a specific monoculture, while at the same time busily trashing the substrate upon which those benefits were crafted.

  18. Monty, you and those in agreement with you are in effect saying that is that politicians / bureaucrats should be given the power to detain or deport people without having to justify it.

    Please get out of my country.

    Anyone who can get here, is conferred with the “right” to stay here, regardless of the criminal or terrorism hazard they present.

    What rubbish!

    A total of 67,215 people were removed or departed voluntarily from the UK last year, down one per cent compared with the peak of 67,980 in 2008, figures released by the Home Office last month showed. – The Independent

  19. Hexe,

    So, what then is a better solution to deal with the west-hating nightie-nazis?

    1. Getting memorandums of understanding, or diplomatic assurances, from countries where people face a real risk of torture, along the lines of “we promise not to torture this person and will make ourselves accountable”, allows our courts to deport undesirables who we would otherwise be prevented from deporting.

    2. It is easy to say “use intercept evidence” or evidence that can’t currently be disclosed to convict them. Unfortunately, however, there are issues with this – that I concede I do not understand, despite reading various reports and inquiries – that prevent us from using such evidence in the context of a fair trial. The odd thing is that other countries use such evidence – as I say though, I literally don’t understand the problems.

    3. I have the impression that the authorities prefer a ‘big win’ conviction to a ‘little win’ – e.g. a conviction for conspiracy to bomb a jetplane as opposed to a passport offence or somesuch. I think to disrupt the efforts of these suspects, which is the purpose of control orders, we ought to go for ‘little wins’, too. As I say, though, it is an impression I have, and I could be entirely wrong about it.

  20. To 1.)

    Those assurances, who will give then, how will they enforce their promise and how will we police this?

    Could it be that you’re asking for something that cannot be done here?

    To 2.)

    Yes, we could use eavesdropped evidence and then they all start encrypting their stuff and we’ll know even less than we do now.

    To 3.) I have no idea what the authorities are aiming at, and I suspect, neither have they.

    For the record, I don’t think that control orders are useful either, however, doing nothing in order to claim the moral high ground isn’t an option either. If’ fine to complain about what we don’t want, but it only gets tackled when we decide what we DO want.

    So, I’ll ask again, how can we effectively deal with the current infestation of nighty-nazis?

  21. ukliberty // Nov 3, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Monty, you and those in agreement with you are in effect saying that is that politicians / bureaucrats should be given the power to detain or deport people without having to justify it.
    ————-
    I’m saying if they are not British citizens, we have every right to deport them and no need to justify the decision to the deportee.
    So deport them.

    Memoranda of Understanding are not worth the paper they are written on. Bleeding heart liberals will disregard them as unenforceable, and continue to protest at deportations.

    Intercept evidence demands the use of secret court proceedings, it is bound to be complex, and it is bound to go wrong. And bleeding heart liberals will protest because the full panoply of an open trial in a criminal court is not being applied.

    So cut our losses, and deport every foreigner who shows up on the security radar for whatever reason. No proceedings, no appeal. Never apologise. Never explain.

  22. Hexe,

    1. We have been using MOUs for some time; people have been deported under them. In terms of policing the deal, part of the assurance is that we or a trusted third party (a humanitarian organisation, e.g. the Red Cross) is given access to check the individual has not been tortured.

    Where we haven’t deported people in such a context is where the court does not accept that the MOU will mitigate the risk of torture. IIRC Egypt was such a country a few years ago; basically the Egyptian government provided assurances in good faith and these were accepted as such but the court was persuaded that some its people could not be trusted to not torture the individual.

    2. Well, not everyone encrypts their communications, and failure to provide encryption keys when asked is punishable by five years (IIRC) imprisonment. But yes, encryption is a problem. The point is that we already use eavesdropped evidence but we do not generally disclose it in open court.

  23. 1. The Red Cross is not a neutral organisation. It also is not independent, nor is it answerable to anyone and it is very corrupt as well, and, they are very exposed on the ground. Do you really think that someone who is obsessed enough to want to torture someone is going to not consider blackmailing the RC official?

    And you have not explained what we’ll do if our high morals are pointedly ignored — pout meaningfully?

    Plus, what makes you think that the Egyptians (and other countries) want to have their raving nutters returned to them? Even the Turks won’t let Swiss airplanes carrying deported Turkish criminals land, and those are the guys we’re in NATO with.

    Aside from that, if the MOU worked so well, why are we still in need of a broken hack?

    2. Encryption can easily take place in plain text.

  24. Hexe, I didn’t claim or imply MOUs are perfect. What I’m doing is setting out the facts as I understand them. We are prohibited from deporting people to countries where they face a real risk of torture. If the court is satisfied that torture will not take place, the person can be deported. If the court is not so satisfied the person cannot be deported.

    I am sure that we can invent all sorts of scenarios; perhaps a Red Cross member might be so corrupt he tortures the person himself, eh? That must mean the whole idea is rubbish, surely?*

    what makes you think that the Egyptians (and other countries) want to have their raving nutters returned to them?

    Um… countries have accepted deportees. (Perhaps there is a treaty? I don’t know.)

    if the MOU worked so well, why are we still in need of a broken hack?

    I didn’t say it worked well, it is but one measure.

    2. Encryption can easily take place in plain text.

    If you mean, the authorities interpret “Auntie Maisie’s buns are in the oven” to mean bombs ready to detonate, sure. I don’t understand your point, though.

    *sarcasm.

  25. “Hexe, I didn’t claim or imply MOUs are perfect. What I’m doing is setting out the facts as I understand them.”

    You were challenged to provide a solution and you handwaved eloquently instead. I didn’t ask you for ‘the facts as you understand them’ I asked for for a better solution than control orders. Try again please and leave out any failed measures this time.

    “We are prohibited from deporting people to countries where they face a real risk of torture. If the court is satisfied that torture will not take place, the person can be deported. If the court is not so satisfied the person cannot be deported.”

    Would you like a bar of soap and a towel, so you can wash your hands in proper public style? Looks a bit better than uselessly wringing them… 🙂

    Btw, the courts are not all that honourable – they are corrupt and biased like any other organisation. So, don’t take their judgements as the moral gospel.

    “I am sure that we can invent all sorts of scenarios; perhaps a Red Cross member might be so corrupt he tortures the person himself, eh? That must mean the whole idea is rubbish, surely?*”

    Yes indeed, without sarcasm(but with respect…), for aforementioned reasons, the idea is patent rubbish, even if you try and make a joke of it and carefully avoid having to discuss the reasons why it’s a fail. Tho, I have to say, I agree, doesn’t matter, we need solutions, not post mortems (in every respect).

    And as you say, the MOU are no solution, so… I’m asking you for the last time: What is your solution to the problem? (other than surrender, delegation and batting the issues into the long grass by claiming it’s too complex to solve and that we can’t do anything anyway and everything will be just fine, if only we beLIEve?)

    Ps.: It’s no big secret that many countries refuse to accept ‘returns’ of their criminal citizens, google is your friend, no need to take my word for it. Also, lots of those nice folks destroy their ID so they cannot be returned.

  26. I just saw I didn’t explain the encryption.

    Right now, we’re dealing with people who don’t feel they have to hide anything, because we can’t get at them.

    Encrypting anything in any way is always a communication risk and it’s inconvenient. And obviously, plain text encryption requires a considerable dictionary to work, it’s doable, but it’s a huge hassle. The only difference between plain text encryption and using an proper method is that the latter is very easy to find. Both can be equally intractable.

    So, whilst there is no acute reason to be paranoid, people are more tempted to be lazy. If we force them to do things properly, then all we do is make our own task much harder.

  27. Hexe,

    You were challenged to provide a solution and you handwaved eloquently instead. I didn’t ask you for ‘the facts as you understand them’ I asked for for a better solution than control orders. Try again please and leave out any failed measures this time.

    At no point did I claim to have a solution. I am willing to concede I don’t have a solution. I was discussing measures that help. If you are only interested in a perfect solution, I cannot help and I suspect you will be disappointed until you’re six feet under.

  28. “Also, lots of those nice folks destroy their ID so they cannot be returned.”

    If they don’t technically exist, well, the answer is staring us in the face, isn’t it? 🙂

  29. This sort of argument is increasingly convincing me that the old approach to the security services — to deny that they exist — is the right one. Have our counterespionage and counterterrorism people do what they have to do, on the understanding that they are in fact breaking the law themselves and if they get caught the state will not necessarily protect them. It’s not a perfect solution, but I’m beginning to think it’s the least imperfect. Certainly better than the farce of the Prime Minister releasing a dossier of MI5’s documents to the public for their perusal and approval.

  30. Actually, thinking about this some more, this is a bloody terrible analogy you’ve drawn, Tim.

    > They have died, just as much as those who died storming ashore at Sword Beach, in order to preserve the liberties and freedoms of the freeborn Briton.

    See, the thing about Sword is that, for D-Day to work, it required the Mulberries’s existence to be hidden from the Germans. And the Mulberries were too big to hide. So the British security services made damn sure there wasn’t a signle Nazi spy operating in the whole of Britain. And they didn’t do this by letting everyone go unless they had enough evidence to convict them of espionage in front of a jury. The men who stormed ashore at Sword were able to do so and were able to succeed thanks to the state’s decision to be a hell of a lot more cavalier with civil rights than mere control orders are.

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