Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Has anyone noted the utter absurdity of our officials envying British antiterrorist tactics? For anyone who hasn’t read or heard the nonsense, let me quote at length from Eric Lichtblau’s article in Tuesday’s New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez on Monday ordered a side-by-side review of American and British counterterrorism laws as a first step toward determining whether further changes in American law are warranted.

The plot to blow up airliners bound from Britain to the United States has highlighted differences in legal policies between the two allies, with American officials suggesting that their British counterparts have greater flexibility to prevent attacks.

Newly revised British counterterrorism laws, for instance, allow the authorities to hold a suspect for 28 days without charges, where American law generally requires that a suspect held in the civilian court system be charged or released within 48 hours.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in appearances on the Sunday morning news programs that he thought bringing American laws more closely into line with Britain’s, particularly regarding the detention of terror suspects without charges, could help deter threats at home.

“I think certainly making sure that we have the ability to be as nimble as possible with our surveillance, it’s very important,” Mr. Chertoff said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And frankly,” Mr. Chertoff added, “their ability to hold people for a period of time gives them a tremendous advantage.”

Mr. Gonzales echoed those remarks Monday in an appearance before a veterans group in Chicago. Asked about Britain’s 28-day policy, he said, “That may be something we want to look at,” according to an account by The Associated Press. But he also said: “Is it consistent with our Constitution? We have to look at that.”

Gonzales and Chertoff struggle mightily to overlook their own well-documented, years-long and chargeless imprisonment, rendition and torture of — although many hardly deserve this description — terrorism suspects, foreign and domestic, as well as the illegal tapping of phones and investigation of finances enabled by presidential “signing statements” or merely national ignorance. We’ve held Jose Padilla and dozens, if not hundreds, of others in our prisons at length without charges, and it’s unlikely to the point of impossibility that some terrorist somewhere has overlooked this; so which would dissuade this theoretical terrorist more — being held without charges for 28 days by the Brits, or disappearing for several years into some nameless black hole of waterboarding and beatings run by the Americans?

Talking about what “American law generally requires” in this context is like noting that the Ten Commandments says “Thou shalt not kill.” This being the case, it’s not a little offensive watching Gonzales’ and Chertoff’s attempts at innocence via earnest yearning to adopt British techniques that might stem terrorism. It probably confuses the British, too.


Anonymous said...

This VERY thing came up in one of the rightwing boards I frequent for shits and giggles, and I'm just going to cut and paste a few of the responses to the key argument you made:

"One not unimportant difference between our system of govt and the Parliamentary system concerns the British use of executive approval, a Minister in the case cited in the article. In the Parliamentary system, a minister is an elected official, meaning he is directly accountable to his constituents for any decisions he might make approving warrantless intelligence collection. Our Secretaries, however, are appointed with advice & consent. That's a step removed from the direct electoral accountability that a British Minister would have. Still, it's not divorced from accountability. A cabinet secretary that approved a warrantless domestic intel operation would sill be subject to judicial sanction for illegal misue of the authorizing statute, as well as oversight by Congress and removal by POTUS. There would still be checks & balances in the system.

And again, we see the difficulty which arises when we try to make intelligence collection succumb to LE legal standards. Intel collection is not LE, and vice versa. There is value in keeping intel collection and LE separate. They are separate functions and trying to do both on the same set of rules will compromise both. The better way to address the issue is to make sure we engineer checks and balances into the domestic intelligence collection process, not that we keep using the same LE checks and balances we've been using in the past, or even worse do what Clinton did and render the issue moot by just building a wall between intel and LE. We KNOW they don't work with respect to keeping our citizens alive."

"We cannot fight a war under due process." (This was in bold)

"Our enemy has no heart and their minds are entranced by a religion which exalts death, most particularly death whilst killing infidels. Collecting domestic intel on terrorist groups and interdicting the plots we discover, whether prematurely or not for prosecution, is not going to make terrorists. Little that we do is going to make terrorists. Terrorists are being made by Islamic radicals posing as Imams appealing to religious glory and grandeur. Our enemies are playing offense. We did not deserve any of the attacks AQ launched against us in the 1990s. We are a peaceful nation who before 9/11 had never done anything to seize or oppress any Islamic nation. We we stir in righteous anger to squash those who have made plain their desire to destroy us, we need not worry about how many more terrorists we might create. There are already enough. There were before we mobilized our army, too. Waving our hands at foreign shores and playing isolationism isn't going to make this little problem of ours go away. That's kinda what Clinton did for 8 years & look where it got us...."

"Excellent points, Chuck. Your average American--and even a lot of better-read folks here--don't understand how we differ from the Brits when it comes to intermingling the LE and intel functions. Actually, in that respect--domestically at least--we are more like the old KGB, with both law enforcement and domestic intel/counterintel in the same agency--than we are like the Brits. MI5 is pure intel, not cops, no arrest powers. There was talk of doing something similar in this country after 9/11, but we let the FBI continue on with the same structure as in the past--hopefully with a more efficient CI/CT structure, including some analysts, who are hopefully not just agents sitting a desk and trying to play analyst.

This was clearly a victory for British (and American) intel--SIGINT and HUMINT of the CI/CT variety."

And this is just a tiny sample of a thread that blew up.

Me doth think yee protests too much.


Scape7 said...

I really have no idea what you're talking about when you suggest I doth protest too much, a phrase that is usually reserved for people who overemphasize their objection to something in an attempt to obscure the fact that they are guilty of the very thing they protest. So your use of this phrase is the first thing that confuses me here. What is it I'm protesting that you think I'm guilty of? Or are you using the phrase in some other way? Whatever it is, I don't get it.

Furthermore, none of these supposed "responses" to my "key argument" address my key argument at all. How does any of what you quote here address the fact that the United States, in pursuing the war against terrorism, already uses powers of surveillance and incarceration as great or greater than those of the British, which makes our yearning for the British system a little silly or disingenuous? The United States behaves this way whether it is legal or not, and nothing you posted here addresses or refutes that, so how is any of it a response?

Furthermore, some of what you quote here is almost too ridiculous to take seriously: "We are a peaceful nation who before 9/11 had never done anything to seize or oppress any Islamic nation"? "We need not worry about how many more terrorists we might create"? Come on. Whoever wrote this is either employing Clintonian distinctions in language or doesn't know his history — or, apparently, the notion of common sense. If you want to debate these points, I will, but these comments are pretty much absurd on their very face.

Finally, if all this stuff is true, why is there not a greater difference in what the Brits experience in terms of terrorism and what we experience in terms of terrorism? We seem to be in pretty much the same situation.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Marc. I was addressing conservatives/Bushies who wrote this stuff.

The logic of all of this is to say the we need to do things even more proactive than the British.

It's stupid logic, I know. And I know some of the stuff is just ridiculous, but this is what happens when people get themselves into a rant.

Wasn't it Holden Caufield that said something like, "Just lie to them because you get more of them to beilieve you"?


Anonymous said...

SO did you fall back off the blogging wagon?


Scape7 said...

I was on vacation with the family. But I'm back.