Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pre-charge Detention, Outrage and Decadence

The big topic of the day, obviously, is the Government's bid to extend pre-charge detention to 42 days.

There is no widely perceived need for more authoritarian legislation. So far there has been no case where the police would have liked more than the current 28-day limit and only 11 suspects have been held for more than 14 days.
So why do police chiefs want up to 90 days? He explains:

It is during a wave of multiple, complex terror plots or attacks that, security sources say, the power to hold suspects for up to 42 days will be necessary.

They argue that the time to legislate for emergency detention powers is now – when it can be properly considered – rather than in the frenzied atmosphere of a national emergency.

The assumption behind this plan is clear, then. One day the police will have a suspect in custody, will be forced to release him after 28 days and he will go on to kill people. And then there will be such an outrage against the police and government that they will rush through an extension. The essential accusation is that we, the British public, would be so distraught at the loss of life that we will accept, nay demand, that our leaders compromise on our high standards to ensure our protection.

And he's probably right. Just this week we found out that a terrorist had been released a whole 17 days early from prison and there was such an outcry that the government very quickly changed its policy. It would seem that faced with the choice of danger of some deaths or compromise on moral high standards we will compromise every time.

What is more, in the comfort of our safe armchairs, when is all is fine and calm, we will oppose these moves. We will cite freedom and people will talk about doing the terrorists' work for them. But as soon as the bomb goes off and people die we will be shouting for action against those very freedoms.

There is surely only one word for this, decadence. The Islamists accuse the West of this and we are guilty as charged. When all is peaceful we extol the virtues of civil liberties and freedom. We laud ourselves for our high moral standards and unshakeable values. But in reality we're scared, terrified. As soon as something goes wrong, someone dies, we will turn our backs on those freedoms in a heartbeat.

In WWII Britain's ability to take the punishment of the Blitz, of the V1s and 2s allowed us to stand firm for what we believed in. And we rightly look back at that with pride. People died and we accepted that as the price of freedom. A heavy price, but one we were willing to pay. Today we're not willing to pay that price. The result is evident.

We will compromise, demand compromise, on our standards to avoid the deaths of some citizens. We demand that Afghanistan and Iraq are left to fend for themselves against the Islamists lest some of our brave soldiers die in defence of democracy and freedom. We are at a point where safety and calm are more important to us than morality and liberty. We are truly decadent. We should be ashamed.