Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Don't feed the terrorists

So three of the UK's so-called 'liquid bombers' (though not the other five) got convicted last Monday in their second trial.

I think the way this case has been handled is somewhat questionable.

We have:
  • The scrapping of the UK's double-jeopardy law when there is 'new evidence'. The accused were allowed to be tried a second time after the first jury didn't find them guilty of attempted bombing, but only the lesser charges - which wasn't good enough for the prosecutors.
  • The second trial used surveillance evidence obtained by the NSA in the US. Despite a lot of ranting about this being part of the notorious illegal surveillance program, it looks like there actually were warrants for this in the US. However, evidence obtained by interception like this is apparently not legal in the UK, so they went back and retrospectively got a US court order to have Yahoo disclose the old emails, making the evidence legit. This seems a little sketchy. It makes the initial rule rather pointless for things like emails, which will usually still be there when you go back with your warrant. Also, as I understand it, this wasn't new evidence - the prosecution supposedly had it already, it's just that the NSA didn't want it published then.
  • Having two trials like this not only costs 135 million pounds (and we thought the David Bain case was an epic!), it also gives the defense a huge disadvantage. The prosecution gets to withhold evidence in the first trial, then if they don't get the conviction they want, they can introduce it later as 'new evidence' to prompt a second trial. Would you want the defense to be allowed to do that?
  • There's the question of whether these guys were ever going to get anywhere with their intended choice of bombing materials. The Register had an excellent article on this way back. Admittedly this may be irrelevant to a conspiracy charge, but it does put the nature and sophistication of the threat in perspective - and the hysteria of the overreactions. Not just the abandonment of long-held civil liberties and common sense, but also all the entertaining security theatre, such as banning shampoo and baby milk from aircraft, while mixing the deadly discarded liquids in the bin next to the busy security checkpoint.
  • Don't even get me started on the extension of the detention-without-charge period.

If it was all done within the law, at least it demonstrates that it's possible to convict for these crimes without security agencies needing special powers to spy on absolutely everyone. 'Terrorists' are not magical criminals in some special category that should cause us to abandon all the usual rules and react in panic. They are just criminals, and should be pursued as such.

I have no problem with the security services going after terrorists, but in the long term, the way to combat the mentality that leads people to these extremes is to pursue them with the high standards a policing and criminal justice system is supposed to uphold. Maintaining a rigid and very visible policy of equal justice, fairness and legality of investigation is the way to change things.

Panicking the populace, and bending all the rules to get the convictions you want - this is just feeding the us-and-them mentality, the disillusionment and the self-righteous thinking that leads people to act in mass-murderous ways. All you achieve is to breed more terrorists.

Just treat them like trolls. Don't feed them.

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