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Friday, August 19, 2005

Tony Blair's Antiterrorism Package - New York Times

Tony Blair's Antiterrorism Package - New York TimesAugust 19, 2005
Tony Blair's Antiterrorism Package

Terrorism typically prompts democratic societies to sacrifice some liberty in the name of more security, and Britain, after the deadly July 7 subway and bus bombings in London, has been no exception.

The problems come when hastily considered security measures damage essential democratic rights or consign whole communities - the law-abiding along with the dangerous - to second-class citizenship. That kind of broad-brush profiling is not only unjust but also unwise, because it tends to dry up the cooperation from community leaders that is essential to isolating the terrorist fringe.

Britain's latest package of antiterrorism measures is still being refined. But the basic thrust of the new approach was announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier this month. Some of the contemplated steps seem sensible and appropriate, like developing sterner rules to exclude foreign supporters of terrorism from entering Britain.

Others, however, are seriously troubling, like Mr. Blair's plan to criminalize not just direct incitement to terrorism in Britain but anything the government may categorize as "condoning," "glorifying" or "justifying" terrorism anywhere in the world. Words like that are far too vague, elastic and subject to diplomatic selectivity. Similarly troubling is the government's plan to expand its list of deportable offenses to include the expression of "what the government considers to be extreme views." And the idea of making naturalized, but not native-born, British citizens deportable for "extremism" is inherently divisive and should not be pursued.

Considering the costly damage the Bush administration has done to America's reputation and liberties through its abuse of similar authority, Mr. Blair should have known better than to open himself up to a repeat of the same mistakes. Of course, he expects the British people and Parliament, which will be called on to approve most of these changes, to trust his government to use such new powers carefully and wisely. But that is never a responsible basis for enacting laws that could be around longer than today's government officials.

Besides, pleas for trust are sounding rather hollow just now in light of this week's shocking disclosures about the circumstances under which the police shot an innocent man to death on a London subway train in July. It now appears that the most crucial elements of the explanation the authorities told the public about this incident are wrong. The man was not, it turns out, knowingly running from the police. He was not wearing a heavy padded jacket that might have hidden a bomb. And he did not jump the turnstile. Further, it now appears that the authorities knew the truth even as they continued giving out false and misleading information.

A full disclosure of what really happened and why, followed by full accountability for those responsible, would help clear the air for serious parliamentary consideration of new antiterrorism laws.

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