Innocent Until Proven Guilty… Terrorists too.

rendition.jpgI recently went to see a brilliant movie called Rendition. I say brilliant, as it was well-acted, but it was also rather shocking and frightening because of its subject matter.

To give you a bit of background, the movie is about an American man of Egyptian descent who is detained by the CIA on suspicion of being connected with terrorist activities. Although there is scant evidence, he is taken to Morocco – under anti-terror laws which allow the US government to remove suspected (foreign) terrorists from the US to be imprisoned and interrogated in other countries – where he is tortured (using techniques such as waterboarding) until he ‘confesses’.

“Extraordinary Rendition” (from which the movie takes its title) is a practise which has been increasingly used since 9/11. Foreign nationals who are suspected of engaging in terrorist activities are taken (forcibly) to their home, or other, countries to face trial or be held for intelligence purposes. It is a highly controversial practise, and this film really brings home the point that despite our fear of terrorism, we must not allow governments to erode our civil liberties.

Of course we are all concerned about terrorism. When tensions and sensitivities are high it is easy to believe, and be persuaded, that governments should take any means necessary in order to combat it. Extraordinary rendition and extended detention of suspects without charge (which Gordon Brown is currently trying to push through parliament) are two of the means that governments have tried to convince us are in our best interests.

However, the problem is that those who administer the law cannot always be trusted. Innocent people get caught up in the fray, as happens in the movie Rendition, and as has happened at Guantanamo Bay and other places. Innocent people must not be abused in the name of counter-terrorism.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty? The fact is that suspects have – or they should do – the same rights as everyone else until the authorities have provided enough evidence to charge the suspect of a crime.

I cannot understand the need to hold suspected terrorists for up to 56 days, as Mr Brown is proposing, without charge. This essentially means that any innocent person can be kept in prison for nearly 3 months without knowing what they are there for. I’m sure there are those of who you don’t think it’s a big deal because you believe this does not apply to you. However, the point is that any one of us could become a ‘suspected’ terrorist at any time. Just look at Jean Charles de Menezes.

It is for the government to focus on better intelligence, on better use of police and other organizations’ resources which will lead to the capture of terrorists rather than eroding our civil rights. It is also for the government to satisfactorily prove – through robust evidence – that extended detention and other such practises have any real value. So far, it has not managed to do this. Even the security minister, who this week made an U turn – one minute saying he didn’t see a need for detention to increase from 28 days, and then changing his mind – seems unsure.

I want to see a reduction in terrorism, but it must be done in the correct – and legal – way. The infringement of human rights – everybody’s human rights – is not the solution.

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