Wednesday, April 02, 2008

BRITAIN'S WAR ON TERROR: Gareth Peirce on justice denied

The London Review of Books has published a long piece on Muslims swept up and tried in British courts for the sake of the war on terror here.

Written by Gareth Peirce, "a lawyer who has since the 1970s represented individuals accused of involvement in terrorism from both the Irish and the Muslim communities," it brings an inside view to many cases which have been in the news in the past half-decade. Pierce's firm was involved in the defense of the alleged London ricin gang and her essay uses that as a benchmark. After it, the British government undertook measures to ensure Muslims caught up in counter-terror dragnets would not enjoy any due processes of law as the rest of the populace understood them.

"In December 2001 it was a small group of foreign nationals who paid the price for Blair’s wish to show solidarity with the US; and their predicament has never been widely known or understood beyond the Muslim community," writes Peirce. She tells of the men swept up in Operation Springbourne, the anti-terror operation that led to the trial of the alleged ricin gang. A jury found all of these men innocent except for one, Kamel Bourgass, of whom much has already been said.

"But joining them in prison today are more and more young British men, and occasionally women," Peirce continues. "Many have little or no idea why they are there, although even more disturbingly, the majority were tried by the courts in conventional trials before conventional juries ... The accusations are [inchoate]:defendants are said to be ‘linked to terrorism’ or ‘linked to extremism and/or radical ideology’. In these cases, the evidence before the court has time and again been found after a search on a defendant’s computer or in a notebook; the defendant is charged with possession of a certain item or this item is held to demonstrate the defendant’s desire to incite, encourage or glorify terrorism.

"The relevant provisos, which underpin the right to a fair trial, are that the law should be clear and certain so that individuals can be confident that their behaviour does not transgress the limits society has set; that the application of the law should never be retrospective; and that there are protections intended to preserve freedom of speech, religion, thought and privacy. Young Muslims search the internet in their tens of thousands, as do non-Muslims. Any internet search, however, leaves an ineradicable trace which can and does provide material that puts its searcher now at risk of prosecution for possession of information that might be ‘of use to terrorists’. They even risk arrest for writing anything that could be said to ‘incite’ or ‘encourage’ ‘terrorism’."

"This is the context of many current prosecutions. The fruits of a police search are uncovered, prosecutions mounted for the ‘possession’ of literature, films and pamphlets bought or viewed on websites, even if that viewing was swift and the item discarded or even deleted. The defendants are stigmatised as potential terrorists and their cases considered by juries more often than not without even one Muslim among their ranks to provide what the concept of 12 jurors randomly selected is intended to contribute to the trial process – a reflection of the collective good sense of the community.

"Two young Muslim women were separately tried at the Old Bailey last year for having written works deemed by the prosecution to be for a terrorist objective. One was the ‘Lyrical Terrorist’, whose appeal against conviction is due to be heard shortly..."

Peirce describes the present legal reality in which simply thinking about terror, or downloading any electronic materials deemed useful to jihadis by professional witnesses, is enough to have you sent over. See here and here in"These documents gets you jailed."

"This is very dangerous territory," writes Peirce, concluding with the following warning: "We are very far along a destructive path, and if our government continues on that path, we will ultimately have destroyed much of the moral and legal fabric of the society that we claim to be protecting. The choice and the responsibility are entirely ours."

The piece is detailed, revealing new information from case histories of current and recent trials in the United Kingdom. It includes news on more prisoners rendered and tortured into confessions as a direct result of the Blair government's decision to vigorously pursue the American way in the war on terror.

Even after jury trial acquittal, those rounded-up in the original counter-terror operation to stop the "ricin gang" were re-arrested. The UK government found the result intolerable even though the gang's existence hung on merely an allegation by Colin Powell "in his attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq to the UN."

"One juror described how for him a moment of truth came early in the trial, when a witness from Porton Down nervously drank three containers of water while in the witness box seeking to explain why an early lab report said to have been conveyed to the police and confirming that there was no trace of ricin, had, curiously, never reached the Cabinet Office," writes Peirce in another tidbit.

DD presumes Peirce is referring to Andrew Gould, the Porton Down official who, instead of informing authorities that the laboratory had found an initial reading to be a false positive -- an error, had instead compounded trouble, informing just the opposite, that ricin had been confirmed. The famous mistake would go uncorrected until the gag order came off at the end of the ricin trial in 2005.

The bureaucratic muddle, made on purpose or by mistake, contributed to an entire raft of distortions made after the trial. The inability to get at the truth until years had passed enabled the UK government to retry the case in the press, overturning the verdict in terms of public perception. Indeed, your blog host still sees a couple references per month, usually from counter-terror experts, on how ricin was made in London by Colin Powell's UK poison gang.


Vanity Fair magazine discovers the UK ricin trial.


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