The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Alan Johnson: Playing With (Political) Fire

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 7, 2009 @ 06:30

Alan Johnson looking very thoughtful... perhaps even mulling a leadership bid...

Alan Johnson looking very thoughtful... perhaps even mulling a leadership bid...

It seems Home Secretary Alan Johnson either has a new strategy to replace the containment of suspected terrorists in this country, or he is prepared to go steaming into a populist challenge to the judiciary…

This morning the news has broken that Alan Johnson has released a man from a control order that he’s been under for three years without giving any reason. The “sources” in these stories all claim that he  has done so in order to avoid disclosing into the public domain the reasons for keeping him – the thing which the judiciary are demanding if the control orders regime is to stay legal.

It seems to me an extremely revealing decision.

If this man is a threat, and, if we take at face value the government’s claim that disclosure would be a serious threat to our national security, then the decision by Alan Johnson seems reckless in the extreme. There are alternative systems he could well have rushed emergency legislation through to replace the control orders, such as hearings held in closed court but with all information accessible. I believe the French run such a system. Perhaps he could also have sought a derogation from the ECHR, but I’m no legal expert.

But let’s just say he is a threat, and goes on to commit a terrorist atrocity. What would Alan Johnson say? Not me, guv? “It were the liberal judges wot forced my hand!” he might quip. That would be extraordinarily damaging for this country. A populist, political, battle between the executive and the judiciary, fought in public. Of course, I would expect the British public to damn the both of them: Johnson for his recklessness (as above) and the judiciary for their decision, even though it is a wise one and entirely consistent with the liberties we are entitled to in this country.

If, on the other hand, this man is not a threat, then what is the possible justifiable reason for holding him for three years without charge or trial, or even worse, knowing what on Earth he has been held under house-arrest for for so long? That, surely, is contrary to any decent definition of liberty still remaining in society. Surely no one can support the arbitrary detention of individuals because the state says they don’t like them.

Alternatively, the man may be a threat… not directly, but as a rallying sergeant for others. The government may be prepared to use him as a bargaining chip to convince wayward MPs that we need to design some legislation to bring him back under control as quickly as possible. But surely even this is too cynical? Surely the government wouldn’t play such a dangerous game with our national security? And in any case, the

Perhaps this is simply an example of the government trying to save face. They’ve brought him in under a control order and couldn’t find any good reasons to hold him, but wanting to look tough. They persisted with this line, even when it became obvious that they don’t need him in custody, simply because to back down would look weak. And, the longer the man was held, the more difficult it becomes to take the brave decision to admit a mistake has been made. Maybe Alan Johnson has admitted that. Or is that too generous? It would, after all, be three years too late, and three years of misery brought upon one of our fellow citizens. That alone would be inexcusable.

That would be the most friendly spin I could put on this. No matter which way you look at it though, I can’t see anything positive here for this government that has botched our anti-terror policy time after time, sacrificing our liberty for the sake of a good headline. Well, maybe they’ve got their comeuppance.

There is one final intriguing chapter in this story. The man is half-Libyan.

Maybe we really do have a new “special relationship” blossoming.

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