Liberty versus Secuity: The Debate in Britain

There is quite a battle brewing in the British Parliament over the extension of Britain’s version of the American Homeland Security legislation. The major point of contention is that the British Prime Minister wants to extend the period that terrorism suspects can be held from 28 to 42 days without formal charges being filed. I think the terrorism suspects held in Guantanamo Bay would have been grateful for a limit of 42 days.

Lib Dem Nick Clegg asked why the PM was “playing politics with our liberties” over a move that was “unnecessary” … Opening the Commons debate, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the “reserve power” was necessary to counter a threat that is “more ruthless than we have ever faced before”. …Frank Dobson, one of the most prominent backbenchers opposed to the detention plan, said many Labour MPs would vote in favour of the measures out of “loyalty to the party and the government” but he expected about 30 to rebel. …”This is a quite fundamental issue. We have the right not to be locked up for a long time without charge since the year 1215,” he said.Brown under fire over 42-day plan

This excerpt from the BBC defines the soul of the argument in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere: Which do we value more, our liberties or our security? I am one of those not willing to give up the liberties guaranteed by two of the most important milestones in the history of politics: the Magna Carta of 1215 abd the US Constitution of 1789. We need to strengthen the protection of civil liberties rather than weaken them by returning to governments the power to abuse liberty. Lest we forget, both the Magna Carta and the US Constitution came about, not because of external threats to security, but because of internal government threats to the rights and liberties of the governed.

Every country in history has faced external threats to its security. One of the most important ones, historically speaking, that Britain and the US faced together was the rise of fascism that led to World War II. That threat was much more real and much more dangerous than the current threat from Islamic terrorists. The threat was much more organized and, at least early on, the fascists had technological superiority. Yet, with one glaring exception in the United States – the internment of Japanese-Americansm there was little damage done to individual liberties during WWII.

The now-defunct Soviet Union posed a much greater threat to both Britain’s and the US’s national security than al-Qaida or the Taliban ever will. Neither of those groups has the military capabilities that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War. Yet, neither country felt the need for any kind of homeland security legislation that abused ar deprived us of our civil liberties. So, why do we feel the need for giving back these precious liberties to our governments now? Have we forgotten that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely? The more power over our personal liberties we give back to the government, the more likely the possibility of abuse and corruption.

I think the reason for this willingness to give back hard-won liberties is that we have grown fat, lazy and complacent. We have become political “couch potatoes,” more concerned with our own personal material well-being than with defense of the principles that brought about that material well-being. The price of liberty is, and always has been. eternal vigilance; not vigilance against external security threats but eternal vigilance against internal threats, inculding our own governments, to our liberties.

I recommend you all read this article which is an interview with a Muslim unversity student who was held without charges in Britain under their anit-terrorism legislation because of his dissertaion research
‘It really is psychological torture.’

For more on this debate in Britain UK security and terrorism

For accounts of abuse of power in the name of security, check this out: ‘Questions, answers, months of brutality’ – Three accounts accuse MI5 men of complicity in interrogation ordeals

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