CAMPACC statement: The "war on terror" at home: We're all targets of the state (2003)

The ordinary criminal law provides more than adequate powers for the police to protect the public, but that law is not adequate for the 'war on terror' and its anti-democratic aims. As an extra weapon, UK legislation has redefined 'terrorism' to blur any distinction between organized violence against civilians and anti-government protest. Legitimate political activities are suppressed. Activists are harassed and even prosecuted for 'terrorism'. Foreigners are subjected to internment and discriminatory laws that deny them rights to a fair trial.

How did this happen? Long before the 11th September attacks, the Terrorism Act 2000 had already extended the definition of terrorism -- to include simply 'the threat' of 'serious damage to property', in ways 'designed to influence the government' for a 'political cause'. Organizations could be banned on the basis that their activities in other countries fit the broadened definition of 'terrorism'. It extended police powers to detain 'suspects' incommunicado. In effect, that law created new crimes of association and suspicion. It stigmatized a wide range of legitimate political activity as 'terrorism'.

Since the Home Office banned 21 organizations under the Terrorism Act 2000, the bans have been used to attack free speech and criminalize activists. In 2002 campaigners for Kurdish rights were prosecuted for 'terrorist' links, e.g. on grounds that they had held placards listing several banned organizations. In reality they had been among 6000 demonstrators ridiculing the ban on various organizations, e.g. by wearing T-shirts which said 'I am PKK' (Kurdistan Workers Party). Distributors of the Turkish-language magazine Vatan have been harassed since 2000, and in January 2003 they were arrested on grounds that the magazine was 'terrorist property', i.e. promoting and financing a banned organization.

After the 11 September attacks, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA) 2001 granted further powers of detention and surveillance. It even imposed duties on everyone to inform the authorities of any 'suspected terrorist' activities. It also authorized the internment of non-UK citizens -- in circumstances where the state had a suspicion of 'terrorist' links but inadequate evidence for a prosecution, and where the person could not be safely returned to their own country.

Under those new powers, several Muslims have been interned for an indefinite period, with no requirement for disclosure of the supposed evidence against them. Internment breaches the right to liberty guaranteed by Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. To justify these measures, the UK claimed that a national emergency warranted derogation from the ECHR. Lawsuits have challenged the UK derogation in principle, as well as the specific detentions. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) is supposed to implement the ECHR through the UK Human Rights Acts, yet it simply accepted government claims about the supposed emergency. Human rights have no judicial guarantor in this country.

More recently, the government has sought to link threats from Iraq and terrorism at home, e.g. through weapons of mass destruction which could be used here. Not coincidentally, there have been numerous high-profile raids and arrests under anti-terrorist powers. Anyone who associates with the families of these suspects also becomes vulnerable to arrest, and police have warned people against any contact with them.

The 'War on Terror' at home has little to do with protecting the public. Instead it is designed for other purposes:

  • To intimidate migrant communities, especially refugees, against taking part in political activities -- and to isolate such communities.

  • To deter support here for internal resistance against oppressive regimes abroad from which refugees have fled.

  • To protect foreign regimes which are supported by the UK government.

  • To give governments unlimited access to information on political activities.

  • To help the authorities to harass or prosecute activists.

  • To substitute 'counter-terrorism' for politics.

All this a political strategy to control, fragment and paralyse us. We are meant to distrust others and put our faith in the state as benign protector. We are all targets of this 'anti-terrorist' propaganda, manipulation or repression.

By exploiting our insecurity, 'anti-terrorist' measures implement a long-standing plan of the secret security-state. Attacks on civil liberties are not simply a means but also a fundamental purpose of this 'war'. Recent legislation grants powers for a police state, at least on paper. Such powers will be put into practice unless we oppose them and exercise the rights which they would take away from us.