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Britain Proposes New Anti-Terror Powers

House Arrest Among Measures Pushed

By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, January 27, 2005; Page A10

LONDON, Jan. 26 -- British officials proposed far-reaching new powers on Wednesday to control and monitor suspected terrorists without charge or trial, including house arrests, electronic tagging and curfews.

The measures were designed to address legal challenges to a post-Sept. 11 law under which the government has kept 11 foreign nationals imprisoned without charges for as long as three years for allegedly posing a threat to national security. Under the new proposal, the power to impose what officials called "control orders" would apply to British citizens as well as foreigners living in Britain.

Like the United States, Britain introduced new measures aimed at suspected terrorists following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some of those steps have drawn public criticism that they violate British law and values.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the cabinet minister in charge of internal security, told the House of Commons that the 11 detainees, all of them Arab Muslims, would either be deported to their home countries or subjected to the new measures once a new bill passed Parliament.

"There remains a public emergency threatening the life of the nation," Clarke told lawmakers. "I believe that the steps I am announcing today will enable us more effectively to meet that threat."

Members of the two main opposition political parties cautiously welcomed the proposals. But David Davis, Conservative Party spokesman for internal security affairs, said he was concerned that the new measures would apply to British citizens as well as foreigners.

"Millions of British subjects have sacrificed their lives in defense of the nation's liberties, and it would be a sad paradox if we were to sacrifice the nation's liberty in defense of our own lives today," he told the House of Commons.

Human rights activists said the proposals could prove as draconian as the law they would replace. "Temporary restrictions upon a subject's liberty are only legitimate as long as a criminal charge and trial are in prospect," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a London-based human rights group.

Under the law used to lock up the 11 men, foreign citizens living in Britain who were suspected of terrorism but who faced the prospect of torture or execution if they were deported to their home countries could be held indefinitely.

The detained include Omar Uthman Abu Omar, a Jordanian-born Palestinian cleric known as Abu Qatada, who allegedly helped recruit young Muslims for terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States and provided spiritual justification for such acts. The men, all of them alleged to belong to extremist organizations, are from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria.

The measure was declared illegal last month by the Law Lords, a panel of judges who act as Britain's highest court of appeals and who ruled that it violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The nine Law Lords said the law was discriminatory because it applied only to foreign nationals, not to British citizens, and because it was not proportional to the potential security threat posed by the men.

In their written judgments, some of the Law Lords branded the law a totalitarian measure that threatened fundamental freedoms. Human rights advocates have dubbed Belmarsh prison in London, where terror suspects are held, "Britain's Guantanamo," a reference to the U.S. military detention facility in Cuba where about 550 foreign terrorist suspects have been imprisoned indefinitely.

In his address to the House of Commons, Clarke said the new measures would allow him to impose control orders if there were "reasonable grounds" for suspecting terrorist activity.

Measures would include restrictions on the use of cell phones and the Internet and would allow curfews, tagging and a ban on contact with certain individuals, as well as house arrest, Clarke said.

Meanwhile, four British citizens who were flown back to England Tuesday from detention at Guantanamo Bay were released without charge by British authorities Wednesday. U.S. officials had held them for as long as three years, branding them as likely terrorists.

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