The war on civil rights

Issue 

Stephen Garvey, Melbourne

Ian Thomas, father of Jack Thomas; civil rights lawyer Rob Stary; and London Respect member Julian Coppens addressed a forum on August 17 about PM John Howard and British PM Tony Blair's attacks on civil rights, especially since the July 7 London terrorist bombings.

Thomas explained that his son has been charged for allegedly receiving funds from al Qaeda, providing support to terrorists and travelling on a modified passport.

In January 2003, Jack was arrested in Pakistan and held in a military prison for five months. He was tortured by CIA and Pakistan secret service personnel, and denied legal representation.

After returning to Australia, Jack was arrested in November 2004. The three charges rest upon evidence obtained in an interview with him conducted by Australian Federal Police in March 2003. His case could set a precedent that permits evidence extracted under torture and without legal representation present.

Stary, Jack's lawyer, told the meeting that under anti-terror laws Jack's trial could be conducted in the absence of the defence. Furthermore, "certificates of evidence" could be tabled that exempt some evidence from cross-examination.

Stary warned that "these laws have an enormous capacity to be misused". Because an act that "coerces" the government into changing policy can be classified as "terrorist", the legislation can be interpreted to include political dissent.

Coppens spoke about Blair's response to the London bombings and the British police's new shoot-to-kill policy. He also described the campaigning of the newly formed Respect coalition, which unites members of the Stop the War Coalition, the Socialist Workers Party and other left activists and members of the Muslim community.

Coppens said that British New Labor's slogan, "Things can only get better", couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the Blair government is pushing its neoliberal agenda harder than ever.

Coppens highlighted Blair's attempts to dissociate Britain's role in the occupation of Iraq from the London bombings by laying the blame on the Muslim community for not getting tough on "extremists". He described how such Islamophobia has contributed to an increasing number of attacks on Muslims in Britain.

From Green Left Weekly, August 24, 2005.
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