Britain’s War on Freedom
by Stephen Lendman
Arguably America, Israel and Britain are the developed world’s most repressive states. Democracy’s a convenient illusion. It exists in name only.
Police state ruthlessness reflects policy. It’s not new. It’s worse than ever now. Modern technology makes it easy. It’s used oppressively. It targets ordinary people. It’s done for any reason or none at all.
On August 18, UK authorities detained Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda. Washington was conspiratorially involved. It didn’t surprise. Both countries operate lawlessly.
They partner against freedom. They’re waging war on fundamental rights. They want them entirely destroyed. They want unchallenged power. They’ll stop at nothing to get it.
Miranda was held incommunicado for nine hours. He was denied legal counsel. A counterterrorism law pretext was used to do so.
He was in transit from Berlin to Rio de Janeriro. He threatened no one. He violated no laws. His laptop, cell phone, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and game consoles were confiscated. It was done lawlessly. Police states operate this way.
Britain matches some of the worst. It’s waging war on social justice. It wants freedom destroyed. It wants opposition to anti-populist repressiveness eliminated.
Lawless crackdowns target Muslims. False terrorism charges follow. Neoliberal harshness is official policy. So is sweeping secrecy.
Greenwald called detaining his partner “a failed attempt at intimidation.” I’ll have the opposite effect, he said. Virtually never are in transit passengers detained like Miranda.
Schedule 7 of Britain’s Terrorism Act says “fewer than 3 people in every 10,000 are examined as they pass through UK borders.” Over 97% of examinations last under an hour.
Individuals are questioned regarding possible involvement “in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”
Miranda didn’t enter Britain. He was en route to Rio. Targeting him was unrelated to terrorism. It was intimidation. It was harassment. Downing Street was directly involved.
It sent a message. The best of investigative journalism’s threatened. Authorities want it entirely eliminated.
Miranda was released uncharged. Journalists, editors, human rights lawyers and civil libertarians expressed outrage over what happened. Doing so reflects police state harshness.
According to human rights lawyers Gareth Peirce:
“However widely the authorities try to construe the act, and however widely they use and abuse its parameters, it was never meant to facilitate an ambitious intrusion into the rightly protected work of investigative journalists.”
Shami Chakrabarti heads the Liberty civil rights group.
Detaining Miranda “was possible due to the breathtakingly broad schedule 7 power,” she said. It “requires no suspicion.” It’s “routinely abused.”
“People are held for long periods, subject to strip searches, saliva swabbing and confiscation of property – all without access to a publicly funded lawyer.”
“Liberty is already challenging this law in the court of human rights but MPs disturbed by this latest scandal should repeal it without delay.”
National Union of Journalists secretary general Michelle Stanistreet called Miranda’s detention “a gross misuse of the law.”
“Journalists no longer feel safe exchanging even encrypted messages by email and now it seems they are not safe when they resort to face-to-face meetings.”
Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell called Britain’s action “another case of disproportionate reaction by authorities.”
“Journalism may be embarrassing and annoying for governments, but it is not terrorism.”
Detaining Miranda reflects “an attempt to intimidate a journalist and his news organisation that is simply informing the public of what is being done by authorities in their name”.
“It is another example of a dangerous tendency that the initial reaction of authorities is to assume that journalists are bad, when in fact they play an important part in any democracy.”
UK Metropolitan police lied saying:
“Holding and properly using intelligence gained from such stops is a key part of fighting crime, pursuing offenders and protecting the public.”
Police states justify lawlessness this way. Amnesty International called detaining Miranda “unwarranted revenge tactics.” Doing so was based solely on his relationship to Greenwald.
On August 20, London’s Financial Times headlined “UK official told Guardian newspaper to destroy files,” saying:
“A senior British government official demanded the destruction of files held by the Guardian newspaper related to the US National Security Agency’s mass monitoring of phone and internet use.”
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger discussed it in his article headlined “David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face.”
Rusbridger was contacted by an official claiming to represent Prime Minister David Cameron’s views.
“There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on,” he said.
“The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.”
Downing Street didn’t comment.
“The mood toughened just over a month ago,” said Rusbridger. It was “when (he) received a phone call from the centre of government telling (him): ‘You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.’ ”
“There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it.”
“I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. ‘You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.’ “
“During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working.”
“The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention.”
Rusbridger explained “one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history.”
Two Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) security experts “over(saw) the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents.”
” ‘We can call off the black helicopters,’ joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.”
Whitehall was satisfied, said Rusbridger. Destroying Guardian material was a “pointless piece of symbolism,” he said. Doing so reflects digital age ignorance. Cyberspace is forever. Once out, it can’t be erased.
“We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents,” said Rusbridger.
“(W)e just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.”
His “work has undoubtedly been troublesome and embarrassing for western governments.”
“But, as the debate in America and Europe has shown, there is considerable public interest in what his stories have revealed about the right balance between security, civil liberties, freedom of speech and privacy.”
“He has raised acutely disturbing questions about the oversight of intelligence; about the use of closed courts; about the cosy and secret relationship between government and vast corporations; and about the extent to which millions of citizens now routinely have their communications intercepted, collected, analysed and stored.”
Britain, America and other Western states want information on their repressive spying kept secret. Journalists understand.
Rusbridger wonders how many truly realize the “absolute threat” they face. Total surveillance is official policy. So is suppressing information about it.
It’s becoming increasingly “impossible for journalists to have confidential sources,” said Rusbridger.
Journalists “who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state may one day have a cruel awakening.”
They may be targeted. What they report may be attacked. They’ll be prevented from doing their job. They’ll be silenced. They may be wrongfully charged. Prosecutions may follow.
At least they’ll avoid “Heathrow transit lounges,” added Rusbridger.
Gwendolen Morgan represents Miranda. She’s suing on his behalf. She seeks judicial review. She wants assurance that property police wrongfully seized won’t be examined.
She demands to know if it’s been passed on to others. If so, to whom, why, and whether they compromised Miranda’s privacy. She wants an immediate response. Otherwise she’ll petition Britain’s High Court Wednesday.
Miranda said police “threaten(ed) (him) all the time…(They said he’d) be put in jail if (he) didn’t cooperate.”
“They “treated (him like) a criminal or someone about to attack the UK. It was exhausting and frustrating, but (he) knew (he did nothing) wrong.”
A Final Comment
Mass surveillance crossed the line. It’s getting worse. It’s unrelated to national security. It has nothing to do with preventing terrorism. It’s for control, espionage and intimidation.
Rule of law principles no longer matter. They’re null and void. They lie in history’s dustbin. Police states operate extrajudicially. They do so with impunity. No one’s safe. Everyone’s potentially vulnerable.
Doing the right thing risks trouble. Freedom’s on the chopping block for elimination. A previous article quoted political philosopher Montesquieu (1689 – 1755) once saying:
“There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
Police state lawlessness is official US/UK policy. So is unconstitutional surveillance. Freedom’s more illusion than reality. It’s incrementally disappearing altogether.
Both countries aren’t fit to live in. They’re on a fast track to tyranny. It’s close to full-blown. Everyone’s watched. Their phone calls are monitored.
Their emails are read. Their financial, medical and other personal information is compromised. Satellites watch them from space. NSA and GCHQ do it their way. Cameras surveille them on city streets.
They do so from lampposts. They do it in public buildings, shopping malls and open spaces. Britain does it from high-tech trash bins. Big Brother’s omnipresent. Soon it may show up in private residences.
Cameras monitor residents in this writer’s building. It’s done intrusively. They’re in elevators and common areas. Some are visible. Others are hidden. They’re everywhere.
Everyone’s watched outside their front doors. Perhaps doing it inside’s coming. Police states operate this way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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