Charles Clarke and Corbyn’s “tacit support” for bin Laden
by Dick Barry
According to an editorial in the London Evening Standard of 30 March, Charles Clarke, Labour Home Secretary (December 2004-March 2006) in Blair’s government, launched a ‘scathing attack today on the failure of Jeremy Corbyn and some of his most senior allies to vote in favour of outlawing al Qaeda six months before 9/11….’ (It was also reported in the anti-Corbyn Daily Mail, The Sun and Daily Telegraph). The editorial goes on to say ‘But Mr Clarke’s accusation that Mr Corbyn–along with John McDonnell and Diane Abbott–gave “tacit support” to bin Laden’s fanatics at a time when all three politicians should have known better is significant because it echoes charges about the Labour leader’s judgement and attitudes which have resonated throughout his political career and continue to be levelled against him today.’
Clarke’s accusation is based on Corbyn’s refusal to support the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001, which was laid before the House of Commons on 28 Febuary 2001. This added 21 organisations to an existing list, including al Qaeda. The new list of proscribed organisations was supported by 396 MPs and opposed by 17. The 17 MPs (12 Labour, 4 Plaid Cymru and 1 Conservative) were: Diane Abbott, Tony Benn, Michael Clapham, Jeremy Corbyn, Denzil Davies, Neil Gerrard, Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid Cymru), Jenny Jones, Sir Peter Lloyd (Conservative), Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru), John McDonnell, Jim Marshall, Alan Simpson, Dennis Skinner, Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru), Robert N Wareing, and Dafydd Wigley (Plaid Cymru). Only Abbott, Corbyn, McDonnell and Skinner are currently MPs.
The interesting question is, would Corbyn’s support for the inclusion of al Qaeda on the list of proscribed organisations have prevented the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in the USA? In other words, does a proscribed list greatly reduce, or prevent, the risk of attack by any of the organisations on it? Al Qaeda was added to the proscribed list after 9/11 but that didn’t prevent the 7/7 (7 July 2005) attacks in London which the London Evening Standard (and Clarke) failed to mention. Could it be because Clarke was Home Secretary at the time?
According to Statewatch News (see below) Home Secretary Jack Straw, used the powers to ensure that “the United Kingdom does not become a base for international terrorists and their supporters.” However, in spite of Straw’s efforts and Clarke’s faith in proscribed lists, that has happened. ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State is now on the list but it hasn’t prevented it operating as a recruiting agency in the UK.
Clarke knows this but has to pretend that proscribing an organisation makes a significant difference. Politicians have to be seen to be doing “something” about the perceived threat from terrorism. Just as the security services have to claim that the threat is real and imminent so that politicians can introduce legislation like that referred to by Clarke. But the really interesting question about Clarke’s attack on Corbyn is, what was his motive? A cynic would suggest that as a former Home Secretary he was put up to it by one of Corbyn’s opponents in the Parliamentary Labour Party. But I couldn’t possibly comment.
The website of Statewatch News has the following information about the addition of the 21 new proscribed organisations:
The Terrorism Act 2000 (see Statewatch vol 10 no 5) came into force on 28 February 2001 and widens the definition of “terrorism”. It also as makes anti-terrorist legislation permanent and gives the Home Secretary powers to proscribe organisations “concerned with terrorism” in the UK or abroad. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, used the powers to prepare a list of 21 organisations to be proscribed, none of them British, to ensure that “the United Kingdom does not become a base for international terrorists and their supporters”. Republican and loyalist organisations in Northern Ireland were previously the only ones to be proscribed. The Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2001 came into force on 29 March, after debate and approval in the parliament, where the order could only be approved or rejected wholesale. There was criticism over the inclusion of groups from countries where repressive regimes prevent the exercise of democratic rights and criminalise dissent. It is likely to result in the criminalisation of people granted political asylum in the UK because of the persecution which their membership of one of the newly-proscribed organisations entailed.
A terrorist organisation is defined as “any association or combination of persons” which “commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism”. Offences related to proscription include a) membership of a proscribed organisation, b) inviting support, including fund-raising, for a proscribed organisation, c) managing or assisting in the arranging of meetings to support or further the activities, or to be addressed by a member of a proscribed organisation and d) addressing a meeting where the address encourages support for a proscribed organisation. Those found guilty are liable, on conviction, “to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, to a fine or both” or “on summary conviction”, to imprisonment for no more than six months, a fine, or both. Persons wearing an item of clothing or wearing, carrying or displaying “an article, in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation” in a public place, will be liable to imprisonment for up to six months, to a fine or both.
An open list
Twenty-one groups chosen by Jack Straw were proscribed based on information including classified material from UK and foreign intelligence services, along with police, security and legal advice. They are: Al-Qa’ida, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Al-Gama’at al-Islamiya, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), Babbar Khalsa, the International Sikh Youth Federation, Harakat Mujahideen, Jaish e Mohammed, Lashkar e Tayyaba, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Hitzballah External Security Organisation, Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad -Shaqaqi, the Abu Nidal Organisation, the Islamic Army of Aden, Mujaheddin e Khalq, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Revolutionary Peoples’ Liberation Party (DHKC-P), ETA and the November 17 Revolutionary Organisation. This is an open list to which groups can be added in the future or removed using a procedure which allows applicants to appeal against their inclusion, first to the Home Secretary, and if refused, to the newly-established Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC), chaired by Sir Murray Stuart-Smith, appointed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irving. In the case of a refusal to un-proscribe by the POAC, the applicant(s) may lodge a further appeal with the Court of Appeal.
In cases where proscription was based on confidential information available to the Home Secretary, it will be difficult for organisations to mount effective appeals without access to such information. In the House of Lords debate on 27 March, Lord Archer of Sandwell was critical of the fact that Parliament’s lack of information stifled debate, reducing its chance of exercising any “control over the executive”. He added criticism of the Home Secretary’s failure to consult human rights bodies in making his decision, and of the retrospective nature of the appeals procedure: “there is something distasteful about a process which begins by convicting someone and then proceeds to inquire whether there is a case against them”.
The Home Secretary has to take into account, when making a decision, factors including:
“a) the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; b) the specific threat that it poses to the UK; c)the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; d) the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK; and e) the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism”.
Lord Avebury took exception to the fact that “any armed opposition group or anybody who supports an armed opposition group in whatever country”, including repressive regimes, “in the world is ipso facto a terrorist”. He reminded the House of US support for UNITA in Angola, the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and attempts to persuade the Shi’a in Iraq to rise against Saddam Hussein. On the other hand he said that under the Terrorism Act Nelson Mandela and the Zimbabwean (post-1980) and East Timorese (post-1975) resistance movements would have been considered terrorist.
Selection criteria inadequate?
Lord Avebury highlighted contradictions in the Home Secretary’s selections, with reference to the selection criteria. “11 of the 21 organisations have no overt presence in the UK, or only one or two members who are already being held on extradition warrants”, he said. In these cases proscription would therefore amount to no more than an official “badge of disapproval”. Some of the newly-proscribed groups are from countries where repressive regimes prevent them from exercising democratic rights. Lord Rea claimed he was puzzled by the inclusion of the PKK when it has been keeping a cease-fire for two and a half years in spite of continued attacks from the Turkish army which “is illegally and relentlessly pursuing members or supporters of the PKK who are sheltering in Iraq”. He spoke of the UK and US “connivance”, in allowing “Turkey to send helicopter gunships and other aircraft across the no-fly zones”. The PKK was not proscribed when it was engaged in terrorist activity, but it is when it has committed to pursuing “its aims by political means”. Lord Avebury added that the Home Secretary failed to consider whether “the [proscribed] organisation could have sought its objectives peacefully through the political system”. He pointed to the Kurds, who are not recognised as a minority in Turkey, and the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran (Mujaheddin e Khalq) to illustrate his point. In the first case, where Kurds are not recognised as a minority, and “advocacy of internal self-government … is prosecuted under … terrorism law”; in the second, anyone questioning “the supremacy of the religious leader … is a criminal”, and widespread executions and murders by the Iranian authorities against its members have been documented.