The main enemy

Orla Connolly comments on the establishment's response to the shoot-to-kill policy of the police

Responses to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the first victim of the new shoot-to-kill policy, have been depressing. As the news emerged that de Menezes - not connected in any way to the bombings - had been executed by armed police, a wide spectrum of political opinion rushed forward not to criticise, but to defend his killers. Initially the victim was universally portrayed as a terrorist by the media. "Bomber is shot dead on the tube," screamed the Evening Standard's front-page headline (July 22). There was speculation elsewhere as to whether de Menezes was one of the four alleged bombers whose photographs had just been released - or whether he was part of the terrorists' team of planners. Obviously he had to be one or the other - the police just do not shoot down defenceless, innocent people, do they? Even when the truth emerged, there was a surfeit of understanding and sympathy - not to mention continued praise - for the security forces who are trying to protect us all. Particularly noteworthy in that regard was the mayor of London and left populist, Ken Livingstone. He released a statement on July 23 refusing to condemn the men who pumped eight bullets into a cowering and terrified de Menezes. Instead he argued that "the police acted to do what they believed was necessary to protect the lives of the public. This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility" (The Observer July 24). Later in the week he backed Blair's call for increased surveillance and urged the public to come forward and report "comings and goings". This is a long way from the Ken Livingstone who condemned the British state for its shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. Livingstone is anxious to present himself now as a man that can be trusted to run that same state. Similarly Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty, urged that "no one should rush to judgement [of the police], especially at this time of heightened tensions. These are knife-edge, split- second decisions, often made in moments of great danger" (Mail on Sunday July 24). In a previous article in The Financial Times, Chakrabati had heaped praise on the establishment - "I am, perhaps, the least likely cheerleader for senior politicians or police officers but, up to now at least, they have demonstrated the leadership that we need and deserve." She called for better "operational intelligence and policing" and declared that Charles Clarke had "adopted much of the language and analysis of a champion of human rights" (July 10). Even those more critical liberal commentators who call for an end to the shoot-to-kill policy are anxious for the state to increase its powers in other ways. In The Guardian Gary Younge argued instead for "intelligent intelligence" based on convincing the muslim community to cooperate (July 25). Others like him have urged that the state concentrate more on spying and less on openly arming - as this is apparently the softer and more democratic option. What nonsense! Any proposal that gives the state more power to intrude into our lives is an extremely dangerous one - as is evidenced by the repressive atmosphere in the US since the passing of the Patriot Act. But of course the government is intent on doing both. All sorts of new authoritarian measures are being discussed with its enthusiastic Liberal Democrat and Tory allies. Apparently the police have said they can only do their job properly if the period in which a suspect can be detained without charge is increased from 14 days to three months. The government has seized on these proposals with such gusto that you do not need to be a conspiracy theorist to feel suspicious about their origin. Particularly as increasing detention to three months will fill the gap left earlier this year when the government was forced to abandon the notorious law that would have allowed it to lock up terrorist suspects without charge. New moves are afoot to close down websites and "suppress inappropriate internet usage" - eg, visiting an extremist site. And the government had already announced plans to bring in a new crime of "indirectly inciting terrorist offences" - by praising or even 'condoning' acts of terror (whatever that is held to mean). The new proposals would make it an offence not to hand over computer files when demanded by the police. The admissibility of phone tapping in criminal trials plus more border controls and CCTV surveillance are also on the cards. The weekly discussions between the government and the parties of her majesty's loyal opposition are paving the way for a new raft of easily implemented, active measures of suppression. Comparisons have been made with the policy of the Israeli government in tackling suicide bombers. Chillingly, Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police commissioner, announced last week that the model for shooting people through the head is that of the Israeli police. It is clear that the British state has been in careful preparation. The speed with which the new legislative measures have been announced and the readiness to implement the shoot-to-kill policy betrays ready-made schemes awaiting their opportunity. Meanwhile in the US, Bush has successfully used the recent London bombings to strengthen his hand. The House of Representatives last week passed the USA Patriot Act and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorisation Act, which extends the use of McCarthyite state policies, including the use of roving tap wires recording personal conversations. It makes displays of civil disobedience susceptible to prosecution as "domestic terrorism". Secret warrants can be obtained to subpoena library and bookstores to spy on reading habits. In fact the earlier Patriot Act has been used very widely to prosecute private individuals in matters completely unconnected to terrorism. It has become an additional arm of domestic law. In the name of the 'war on terror' the state on both sides of the Atlantic has armed itself with yet more means of controlling the population. Analogies with Northern Ireland are countless - shoot to kill, internment without trial, armed police, depor-tations, Diplock courts, media suppression. The British state has learned from its activities there and so should we. Given half a chance, the state will move to limit and abolish democratic rights. Emergency measures become permanent laws - the Prevention of Terrorism Act brought in supposedly to counter the IRA in 1974 has been continually strengthened, not abolished, after the ending of the republican armed struggle. A press release circulated last week by Respect quotes John Rees quite rightly arguing for the abolition of the shoot-to-kill policy. But then he goes on to make the following appeal: "The police in a democratic society have a duty to act with higher standards. They should be trying to diminish the climate of fear, not add to it" (July 23). As comrade Rees well knows, the police are hardly a neutral force for justice. And, as he should know, they are certainly not the protectors of democracy. They are the arm of an increasingly repressive state, whose full powers will be used, sooner or later, against the organisations of the working class. It is the British state, not islamist terrorism, that is our main enemy and the main danger to our 'way of life' l Orla Connolly