In Britain, the debate about detaining terror suspects without charges or trial seems far more rational to me than the American discussion. There is no concern that a commander-in-chief can exercize executive powers to disappear people from the purview of even the Red Cross or torture them, as is sadly the case in the US. There is instead an open debate about the length of time terror suspects can be detained without charges. Right now, it's 28 days. The Brown government wants more time - 58 days. When you remember that Jose Padilla was detained for years without charges - and turned by "aggressive questioning" into a twitching, incoherent wreck, you can see how far the US has sunk. The Tories, meanwhile, have stuck to defending liberty. Matthew D'Ancona, who's more sympathetic to more state power, notes that they've even begun to persuade people of the need for some restraint:
In most opinion polls to date, voters (as you might expect) have been strongly in favour of longer periods of pre-charge detention for terror suspects. But in a recent focus group in Lancashire, composed of Bs and C1s, the Tories were pleasantly surprised to hear their own libertarian objections to an extension of the 28-day limit being volunteered by participants, unpersuaded by the case that ministers have put forward.
You can always get majorities for rounding up suspects and detaining them if you demonize them enough and whip up enough fear. But responsible conservatism resists this kind of demagoguery and tries to find a sane balance. Every time I'm told that my concern for individual liberty makes me a leftist, it helps to check in with the Tories in Britain. On so many issues - climate change, civil partnerships, and civil liberties - they help reassure me that the conservatism I have long loved is not dead. It has just been eclipsed by the authoritarian tendencies in the new GOP.
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