Internment

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2004

A & L Daily is giving prominence to an article by one Thomas F. Powers “an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth” arguing that a policy of “preventive detention an idea whose time has come”. There’s much that’s worthy of comment in Powers’s piece, not least the fact that he writes that ” we should look to other countries, especially England and Israel, which have crafted preventive detention policies with meaningful safeguards for due process.” England? !! Is this assistant professor of political science’s political geography really that bad? Anyway, he has this to say about the British Government’s internment policy introduced in Northern Ireland in 1971:

Great Britain’s indefinite internment policy, formalized in 1973 following the recommendations of a famous report authored by Lord Diplock on the situation in Northern Ireland, was allowed to lapse in 1980. Lord Diplock was reacting to a legally murky use of police power, one he termed “imprisonment at the arbitrary Diktat of the Executive Government.” Though his reform proposal, incorporated in the 1973 Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, made preventive detention a matter of administrative, not judicial, oversight, the new policy reasserted civilian control and included due process safeguards. No less a figure than the secretary of state for Northern Ireland made initial detention determinations. Within a period of 28 days, an administrative official would then review each case with the option to extend the detention. Those detained also had a right to be informed of their status hearing in advance, and they were granted the right to an attorney paid for by the government.

Mick Fealty or Marc Mulholland (or maybe other Timberites) could comment more authoritatively than I can on the strict accuracy of Powers’s account (1980 seems an odd date to choose for internment to lapse… and those of us who actually remember the period will wince at the rhetorical phrase “no less a figure than”). But it does seem strange to cite the Northern Ireland experience in support of a policy of preventive detention. Here’s the CAIN summary of the introduction of internment and the political and security effects of the policy:

In a series of raids across Northern Ireland, 342 people were arrested and taken to makeshift camps. There was an immediate upsurge of violence and 17 people were killed during the next 48 hours. Of these 10 were Catholic civilians who were shot dead by the British Army. Hugh Mullan (38) was the first Catholic priest to be killed in the conflict when he was shot dead by the British Army as he was giving the last rites to a wounded man. Winston Donnell (22) became the first Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) solider to die in ‘the Troubles’ when he was shot by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) near Clady, County Tyrone. [There were more arrests in the following days and months. Internment was to continue until 5 December 1975. During that time 1,981 people were detained; 1,874 were Catholic / Republican, while 107 were Protestant / Loyalist. Internment had been proposed by Unionist politicians as the solution to the security situation in Northern Ireland but was to lead to a very high level of violence over the next few years and to increased support for the IRA. Even members of the security forces remarked on the drawbacks of internment.]

{ 24 comments }

1

Tagore Smith 09.19.04 at 12:54 pm

The sad, sad truth is that in any situation where you have enough people incarcerated that it’s not possible for the public to keep an eye on them, individually, they will be abused, to one degree or another.

I suppose a very strong ethic among jailers might reduce that- I’ve never heard of _that_ though. The most revealing quote from Abu Ghraib was this (and I paraphrase a possibly apocryphal quote) “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me just loves to make a grown man piss himself.”

The only exceptional thing about Abu Ghraib was that it happened in Iraq, and that it was bad strategy (not that those are unimportant considerations)- worse happens here, every day, in many, if not most prisons.

I draw some conclusions from this- ones you would not like, so I’ll keep them to myself.

2

sally r. 09.19.04 at 1:27 pm

I’d like to hear them.

3

Kieran Healy 09.19.04 at 2:58 pm

Amazing. A “long time ago”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000073.html I wrote a post that mentioned the North’s experience of internment as a possible comparison case for thinking about the ‘enemy combatant’ status that the Bush Administration invented. I said then

I don’t think there’s any doubt it deeply affected the character of state-society relations in the North. How widespread would a similar policy need to be before we saw comparable effects?

Looking back at the post, I obviously didn’t see the need to make more explicit (beyond the content of the links I provided) that by “comparable effects” I meant “comparably disastrous effects”. Clearly I was wrong.

4

degustibus 09.19.04 at 3:50 pm

Several of the WWII internment (prison) camps are being maintained, no? Not as historical oddities.

5

John Isbell 09.19.04 at 4:19 pm

One thing I remember is the “Free Bobby Sands” and “Bobby Sands is innocent” graffiti all over England. I’m still looking for my first “Free Yasser Hamdi” graffiti.
Mind you, I am quite well-informed about Scott Peterson.

6

Matt 09.19.04 at 4:38 pm

I’m not totally sure what Degustibus refers to- I’m not doubting, merely ignorant here- but the internment camp in Idaho was used for many years to house migrant workers who labored in the apple and cherry orchards of South west Idaho. This was so at least well in to the 80’s. I don’t know what is happening w/ them now.

7

Juan Galis-Menendez 09.19.04 at 8:46 pm

“Preventive sentencing” is social jargon for “locking up people before they’ve done anything,” on the ground that they MIGHT, at some future point, do something illegal. Yet this “might” be true of anyone.

Have no fear: most of us proposing and debating these new measures, know that we probably will never be affected by them. It is only minority group members and dissidents of all sorts who should have cause for concern.

My guess is that Professor Powers is African-American, so that this proposal will be acceptable to readers who might otherwise wonder whether it is a veiled means of legitimating the arbitrary confinement of potentially troublesome people of color, not to mention “radicals” of all kinds.

With the Patriot Act and other similar legislation, we have travelled some distance towards a more fascistic society — that is, in the United States anyway. Privacy is now mostly gone; free speech is chilled by the fear of being labelled “soft on terrorism”; and now, “preventive” detention may well ensure the total absence of criticism and the effective nullification of the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine must be spinning in their graves. If they were around today, they no doubt would be among the first to get detained — preventively, of course.

We must not permit the fear of terrorism — which I share — to diminish our commitment either to security or to protecting the fundamental rights that make us different from the terrorists. Only those who have actually done wrong, committed a crime, should be deprived of their liberty.

8

John Quiggin 09.19.04 at 9:58 pm

“I’m still looking for my first “Free Yasser Hamdi” graffiti”

I think I read that he has just been freed

9

John Isbell 09.20.04 at 1:10 am

He has, after 2 years, without any charges. I expect it was a clerical error.

10

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 5:31 am

What puzzles me about Powers’ piece is that it seems to me that we in the USA already have preventative detention: it’s called conspiracy law. The crime of conspiracy consists simply of “conspiring” with ONE other person to commit a crime.

You don’t have to actualy commit the crime — just plan it. And the degree to which you plan it is very flexible.

The existence of the crime of conspiracy seems like such an obvious riposte to Powers that I wonder what, if anything, I am missing.

11

Marc Mulholland 09.20.04 at 9:53 am

This is odd. Diplock did not introduce “civilian control”: from its introduction in 1971 each individual internment had to be approved by the Northern Ireland Government Minister of Home Affairs (in fact, the Prime Minister really did this job). From Direct Rule in March 1972, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland signed off internment Orders.

Naturally, this led not to praise for the due attention at highests level, but to accusations of political bias. There was considerable basis for this. In May 1974, for example, the number of Protestants detained was approximately 60 out of a total of some 600 detainees; yet at the same time there were some 300 convicted Protestant paramilitants in custody out of a total of roughly 900.

The power to intern was not dropped in 1980. As late as October 1991 ‘The Observer’ reported security force pressure on the Government to re-introduce it.

12

rea 09.20.04 at 12:57 pm

“You don’t have to actualy commit the crime — just plan it.”

Generally speaking, there must be an overt act committed toward completion of the crime as well–it’s more than just a “thought crime.”

13

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 2:55 pm

I agree Rea it is not a thought crime but the level of manifestation of the an overt act can be very low. It would all depend, reasonably so, on the cats around the conspracy. In these days I have no doubt that a prosecutor could convince a jury that maybe just buying an airline ticket was enough of an overt act.

14

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 2:57 pm

I agree Rea it is not a thought crime but the level of manifestation of the an overt act can be very low. It would all depend, reasonably so, on the cats around the conspracy. In these days I have no doubt that a prosecutor could convince a jury that maybe just buying an airline ticket was enough of an overt act.

15

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 3:01 pm

I agree Rea, it is not a thought crime but the level of manifestation of the an overt act can be very low. It would all depend, reasonably so, on the cats around the conspracy. In these days I have no doubt that a prosecutor could convince a jury that maybe just buying an airline ticket was enough of an overt act.

16

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 4:36 pm

I agree Rea, it is not a thought crime but the level of manifestation of an overt act can be very low. It would all depend, reasonably so, on the cats around the conspracy. In these days I have no doubt that a prosecutor could convince a jury that maybe just buying an airline ticket was enough of an overt act.

17

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 4:42 pm

I agree Rea. Conspiracy is not (suppoisd to be) a thought crime but the overt act which can triiger it can be very peaceful. It would all depend, reasonably enough, on the facts around the alleged conspracy. In these days I have no doubt that a prosecutor could convince a jury that maybe just simply an airline ticket was enough of an overt act. All I am suggesting is that if a prosecutor can’t find some manifestion of the intention, then why should we put someone in jail.

18

David Sucher 09.20.04 at 4:45 pm

I agree Rea. Conspiracy is not (suppoisd to be) a thought crime but the overt act which can triiger it can be very preliminary to a violent act. It would all depend, reasonably enough, on the facts around the alleged conspracy. In these days I have no doubt that a prosecutor could convince a jury that maybe just simply an airline ticket was enough of an overt act. All I am suggesting is that if a prosecutor can’t find _some_ manifestion of intention, then why should we put someone in jail.

19

Jonathan Edelstein 09.20.04 at 10:15 pm

England? !! Is this assistant professor of political science’s political geography really that bad?

I wouldn’t exactly recommend Israeli preventive detention procedures as a model of due process either.

20

A reader from the ether 09.21.04 at 10:24 am

Interning the Japanese worked so well for America in WW2, didn’t it, well perhaps because it didn’t Power didn’t cite it as a historical precedent. A more recent example of the US following the Northern Irish precedent – prison abuse and torture which took direct cues from European Human Rights rulings on British torture cases of Northern Irish prisoners – also has not exactly proven to be, in either the precedent or the current model, a smashing success of counter-terrorist strategy.

The lessons are there, plain to see, not quite so hard, one would think, to learn. Yet it appears the only thing being learned from them is to repeat, repeat, repeat. Perhaps it’s a self-fulfiling wish to keep conflict going for generations?

21

A reader from the ether 09.21.04 at 10:38 am

Internment was such a massive failure that contemplation of “selective internment” only gives the shudders rather than serious thought.

Likewise the success of the Diplock courts – which appear to work better in a truly criminal (re: mafioso) setting than any political setting, no matter how Thatcheresque the desire to criminalise it – must be measured against the end result, namely the release of hundreds of prisoners. Manufactured convictions and manufactured releases, all created to a political dictate, and none successful, except, perhaps, the release, ironically enough, in curbing the terrorist threat they were designed to contain.

I am utterly gobsmacked at the article’s straightfaced suggestions, which only suggest that the good professor has learned nothing from history whatsoever.

If he had, he would look at the model of imprisonment being currently employed against RIRA and CIRA prisoners, which has resulted in around 100 some prisoners seeing somewhat lengthy sentences without actually having launched attacks. This policy was the British-Irish answer to the failure of internment. Combined also with their intelligence work, the twin-track has rendered the groups inoperable and unattractive to potential recruits.

Of course that has not been achieved in a vacuum, the peace process and the interaction with the Provisional Movement has also contributed to the success but it is a far better model to study for current application as it was created with the lessons of failure from the previous models (internment, Diplock). Why reinvent the wheel, especially when the price is so staggeringly high?

Given Al Queda’s track record, when compared against the IRA, if they were to conform to their mirror precendent set by internment and Diplock, the devastation they could bring to the US and the world at large is beyond frightening.

Perhaps Powers should be suggesting we just unleash the beast and take pot-shots at it instead.

22

same reader from the ether 09.21.04 at 10:58 am

What I mean to say is that Al Queda is now, while well resourced and powerful, a somewhat isolated fanatical cult or cult-like group. Internment and Diplock courts would bestow upon it political legitimacy beyond its wildest dreams – for it does not even dream of political legitimacy as it is. It would create – as it did with the Provos – a political animal; only, unlike the Provos, one that is willing and able to act without any tactical constraints whatsoever. It will attack any target, anytime, in any manner, with any casualities considered a success, period.

I hope Power’s thesis is not being taken seriously by anyone at the Bush (or Kerry) administration, or if it is being looked at I pray not in the half-arsed manner Power appears to have presented it in. There’s a wealth of information and analysis on the subject that could help forumlate a successful response to terrorism, or at least more successful than that of internment and Diplock courts. I hope it is being utilised and not discarded for political biases.

23

James 09.21.04 at 8:42 pm

What color is this guy’s sky?

We had one attack a couple of years ago in the US but nothing since. Even with F Troop at the controls stateside the body count hasn’t gone up here since 9/11.

What’s the point of it?

24

Tom Powers 09.23.04 at 5:28 am

It seems to me that most of the people commenting on my essay haven’t read it. I certainly went out of my way to acknowledge the obvious reservations any civil libertarian would have for the basic idea. And I certainly acknowledged the (bad) reputation that Lord Diplock had or has. Preventive detention sounds draconian, of course. But I want to hear an opponent of it say: “even if the police are dead certain that an individual is a terrorist, with plans to conduct deadly terrorist operations, I want them to release that individual if evidence does not exist to convict them of a crime (such as conspiracy, as city comforts blog suggests). Release the terrorists, release them, release them!” (I suppose I will pay for this flourish.)

Against the view that preventive detention is simply out of bounds in a liberal democracy, a couple further general points. First, we detain people who might harm others, but who have committed no crime, when we quarantine those with infectious diseases. How is terrorism different — because it’s more deadly and the people involved are morally culpable?

Second, a preventive detention policy would presumably be used very rarely. Since 9/11 I would say only Jose Padilla and Zaccarias Moussaoui would be potential candidates. But the narrowness of the exception is certainly no argument against it.

Finally, this is an idea endorsed by plenty of civil libertarians. Not only do Justices O’Connor and Stevens indicate support for something like it (the latter is better known as a civil libertarian tho O’Connor is no slouch), but it’s also put forward by Laurence Tribe (Harvard), Akhil Reed Amar (Yale), and Jeffrey Rosen (George Washington U. and legal affairs editor of the New Republic).

Tom Powers

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