After years of blowing programs designed to allow the various US security agencies keep suspected terrorists under surveillance the New York Times today praises the British government for using just such an approach.
The disclosure that British officials conducted months of surveillance before arresting 24 terrorism suspects this week highlighted what many terrorism specialists said was a central difference between American and British law enforcement agencies.
The British, they say, are more willing to wait and watch.
Maybe because they don't have a press corps that both considers itself above the law and duty bound to disrupt every effective program the government has, or as in the case of Judith Miller call the suspect tell him the FBI is coming to arrest him and ask for a comment.
The Times is almost glowing in it's comparison of the civil liberty constraints the British must operate under vs. the American system:
The differences in counterterrorism strategy reflect an important distinction between the legal systems of the United States and Britain and their definitions of civil liberties, with MI5 and British police agencies given far greater authority in general than their American counterparts to conduct domestic surveillance and detain terrorism suspects.
Britain's newly revised terrorism laws permit the detention of suspects for 28 days without charge. Prime Minister Tony Blair's government had been pressing for 90 days, but Parliament blocked the proposal. In the United States, suspects must be brought before a judge as soon as possible, which courts have interpreted to mean within 48 hours. Law enforcement officials have detained some terrorism suspects designated material witnesses for far longer. (The United States has also taken into custody overseas several hundred people suspected of terrorist activity and detained them at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as enemy combatants.)
Note: did you catch the dig at Guantanamo?
At the same time, Britain has far stricter contempt-of-court laws intended to prevent the prejudicing of trials. Anything that is said or reported about the suspects rounded up this week could, the police contend, prejudice their trial and prevent their prosecution.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a former terrorism prosecutor at the Justice Department, said he believed that British authorities were willing to allow terrorist plots to progress further because, if an attack appeared imminent, they could immediately round up the suspects, even without formal criminal charges.
"They have this fail-safe," he said. "They can arrest people without charging them with a crime, which would make a big difference in how long youÂd be willing to let things run." He said F.B.I. agents, who are required to bring criminal charges if they wanted to arrest a suspect, had a justifiable fear that they might be unable to short-circuit an attack at the last minute.
However the times has come out against even the expansion of police power authorized under the PATRIOT ACT, attempting to deny powers already in wide use in organized crime prosecutions to agents pursuing terrorists.
Boy am I gald we have such beacons of truth looking out for us. [/sarcasm]