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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Remembering those important dates

Tomorrow marks a date we'll all be expected to remember. The papers will be full of it, it'll be mentioned on every news and current affairs show, the blogosphere will no doubt add its contribution (and in a way this post is a part of that) and the never-mind-liberty-give-me-security-or-at-least-the-illusion-of-it paranoia brigade will spend the whole day shitting themselves in case the alky-aida bogeyman blows something up. And on that point, look, if the alky-aida bogeyman can blow something up tomorrow I don't doubt that he will, but I doubt he'll be hung up on anniversaries and special dates like most of the west seems to be. He'll be just as happy to blow something up a fortnight next Tuesday or this time next month. Or a fortnight last Tuesday or this time last month. Whatever suits him, really.

But it suits our media and the governments which pushes their buttons, and the corporatists which in turn push their buttons, to get hung up on this specific date: September 11th 2011, the ten year anniversary of the attack which damaged the Pentagon and destroyed, among other buildings, the two main towers of the World Trade Center. I'm not saying we should forget it and pretend it didn't happen, but I am saying we haven't had a chance to forget it when, a decade on, the date 9/11 has been trotted out to justify every loss of liberty and every state intrusion into the lives of private citizens, not to mention the fact that Ground Zero is still a building site. And why? I know the site had to be cleared and that there were human remains there, but still... ten years? Construction of the originals began in August 1966, with the first tower opening just over five years later in December 1971 and the second tower being completed about 18 months after that. Following their destruction it took longer than that to decide what to replace them with. Perhaps they were just asking the wrong people.

"We're chucking away what we should cherish most, motherfuckers" doesn't really work as well.

Anyway, I don't want to forget or avoid mention that ten years ago tomorrow close to three thousand people lost their lives in one of the most despicable acts in human history. Learn, accept, move on, but never ever forget. But the tenth anniversary will be marked by many other people who get paid by their networks and publications to write about it. Apart from HuffPo, obviously. Well, I'm on my own time and dime here, and I thought that instead, or rather in addition, I'd consider some other dates that I feel are worth remembering as well.

  • October 7th 2001, less than a month after the attacks, US led forces invade Afghanistan. First prisoners captured will begin to arrive at Guantanamo Bay before the end of the year.
  • October 26th 2001, just 45 days after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, President George W. Bush signs the USA PATRIOT Act into law.*
  • Novermber 19th 2001, 69 days after 9/11, Bush signs into law the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which among other things created the Transportation Security Administration the following year. 
  • December 14th 2001, 94 days after the towers were destroyed, the UK's Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, granting the government powers to intern non-British citizens without trial, receives Royal Assent.
  • December 18th, 98 days later after the attacks, the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act receives Royal Assent.
  • December 22nd 2001, the actions of a complete cocksocket called Richard Reid make authorities suspicious of the shoes of all air passengers. Millions of shoes have doubtless been checked since. Number of other shoe bombs reported in the media, as near as I can recall: zero.
  • January 5th 2002, British police forces begin a series of raids and make a number of arrests in relation to the so-called Wood Green ricin plot. Despite being cited as a need for tougher laws no actual ricin is ever discovered, but this information is not revealed to the British public until trial two years later.
  • October 12th 2002, the Bali bombings kill 202 people, including 88 Australians.
  • November 25th 2002, President Bush signs the Homeland Security Act.
  • 11th February 2003, troops in Scimitars deploy at London's Heathrow airport due to fears of a missile attack on a civil aircraft. No such attack occurs, and no explanation of what light tanks designed for armoured reconnaissance would have done if there had been an attack is given.
  • February 7th 2003, in the US the Center for Public Integrity obtains a copy of draft legislation for a Domestic Security Enhancement Bill, nicknamed Patriot Act II. Opponents claim that some provisions violate the US Constitution. The Bill never becomes law and is not even introduced to Congress.
  • March 25th 2003, the TSA moves from the US Department of Transportation to the newly created Department of Homeland Security.
  • November 20th 2003, in the UK the Criminal Justice Act, which among other things doubled detention of terrorist suspects without charge to 14 days, receives Royal Assent.
  • December 2003, British parliament approves additions to the list of state agencies allowed to access data under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000.
  • March 11th 2004, bombs on trains in Madrid kill 191 and injure around 2,000.
  • March 31st, June 17th and June 24th 2004, new Anti-terrorism Bills pass in Australia.
  • December 18th 2004, the Civil Contingencies Act allowing the government to suspend almost any law it wants by ministerial fiat receives Royal Assent in the UK.
  • March 11th 2005, introducing 'control orders', the UK's Prevention of Terrorism Act receives Royal Assent.
  • April 2005, British parliament approves further additions to the list of state agencies allowed to access data under RIPA.
  • April 7th 2005, in the UK the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act receives Royal Assent, restricting the right of protest in an area near the Houses of Parliament - the precise area is defined by Statutory Instrument and can thus be altered by ministerial fiat. 
  • July 7th 2005, the London Tube bombings kill 52 people and injure hundreds. A fortnight later a similar, though failed, attack follows.
  • December 6th 2005, Australia's Anti-terrorism Act passes.
  • March 30th 2006, drafted in response to the bombings the previous year the UK, the Terrorism Act receives Royal Assent, creating some new terrorist offences and reclassifying some existing offences as terrorism, and also extending the period of detention without charge (to 28 days after the government's desire for 90 days was rejected).
  • July 2006, British parliament approves yet more additions to the list of state agencies allowed to access data under RIPA.
  • November 8th 2006, British government successfully grants itself powers to amend legislation by Statutory Instrument with the granting of Royal Assent to The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act. Occasionally called an enabling act in all but name, as originally drafted it granted the government such wide powers that it was sometimes sarcastically referred to as The Abolition of Parliament Bill.
  • May 15th 2007, Schiphol in Holland is the first airport to begin using body scanners.
  • June 30th 2007, two men attack Glasgow airport, attempting to crash a car full of propane gas cylinders into the terminal building. Bollards stop the vehicle, which catches fire without causing much harm except to one of the occupants, who later dies of his burns. The only other injury is sustained by taxi driver Alex McIlveen, who hurts his foot kicking one of the attackers in the balls. McIlveen is rewarded by having his trainers and clothing confiscated by police and by finding a £30 parking ticket on his car when gets back to the airport.**
  • July 1st 2007, Dr Mohammed Asha is arrested on the M6 in Chershire on suspicion of involvement in the Glasgow airport incident after lending money to one of the attackers. He will eventually be acquitted of all charges, but will then remain locked up while the government attempts to deport him instead.
  • July 2nd 2007, Dr Muhamed Haneef is arrested at Brisbane airport, also on suspicion of involvement in the Glasgow airport attack. Like Dr Asha he will also eventually be released.
  • July 27th 2007, the Director of Public Prosecutions withdraws charges against Dr Haneef. He leaves Australia voluntarily, and despite not actually having ties to the Glasgow airport attackers his visa is cancelled shortly afterwards.
  • February 2008, London's Metropolitan Police launch a campaign targeting people taking photographs. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is used against numerous innocent photographers. Number of photographers subsequently reported in the media as being charged with a terror offence, as near as I can recall: zero.
  • July 1st 2008, The Washington Times reports that a senior Homeland Security official has expressed interest in the idea of all air passengers wearing a bracelet with a taser-like function (video). ***
  • July 11th 2008, an American pilot writes for that he has had a small, well used and pretty blunt butter knife confiscated from him by airport security despite pointing out that it's the same kind that they'll give to first and business class on the plane and that he has no need to use a knife to storm the cockpit since he's paid to sit in it.
  • August 30th 2008, the Australian Federal Police finally announce that Dr Haneef had no involvement with the Glasgow airport attack. The hospital where he worked has kept his job open for him but he chooses to practice medicine in Dubai instead. In December 2010 he will be awarded an undisclosed sum in compensation.
  • November 26th 2008, the UK's Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 receives Royal Assent. Among other things the Act removes the prohibition on post-charge questioning, allows DNA and fingerprints to be taken from people subject to control orders (which are civil rather than criminal), and Section 76 appears to prohibit anyone from photographing a police officer.
  • December 16th 2008, Dr Asha cleared of any involvement in the Glasgow airport attack. The judge criticises police for interviewing him without a solicitor present on no less than two occasions. Prosecutors also were forced to admit that officers had falsely told Dr Asha that more evidence against him had been found. Having been cleared Dr Asha is returned to prison pending deportation instead. He will contest the deportation order.
  • August 8th 2009, the day after Dr Asha finally wins his fight with the UK Immigration Service to stay in Britain, the "I'm A Photographer, Not A Terrorist" campaign is launched in response to persistent use of Section 44 against them by British police forces .
  • Christmas Day 2009, another fucknuts attempts to ruin air travel for the overwhelmingly innocent majority of passengers by trying to blow up his underpants. Happily he only causes a small fire, sustaining second degree burns to his hands and genitals in the process. That he roasted his own wedding veg is of scant consolation to the rest of the travelling public who will soon be on the receiving end of pat downs and body scanners, partly as a result of this arsehole.
  • January 14th 2010, a clip of a German TV (video) show is uploaded to YouTube in which an airport body scanner is demonstrated to fail to detect bomb parts.
  • February 2010, British parliament again approves additions to the list of state agencies allowed to access data under RIPA.
  • November 2010, in the US the TSA begin a policy of "enhanced screening procedures" of all aircrew and passengers, which will result in news stories of children being patted down, elderly people with catheters ending up covered in urine, breast cancer victims having to remove prosthetic breasts, and breast feeding mothers having to drink milk they've expressed earlier for their babies. Strip protests will take place at several airports around the world and the phrase "Don't touch my junk" will end up on tee shirts.
  • January 7th 2011, undercover French journalists are reported to have smuggled a dismantled 9mm pistol through security at two French airports and were able to assemble the gun in the toilets on the plane. 
  • February 21st 2011, in the US a female undercover TSA agent is reported to have carried a handgun through Dallas/Fort Worth airport body scanners in multiple tests by hiding it in her knickers.
  • May 7th 2011, TSA agents at Kansas City airport pat down an 8 month old baby.
  • June 13th 2011, it is reported that 30 staff at Honolulu International Airport are fired for not having screened luggage properly. 

A litany of balls ups, war, pointless security theatre and erosion of freedom, and since I just kept to incidents well known in western nations and legislation I've heard of and can easily find links for, that list is far, far from exhaustive. I could have gone on, of course, but I've long since lost the will to fly and have no desire to lose the will to fucking live.

And with so many notable dates perhaps it is easier just to remember September 11th 2001 after all. Not just as the day the world ended for nearly 3000 people or the day it changed forever for their loved ones, though that's certainly the first thing we should remember about it, but also as the day liberty began slipping away for all the rest of us, slowly taken a piece at a time here and there but always being taken and so rarely being returned. And worst, this theft is not at the hands of those who attacked the west supposedly out of hatred for its freedom and free citizens, but at the hands of those who claim to be protecting us and our freedoms from those who hate that freedom. It's also worth noting that the legislation rushed onto the books in the immediate weeks and months after 9/11 failed to prevent Richard Reid from getting on that plane with explosives in his shoe or the Wood Green plot or the Madrid bombings or Bali etc etc. But there doesn't seem to be much of a rush to repeal much of it.

So this Sunday if anyone asks you where you were when the towers fell, remember all of it - both the people who died then and the liberties lost since. And in return ask the other person where they were when the day the free world responded to an assault on our freedom by locking it away for safekeeping.

* Or to give it its full and less snappy name, "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. There really ought to be a law against starting with the acronym when thinking of names for things.
** Sadly, I am not making this up. I don't know if the ticket was cancelled and he got his clothes back, but I'd hope so.
*** This seems to have gone away quietly before much of a fuss was made and it became more widely known, but the outrage I felt when I read about it was such that I'd have sworn off travelling to that country in which a government official has seriously considered it except that flying to the US had already got so bad that I'd foresworn it long before anyway. But it deserves wider attention and I've been meaning to work it into a blog post ever since. I'd very much hope that if taser bracelets ever come into use the vast majority travelling public introduce both the airlines and authorities to their extended digius medius and simply refuse to fly. I just wish I could be confident that they really would.
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