The news about Glenn Greenwald's partner's nine-hour detention by UK officials at Heathrow Airport continues to reverberate around the world. Back at home in the UK, even entrenched government officials are stating their shock at this abuse of so-called "anti-terrorism" laws.
Keith Vaz, head of the Home Office Select Affairs Committee, expressed his concern over the detention of David Miranda and has promised to seek "clarification."
Keith Vaz called the detention of Miranda "extraordinary" and said he would be writing immediately to police to request information about why Miranda was held under anti-terrorism laws when there appeared to be little evidence that he was involved in terrorism.
[I'm fairly sure the police have phones, especially the top-ranking ones who have desks and offices and everything...]
"It is an extraordinary twist to a very complicated story," Vaz told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday. "Of course it is right that the police and security services should question people if they have concerns or the basis of any concerns about what they are doing in the United Kingdom. What needs to happen pretty rapidly is we need to establish the full facts – now you have a complaint from Mr Greenwald and the Brazilian government. They indeed have said they are concerned at the use of terrorism legislation for something that does not appear to relate to terrorism, so it needs to be clarified, and clarified quickly."
There's not much to clarify. This was nothing more than the somewhat indirect government intimidation of Glenn Greenwald. The officials held Miranda for 8 hours and 55 minutes, just under the maximum permitted 9-hour mark. Then they seized all
of his electronics.
It's another abuse of anti-terrorism laws, which seem to be the kinds of laws that are just there to be abused. Vaz should
try to get to the bottom of this, but writing angry letters simply grants police officials more time to diffuse the outrage and work on their spin. And Vaz should be more careful about appearing tough on anti-terrorism law abuse. His past suggests that he's more than willing to lock up terrorism suspects without charge and has twice sought
extensions to the current 28-day
detention limit in the UK.
Vaz appears to view the law as impeccable and the Heathrow incident as an anomaly. But this is just one incident that has triggered worldwide reaction. There are probably more where that came from, but until it happens to someone notable, the abuse goes unnoticed.
Vaz also stated he was unfamiliar with the electronics seizure policy, which seems either sad or unlikely (depending on your point of view) considering his involvement with the Home Office, which oversees counter-terrorism activities and policies. This policy is hardly a secret, having been covered here
and elsewhere less than a month ago.
In addition to allowing for the seizure of terrorist-related electronics, the policy also allows officials to download data and retain it indefinitely. And like every bad anti-terrorism law or policy here in the US, it's all supposedly subjected to rigorous oversight by officials like the Chairman of Home Affairs Select Committee, who has apparently never heard of it.
Vaz had more to say on the subject, but by the time he's done, it almost sounds as if he's talked himself into agreeing with police officials, despite not hearing their rationale for Miranda's detention.
"What is extraordinary is they knew he was the partner [of Greenwald] and therefore it is clear not only people who are directly involved are being sought but also the partners of those involved," he said. "Bearing in mind it is a new use of terrorism legislation to detain someone in these circumstances [...] I'm certainly interested in knowing, so I will write to the police to ask for the justification of the use of terrorism legislation – they may have a perfectly reasonable explanation. But if we are going to use the act in this way ... then at least we need to know so everyone is prepared."
So... if officials are going to abuse a law, they should at least be upfront about it? Vaz started out strong, but by the end, he's basically ceded the argument to the police. It almost has the appearance of internal dialog that was mistakenly made public. Vaz is first outraged but then thinks it through, finally arriving at the conclusion that the UK would be best served by a bold new era of transparent abuse. I guess if you can't beat 'em, tell them you're going to start beating them. And then commence with the beatings.