TERROR IN THE UNITED STATES – 14 September 2001
Dr Julian Lewis: On Wednesday afternoon, my constituency chairman, Maureen Holding, learned that two of her cousins had almost certainly been killed in New York. They were a brother and sister. Christine Egan was 55 and had devoted her professional life to helping and caring for deprived communities in the United States and Canada. She was visiting her brother Michael Egan, who was 51.
Michael Egan phoned his wife after the impact of the plane in the tower of the World Trade Center where he was working. He was a highly respected vice-president of an insurance company based there. He said that he hoped to be home soon. He had taken out two parties of his employees. He was just about to go back and fetch the last batch of employees, after which he hoped to return home. She never heard from him again: the building imploded shortly afterwards.
It is perhaps self-defeating and certainly pointless to talk publicly about what retaliation measures should be considered before they have been decided upon, let alone carried out. However, there has been too much concentration, especially in America, on purely technical methods of punishing aggressive groups, societies or even countries. It is not possible to wage counteraction or even counter-warfare without putting one's own armed forces and human lives at risk. That is why which measures to take will have to be the subject of careful consideration.
Matters which can be discussed publicly in advance are the measures that may be necessary to protect free and open societies against the sort of onslaught that we have seen in America and that may well be visited on the rest of us quite soon. It might not have occurred to anyone else, but I experienced a twinge of unease listening to the radio this morning, when it was stated how St. Paul's Cathedral would be open to all for the memorial service at 11 o'clock; anyone could come along and join in and only a certain section would be reserved for dignitaries. I wondered what would happen if a terrorist suicide bomber chose to avail himself of such an opportunity. Such thoughts would have been dismissed as paranoiac a week ago, but they cannot be dismissed as such now.
During the last great conflict in which this country was involved, various severe restrictions had to be imposed on what are known today as civil rights or human rights. I believe that serious attention will now have to be given to several measures, one of which must be the introduction, by compulsion, of national identity cards. Consideration must be given to establishing a comprehensive DNA database – not merely something to be employed when people stray into areas of illegality, but a resource that will enable the tracking of suspected terrorists from site to site, from den to den, and from safe house to the point at which they are ready to act. The Government must recognise that if an onslaught of the sort seen in America begins in this country, they might need emergency powers analogous to the internment powers used in previous conflicts.
When discussing the hijacking of aircraft, we should remember that the aircraft of one country – Israel – are never hijacked. That is in part because of greater security, but primarily because when hijacking was first attempted on Israel's aircraft the armed guards on the aircraft eliminated the hijackers on the spot. Israel's airliners are now probably the safest in which to travel. We have to have the powers to which I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary refer in his excellent speech today – powers to ensure that if action has to be taken against someone who is in the process of hijacking an airliner, the Government will not be sued for infringing the human rights of the would-be murderer shot to prevent him from committing his crime.
If all that sounds draconian, it is precisely because those are the measures that open societies have to take when they are under attack.
Bob Spink: My hon. Friend is aware that every day several thousand of my constituents travel to work in Canary Wharf and the City. Does he accept that Scotland Yard and the various security forces now have the task of ensuring that such people's environment is safe?
Dr Lewis: They do indeed have a job to do to ensure that, but they cannot do it if their hands are tied behind their backs by legal inhibitions that would render effective counteraction impossible.
When talking about an open society, I have regard to that great work of the late Sir Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, in which he refers to something entitled "the paradox of tolerance". It states that in a free society we must tolerate all but the intolerant, because if we tolerate the intolerant the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them.
An act of war has been perpetrated. We must consider carefully whether the measures in response should be judged by peacetime standards or the standards that pertain when a country is fighting to preserve its life. I was fascinated to hear the Taliban in Afghanistan say categorically that bin Laden could not have been responsible. If that is not a tacit admission that it knows of the things for which he is responsible, I do not know what is.
Has anyone else noted that 48 hours before the attack in America, General Masoud, the leading freedom fighter in Afghanistan – first against the Soviets, then against the Taliban – was the victim of a suicide bomb attempt that was meticulously and skilfully planned? I do not believe that that was a coincidence. I am sure that there is a connection between that event and what followed two days later in New York.
I conclude by saying that if action is taken, it must be taken wholeheartedly and to the bitter end. We do not want another Gulf War that leaves the people responsible in power to continue to provide funds, to function and to commit evil through the medium of others.