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British government seeks 'control orders' for terror suspects

Would toughen detentions on intelligence basis

LONDON -- The British government asked Parliament yesterday for new powers to detain suspected terrorists on the basis of secret intelligence, stirring uneasiness among lawmakers who pointedly recalled the incorrect intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the powers were urgently needed, and warned it would be ''shortsighted, complacent, ignorant of the facts, and potentially cavalier of the safety of this country" not to act.

The government's proposal is likely to face a tough fight in Parliament. It would empower Clarke, the country's top law enforcement official, to issue ''control orders" restricting the activities of terrorist suspects.

At their most severe, the orders would authorize house arrest or detention in a place designated by the government, although Clarke said that was not immediately necessary. If officials seek to use that power, they will have to opt out of part of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lower-level orders could require suspects to wear electronic tags, impose curfews or bar them from using the Internet or communicating with certain people.

The bill was crafted in response to a December ruling in which Britain's highest court sharply criticized a law that allowed some foreign terrorism suspects to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Officials have been scrambling since then to come up with new legislation they believe can address the terrorist threat while answering the court's civil liberties concerns.

The court ruling was prompted by the continued detention of 10 terrorism suspects from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan, who have been held for three years without trial in prison under the laws that expire next month.

If the bill passes, the 10 suspects, now held indefinitely at Belmarsh high-security prison, would be released, Clarke said.

Clarke called the plan an improvement on the current law, which was hurried through after the Sept. 11 attacks and expires on March 14.

Under the current law, detention without charge is the only measure available to the government if it cannot bring a court case against terrorism suspects, he told reporters. The new bill would give officials more tools, he argued.

David Davis, speaking for the opposition Conservative Party, said there was no emergency that justified rushing the new legislation through Parliament.

Davis said Clarke had ''settled on the wrong answer," and would sacrifice principles of justice without enhancing security.

Clarke sought to reassure critics, saying suspected terrorists would be allowed to appeal to a senior judge, who could overturn the government's so-called ''control order" within seven days.

''Whatever the form of control order there should be a system of judicial review and appeal of whatever decision the home secretary takes," Clarke told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

''If there were a question of deprivation of liberty . . . it should automatically go to a high court judge who would have the ability to go right through all the considerations that the home secretary had come to, and to overturn the judgment within seven days," he added.

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