Why we need to stop the Terrorism Suppression Bill

The Terrorism Suppression Bill is now before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. It is a Bill designed to make the NZ state conform to the US policy against Terrorism rammed through the UN Security Council in the days following the September 11 atrocities. While we condemn these acts of terrorism as anti-worker, we see the ‘war against terrorism’ that the US then declared to be infinitely worse. The US ruling class has given itself a blank cheque to go to war against any state, group or individual its own intelligence services (CIA) designate as terrorists.

The US interpreted Article 51 of the UN Charter which allows states to defend themselves if attacked justify its ‘war against terrorism’. It then ignored the requirement to bring this war under the authority of the Security Council. Effectively it rendered the Security Council a rubber stamp for US policy. In the process it has bullied its rival big powers Britain, the EU and Japan, and its traditional allies including Britain, Australia and NZ to accept this justification and to join in this war. It has bribed and corrupted weak powers formally hostile to it, Russia, China, India and Pakistan to back the war. No state, apart from Cuba and Iraq has condemned the ‘war on terrorism’ as an act of state terrorism itself. Even Libya went along with it because it could be directed at Ghaddafi’s internal rivals.

At one stroke the US made public its contempt for any multilateral action in which the UN would represent the ‘international community’. It showed that the US had bought the UN lock stock and barrel and with it the loyalty of vast majority of states. The US has also it has also gone to war against terrorism at home. Immediately after September 11 the US the Security Council passed two resolutions UN 1368 and UN 1371 requiring its member states under Article 4 to 'criminalise the financing of terrorism' i.e. freeze the financial assets of persons thought to be 'terrorists', to stop the financing, joining or supporting of terrorist groups. It required its member states to ‘report’ on measures taken within 90 days?

In a rapid response the NZ Labour/Alliance Coalition introduced legislation to amend the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill before the house. These amendments were secret until Green Party MP Keith Locke exposed their existence.

Goff’s secret amendments

The amendments to the renamed Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill are now available to the public only after an outcry over plans to keep these amendments secret from public scrutiny! Goff intended to show these amendments to 9 groups including Civil liberties, CTU, Bankers’ Association, only as a check to see if they had any problems with the legislation? They could look the amendments over and submit suggestions but not disclose their content without breaching parliamentary privilege! He wanted the lawyers to OK the suspension of lawyer-client privilege. He wanted the Bankers and Accountants to agree to act as the state’s agents in seizing the financial assets of suspected terrorists. He wanted the Civil Liberties groups to give their blessing to some limitations on civil rights justified by the ‘seriousness’ of the September 11 attacks.

What he got instead from the CTU and Council for Civil liberties was a refusal to participate in this Star Chamber exercise. He also got a blast from Green MPs and Alliance Ministers in Cabinet. Goff agreed to back down and make the amendments public for written submissions until the end of November and for oral submissions until February.

In the Explanatory Note to the Bill, Phil Goff as the Minister in charge tried to excuse the secrecy on the grounds that all the UN required was Regulations that would have been made in secret anyway under the powers of Chapter V11 of the UN Charter to which NZ is bound! Goff now claims that because of the "seriousness" of the 'war against terrorism' and having a convenient Bill to attach them to, the Government would legislate instead.

According to this reasoning we should be thankful for the 'war on terrorism'. Its "seriousness" means that you no longer have your rights secretly regulated away but legislated away. At least you can now register your opposition in public before parliament. Meanwhile Goff has passed the Regulations anyway until they are replaced by the new law.

This is a very bad Bill that gives new powers to the state to interfere in our lives. The pretext is to stop terrorism, but the effect will be to stop legitimate political protest. We have little more than 3 months to stop this Bill becoming law. That could be interesting because preventing a Government from acting in the national interest is one of the criteria of terrorism in the Bill!

US shows how to terrorise

Already the US has shown what the new anti-terrorist legislation looks like. What is called 'homeland security' amounts to a massive attack on the rights of individual citizens. 1000s have been locked up indefinitely after S11. One Congressman John Conyers has said: "Today we stand on the verge of a civil liberties calamity in this country. The Administration and the Attorney General have taken a series of constitutionally dubious actions that place the Executive Branch in the untenable role of legislator, prosecutor, judge and jury."
In other words George Bush and Co is Sheriff, posse, judge and hangman.

Congress passed the anti-Terrorism Bill, dubbed the 'USA Patriot Act' on Oct 26 giving the Attorney General the power to detain and deport any suspects accused of terrorism. Since then new regulations allow the authorities to intercept communications between lawyers and clients, including in jail. After S11 many political prisoners such as Philip Berrigan, serving a term for hammering a warplane, were put in isolation and held incommunicado; in the words of one Prison Guard "you are terrorists and you hate the government". On Nov 9 the US Administration started a policy of ‘racial profiling’ i.e. racist discrimination in the issuing of visas to young men of 'middle eastern' origin. On November 13 a policy to try foreigners suspected of terrorism before military tribunals was announced. Military tribunals do not have to prove ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’. Note that this guilt on the part of aliens and anybody who is designated 'terrorist'.

Worst features in the NZ Bill

The amendments to the Terrorism (Bombings and Financing) Bill are to put the above UN resolutions into effect. They mean that individuals can be 'designated' terrorist on the basis of secret information and may never get to face their accusers. The burden of proof is reversed. The presumption of innocence is replaced by the presumption of guilt. Worse, guilt is established at the level of the military tribunal i.e. ‘probably cause’ rather than guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Worse still, individuals designated terrorists cannot even defend themselves against the evidence because that is likely to remain secret! So the principle that ‘homeland terrorism’ can be dealt with by military tribunals in the US is now to be exported to all the state that sign up to the Security Councils’ resolutions on terrorism!

The presumption of guilt follows clearly from the section of the Bill that states that people can be designated 'terrorists' on the basis of 'good cause'. "The Prime Minister must treat the information as sufficient evidence…unless the contrary is proved" [17K (2)]. This is Catch 22 because you cannot defend yourself against secret charges. How can you prove your innocence when the evidence against you is ‘classified’? However, there is a small problem. It’s no use having these powers unless you have a definition of terrorism that fits the Bill, i.e. includes anti-state subversion of all sorts but excludes the CIA, Mossad, SIS, MI5 type state terrorism. It must not designate the CIA as the no 1 terrorist organisation in the world with a record surpassing 1000 bin Ladens that stretches from the deposing of the Shah of Iran in 1956 (check) to today.

So the definition must exclude ‘state terrorism’ such as wars, economic sanctions, and the genocide that was caused by these e.g. in Iraq and Afghanistan. For such actions are legimitated by the UN or big power politics in defence of the interests of the ruling classes. This lets the national intelligence agencies off the hook because they are held to be protecting the national interests of their respective states. Yet according to the Explanatory Note to the Amendments, UN resolution 1373 "does not define... terrorism". Oops. This might leave the door open to the inclusion of ‘state terrorism’ . So it will be necessary to add a 'new definition' of 'terrorist act' to fit the Bill. This definition is modeled on the UK Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terrorism Bill currently before the Canadian Parliament. In both cases new legislation is also being rushed through as required by the UN resolutions. What is really clear is that the new wider definition of terrorism that is contained in this new legislation is designed to turn a wide range of political dissent into ‘terrorist acts’ to allow the state to suppress political opposition.

Terrorist act defined Subsection 2

There are three broad criteria of terrorist act defined in Section 5. . First, in Subsection 2 a terrorist act is any intention, for ideological, political or religious reasons, to intimidate a population or force a lawful government to act, or not act, and which causes any or more of death, injury, serious public health and safety risk, destruction, serious damage or disruption to property, the economy or environment, and interference or disruption to infrastructure. (disruption of infrastructure facility).

The other two definitions are first, the various terrorism conventions that are listed in Schedule 3 of the Bill and are 7 Conventions dating from 1970 to 1988 that cover specifically Aircraft, diplomats, hostages, Airports, Ships and oil plafforms., and second, terrorist acts in armed conflict situations where armed force is used to ‘intimidate populations’ and ‘compel governments’ or cause death or injury to civilians. These latter definitions are fairly standard and have been around for some time. What is objectionable is the Section 2 definition rushed in after September 11.

This is an extremely broad definition of terrorist act. It could include Rogernomics where a population was intimidated and where a lawful government was compelled by international finance capital to act in ways that caused death, injury serious destruction of the economy and disruption of the infrastructure. Or it could include the UN sanctions against Iraq or the bombing of Afghanistan that caused all of the above and were designed for political reasons to intimidate and compel lawful governments.

It all depends on who is doing the intimidating and who defines what is lawful. We can be sure that it is the opponents of Rogernomics and the Sanctions and bombings of Iraq and Afghanistan that would be the target of this definition. Opponents of privatised water could be accused of terrorism for reconnecting water supplies and preventing a lawful government from acting to cut off those water supplies.

CIA defines legitimate dissent

In an attempt to head off opposition to the new Subsection 2 definition of ‘terrorist act’ Goff introduced Subsection 4 that exempts lawful and/or peaceful dissent. Exempted are: "(a) any protest, advocacy, or dissent that is lawful, or that is unlawful but peaceful: (b)any strike or lockout:(c)any other act that is authorised or required by law: (d)any act that occurs in a situation or armed conflict and is, at the time an in the place that it occurs, in accordance with the rules of international law applicable to the conflict.

Note how the 'let-out' clause for protest, dissent etc allows it to be unlawful but peaceful. But we know who will define what 'peaceful' is. The police can decide that any protest that results in (does not have to intend) serious damage, death, injury etc as under Subsection 2 cannot be ‘peaceful’. Some of the anti-Sprinkbok Tour protests of 1981 could be defined as ‘terrorist acts’ because the disruption to economy and threat to public health and safety would be defined as a ‘breach of the peace’. Any 'intention' to take an action that could be construed by the police as a breach of the peace becomes potentially 'terrorist'.

Strike and Lockouts are exempted. But only those defined in the Employment Relations Bill. Wildcat strikes, political strikes etc would be unlawful but not ‘terrorist’ unless they were considered ‘breaches of the peace’. Any serious picket line during a legal strike could also become ‘unlawful’ and if resulting in threatened serious economic disruption or damage, deemed ‘terrorist acts’.

Note also that if the cops or military engage in some 'armed conflict' to prevent protests they are covered by (4) (e) and (d). So the use of 'justifiable force' such as that used on Steven Wallace could become standard for ‘suspected terrorists’. Again if you think that this is fanciful look at what is already happening in the 'war against terrorism'. On the basis of the CIA designation of Osama bin Laden as ‘terrorist’ Afghan kids become 'collateral damage'. Helen Clark is on record as saying that civilian casualties are 'inevitable' in this war. How many civilian casualties are OK in the 'war against terrorism' at home?

Intending, planning, preparing and carrying out terrorist acts
Section 17F says (1) For the purposes of this Act, a terrorist act is carried out if 1 or more of the following occurs: (a) any planning or other preparations to carry out the act, whether it is carried out or not: (b) a threat to carry out the act, whether it is actually carried out or not: (c) any attempt to carry out the act: (d) the carrying out of the act.

These provisions are to be used to massively increase the level of surveillance over ordinary citizens. How is it possible to spy on those planning or preparing for an ‘act’ of terrorism, unless surveillance techniques are used. When the Prime Minister gets into you 'mind' courtesy of the CIA or Echelon (which intercepts emails) of as beefed up SIS and NZ Police who will be able to intercept phone calls on a normal basis, she can then 'designate' persons or groups as terrorists on the basis of this secret or classified security information. In the US millions have been spent to upgrade telephone tapping and other snooping. In NZ we can expect a boost to spending on the SIS. This means more 'spying' to gain advance information about terrorists 'plans' and an integration of spying among all of the 'allies' in the war against terrorism.

Secret informants can accuse you

17L Classified security information defined: "In this Act, classified security information means information -

(a)about the threat to security, public order, or public interest posed by terrorist acts that an identifiable entity will or may carry out, or participate in the carrying out of, or facilitate the carrying out of; and (b)held by a specified agency (as defined in section 4: ie (a) an intelligence and security agency as defined in section (2)1 of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996; or (b) the New Zealand Police) and (c) that, in the opinion of the head of the specified agency, cannot be divulged in the entity in question or to other persons, because - (i)the information is information of a kind specified in subsection (2): and (ii) disclosure of the information would be disclosure of a kind specified in subsection (3)

In other words, you can be accused of being a terrorist on the basis of secret information provided by any secret service approved by the UN or by the NZ police on the basis of secret informants, and you can never find out what this information says about you.

There follows a long list of reasons why such information must remain secret such as to protect its source (we might discover that Mossad runs the CIA which runs Helen Clark), operational methods of the agency (so as not to reveal another botched invasion like Iran or Somalia), not to blow cover of future operations (more botched invasions -where? Indonesia?).

The US has its sights set on 50 countries said to harbour terrorists); is secret in another country (eg USA) and they say no! (they would wouldn't they); not to prejudice the security or defence of NZ (this is unlikely to include the Save our Squadrons) or be a breach of trust between NZ and some other country (you did say 500,000 tonnes of lamb); interfere with the ‘fair operation’ of the law (like ‘fair’ trade) and endanger the safety of any person (i.e. a spook or informant).

What if you are 'designated'?

Individuals accused of being terrorists can ask for a 'review' of this designation only with the Prime Minister or Inspector General of Security and Intelligence (a High Court Judge). Normal reviews through the courts involving 'classified' information are not allowed. The Government is even 'sounding out' the legal profession to see if client-lawyer privilege can be waived in this Bill given the 'seriousness' of terrorism. The decision of the Inspector-General can be appealed on matters of law only to the Court of Appeal. That is, was the Judge drunk in charge at the time of the Review. Not was the CIA informant a liar! Talk about Secrets and Lies.

This Bill makes it obvious that NZ is part of the 'Western' war on terrorism that brings that war home to its own shores with new powers and a wider definition of terrorism. Despite the 'let out' for 'legitimate protest' that is 'peaceful', the definition of what is 'peaceful' should it involve 'classified' information about somebody's 'intentions or plans' (eg to blow up a Nuclear plant in Australia which figured in a recent case in Auckland where two Afghans were falsely charged with being terrorists) cannot be decided in open court but goes to the secret tribunal of the Inspector-General of spooks, spies and sundry pie eaters (that's a reference to the famous case of a spy leaving his briefcase at a bus stop containing (the briefcase that is) a 'girly mag' and a 'meat pie'.

How to fight this Bill

Cynicism and a desperate Boondocks black humour is healthy in these times, but we need a hell of a lot more than that to stop this Bill. There needs to be a war on the war on terrorism at home. If workers lose these rights and freedoms it becomes easier for us to be turned into passive victims of the 'new world disorder' and stomped on by the ruling class and its state forces. It is important therefore to know what we are fighting for.

Communists defend bourgeois democracy not for its own sake but only insofar as it allows the working class to organise politically for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalist society. Against the widespread illusion that capitalism can coexist with democracy we have to prove that this is false. That the bosses will only defend democracy while it is their interests. We say that the Terrorism Bill is evidence that the bosses are quite prepared to suspend democracy in order to fight terrorism not because of any aberration or flaw in the system, but because it is necessary to defend their class interests at a time when opposition to the system is becoming a real threat. War is an extension of politics and politics is concentrated economics. So war always has a final economic cause. And imperialist always creates revolutionary and counter-revolutionary possibilities.

Imperialist crisis means world war

Why is this happening? Opposition to capitalist rule is becoming a threat to its survival for one basic reason. The system is experiencing a major economic crisis of falling profits. To revive those profits and allow the system to survive, it is necessary to cheapen the costs of both raw materials and of labour. But this means competition between the major imperialist powers for for raw materials and cheap labour and the inevitability of war.

The usual methods of economic competition rely on the WB, IMF and WTO to force down barriers to trade so that prices fall. These methods are insufficient to overcome the latest downward surge in profits in the world economy. All the imperialist powers need cheap oil and a cheap, reliable and disciplined labour force to revive their profits. Going to ‘war against terrorism’ achieves all of these. The US ruling class has found a way to force its economic rivals, Japan and the EU, to accept its dominance and to go along in the hope that they will get a share of the booty. This avoids unnecessary direct conflict between the big powers. This applies also to the lesser states such as Russia, China, India and Pakistan who get bribed by promises of loans, gifts and other benefits such as membership of the WTO.

It also anticipates and deals with opposition from the masses in all of these countries. They are the ones who bear the cost of these measures. Even US workers will suffer massive attacks on their rights and living standards. And in Latin America and in Asia there is a long record of popular uprisings against imperialist rule. In an age when imperialists do not rule directly, neo-colonies need to be kept under control with puppet regimes kept in place by proxy wars that remove mavericks and install compliant alternative regimes.

Still the oppressed fight back

The US has found a way to police these states in the name of defending democracy and human rights and now in the name of the ‘war against terrorism’. But in doing so it runs the risk of exposing the hypocrisy of propping up or replacing client regimes whose ‘terrorism’ is the direct result of imperialist intervention in the first place.

Already the fact that the US imperialist ruling class is using state terrorism at home and abroad to smash all political opposition that it designates as ‘terrorist’ is now widely recognised as hypocritical. The fact that al Queda and bin Laden as well as the Taliban are the creation of US policy cannot be escaped. The fact that behind the cover of the ‘war on terrorism’ the US and its allies are prepared to bomb Afghanistan shows what the real purpose of the war is – to create a compliant regime that will allow the US oil interests to build a pipeline from the Caspian region to the Indian Ocean.

So it is easy to be cynical about the US ruling class especially with Bush as its figurehead. It is revealing its class interests so clearly that what is called ‘anti-Americanism’ is now the standard position among the 3rd World masses and support for bin Laden is widespread. Respected liberal journalists like Robert Fisk and John Pilger as well as long-standing critics of US imperialism like Edward Said and Noam Chomsky are published in the mainstream media. So if the imperialist ruling class is showing up their class interests why should the masses who are suffering economic exploitation and political repression not seize the opportunity to challenge this rotten system?

Rotten role of Reformists

Exploited and oppressed workers and poor peasants are the vast majority of the world’s population. They would easily overthrow the system that rules them if it were not for the existence of institutionalised mass reformist parties committed to propping up capitalism even as it decomposes. The reformist line is that it is not possible to overthrow capitalism either because the working class is not able to do this (always a convenient excuse because it substitutes the petty bourgeois in this historic role) or because this will lead to a worse system (such as Soviet-type ‘communism’) so therefore it is necessary to reform capitalism. The reformists argue that popular parties can make governments responsive to the interests of the popular masses and rein in the ruling elites. All they need is to inform and mobilise the masses and parliamentary democracy can be made to work in their interests.

They say the Terrorism Bill is an aberration caused by the rogue US state imposing its will on the UN and small democracies like NZ. The solution, they say, is to mobilise direct democracy from below and win over a majority of MP’s to amend the Bill and remove its worst attacks on basic liberties (legitimate dissent; presumption of innocence; due process in courts of law; racial equality etc).

When it comes to the vote, just as all the MP’s voted for war except the Greens, most MP’s will vote for this Bill because they owe their pay to the bosses. The Alliance MP’s voted for the war against the membership of the party to keep their salaries. Most of them even stopped putting 10% of their salaries into paying for party activists! They will endorse the main features of the Terrorism Bill for the same reason; they are the bought men and women of the bourgeoisie.

The Green’s may be opposed to the present Government’s war and the Terrorism Bill. But their role is to divert workers from taking class action today to stop the war and to stop the Bill and to put their faith in a future ‘peoples’ government. Meanwhile millions of Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis and any other unfortunate people targeted by this war will be dead. The Greens don’t even pretend to represent workers. Their supporters are a range of social movements, environmentalist, women’s groups etc. They draw on a mixture of well-off workers, self-employed and ‘socially responsible’ or not-for-profit capitalists. They will always ‘compromise’ around the interests of small, sustainable, businesses. But small businesses are no alternative to capitalist production, and often exploit workers as much or more than big businesses.

For a workers’ state!

Fundamentally, Parliament functions as an institution that hides the class interests of the bosses behind the fa├žade of the rule of the majority of citizens. This is clear to us from the lessons of history. It is also clear today in Bushes own election, the war on terrorism, that the politics of the working class majority will remain dominated by the wealth and power of the ruling class minority until workers are broken from ruling class ideology.

Communists believe that to break workers from this ideology it is necessary to make use of democratic rights both to defend them for as long as possible to allow open political opposition, and to prove to those who have illusions in parliamentary democracy that the Bill is no aberration and that capitalism cannot tolerate democracy when its class interests are under threat. Therefore submissions that condemn the Bill and demand that it be voted down by MPs are necessary to show these MP’s up as anti-democratic.

Those who argue that by mobilising the majority around a clear anti-capitalist program we can take back power and create a truly democratic government over look the fact that that ruling class will not give up without a fight. The Terrorism Suppression Bill is evidence of that we have been put on notice that if we dissent we can be labeled terrorists. We are now in an open class war situation. We have to refuse to sign up to this state terrorist war in Asia or at home. We must go AWOL from the bosses' state terror. We must organise our own class resistance to state terror. We must declare war on ruling class terror.

Class Struggle 42 December 2001/January 2002

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