The attacks carried out by four Muslim suicide-bombers in London on July 7 last year were inexcusable and properly treated by the government as ‘terrorist acts' that posed a serious threat to public safety and security. But its hasty attribution of the bombings to al-Qa'ida, and its decision to enact seriously flawed anti-terrorist laws and orders, have now been brought into question. A leaked official report links the attacks to the anger of Muslims about the Iraq war's injustice, while a High Court judge has branded the anti-terrorism legislation and control orders "an affront to justice" and a breach of human-rights laws.
Last December Home Office secretary Charles Clarke was forced to order a "narrative" of events leading to the attacks, by a senior civil servant who was to use intelligence from the police and security forces to compile it. His decision followed calls for a public enquiry into the bombings. But although the home secretary would not allow a public enquiry that might seriously embarrass both the government's foreign policy and anti-terrorism stance, the civil servant given the task of preparing the "narrative" has now put together a report that does exactly that. The report, which is due to be published shortly, has already been leaked to the weekly Observer of London.
According to the Observer, the initial drafts of the enquiry into the bombings show that the war in Iraq was a "key contributory factor". The section dealing with Britain's involvement in the war also examined what inspired the "radicalisation" of the four British suicide-bombers, Sidique Khan, Habib Husain, Shehzad Tanweer and Germaine Lindsay. The Observer is in no doubt that the findings will prove very embarrassing to Tony Blair, the prime minister, who to this day insists that the decision to go to war against Iraq was perfectly sound and would make Britainmuch safer. In March, on the third anniversary of the invasion, Blair vehemently defended Britain's involvement, insisting that "only an interventionalist stance" could confront terrorism.
But the report also considers other factors that may have motivated the four suicide-bombers, three of whom came from West Yorkshire and one from Buckinghamshire. According to the Observer, the motives identified include "economic deprivation, social exclusion, and a disaffection with society in general, as well as [with] community elders". All four were young and it is common in many countries and societies for the young to be at odds with their elders, but it is absurd to suggest that the four perpetrated the attacks last July because of dissatisfaction with their elders.
The government is bound to exploit any explanation of the suicide-bombings that does not involve the war in Iraq. But there are at least two reasons that it is highly improbable that this line of defence will reduce its embarrassment. First, the very strong criticism of its anti-terrorism orders and legislation by a court judge, and the imminent parliamentary report on its security policies, which is expected to be hostile, are bound to neutralise any argument the government puts forward. Second, the US-led coalition waging the war on Iraq is so thoroughly discredited that it has been forced to give contradictory reasons for invading Iraq. At one time even President Bush withdrew his claim that Saddam Husain had been developing nuclear weapons and that Washington had intervened to stop him, only to relaunch his propaganda campaign that the need to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to end terrorism remain the main reasons for the conflict.
In fact the US government continues to issue frequent warnings that terrorists are certain to acquire nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and "will not hesitate to use them", as defencesecretary Donald Rumsfeld put it. According to him, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria are developing such weapons. Terrorists with links to these countries "inevitably will get their hands on them," he claims. A report by the state department even adds the name of Sudan to this list of countries to give credibility to the claim that the US and Britain – and their allies – face the prospect of terrorist and nuclear attacks and must act to defend themselves by destroying "Islamic terrorists" and Muslim countries that allegedly fund and arm them.
Both Britain and the US have introduced new measures – including detention-orders and centres – to prevent ‘suspected terrorists' from attacking. But at least in Britain the detention orders have been challenged in the courts by a British Muslim who has been forbidden to travel abroad on the grounds that he wants to fight British and US troops in Iraq. Mr Justice Sullivan, the high court judge hearing the case, ruled that the orders were not only illegal but also violated human rights. But the Home Office has rejected the ruling and is appealing against it. It said in a statement that "we will not be revoking either the control order or any other orders" on the basis of this judgement. "Nor will the judgement prevent the secretary of state from making control orders on suspected terrorists where he considers it necessary to do so in the interests of national security in the future, " the statement read.
Clearly the war in Iraq has been discredited as against international law and as serving the US's imperial interests. But even when US and British troops are eventually withdrawn, both Washington and London appear determined to retain the basis for future interventions in Muslim countries and fighting Islamic activists as ‘terrorists', even when they are US or British citizens.