Usman Khan – issues like rehabilitation and the human rights of terrorists can only be solved with cross-party consensus

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December 3, 2019 by Paul Goldsmith

The story of how Usman Khan came to be released onto the streets and arriving at a conference on prisoner rehabilitation wearing a fake bomb vest armed with knives ready to kill indiscriminately shows why there has to be cross-party agreement on both rehabilitation and the human rights of convicted terrorists.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, there were two major terrorist attacks. One at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, and the other at London Bridge and Borough Market. Terrorist attacks don’t define elections, but they give an incumbent Prime Minister the chance to look like a ‘leader’ and the challenger to say what they might have done otherwise. Theresa May, as was the norm, struggled to provide much leadership other than stone-faced bromides and the insinuation that a Jeremy Corbyn’s friendships with people connected with terrorist groups meant he couldn’t be trusted on the subject.  Corbyn himself offered some thoughts on what motivates terrorists and how his UK would provide less motivation for them. In the end, neither input really made a difference.

That’s because combatting terrorism isn’t simple. We still don’t understand what drives some people, particularly young ones, to want to kill others in the name of some ideology or grievance they have. What’s more, and I realise this is an oxymoron, the increasing LACK of sophistication of the methods that terrorists use to carry out their atrocities make them extremely hard to stop.

We don’t actually know yet, and we may never know, unless he left a letter or a video, what motivated Usman Khan to attack the people he did at the place he did (a symposium on prisoner rehabilitation led by the university that were seriously considering offering him a place to study). So we don’t know if what happened was even terrorism.

What we do know is that the blame game has already started.

The Tories accuse Labour of having initiated some legislation in 2008 which meant that Usman Khan didn’t have to go through the probation system to get out. Labour accuses the Tories of cuts to police and intelligence services. The Tories blame the European Court of Human Rights (actually some blamed the EU which once again betrays their ignorance as the ECHR is not part of the EU) for granting Usman Khan’s appeal that his ‘indefinite sentence’ breached his human rights. Jeremy Corbyn did his usual bit of talking about Iraq, despite Islamist terrorism dating back to 1993. All of it is irrelevant.

In the end, combatting terrorism, and finding the balance between that and defending human rights, is a bit like finding a solution to Social Care with an ageing population. It takes political consensus. Going back and forth from the type of ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ some Tories are raving about today, and ‘if we take away their human rights then they win’ that some on the left worry about doesn’t work.

Usman Khan was wearing an electronic tag. Usman Khan was invited to the event he went to with a fake suicide belt on and knives strapped to his wrists. Usman Khan was banned from using the internet, and had many other restrictions on him. Yet he decided to make himself the belt, strap his knives to his wrists, and start stabbing people. It would have been very difficult to know he was going to do what he was going to do, and very difficult therefore to stop it.

People say that the answer is to ‘lock up terrorists for life’ (Khan was originally imprisoned for plotting to blow up the London Stock Exchange). That might seem a good idea. But that means giving up on rehabilitation, that means giving up on someone learning from the error of their ways (as we discovered from a convicted murderer being one of those who tackled Khan on Friday). We say that people who plot us shouldn’t have human rights…but then we always forget that one day we might need human rights, and whilst we may never be terrorists, once we start taking away all their rights, it is a slippery slope to taking others’ rights away.

It’s a complicated issue and one that can only be solved with cross-party consensus. Possibly as part of writing a constitution in the future, or a Bill of Rights. Who knows? All I know is that the immediate aftermath of something like what happened last Friday is not the time to draft hurried and bad laws.

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