G8 justice ministers want new probe powers
12 May 2004
WASHINGTON – Justice ministers from the world’s leading economic powers called Tuesday for the use of special investigative techniques – such as covert filming and listening devices – to prevent future terrorist attacks and promote international cooperation in prosecuting suspects.
In a show of unity leading up to the G8 summit in Georgia in June, the justice and interior ministers also agreed in Washington to closer collaboration in the international fight against terrorism and corruption – echoing their annual pronouncements since the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
Citing terrorist attacks in the past year in Madrid, Islamabad, Russia and other places, US Attorney General John Ashcroft condemned the “evil plots of those who would destroy civilization”.
Ashcroft dismissed any significance attached to the absence of the German and French justice ministers from the final press conference, saying their travel schedules called for their prompt departure after the two-day meeting.
But he said they had fully participated in formulating the final resolutions and had made valuable contributions.
Asked if the revelations that US soldiers had abused Iraqi prisoners had interfered with any rapport among the ministers, Ashcroft said the US military was moving to address the issue.
“The US is a big country, and sometimes it makes serious mistakes,” Ashcroft said.
A new twist this year was the call for G8 states to approve “special investigative techniques” to block the recruiting of terrorists and to make sure that criminal liability applies to people who are apprehended for training, supplying or collecting money for terrorist acts.
Other recommendations in the 25-page document adopted by the ministers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia encouraged member states to improve their abilities to use national security intelligence information and to pass laws that would allow the use of undercover agents, covert filming, covert listening devices and covert interception of electronic communications.
The measures bore striking resemblance to some of the provisions of the controversial US Patriot Act, which tore down barriers between intelligence gatherers and law enforcement agents within the US government.
The law, passed in the heat of outrage after the 2001 attacks, has drawn fire from US civil rights advocates for denying terrorist suspects their constitutional rights.
Ashcroft, Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler, and US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, however, assured reporters at Decatur House, near the White House, that there should be no conflict between combating terrorism and respecting human rights.
Ridge vowed that all eight countries wanted to keep their “doors open but borders secure”.
“It weighs heavily on the hearts of those of us who live and work and enjoy the benefits of freedom” to chart a course between clamped-down security and human rights, he said.
This balancing act “has been driving the G8” since the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Ridge said.
Cotler said there was “no contradiction between the commitment to security and the commitment to human rights”.
“We must see counterterrorism as a protection of rights,” he said.
The ministers called for greater legal ability to extradite terrorists who have not yet carried out attacks and to “charge an anticipatory … offence” based on information from another country.
Another recommendation urged better safeguards for national security information used to prosecute terrorists and more secure sharing of such information across borders “to the extent consistent with a fair trial”.
In several recent cases, the prosecution of terrorist suspects has been hampered by limits placed on public airing of national security data.
In the United States, the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui – accused of being a conspirator in the 2001 attacks – hit a hitch when a Virginia judge ruled his right to a fair trial hinged on interviewing three al-Qaeda members who are in custody somewhere outside the United States and whose testimony could be helpful in his defence.
The US government has fought to bar such access.
In Germany, supreme court judges threw out a guilty judgement against Mounir al-Motassadeq, a man convicted of aiding the plane hijackers, because he was not allowed access to a witness that might have helped his defence.
The witness was Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni in US custody who has reportedly confessed to having a central role in the plot. The United States refused to release interrogation transcripts for the Hamburg trial.
Subject: German news