Enthusiasm for new anti-terrorism laws

EVERYWHERE (Rooters agency) – Governments almost everywhere have welcomed proposals to counter terrorism and any other crime you care to think of by the simple measure of reversing the common law presumption of innocence.

When both the Lord Mayor of London and the Prime Minister of Australia, in the same week, propose legislation that would make foreign travel prima facie evidence of participation in conspiracy to behead journalists, how could anyone except an axe-wielding terrorist disagree? Tea Party-ers all over the US are kicking themselves for not having thought of it first.

Under the new rules, prosecutors would no longer have to prove that defendants had committed a crime. Instead, defendants would be required to give a convincing answer to the question, “If you aren’t guilty, why did we arrest you?”

Common law has been around for a long time, said Professor Lex Knott of the faculty of law at the University of Eastern Lower Nebraska. Since it just is, instead of being passed by somebody, he explained, there is no accepted method for amending common law. Hence it is up to anybody who has the chutzpah to amend it to do so willy-nilly or even non compis mentis.

Of course, travel is only part of it. Under some versions of the proposed legislation, it would be illegal to get out of bed in the morning without a certificate of innocent intentions. This proposal has been opposed by employer organizations, which fear it would cause employee lateness and absenteeism.

More moderate suggestions are that it be made illegal only to travel to any country that the US government feels it isn’t sufficiently in control of. The problem here is that there are questions about how much of the United States the US government thinks it controls.

For example,” Professor Knott said, “the US has laws against manipulating stock prices and interest rates, against swindling the public and stealing from the government. But it hasn’t been hugely successful in enforcing any of those laws. It’s also technically illegal for police to shoot citizens without a good reason, and I don’t need to tell you about that one.”

So, if Britain or Australia pass presumption of guilt legislation, it is possible that British or Australian citizens visiting the United States would be presumed to have gone there for the purpose of committing racial murders, rigging the LIBOR or operating a Ponzi scheme.

On returning home, they would be required to prove that their real purpose was to attend Aunt Maude’s 70th birthday party or whatever – perhaps by photos of themselves standing next to Aunt Maude as she blows out the birthday candles. (And if their camera wasn’t working on the day, the NSA could provide the photos.)

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