Under critical pressure from the Senate Judiciary Committee, from the media and from human rights groups, US Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday provided limited information about some of the more than one thousand people, most from Middle Eastern countries, who have been arrested and detained in the course of investigations into the September 11 attacks. The nationalities, but not the names, of 548 people were given and details of the charges against them. Most of the charges are minor, concerned with making false statements when applying for passports or with credit card fraud. No one has yet been charged with terrorism or involvement in the September 11 attacks. In Britain, according to a detailed report in The Guardian, only one person has been arrested in connection with September 11 the Algerian pilot Lotfi Raissi. Despite being described by the FBI as a key figure, the evidence against him has proved to be tenuous.
More broadly, according to The Guardian, the extensive enquiries by Scotland Yard's antiterrorist branch, MI5 and the FBI have failed to produce any evidence that Osama bin Laden has used Britain as a base for his alQaida network. These are still early days in an investigation of such international complexity but given the intensity of the enquiries during the past ten weeks it is surprising that not a single person has been charged either in Britain or the United States. Does this suggest that the repressive legal measures already taken or being proposed in these two countries may not be justified?