Trumping up the charges
"Three men have been found guilty of a massive terrorist conspiracy to murder involving home-made bombs." This is how the BBC leads its article on the recent conviction of three British Muslims for to murder persons unknown. Most other news outlets carried similar hype, with only a few providing a more balanced picture of the outcome of the trial. In truth, the headline should have read: "There never was a conspiracy to blow up airliners with liquid explosives." Whilst the government is gloating at having secured convictions of sorts, the fact is that it's whole story of a plot on account of which every traveller in Europe had to surrender drinks at airport check-ins and carry toiletries in a clear plastic bag has been exposed as fiction.
This does not come as a surprise, since to carry liquid explosives disguised as drinks onto an aircraft in order to blow it up is a chemical impossibility as it would require laboratory conditions at sub-zero temperatures on board. The government knew this all along and in the first days of introducing new airport security measures drinks were simply spilled into large containers, proving that they were not considered dangerous at all even when mixed. The aim had always been to scare the public in order to justify greater control over them; the then home secretary John Reid also wanted to score political points, albeit unsuccessful.
The men charged and convicted had been stupid enough to plan staging an action in which detonating explosives was threatened in order to stage a political protest. The fact is that they never made any explosives whatsoever. All of them pleaded guilty to causing a public nuisance. The three who were convicted of conspiracy to murder were not convicted on evidence but because they had also pleaded guilty to this charge. None of those eight men before the courts who had not pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder were convicted of that charge. There is generally a lot of pressure put on defendants to plead guilty in order to receive a lesser sentence. In the case of terrorist suspects this pressure is often exacerbated by the very real threat of extradition to the United States and the prospect of death row. Faced with stark choices like this, the young suspects often give in.
There is no doubt that the trials were politically motivated, and as such they are a major setback in not achieving their intended outcome. Not long ago a research student at Nottingham university was investigated and held in custody for possessing al-Qaedah material he had downloaded from a US government website. On the other hand, in the 1990's leftist bookshops were awash with books calling for a "class war" and the execution of judges and murder of police officers. Although these were brought to the attention of the police, these were never banned and charges against their authors, never mind anybody having bought or read them, were never brought. As usual, the UK justice system does not care so much what you do, but who you are.
The only decent thing to do for the government now would be to ease the grotesque security measures at airports and allow travellers to take their drinks on and personal toiletries on board without the unwarranted harassment.