Apologetic after all these years

February 10, 2005

A SERIES OF terrorist attacks in 1974 led the British government to launch a crackdown employing police powers that were unseemly by what were then American standards of due process - but that pale next to the system the United States is constructing today. The Patriot Act, the incarceration without charge of such citizens as Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, the secret roundups of illegal aliens - these make the British tactics look almost quaint by comparison.

Nonetheless, 11 innocent people spent years in British prisons as a result of that earlier campaign against terror. Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized for the lives ruined, and for the misplaced confidence the British government displayed in its determination that a different sort of conflict called for a different set of rules. Years from now, will an American president be making the same sort of apology?

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