In Monday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt free link), David Rivkin and Lee Casey join the parade of pre-1776 pundits arguing that the US needs to dump its pesky constitution and take the British approach to fighting terrorism:
There is, of course, no substitute for experience and there is no doubt that Britain benefits (if that is the right word) from its experience in fighting IRA terror. Although the IRA was arguably a less dangerous threat than al Qaeda and its allies -- if only because the IRA eventually concluded that minimizing civilian casualties was in its political interests -- it was nevertheless well-organized, ideologically committed and vicious. For 30 years, Britain's military and law-enforcement forces investigated, infiltrated, surveilled and openly fought the IRA and won, deriving two important advantages in the process ...
The U.S. cannot, of course, adopt all aspects of the British system; our constitutional systems are really quite different. Nevertheless, there are clear lessons that can be drawn from the British experience -- especially in affording the police greater investigative latitude and in accepting some compromise of privacy in exchange for greater security.
Could this be the same David Rivkin and Lee Casey who on the same page a few months ago did not have the same assessment of the British approach? --
For his part, Lord Goldsmith [Attorney General] might note that U.S. military commissions are at least as protective of the accused as were the British military tribunals operating in Germany after World War II, and in some respects more so than the special "Diplock Courts" the U.K. created in the 1970s for Northern Ireland. Unlike the Diplock Courts, where a single judge may try the accused, U.S. military commissions will guarantee a panel of at least three judges. As we all know by now, there have been abuses in U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But America's efforts to investigate and prosecute the offenders have been far more vigorous and prompt than were London's inquiries into abuses by British military, intelligence and police during "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland.
So what happened? Well, in the latter case, the need was to defend George W. Bush's right to have some charade of a trial process to keep people in Gitmo forever, in which case Diplock courts were a useful negative point of comparison. But in the former case, the need is to defend George W. Bush's desired right to implement surveillance on whoever he wants, in which case the Home Secretary's related powers look a tad better. If in the transition, the IRA needs to change from being victims of non-jury courts and other abuses to being vicious (if "arguably a less dangerous threat than al Qaeda"), well it's all in a good cause.
On the broader point, Glenn Greenwald is doing the patient work of sorting through the differences in warrant requirements between the two countries, but there's one fundamental point: the systems of government are different. In the Presidential system, the executive branch is one person -- everyone else, including the Cabinet, works for him. In the parliamentary system, notwithstanding Tony Blair's best efforts, the Prime Minister ultimately works for his parliamentary majority. Even with the UK electoral system converting 36% of the vote into supermajorities, the latter is a much tighter leash.