Head of Interpol highlights abuses in war on terror

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Interpol chief sees abuses in war on terror, Thu October 02, 2003 08:29 AM ET, by Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

BENIDORM, Spain (Reuters) - The black American who heads Interpol says he is concerned about the over-zealous use of anti-terrorism laws and that he had himself been singled out because of his looks.

Ronald K. Noble, secretary general of the 181-nation police organisation, told Reuters in an exclusive interview on Thursday that people subjected to abuse often had no chance of redress from anonymous officials.

"I know that I've been searched because I look like a person who could be Arabic, if I'm travelling from an Arab country, or I could be a drug-trafficker if I'm coming from a drug-trafficking country," Noble, 47, said.

He acknowledged: "There has been an overuse of terrorism laws to the disadvantage of ordinary citizens and travellers".

Noble said he knew from experience, as a "person of colour" who could be taken for an Arab, an African or a Hispanic, that ordinary citizens were facing abuses in the name of the war on terror.

Many countries had poorly trained security staff who relied on their own prejudices when deciding whether to make travellers submit to strip-searches, or singled out passengers who were stressed or sweating.

"I perspire and I'm the head of an international law enforcement agency," Noble said.

He is the first non-European to head Interpol and has pushed to modernise the organisation since the September 11, 2001, suicide attacks on the United States.

He took the helm in 2000, and had previously been a law professor and chief law enforcement officer in the U.S. Treasury Department, overseeing agencies including the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Customs.


Noble said governments had to make sure any random searches were truly random and not based on the whim of officials saying: "I pick whoever I want".

People subjected to a "horrible secondary inspection" and at risk of missing flights had no chance of redress from anonymous officials.

"You have a lot of abuses that are never, ever checked," he said, adding that laws per se were not to blame. "It's not that the laws are saying 'Abuse people'."

Noble, attending an Interpol's annual conference in Spain, said he believed most police forces had the laws they needed to investigate and prosecute terrorist activity.

"Globally speaking, there are enough laws in place," he said.

In a week when Belgian and Indonesian courts handed down the latest sentences against radical Islamists, Noble said police were "taking great strides" in combating terrorism.

But, he said, "I don't see it so much as something that is being won, as being controlled."

Al Qaeda sleeper cells still posed a significant risk, and police were working hard to track and eliminate them.

"We believe that the police worldwide are the least prepared and equipped to fight bio-terrorist threats because of a lack of resources, lack of training and lack of education about what the principal threats are," said Noble.

He was concerned about a real threat of bio-terrorism but also "the panic and loss of confidence in governments and societies that could result from a hoax bio-terrorist act".

Source: Reuters, 2.10.03.

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