Earlier today (October 19) Singapore defended a tough British colonial-era law allowing detention without trial as a "shield" against terror attacks and rejected calls for its abolition. Speaking in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the Internal Security Act (ISA) enables the government to act swiftly against suspected militants before they can inflict any harm.
COMMENT: The Government of Singapore has no doubt seen how ineffective civilian criminal trials are in the US in dealing with transnational and indigenous terrorist groups who expect to be accorded the same individual rights guaranteed to US citizens. "For the foreseeable future, Singapore will need a law containing provisions like those in the ISA including preventive detention to empower the government to preempt and prevent serious threats to our security," Teo emphasized.
Singapore in late 2001 used the ISA to smash a terror cell it accused of plotting bomb attacks on the US and other targets in the city-state. Teo, who is also the interior minister, rejected suggestions that the ISA be replaced by a terrorism act.
"A terrorism act would not allow preemptive action against those who have not yet committed overt deeds that warrant prosecution but nevertheless belong to a wider terrorist network unless the act is very broad in scope and provides for preventive detention just like the ISA," he said.
Singapore also obviously sees the weakness in the US criminal justice system whereby evidence stemming from intelligence sources and methods and the use of governmental classified documents would jeopardize future counter-terrorism efforts by making such information and evidence available to terrorists and their legal counsel. It is for this reason that military tribunals are the proper vehicle of trying "enemy combatants."
Also, unlike the US, many foreign governments have laws that prohibit the distribution of information pertaining to terrorist groups, their activities, what we know about them and governmental efforts to neutralize them to the media. Conversely, in the US, the media is able to release an incredible amount of operational information to the public which should actually be classified, but which informs terrorist groups what our counter-terrorism strategies actually are. Such a practice renders the Federal government's impotent to protect critical information.
On the other hand, the US' interpretation that "enemy combatants" are not criminals and can be held in detention indefinitely is one reason why the US Government has had the counter-terrorism successes it has had and why so many terrorist plots in the US have been successfully neutralized.