President Tony Tan has acknowledged that it is a ‘blunt’ instrument in a televised public debate with his fellow-Elected President candidates. And he is right.
Figuratively speaking, the ISA is like a gun. It has potential for both good and evil.
In the correct hands, it is an important tool for defence, to safeguard our security and well being.
In the wrong hands its potential for bad, abuse and harm, is just as great.
It is the reason for pulling the trigger and not the presence or possession of the gun per se that is at the heart of the issue.
To use a cowboy town analogy, popular of late, it is like the sheriff of a town. He can either do good – arresting all the bad guys – or he can do bad – using his powers to put behind bars all those who has aspiration for his job, or anyone whose faces he simply don’t like.
So, what both proponents and opponents of ISA should grapple with is how to create an operating environment that would at the same time ensure our security and keep in check its potential for abuse. In practice, we have seen instances of both.
The ISA – the law and the procedure dictating its use and operation – as it stands, cannot remain unchanged or unmodified. Using the same gun analogy, it needs to be fitted with a more accurate aiming sight – to be pin-point accurate like a laser-guided weapon, and not like an old fashioned blunderbuss which maims all and sundry in the wake of its shotgun-like blasts. And in its operation, there needs to be stringent independent measures to ensure that its continued application in any one particular instance of use continues to be justified.
There should also be concomitant laws, providing specifics of how all detainees are to be treated, their human rights safeguarded; their conditions monitored by an independent body.
If the motives and intentions of the govt is honourable and aboveboard, nothing is impossible. The twain can meet. It is both possible to safeguard our national security and have effective measures implemented to prevent its abuse.
It is like fighting corruption; we must be able to escape its corrupting influence or else we are no better than that which we claim to fight.
Last but not least, the law in whatever form it takes, must be made subject to periodic reviews. The onus lies with the govt to present its case in details to parliament – to be heard in camera, if applicable – for the latter to re-endorse it, or when deemed necessary by a majority, order a review, as the case may be.