Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Terrorist threat 'exploited to curb civil liberties'.

Richard Dreyfuss appeared at the Old Vic in Complicit recently, a play which is described as follows:

An exploration of the current political climate, Sutton’s play sees Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ben Kritzer hauled before a Supreme Court Special Prosecutor, where he faces the dilemma of defending his belief in the freedom of the press or protecting his family.

I found myself wondering what was the point of such a piece now that Bush is gone and Obama has arrived promising to throw out all things neo-con. It just seemed like such a piece could only work best when it was riding on our understandable anger at the policies of the Bush years, and that it ceased to have any point if we now had a president in the US promising to end such abuses.

I feel a little bit like that when I read Stella Remington, who was the first female head of MI5 , telling us all that the government have used fear to actively undermine the rule of law and threaten our civil liberties in the guise of fighting terrorism. It just feels to me as if she's come a little late to the party.

Surely her words would have carried more resonance a couple of years ago? She has timed her public intervention to tie in with a new report:

The former MI5 chief chose to air her views on the same day as a three-year study called for urgent measures to stop the erosion of individual freedom by states and the abandoning of draconian measures brought on with the "War on Terror".

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said the legal framework which broadly existed in democratic countries before 9/11 was "sufficiently robust to meet current threats".

Instead, a series of security measures were brought in, many of which were illegal and counter-productive, instilling anger and resentment expressed through violent protests.

One worrying development, says the report, was that liberal democracies such as the UK and US have been at the forefront of advocating the new aggressive policies and that has given totalitarian regimes the excuse to bring in their own repressive laws.

The ICJ panel, which included Mary Robinson, the former Irish president and United Nations Human Rights Commissioner and Arthur Chaskelson, the former president of the South African constitutional court, gathered their evidence from 40 countries.

They took testimony from government officials, ministers, and people in prison for alleged terrorist offences.

The actions of the US has immense influence on the behaviour of other countries, the study maintained, and the jurists called on President Barack Obama to repeal policies which came with the "war on terror paradigm" and were inconsistent with international human rights law. "In particular, it should renounce the use of torture and other proscribed interrogation techniques, extraordinary renditions, and secret and prolonged detention without charge or trial".

The report stated: "The framework of international law is being undermined... the US and UK have led that undermining."

So, whilst I welcome this report, which states everything which a lot of us have been saying for the past eight years, I can't help but remind myself that Obama has already stated that, under his administration, the US will once again be a nation of laws.

Perhaps such reports, and Remington's comments, will help make sure that he carries out what he promised, but it strikes me at this moment in time as simply stating the bloody obvious.

We all know that the system can handle terrorists and that there is no need to throw out our entire way of life in order to defend it, or rather Obama certainly appears to understand this. But perhaps Remington's comments are aimed at drumming the message through Gordon Brown's skull, as he is especially in need of hearing it.

Although I must admit that I had, again, hoped that the election of a progressive to the White House, and a progressive who appears to challenge "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals", might wake Gordon up from his slumber.

From the report:

Former Irish president Mary Robinson, the president of the ICJ said: "Seven years after 9/11 it is time to take stock and to repeal abusive laws and policies enacted in recent years.

"Human rights and international humanitarian law provide a strong and flexible framework to address terrorist threats."

I, for one, am hoping that the US will, once again, lead by example and that people like Gordon Brown will have no option other than to recongise their foolishness and adjust. It was obvious to many of us that we couldn't defend our freedoms by essentially abandoning them, which always appeared to me to be the Bush/Blair position. Obama appears to understand this and he, certainly, is in need of no late intervention from Remington.

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