Monday, February 27, 2006

Civil Liberties and Human Rights Can Be Disregarded When You Are Very Cross: Official

"Well on the first, look I will be very clear with you, I have said why I think that Guantanamo is an anomaly and should come to an end. I have said all that. I also think however it is important we never forget the context in which this has happened, which is the context of the war in Afghanistan and the reason for that was the slaughter of 3,000 innocent people on 11 September. Now it is important, of course, that we pursue the action against terrorism, maintaining absolutely our commitment to proper civil liberties and human rights,


it is also important that we remember those people that died in that terrorist act, and have some understanding therefore of the huge amount of anger that there is in America of what happened there."

Downing Street Press Conference 23rd Feb 2006

maintaining absolutely our commitment to proper civil liberties and human rights, but

absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but
absolutely/ but


Lars Konzack said...

Absolutely - but.

We ABSOLUTELY have the right to free speech BUT please do not upset the Islamic countries.

We ABSOLUTELY have the right to be put on trial BUT not if you are in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

Phil Masters said...

absolutely/ but...

I thought that it was terribly, terribly important to understand why people do dreadful things?

Guantanamo Bay is a dreadful thing. Mr Blair is helpfully explaining why the people responsible are doing it.

We can't have too much understanding of these things, can we?

SK said...

Note he takes the apparantly-reasonable line of saying we should 'understand', not 'support' or 'condone' the Americans' actions; but note also that the slimeball is aiming his remarks at the Guardian-reading community who seem to get that distinction confused and slip all to readily from trying to 'understand' the unjustifiable to 'condoning' and even 'supporting' it. It's just that normally this slippage is focussed on the Irish or the Palestinians; Blair is just trying to get them to focus it on the Americans instead.

Dammit, he's still clever, or at last his spin doctors are.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

People here actually protested the violent action series 24 because it humanized the terrorists that the main character was applauded for shooting.

Now there are lots of reason to protest an exciting shoot-em-up. The fact that it shows bad guys doing terrible things despite the fact that they feel them to be terrible (rather than the more traditional "because they are Bad People and its Bad People's job to die) isn't one.

Which brings me to this comment. Is there really that much difference between Blair saying "this is absolutely wrong, but done by people under emotional pressure" and 24 saying "these are bad guys, but they're also human?"

Ahh, wait. No, there isn't--but that's not what Blair said. Tricksy. He did not say that we remember that there was a lot of pressure and we can understand why this otherwise reasonable person ought to be on death row. He said that "it is also important that we remember those people who died."

Okay, good. I can go back to the orthodoxy of blair-mocking.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

(The key I'm pulling on is phrase-order and emphasis. Blair's rhetoric puts the dead people first. He's not telling us just to remember the anger of America. He's telling us to remember the people who died, i.e., to get inspired to resist the Muslims.)

Louise H said...

I think possibly the significant thing is not that Tony is speaking on behalf of a government but that it is a government that he is explaining.

"M'Lud, my client accepts that he was absolutely wrong to attack the rather Middle-Eastern looking shap with a beard and a rucksack in the subway BUT he lost a close friend in the 9/11 bombings." That sort of works. Won't get him off but might get him a reduced sentence.

"Dear newspapers, my ally was absolutely wrong to set up internment camps in Guatemalo Bay (although he doesn't admit it) BUT the people who elect him and his admininstration lost friends and relatives in 9/11 and have called upon him to be tough on terrorists."

Spot the difference.

Is Tony suggesting that the administraton have no choice but to breach international law and ethical behavour if their electorate are cross enough to tell them to? Or that the administration themselves are acting illegally due to their own emotional reactions? There may be a huge amount of anger in America, but it is not "America" who has set up the camps.

You can possibly explain riots and terrorists by talking about the emotions of the general population. But if you are explaining illegal government actions on that basis you are tacitly admitting that the goverment is not performing its proper function in a law based democracy.

Phil Masters said...

I was about to say much the same as Louise has just said.

The snag with Blair's comments - or maybe the rhetorical sleight-of-hand - is that this is a pretty feeble sort of "explanation". It would explain an individual American attacking an Arab-looking person in the street in October 2001 - not excuse or justify, but certainly explain fairly well. An entire government running morally abominable internment camps, and thereby actually alienating millions of people who they could really do with keeping friendly, isn't either acting on impulse or probably even reducing any risks.

Actually, if you want an explanation, there's a plausible argument that Bush and co. have backed themselves into a corner with their "we're so tough on terrorism" rhetoric here, and very likely the next US administration - even if it's solid Republican - will quietly close down the damn thing at the first opportunity. I suppose that you could even reinterpret Blair's comments as saying that, if you squint at them in half-light - but that's at most explaining what Blair said, not condoning it.

Andy said...

have some understanding therefore of the huge amount of anger that there is in America of what happened there

And when, exactly, will we Americans who are outraged that the slaughter of 3,000 innocents was used to justify the gutting of our constitution and a badly planned invasion of a country that was not responsible get some understanding?

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles I do recongise that you make some (and perfectly valid) criticisms of Guantanamo yourself. I do not picture you driving around in an SUV covered in ‘kill a queer for Christ’ stickers, or anything like that. But when you say…

Therefore we will hold them offshore as unlawful combatants (since they weren't in uniform and aren't backed by a recognized state) until such a time as they can be turned over to a lawful government for trial. It actually makes some sense.

…it actually makes no sense at all that I am able to see. Firstly, there is nothing in the Geneva convention about it not applying to ‘unlawful combatants’. While the Bush regime seems more evasive on the question than openly denying, surely if they are happy that Guantanamo is compliant with Geneva they’d be willing to open the place to international inspection.

Secondly, what makes an ‘unlawful combatant’? If it’s not being in uniform or being backed by a recognised state, then weren’t most participants in the American war of independence unlawful combatants? The wartime French and Dutch resistance were similarly not often found running about with ‘secret underground army, please don’t tell the Nazis’ on their backs. And what about that time when US intelligence guys were found in Iraq in civilian clothes and arrested? (By Iraqi cops, but ones sympathetic to the insurgents.) Shouldn’t they be regarded as ‘unlawful combatants’?

As for “not backed by a state”, you or I might not be particularly desperate to live in a Taliban-like regime but it’s surely commonly agreed that when the invasion happened they were the ruling force in Afghanistan. Certainly much more so than the current puppet regime, which barely controls the capitol let alone the country! I foresee a situation where it was lawful to fight for the Taliban but only up to the point where they could be said to lose control of the country, and torturous legal arguments ensuing over when exactly this happened.

Is it just me, or do other people suspect that if these ‘unlawful combatants’ had chosen the opposite side their lack of uniforms or passports would be considered less of a problem?

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
I think that the Geneva convention is pretty clear on the lack of a uniform.

Perhaps, but my point was that captured ‘unlawful combatants’ are still regarded as under its prescriptions. (I don’t personally feel bound to argue within the prescriptions of this convention which is so widely flouted as to be meaningless, I’m just pointing out.)

If US soldiers were taken carrying out warlike actions while not in uniform then they are definately unlawful combatants and should be tried as such. It might be hard to justify the insurgents trying them for not wearing uniforms though. ;-)

Not what happened. And they were captured by the Iraqi police, Charles. ;-)

I think that the reason why the US government didn't turn the combatants over to the Taleban was that the Taleban was quickly destroyed.

And possibly because they were… err… fighting the Taleban at the time? Capturing enemy combatants then turning them back over to the enemy isn’t standard practise, insofar as I know.

The US revolutionaries had governments and leaders. They had people who were available for negotiation.

They may have had the last two, but they wouldn’t have had a government until after victory surely.

Likewise, the French and Dutch fighters were answering to governments in exile. Had Hitler wanted to negotiate with them, he could have.

Quibbling over history sure sounds like fun to me! So far as I know Vichy France was at least nominally it’s own country. Some French even fought on the Nazi side. (So far as I know the Netherlands wasn’t so let’s ignore that one!) Moreover, what defines a ‘government in exile’? If Saddam Hussein had escaped Iraq and formed a ‘government in exile’ somewhere or other, would that change your view of the Iraqi insurgents?

This is my real beef with Al Queda. If Osama Bin Ladin would send diplomats to the west...the UN maybe, to negotiate, then I would be 60% in favor of treating Al Queda members as Soldiers.

Stalin had a permanent seat at the UN. This didn’t stop him massacring civilians. To list other examples might become tedious.

…without organization war turns into the slaughter of civilians.

This is possibly the difference between us. To me, war is organised slaughter which normally involves either civilians or conscripts. I feel you’re confusing such accoutrements as paperwork or uniforms with legitimacy.

My slightly more cynical view over Gitmo would be this… The Afghan war was sold on the Al Quaida link. This meant that they needed to bring in some human bounty to justify it. If not Bin Laden himself, some other guys with similar-looking beards. But they didn’t find very much, due to the fighters slipping the border into Pakistan and their numbers being absurdly over-exxagerated anyway. So they need to grab anyone who’s standing in the vicinity with the wrong type of beard and get them to confess. One of the (now released) British detainees ‘confessed’ to being in Al Quaida training camps and meeting Bin Laden. It later transpired he was clocking on to a branch of Dixons in the East Midlands for this whole time. When you’re embarked on such a mission, open trials and public scrutiny aren’t really something to be desired.

But this has created its own problems, apart from the widespread condemnation. Having taken these guys out of the legal process, it’s now quite hard to re-insert them apart from at the very beginning. (Likely to reveal the innocence of most of them.) Hence the strange and sorry tale of them resisting extraditing British citizens to… umm… their main wartime ally. And once British citizens were returned the gov had to admit they had little choice but to release them.

Of course this worked even less well for the Iraqi war. You can’t lock up a blunderbuss until it confesses to being a chemical warhead.

Gavin Burrows said...

Dan Hemmens said...
Most revolutions are unlawful. It's not like many states have provision in their constitutions for their citizens to overthrow them by force of arms.

Umm… yes. You don’t have to look too hard for examples of the British Empire trying to crush independence movements, despite the presence of people “available for negotiation”, from opening fire on unarmed demonstrators in India to inventing concentration camps in Africa. If they behaved differently in America it may have been partly down to some racist notion of ‘now we’re dealing with white folks’, but I’d guess it was because the strength of the independence movement forced them into that position.

Charles Filson said...
Prisoner exchanges are a time honored practice carried out in almost every war in the past.

Shifting “turning them back” into “prisoner exchanges” seems a trifle disingenuous, and overlooks the insistence made at the time most fighters were Al Quaida not Taliban, but isn’t the main point.

First I said...
If Saddam Hussein had escaped Iraq and formed a ‘government in exile’ somewhere or other, would that change your view of the Iraqi insurgents?

Then m’learned friend Charles Filson was heard to reply...
Yes, probably. There is always the issue of dealing with a mass murderer, but if he could negotiate an end to hostilities that would be useful.

Well this is pretty much what happened after the first Gulf War, wasn’t it? (Apart from the ‘in exile’ bit.) Saddam was on the ropes but when a widespread insurgency arose they realised they needed a man with local knowledge to put it down. He was even allowed to keep much of his military hardware. The very ‘mistake’ that led to the status quo you said you didn’t like!

Charles Filson said...
Yet, I'm not convinced that the 'insurgents' are entirely Iraqi. Some are, I am sure, but I am also just as certain that there are foreign crusaders, other than the US and British soldiers ;-), in the region as well.

These elusive foreign crusaders seem particularly adept at evading arrest, then. The overwhelming majority of arrestees are Iraqi. (And that’s before we start on the irony of an occupying army complaining about foreign interference!)

The trouble right now is that it seems like total victory is all the insurgents will accept, and that is unacceptable for the decent work-a-day people of Iraq.

Well the people of Iraq want an end to the occuptation whenever they’re asked. Some people might regard that as significant.

Now, if only the UN would quit looking at some map haphazardly drawn by Britain, and let the US carve Iraq up into three countries it might solve a lot of problems.

Of course like many other places the arbitrary administrative lines drawn up by the British Empire just stored up problems for the future. (Just ask the Rwandans!) And recent events would suggest the insurgents have already decided the occupation is a lost cause so they just might as well start the civil war early. You could even argue that a country made up in such a way as Iraq could only be run by a Saddam Hussein figure.

But the ‘three countries solution’ isn’t what the US is likely to do. An independent Kurdistan would upset Turkey, to name one. And, worse for them, an independent Shiite region would naturally get drawn to Iran…

The occuping forces are in a hole. There doesn’t seem any easy or straightforward way out of it. But it still makes sense for them to at least stop digging…

In general, I suspect I take a much more materialist view of history than you. Leaders will tell you they make history, of course. But I see history as made by much wider social forces. Like being blown along by the wind, they are blown by events. If the social forces are right the right leader will arise.

I’m also left part-wondering if you’re taking the Israeli ‘no partner for peace’ rhetoric at face value and then applying it to Iraq. Would I be close?

Gavin Burrows said...

Dan Hemmens said...
Under which conventions, as far as I can tell, most revolutions are in fact unlawful. If you don't have the backing of a state, then I'm fairly sure that makes you an unlawful combatant.

Yep, though of course they magically become lawful as soon as they’re seen as irrevocable. I haven’t heard many people demand the restoration of monarchical power in Britain recently.

Also worth pointing out how standard leftist doctrine does the same thing the other way up, where any ‘anti-imperialist’ struggle is supported by sheer virtue of its existence. When the war started I got locked in a long and fruitless argument on the Comics Journal message board, with some guy who insisted that unless you unreservedly supported the insurgents you were on the side of the Yankee imperialist military-industrial-complex conspiracy. When I tried pointing out that the insurgents were actually an unholy alliance of all sorts of groups with completely divergent aims, he’d reply that this meant I was on the side of the Yankee imperialist child-killing Coca-Cola army etc etc. Now here we are and, as if by magic, the insurgents are fighting each other. Funny old world really.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
I assume that you grant my initial point which was that it was not anger, but reason (flawed or not), that was used to explain these actions.

Depends how you mean. I grant that this was your point, certainly. But I’ve certainly heard S11 used as a catch-all argument that ‘we’ can now do effectively what we want. Blair infers it in the speech Andrew quotes, and Rumsfeld has been more explicit with his “the rulebook has now changed” comments. I haven’t gone into just why this argument is the sectionable end of ludicrous as I’ve been (mostly) talking to you and it’s not one you’ve made. But that’s not the same thing as saying this argument was never made.

My disagreement with you was that I found your definition of ‘unlawful combatants’ an aribitrary one, and even if we were to accept it, it does not preclude detainees from fair treatment under international scrutiny. My analysis for the way detainees was treated was in a sense a more simple one – they ain’t got anything on them, and they’d rather that wasn’t made too public knowledge. As you didn’t disagree when I said this, I could equally assume you grant my point!

What gives you that idea?

I got it from what you said! You said things might be better if there was Saddam or some equivalent figure because there’d be at least someone to talk to. I pointed out that was the thinking that kept him in power after the first Gulf War. Strong enough to put down popular uprisings, but too weak to threaten anyone else internationally. (Whether you’d disagree with this or not I don’t know, so I won’t make assumptions.)

Bombing them every other week so that we can trade expensive food for cheap oil might seem like a good idea to such a high-minded liberal as you, but I’m only one of those conservatives and so it just seems like cruel profiteering to me.

Well no, it didn’t seem a good idea to me but then I’m not a liberal and (I hope) not too high-minded either. Actually, supporting the sanctions as an alternative to invasion was official Liberal party policy here in Britain, and they marched on anti-war demos under banners reading (I kid you not) ‘A Sane and Measured Approach’. I failed to understand why slowly starving a people should be seen as more ‘humanitarian’ than quickly bombing them, let alone ‘sane’ or ‘measured’ and said so at the time. I read after one such demo that a small minority had turned up with banners reading ‘Death to the Jews’ and other such thought-through comments, but had been forced off the march by popular pressure. If I’d have had my way, the Liberal party would have been treated the same way.