Judges cut through the hysteria of rulers made tyrants by fear 3


By Simon Jenkins in Times Online

Thank God for lawyers. When elected legislators fail in their duty to check executive power, judges must step forward or democrats will rely on soldiers or mobs.

In both Britain and America this past week, judges have begun to curb injustices invoked in the name of counter-terrorism by the Blair and Bush administrations in the years since 9/11. The British High Court’s ruling on ‘control orders’ and the US Supreme Court’s judgment on Guantanamo have demanded human and judicial rights against governments overreacting to Islamic violence. The calls have been modest, but they have begun.

In Britain, ministers had assured critics that orders for house arrest of suspects would be subject to judicial oversight. Now that oversight has occurred they are furious and will appeal (and doubtless change the law if they do not get their way). A heavy duty rests on the law lords.

Five years after 9/11 and one year after 7/7, the so-called ‘war on terror’ is acquiring a narrative. It started with an outrage and moved swiftly to belligerent retaliation, including the killing of thousands of non-participants. This led to a burst of repressive authoritarianism as embarrassed leaders sought to reassure the public while enhancing their power as ‘commanders in chief’. The narrative has now matured into trench warfare between that power and constitutional roadblocks meant to limit it.


No sensible person dismisses the predicament facing the two governments after their respective terrorist attacks. Both had in some degree been found wanting. With rumour flying and repeat attacks probable, the prospect of further slaughter made ‘better safe than sorry’ the battle cry of the republic and the kingdom alike. It led to the emergency suspension of habeas corpus and the Geneva conventions while western security struggled to recover its equilibrium.

The overreaction was extreme and probably counterproductive. Those in control lost their self-control. Exaggerated claims were made to persuade people that an ongoing threat from Al-Qaeda, even after the attack on Afghanistan, was apocalyptic, involved weapons of mass destruction and embraced an axis of evil states. Intelligence was corrupted and polluted to this end.

This provided a global coup for Al-Qaeda and was a poor comment on the resilience of western democracy. Guantanamo and its detritus of arbitrary arrest, extraordinary rendition and ‘non-lethal torture’ will long remain a blot on America’s judicial record.

In Britain, Tony Blair’s annual counter-terrorism laws have become a similar neurotic twitch, supported by mendacious dossiers about nuclear weapons, anthrax, smallpox and other horrors ‘about to be unleashed’ on the public. Blair personally pandered to the repressive tendencies of the security industry in seeking 90-day detention, casual arrest and often ridiculous curbs on speech, assembly and right to trial.

Given the failure of elected assemblies to check this drift to authoritarianism, judges are having to feel their way to a more balanced counter-terrorist regime. They and the public are not stupid. They will accept that the current bout of violent Islamicism appears to require longer periods of interrogation and swifter deportation, with perhaps less fastidiousness over the destination.

But natural justice must be granted to the thousands now incarcerated in the West in the backwash of 9/11 and 7/7. Institutions other than government must supply it if the sea in which this pernicious form of fanaticism swims is to be drained.

In time I believe these injustices of the post-9/11 hysteria will be corrected as defenders of the rule of law assert themselves (but they will not include British MPs). Other legacies will be harder to erase because their supporters remain in denial.

The retributive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq are taking their predicted toll on victors and vanquished alike. Iraq has become a frantic exercise in military disengagement from a theatre which the coalition has lost all ability to control. It was a neo-imperialist spasm, a belief that a superior West could reorder the politics of an inferior East and leave it a better place. It has failed and terrorist cells the world over are exulting.

In Afghanistan the return of Taliban and other anarchist forces is the direct result of a five-year occupation of the most startling cynicism, not least the promotion of the poppy crop to reward anti-Taliban warlords. Even so, it is a mystery how a punitive war was allowed to creep into Iraq-style nation-building. An even greater mystery is why, when the Americans stepped back and passed the poisoned chalice to Nato, the latter accepted.

There is no more bizarre epitaph to 9/11 than the 36-nation, 400-NGO Tower of Babel that is modern Kabul, virtually a besieged cantonment. The mission ‘to reconstruct a democratic Afghanistan’ is the nation-builder’s equivalent of the Dardanelles expedition. The Americans are covering their retreat with a final assault on Taliban areas before Nato’s British commanders take over this month, forcing even the president, Hamid Karzai, to protest at the killings of hundreds in areas where he knows he must do business or fail.

As for Nato, nobody can give a coherent view of its objectives. None declared by the Ministry of Defence in London last year ‘ eradicating poppies, establishing order, extending the reach of the Kabul government ‘ is remotely plausible on the ground. The British force in Helmand is so underpowered it is at risk of being overwhelmed in the field. The new defence secretary, Des Browne, speaks of ‘challenges’ and ‘making progress’ and ‘countering terrorism’, but he sounds like a character from Oh! What a Lovely War as he carries out the reckless decision of his predecessor, John Reid, to put troops in harm’s way.

In his admirable new history of modern terrorism, Unknown Soldiers, Matthew Carr points out that if we are not to endure ‘a permanent state of emergency in which frightened and manipulated politicians are herded into anti-terrorist corrals’ we must develop ‘a more mature and honest attitude towards violent conflict’.

We cannot allow two dozen mass murderers to change our politics and way of life. The choice is ours, not theirs. Terrorism is not an ideology or a ‘threat’. It is simply a weapon, the random killing of civilians. It is a threat to life but not to democracy, let alone western civilisation, unless we choose to make it so.

To those brought up on the cold war and the real danger of nuclear conflict ‘ a war which Bush personally funked in Vietnam and Blair wanted Britain to fight disarmed ‘ the past five years of ‘war’ have seemed unreal.

Imminent attack from weapons of mass destruction has been cited so often as to constitute Orwellian brainwashing. The abuse of executive discretion and risk assessment has been outrageous. The cynic’s maxim that every organisation ends up being run by agents of its enemy has seemed all too real as Bush and Blair play into the hands of Osama Bin Laden and Muslim extremism.

Such idiocy ‘ and its appeasement by politicians and commentators ‘ is the most dangerous flank exposed by the aftermaths to 9/11 and 7/7. In Britain it was galling that Londoners should handle the explosions with calm normality while their government lost all sense of proportion.

It is barely conceivable that today’s cabinet would do as Margaret Thatcher did on surviving an assassination attempt in 1984 and walk over to her party conference and make a speech. When leaders can be so traumatised by one violent event, we must wonder how brave they would be when faced with a more concerted threat.

Somehow the British Army must be extricated from Iraq and Afghanistan. Somehow British liberties must be rescued from their detention without trial in Downing Street. Somehow Britain’s respect for its now substantial Muslim population must be re-established, as it can be without loss of vigilance against violence.

Bombs have never threatened the British constitution and way of life. They are too strong for that. The only threat at present comes from members of Her Majesty’s government.


3 thoughts on “Judges cut through the hysteria of rulers made tyrants by fear

  • Richard II

    Blair opens his big mouth and the BBC reports it as a major news headline – IMMEDIATELY:

    "Muslims 'must root out extremism'

    Tony Blair says there are limits to what governments can do, as he urges Muslims to root out extremism."

    I'm not going to read this BBC article, as I stopped listening to Blair years ago – though it's impossible to avoid everything he says.

    Obviously, Blair is busy entertaining the public with yet another set of lies, claiming Muslims have allowed extremists to flourish in their communities and countries, and it's time they take responsibility for this mess. Osama bin Laden being the biggest monster Arabs have ever created.

    All wrong!

    Blair deliberately fails to mention that 140 million Muslims in India are peaceful; that America has not held a single one for being involved in international terrorism.

    There are no Indian Muslims being held in any U.S. detention/torture centre, be it Gauntanamo Bay in Cuba, Diego Garcia, or Bagran in Afghanistan.

    Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, said, earlier this year:

    "Indian Muslims largely have NOT contributed to the ranks of the terrorist groups around the world that are striking at us and striking at our friends. They – the president of India is a Muslim. The prime minister of India is a Sikh. And Muslims have a way in their – they have an opportunity in Indian society to gain the highest office in the land, to be corporate CEOs. There's opportunity for that community in a way that perhaps doesn't exist in some other countries."

    There's a "bit" of bullshitting going on here, because there's also poverty and illiteracy in India, and not much help for people. Burns seems to think it's all nature and no nurture. He also seems to believe that if you're not capable of, have no interest in, or do not want to become a CEO, you deserve to live in poverty.

    From what I can gather, of the terrorist attacks that have occurred in India, some are purely an internal matter – something for India alone to sort out – whilst others have been carried out by small groups founded or funded, or both, and trained and armed, by terrorists in Pakistan, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and terrorists in Saudi Arabia.

    How interesting that in the "war on terror", America has chosen Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as its allies. Both have undemocratic regimes; both are propped up by America; and both are becoming a nuisance to democratic India and to Indian Muslims.

    Pace Confers with Saudi Leaders on Cooperation With U.S.:
    http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Mar2006/20060323_

    After the 2004 Fallujah attack, anti-U.S. and anti-Western sentiment apparently manifested itself amongst a small sector of Indian Muslims. Prior to the attack, there was no such hatred. Indian Muslims, by and large, DID NOT demonstrate when the US attacked Afghanistan; they DID NOT complain when the Taliban was removed from power; and they DID NOT get hot under the collar when Iraq was invaded.

    Well, all this blows Blair's simple-minded blame-it-all-on-the-Muslims argument out of the water. Does anyone get the feeling this "war on terrorism" is not what it seems?

    Second, regarding bin Laden. Bin Laden was a former CIA asset used to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan – the CIA made him! Bin Laden was driven out of virtually every Arab nation. He was an extremist America made, and he was an extremist Arabs did NOT want.

    "CIA: Osama Helped Bush in '04" by Robert Parry:
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/2006/070306.html

    Some important excerpts:

    "[prior to 9/11]…bin-Laden and his al-Qaeda militants were facing defeat after defeat. Their brand of Islamic fundamentalism had been rejected in Muslim societies from Algeria and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Bin-Laden and his lieutenants had even been expelled from the Sudan.

    "Bin-Laden's extremists had been chased to the farthest corners of the planet, in this case the caves of Afghanistan. At this critical juncture, al-Qaeda's brain trust decided that their best hope was to strike at the United States and count on a clumsy reaction that would offend the Islamic world and rally angry young Muslims to al-Qaeda's banner."

    In other words, bin Laden was going nowhere prior to 9/11; neither was his brand of extremism. Had Bush taken notice of the intelligence reports he'd received, 9/11 could have been prevented, most likely, and bin Laden wiped out.

    But Bush's response was to let 9/11 happen, and then kill anything and everything that moved in Iraq that happened to be in the "wrong" place at the "wrong" time, to rape, murder, torture, and to impose economic policies Iraqis were against. These actions have rejuvenated terrorism and terrorist groups that, prior to 9/11, weren't going anywhere.

    In other words, America "screwed up" big time, and Blair is now blaming the Muslim world entirely for this mess, baying for yet more blood, creating yet more hatred.

    More excerpts:

    "[The CIA's] conclusion: bin-Laden's [2004] message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection.

    "At the five o'clock meeting, [deputy CIA director] John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: 'Bin-Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.'

    "But the CIA analysts also felt that bin-Laden might have recognized how Bush's policies – including the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the endless bloodshed in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda's strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists."

    In other words, Bush and bin Laden were helping each other. It was in Bush's interest to keep bin Laden alive, and it was in bin Laden's interest to keep Bush in office. Americans failed to see this!

    Last few excerpts:

    "'Certainly,' the CIA's Miscik said, 'he would want Bush to keep doing what he's doing for a few more years,'

    "As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts drifted into silence, troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. 'An ocean of hard truths before them – such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin-Laden would want Bush reelected – remained untouched,' Suskind wrote.

    "Al-Qaeda's Gamble

    "For its part, al-Qaeda was running a risk that the United States might strike a precise and devastating blow against the terrorist organization, eliminating it as an effective force without alienating much of the Muslim world.

    "If that happened, the cause of Islamic extremism could have been set back years, without eliciting much sympathy from most Muslims for a band of killers who wantonly murdered innocent civilians."

    If we are going to talk about who is the biggest extremist, then we must also look at ourselves.

    And when we do, we discover that we've been doing some pretty extremist stuff over the years.

    In 1953, Britain encouraged the CIA to overthrow Iran's democratically elected government, and install a dictator, a tyrant who had no qualms about impoverishing his own people, and giving us the oil. We needed every penny we could steal in 1953; after World War II, Britain was broke.

    In 1921, Britain began "stapling together" three Ottoman provinces: Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra – and called this artificial creation, "Iraq" – all in order to safeguard Britain's oil interests.

    In World War I, the Arabs fought alongside the British, helping us defeat Germany and Turkey, and we rewarded them by slapping them hard across the face. A bit extreme, don't you think?

    For decades, we've meddled with the Middle East. Should we be surprised that it's now a bloody mess?

    Last year, Blair said it was a lack of freedom and a lack of opportunity that caused terrorism. Hence, the only way to stamp out this menace is to invade Arab nations, countries that, unlike Britain, do not provide their people with an array of freedoms and an embarrassment of opportunities (no laughing, please).

    Then 7/7 happened, and with the revelation that the London bombers were British, Blair realized he had hanged himself by his own rope, so he quickly changed tune. He now began telling the media that the problem lies with the Muslim religion and the Muslim communities.

    Blair just says whatever is expedient, whatever is in the interest of American foreign policy at the time – reality is beside the point!

  • Richard II

    I'm not impressed with this article by Simon Jenkins.

    Jenkins just excuses the British government. He uses words such as "hysteria", "idiocy", "overreaction", "neurotic", "lost their self-control", "a belief that a superior West could reorder the politics of an inferior East and leave it a better place."

    And he compares Blair's supposed nervousness with Thatcher's composure after an assassination attempt.

    The subtext of what Simon Jenkins is saying is that Britain is a defender of democracy and human rights, always has been, always will be, only this government panicked, overreacted, and became hysterical when the terrorists struck.

    Absolutely propaganda!

    Again, I refer people to Mark Curtis's "Web of Deceit": <a href="http://www.markcurtis.info” target=”_blank”>www.markcurtis.info

    The British public is being fooled just as much as the Americans.

  • Richard II

    I'm now taking a break from posting. Don't know when I will be back, or whether I can be back. Not that anyone cares 😛

    Idiots like Simon Jenkins get paid huge sums for writing rubbish in "The Times".

    Courageous Thatcher, says Simon Jenkins. So courageous she erected huge black gates to protect 10 Downing Street from attacks by the IRA.

    Politicians mess up, create more violence, and then want to be protected from the disaster they helped make.

    It is the public who has to risk their lives and see their relatives suffer or die for policies they had no say in.

    Too much politics and I'll end up getting a gun and blowing my brains out. Particularly when no one is prepared to do anything, and the media is little more than an obedient servant to the government.

    All politicians do is kill people, either directly in conflicts, or indirectly, by impoverishing others and by making people so desperate, they commit suicide. I'm trying hard not to become one of their prey.

    Here's an excellent article on Uzbekistan, backing up what Craig Murray has said about this regime:

    "The More Things Change…" by Nat Parry (written in 2001):
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/2001/102801a.html

    Homepage:
    http://www.consortiumnews.com

    (search archive for more articles)

    Blair's simple-minded worldview that Muslims terrorise the rest of us, falls flat on its face in Uzbekistan.

    In Uzbekistan, peaceful Muslims have been arrested, terrorised and killed by us, albeit indirectly, through our government's support for Karimov – and by our willingness to turn a blind eye.

    If we want to create pools of Muslim extremists, we are going the right way about it.

    Bush and Blair are gambling that any extremism their policies create can be crushed with overwhelming force.

    This will lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering, but Blair has never recoiled from murdering others, as evidenced by a speech given by East Timor's Bishop Belo:

    "My people have suffered terribly from the effects of armaments made in countries far from our shores…I appeal to the government of the United Kingdom, and its allies, to consider the dreadful consequences of this so-called defence industry. Please, I beg you,…do not sustain any longer a conflict which without these sales could never have been pursued in the first place, nor for so very long."

    Blair was not in the least bit moved.

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