Friday, October 01, 2004

Anglo-American S&M - the terrorists have won

Britain is one of America's closest allies. So why does the US persist in illegally detaining and torturing our citizens?

This report, of a letter written by British Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, alleges yet more torture by US troops.

No surprises there, but this is a British citizen, not some random Afghan or Iraqi peasant about whom no one cares because his government isn't part of the G8 and doesn't have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

This is not the way you treat your allies' people - especially when the ally in question has repeatedly asked for custody. Tony Blair himself, President Bush's bestest friend in the whole wide world, has personally asked for the four British detainees to be handed over to British custody. All requests have been refused.

Begg has allegedly been kept in solitary confinement since February 2003. He claims to have been subjected to torture, and to have witnessed the murder of fellow inmates at the hands of US soldiers. In their turn, the US would no doubt claim he was involved in anti-American campaigns.

Whether the claims from either party are true or not is beside the point: Begg has, as of yet, been charged with no crime.

Laws preventing governments from locking people up without trial for their supposed political views are essential for a democracy to work. Habeas corpus - the right to a trial - has long been a tradition in both British and American law. In 17th Century Britain we fought a Civil War (partially) over this very issue which led to the first introduction of habeas corpus and the 1689 Bill of Rights, on which the US constitution was partially based.

The 1689 Bill of Rights marked the birth of modern parliamentary democracy. A few years later, in 1695, the lapsing of the licensing act ended press censorship in England, allowing political debate to flourish. You know how the British parliament is known as "the mother of all parliaments"? That's why: Britain was the first country to entrench in law the right to freedom of speech without the fear of government retribution.

Without the habeas corpus, freedom of speech - which Americans seem so proud of, and always bring up as one of their country's finest achievements - is worthless. On a whim a government could lock up any dissenting voices and throw away the key - as has effectively happened with those detained at Guantánamo Bay.

In other words, Guantánamo Bay - as well as being a nice "fuck you" to Britain - makes any American claims that the US is spreading democracy utterly worthless. Not only were there some well-publicised very dodgy practices in Florida in the 2000 elections, but no US citizen can any longer be certain that they won't suddenly have US government agents dragging them off to rot in a cell. (Then there's the problem that a sizable number of Guantánamo Bay detainees are not American citizens, their "crimes" were not committed on US soil, so what right does the US have to detain them?)

The delightful thing is that under the US Patriot Act and recent UK Counter-Terrorism legislation - which have suspended the automatic right to habeas corpus on both sides of the Atlantic - three-hundred years of freedom and democracy has been wiped out.

Well - would you look at that? The terrorists have won.

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