The question of legality

I have been studying the judgement of the British High Court on the case brought by David Miranda et al against the Home Secretary et al as a result of his having been detained for nine hours under terrorist laws when he passed through the UK en route from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro.

There is enough meat in this judgement for several articles, but I’ll restrict myself to one.  One thing is apparent:  the police on the ground at Heathrow Airport were clearly not convinced that they had the power to act under the infamous paragraph 7.   The office on duty questioned the request twice, and only after the second time did the intelligence services change the wording of the request to indicate that Miranda was suspected of being involved in terrorist activity.

Even the court indicated that the wording of the law, was extremely wide on the subject of what constitutes terrorist activity and the right to stop and question travellers passing through, and it seems equally clear to anyone not steeped in the dots and commas of legalese that this was not a genuine case of suspected terrorism but a trumped up play with words to create the maximum amount of intimidation for Miranda and by association in the journalists for whose material he was courier.

And this brings me to my point.  Various governments, principally the US and UK governments have always held forth that their security agencies act legally.  Even that statement has been questioned, whereupon the governments refer to secret decisions of secret courts.

But the point is that anything a government puts into law is by definition legal.  If a government wrote into law that all male children born on December 25 should be put to death, that would, by definition, be law and any deaths resulting would be legal.

It seems to me that having regard to the wide interpretation upon illegal activity and the wide scope allowed to the forces of law and order, not to mention the frequency with which the citizens of the country take a back seat by comparison with government and commerce, that we can no longer trust our governments when it comes to making laws.

Now clearly governments have to make laws.  But a solution to this might be that all laws must be referred to a court of citizens before they can be made law.  In this way perhaps the common sense of ordinary people can weigh down the reality-fleeing flights of fancy of our lawmakers.

Perhaps one could have a rotating system similar to the system for jury duty?  I would not like to suggest anything to which members have to be elected, for then one has a tendency to get the people who want to be elected, and merely created a second chamber of lawmakers.

Thank goodness for democracy!

When one writes a blog which often is a critique of the state of the world, one is often so torn between different enormities of bad behaviour, bad judgement and bad ethics that one is rendered incapable of choosing one to comment on, and as a consequence comments on nothing.  Which explains so many silences in these pages.  But now I have material which demands a comment.

I have a friend whose judgement and good sense I have always considered to be exemplary.  This friend made a posting on Facebook.  Now I know that nobody, in the normal course of things, should be judged by their utterances on Facebook, but this particular lapse of good judgement is so provoking that I have used it for the subject of this post.

In connection with an article in one of the Main Stream Media here in Sweden on the atrocities committed by North Korea against its own people as cited in a UN report of dubious veracity, my friend comments:  “Let us hope that everyone who thinks that the elections in the autumn are an interruption rather than a privilege read the article extra carefully.”

Let’s look at this.  Because there are no elections in North Korea, the government there  can treat its people how it likes, including imprisonment without charge, execution and torture.  And because there are elections here in Sweden, we are free from these ills.  Let’s look closely at three countries which pride themselves on their proclaimed democracy, the US, the UK and Sweden.

All three of these countries – and not just these three – have laws which allow them to lock up persons suspected of terrorism with no access to due process of law and in isolation, a condition which has been equated with torture, for long periods of time.  Note that only suspicion is required.  Two of them send unmanned aircraft to kill people in foreign countries, together with their relatives, without any more due process than that the president of one or the prime minister of the other gives the go-ahead.  Sweden does not do this.  Sweden has no drones.  But they do have an elite force of soldiers who go in on the ground and do much the same thing.

  • In the US innumerable people have been locked up in a cage on an island for over ten years without access to the due process of law.  Some of them were fighting in a civil war.  Others just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • One person is now serving a term of 35 years imprisonment for having a differing opinion from the government on what the public should know about the way the US wages war.
  • Several people in influential positions have called for at least the incarceration for a very long time of another person with a differing opinion and some have even suggested that he should be executed, either after due process of law, or even without such a process.
  • The US went to the unprecedented lengths of breaking all international treaties for the safety of air traffic by forcing enough countries of Europe to close their airspace to the plane of another country’s president just on the unfounded suspicion that someone they wanted to get their hands on might be on the plane.
  • In the UK a bunch of government thugs invaded the headquarters of the only really reliable newspaper in the country and demanded that a computer containing evidence of the greatest crime against many nation’s people that has ever been committed be destroyed under threat of unspecified reprisals against the newspaper and its staff.  It made no difference that all the information on the computer in question was duplicated on innumerable other computers outside of the reach of these thugs.  They were not there to destroy the information.  They were there to intimidate the editor and staff of the newspaper.
  • In this country the taking of photographs of the sights of the city, such as the houses of parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s cathedral, is potentially an act of terrorism, and even if you are released, you can have your details recorded in a database for time immemorial, and your camera will have the offending shots removed.
  • The UK government is actually considering withdrawing from the Human Rights convention on the grounds that the convention prevents them from treating what they consider to be undesirable people as they like.

In Sweden it is not (yet) quite so bad.  Although if you are one of those people who hold a different opinion from the governments of the western world on what the general public should be told about the activities of those governments, you can expect to be honey-trapped, released, allowed to leave the country to go about your business, and then have an arrest warrant issued in order to bring you back for incarceration.  The general opinion is that this is a back door to the extradition of the whistle-blower in question to the US where he, too, would face at the minimum a very long term in prison.  In his case also, voices have been raised about execution.

All three countries took part in an action to ‘free’ Libya from its dictator, and see where that got the Libyans.  I think if you ask them, they would willingly accept another dictator of the same kind provided they were released from the ‘freedom’ they now ‘enjoy’.  Their homes are wrecked, their places of work, their hospitals, their schools are wrecked and they are subject to the whims of an incalculable number of petty war-lords, none of whom will attain total power in the near future.  The same* can be said of a number of other countries which have been left in ruins after being ‘freed’ from dictatorship.  Ask the citizens of these countries which state they would have preferred if they had had the choice.

All three of these countries (and many other ‘democracies’) are engaged in intrusive spying on their own and each other’s citizens in the name of the war on terror.  The only terror in question is the terror of the governments that their citizens will rise up and saying “enough”.  If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear is the excuse.  But all the information collected is saved, not for a few months, for possible use by the police, but for years if not for ever.  And who is to say that another government, in another time, might not change the rules to the extent that something innocuous today is a serious crime in the future.

If I were asked, I would say that the only country with anything even closely resembling democracy is Switzerland, where many serious issues are put to a referendum.  This does not mean that all decisions of the Swiss are necessarily more sensible or rational than those of other countries, but they do at least have consensus.

And one final comment on democracy.  When did you ever hear of any democracy in which the opposition during one mandate period, being given the mandate in an election, reversed any of the decisions of significance of the former party in power, whose policies they had so loudly criticised?  And how many times have you seen a party which has lost power, and now finds itself in opposition, suddenly begin loudly to criticise the decisions they made themselves whilst in power?

No, the ‘privilege’ of voting is no guarantee that we cannot one day find ourselves in a similar situation to the unfortunate people of North Korea.  It requires more than voting.  It requires watchfulness and a readiness to stand up and say no.

And, yes, I agree that I could not write this with impunity if I lived in North Korea (I probably couldn’t write anything on the internet).  But by writing this here, I may well find that I have put myself on a list somewhere for special watching.

* As far as I am aware, Sweden did not take part in any other actions on foreign soil.

© James Wilde 2015