Labour in the dock (again)

Even in its (probable) dying days of power Labour is still being taken to task by the courts for railroading civil liberties under the pretence of protecting national security.

As the Guardian reports

The court of appeal has dismissed an attempt by MI5 and MI6 to suppress evidence of their alleged complicity in the torture and secret transfer of British residents to Guantánamo Bay.
In a devastating judgment, it ruled that the unprecedented attempt by the security and intelligence agencies, backed by the attorney general and senior Whitehall officials, to suppress evidence in a civil trial undermined deep-seated principles of common law and open justice.

MI5 and MI6 said evidence in the case, in which the Guardian, the Times and the BBC intervened, should be kept secret from everyone except the judges and specially appointed and vetted counsel.

The case concerns six Guantanamo detainees, including Binyam Mohamed, who has already won a separate case to make public information regarding his mistreatment. They have taken out a civil action against the government in respect of various abuses including torture and false imprisonment. The government was attempting to have the entire case heard in secret with evidence used in the government’s defence withheld from the claimants, a flagrant breach of natural justice. One of the judges who made the ruling, Lord Neuberger, put it perfectly –

The principle that a litigant should be able to see and hear all the evidence which is seen and heard by a court determining his case is so fundamental, so embedded in the common law, that, in the absence of parliamentary authority, no judge should override it … [it] represents an irreducible minimum requirement of an ordinary civil trial,

This follows a ruling last week by the European Court of Justice that restrictions on the payment of benefits to the wives of individuals who have had their assets frozen due to suspected terrorist activity are illegal. The restrictions included only being allowed to withdraw £10 a week in cash for each member of the household and having to regularly submit detailed reports of their finances to the Treasury. Right to the very end Labour has refused to learn that these kind of spiteful and vindictive measures do nothing to combat terrorism and do everything to undermine public support for the fight against it.

Return of the undead

It has been another difficult week for Barack Obama, with his little problem with Israel. What with his problems getting his healthcare reforms through congress and in finding a way to close Guantanamo Bay it might be understandable if Liberals on both sides of the pond were getting slightly frustrated, so it is fitting that in the last few days we have been given a reminder of why, whatever Obama’s faults, we should at least be truly grateful that the Republicans, or specifically the particular faction represented by Bush and his cronies, are out of power.

First we have Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove doing the rounds, touting his book and defending the use of waterboarding on terrorist subjects.

“I’m proud that we used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists and gave us valuable information that allowed us to foil plots such as flying aeroplanes into Heathrow and into London, bringing down aircraft over the Pacific, flying an aeroplane into the tallest building in Los Angeles and other plots,” he said.
“Yes, I’m proud that we kept the world safer than it was, by the use of these techniques. They’re appropriate, they’re in conformity with our international requirements and with US law.”

All very noble sounding of course, but even if one accepts that waterboarding does not constitute torture (and that requires a rather wide stretch of the imagination) we should be aware that this was only one kind of abuse which was suffered by detainees and remember the practice of extraordinary rendition, the black prison network and the outsourcing of torture to regimes less concerned with their international obligations and legal niceties. Continue reading

An unsatisfactory conclusion

So Abdelbaset al-Basit al-Megrahi has abandoned his appeal against his conviction for the Lockerbie bombing and will now presumably be allowed to return to Libya on compassionate grounds, to live out his last days there before he finally succumbs to his prostate cancer. And a long and controversial chapter in British legal history somes to an end.
Al-Meghrahi was found guilty by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands with a panel of judges and no jury. The case against him appears to be flimsy – the Crown’s star witness was shopkeeper Tony Gaudi who sold the clothes which were in the suitcase containing the bomb originally gave a description which bore little resemblance to al-Megrahi and eventually only identified him after seeing his photo in a magazine which named him as the suspect. The only hard evidence was a fragment of a circuit board said to come from a timer of a type used by the Libyan secret service. Against that, the bomb is known to have been concealed in a Toshiba cassette recorder of the type previously used by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLB), the group initially thought to be responsible for the bombing.
The other evidence is circumstantial at best – for example there is no real evidence that the suitcase containing the bomb was put on the plane in Malta, as claimed by the Crown. Certainly some of the families of those who died in the bombing are unconvinced.
We don’t know what the result of al-Megrahi’s appeal would have been, and the government was trying to supress certain documents which were crucial to his case. But this outcome suits no-one – for those who believe he is guilty the perpetrator of one of the worst terrorist outrages of modern times will now be free, for those not convinced the questions remain. All in all an unsatisfatory end to a controversial and, of course, tragic saga.