For Your Protection

Reading my friend Anthony’s blog (Anthony is the writer of Shooting War) at GNN recently I noticed a post about the illegal detention of people at Gauntanamo. Alas, nothing new, you may sigh; despite the fact that the US has now been holding hundreds for up to five years with no trials, no legal process and, most damingly, no solid evidence being presented to back up the assertions levelled at prisoners most citizens in the West really don’t think much about it. Sure, it gets the occassional large piece in the news or a documentary, but nothing which changes the policy and I worry that people just come to accept it as a ‘normal’ background part of our world, like the nightly reports of mass killing in Iraq we just numbly now accept.

More worrying is the fact that a lot of people seem to assume that if they are being held then they must have done something wrong. This is the same flawed (il)logic which is applied also to the biometric ID cards and DNA database schemes in the UK: surely, it says, you are only opposed to this if you have something to hide (my own local MP made much the same weak argument). Persevere with an injustice for long enough and eventually your people will just accept it; that’s been a credo of the bully throughout history. Perhaps there are some genuine terrorists being held; with so many from troubled areas it is quite likely, but if we cannot provide proof after five years of illegal detention and investigation it doesn’t say much for our intelligence services – if they can’t prove someone they have had locked up without rights for half a decade has done something wrong then how are we to trust them to find out about terrorists operating at large?

But to get back to the point of something like this, much as many of us hate it, slowly becoming a (reluctantly) accepted fact I read in Anthony’s post about Sami al-Haj, the only known journalist held at Gauntanamo, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera. His story is well known across the Muslim world and yet, as Anthony notes, hardly mentioned in the West; in fact I hadn’t heard of it myself. Which brings us to that gradul acceptance of thing; I like to try and keep up with events and as anyone who reads this regularly knows I like to discuss them, partly because I am an opinionated bugger but also because discussion of events is how civilised peoples attempt to raise awareness of the activities of the more barbarous elements of human society. And yet I’d never heard of this. Too easy to let these events go past us all without stopping to question, until one day we wake up and find our own citizens being held without habeus corpus and our emails intercepted without even the approval of a judge, our DNA on a database and MPs signing away the rights of the people they represent ‘for their protection’ while uttering bland ‘statistics’, the veracity of which cannot be proven to the public ‘for security reasons’.

And anyone who speaks against these is accussed of being a comforter to the bad guys, a traitor. Strange, I always thought it more patriotic to stand up for the system of democracy, freedom of speech, belief and expression, protection of law applied equally for all, to defend our core values which come under attack from terrorists and those who pretend to be our leaders and protectors. Core values which generations shed blood to protect for us, so if our so-called leaders sign them away, doesn’t that make them the traitors? So now, thanks to Anthony I know about this; it doesn’t change things in that this man will not either be freed or given a proper fair trial but it does remind me that I should keep my eyes and ears open. The old quote about the price of liberty being eternal vigilance is true; listen, read, speak.