Abu Qatada – When Protecting Liberty is Most Important

His Grace Archbishop Cranmer has an article today that calls for the “Extradition of Abu Qatada Regardless”:  http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2012/02/government-must-deport-abu-qatada.html

I am a big fan of his grace, usually his comments are perceptive and well reasoned, but in this case I find myself unable to agree with him.

The principles of liberty and justice are, of course, tested when the person who gains the benefit of their protection is despised by the public and the media.

Unfortunately it is usually under the guise of “national security” or the “protection of the people”  that our freedoms are hacked away by the state:

It was as the result of an alleged terrorist arson attack on the Reichstag building in Germany in 1933 that led to the

Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State

which took away the civil liberties of the German people:

On the basis of Article 48 paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the German Reich, the following is ordered in defense against Communist state-endangering acts of violence:

§ 1. Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. It is therefore permissible to restrict the rights of personal freedom [habeas corpus], freedom of opinion, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organize and assemble, the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications. Warrants for House searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed

Of course the removal of these freedoms did not just apply to terrorists, but at a stroke the rights of everyone were removed.

Where they applied only against terrorists?

Ask the Jews, the Gypsies, the disabled or anyone who sought to oppose Hitler’s rule.

In more recent times the terrorist attack on the twin towers lead to the passing of the ironically named PATRIOT Act in the United States which wiped away the protections given to the American people by the US constitution at a stroke:

Freedom of association: To assist terror investigation, the government may monitor religious and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity.

Freedom of speech: The government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone the government subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.

Right to legal representation: The government may monitor conversations between attorneys and clients in federal prisons and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.

Freedom from unreasonable searches: The government may search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without probable cause to assist terror investigation.

Right to a speedy and public trial: The government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.

Right to liberty: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them. “Enemy combatants” have been held incommunicado and refused attorneys.

Has the legislation only been used on terrorists? Ask the woman arrested under the patriot act for spanking children, or the couple who were arrested under the Patriot Act for kissing on a plane. Less than 9% of searches without due cause were actually used in cases of suspected terrorism.

“National Security”, “terrorism”, “protecting the people” are always the labels used when the state takes away our freedoms, as H.L. Mencken pointed out:

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Tim Worstall put it very well:

“We get to jail you if we’ve tried you and found you guilty of a crime: something that was a crime at the time you did it. You get tried in front of a jury, see the evidence against you, get to argue against said evidence, have representation and etc. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a former Cabinet Minister charged with perverting the course of justice, a kiddie fiddler or suspected of being a mass murdering terrorist.

We also get to put you in jail if we’re going to charge and then try you but we think you’ll run away before we do…..and in a very small number of cases, if we think you’ll nobble witnesses.

And that’s actually about it. We don’t get to stick you in a high security jail just because we suspect you’re a bad ‘un. No, not even if you’re suspected of being a terrorist mastermind.

Extradition makes it all a little murkier: some who are to be extradited get bail as they’re not flight risks (nor witness nobblers). Some are regarded as flight risks and don’t. But if we’re not going to extradite the bloke as we wouldn’t allow the evidence in our own courts…..extracted by torture we think, thus tainted….then that doesn’t apply either.

It’s tempting to think that with a real bad ‘un we should throw all of this away so that we can all sleep safely in our beds. But, you know, to be really honest about this? I sleep much more safely in my bed knowing that I cannot, on the basis of information extracted by torture, be declared a bad ‘un and thus locked up indefinitely.

Remember, these rules are not here to protect the Abu Qatadas of this world. They are there to protect us, the citizenry, from the authorities.

Which is why I sleep safer in my bed of night: if the rules will protect some scumbag like him then they’re going to protect me, aren’t they?

I much prefer this system to the American one where suspected bad ‘uns are dumped on an island in the Caribbean…..don’t you?”

It is in difficult cases like those of Abu Qatada that the true defenders of liberty must speak out, liberty and justice are not reserved for those we like or agree with. If we don’t defend the rights of those we despise, then the state will drive a coach and horses through our liberty… one hobgoblin at a time.

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  • Sean

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  • One Day

    I have to disagree with you here.

    Abu Qatada is not a British citizen.

    As a libertarian surely you can appreciate that Britain cannot be the police, judge and jury for the citizens of a foreign country. We don’t have the resources and the capacity to do this.

    Britains law is not global law and we must allow a country to exert its own form of justice on its own citizens. Abu Qatada must be sent back to Jordan to face trial.