Thursday, 6 December 2007

Naughty Americans

British people really do love to have a good whinge about America. I was thinking about this today while listening to a radio debate between Shami Chakrabarti, leader of the pro-civil-liberties lobby group Liberty, and an American legal expert, over the question of rendition of suspects. Apparently in a recent case before the Supreme Court, it has been ruled that even if a criminal suspect has been brought to the US illegally from another country (i. e., outside the ordinary extradition procedures), then setting aside the question of the legality of the seizure or otherwise, they can be tried before a US court.

Needless to say, Chakrabarti was vigorously opposed to this decision. She used the hoary old liberal chestnut that, in a democratic society, the rule of law is vitally important and if compromised by the government for any reason in any small manner, then tyranny and dictatorship follow. Most of the people who phoned in afterwards agreed with her. They saw it as yet another example of America riding roughshod over freedom and liberty, bullying the rest of the world, and ignoring international law. (They also mostly completely misinterpreted the whole thing to mean, 'George Bush is now going to go around kidnapping whoever he likes and having them stand trial!' as you would expect.)

As is often the case, I always want to ask Chakrabarti-ist liberals what they would have liked the alternative to have been in a case like that of Eichmann, who as you probably know was kidnapped by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires in 1960 and taken to Israel to face trial. In that case, Israel technically violated a long-established customary rule of international law - that of State sovereignty - but very few people would argue that it wasn't justified. Eichmann was not the type of man the world could continue to allow to escape justice, and even if Israel should technically not have kidnapped him, the fact remained that he ought to have been tried - and would not if he had been allowed to remain in Argentina.

I would submit that 'the rule of law' is often bandied about by liberals as the cornerstone of society, but that the law is in the end only a means by which justice is served. In Eichmann's case justice demanded that a certain law be broken, and if on occasion the US judiciary is faced with the decision of whether or not to try a dangerous criminal based on a possible illegality in his or her seizure, I would applaud its decision to go ahead with a trial.

British readers will remember Ronny Biggs, a man involved in one of the most famous crimes in post-war Britain - The Great Train Robbery. Biggs was responsible for the theft of a huge amount of money and was at the very least an accomplice to murder, but because he managed to flee to Brazil he never faced the punishment that he should have. He lived free to a ripe old age. I call that madness - but what is madder still is that, if Ms. Chakrabarti had her way, if Biggs had somehow ended up back in the UK circa 1970 without being properly extradited, it would have been wrong to try him. That is liberty at the expense of common sense.

In any case, I sincerely doubt that any court in any country in the world would act in a different way to the US Supreme Court in this matter, so the rest of us can hardly point the finger at Washington. People do, though - because nothing beats a good Thursday lunchtime grip about evil old Uncle Sam.


Bilbo said...

Interesting that you raise the related issue of the kidnapping ("rendition"?) of Eichmann - nobody seems to object to that one (other than old Nazis). While I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of my country being the world's policeman, I'm equally uncomfortable with wackos thinking they have God's permission to kill me. I know which way I'll vote, here.

mattiecore said...

My nation's government does a lot of things I dislike, but in this particularly case, I agree with the decision. My reasoning is similar to yours on the matter