Who are the real traitors?

Recently I had an exchange with an old school acquaintance who accused me of defending an enemy of my country, namely Abu Hamza, on my blog. Abu Hamza is currently in jail, having served most of a sentence in the UK for inciting racial hatred, and awaiting extradition to the USA on suspicion of some sort of conspiracy to start a terrorist or jihadist training camp in Oregon. While I dithered over continuing the discussion with this individual, I was provoked into writing this by reading this article in last week’s New Statesman, about others facing extradition to the USA under the same odious treaty being used to extradite Abu Hamza.

Here is what was alleged of me on my old school’s Facebook:

Ive just been reading a blog from a member of this group, He is now a muslim which isnt in My eyes a bad thing. What I do find bad is the fact that in this blog He defends an enamy of this country Abu Hamza, the hooked handed freek. No names needed here but if you dont like our ways f**k off to the east, see how long you last

Since I’m the only “old boy” from my school who has a blog, or at least has mentioned the school on it, it was obvious whom this referred to. I posted a reply which ended by saying that I did not believe he should not be tried or punished, just that he should be tried here, rather than in the USA, which he has never visited. His reply was, “why not let the yanks pay for his up keep saves us the money?”.

To begin with, I do not come from “the east”; my only recent “foreign” ancestors came from Ireland, and even they were born there when Ireland was still part of the UK. I do not have an “east” to “f**k off” back to. I did my own trawl through my archives looking for anything which could be interpreted as defending Abu Hamza, because I have never had much affection for him. I posted this about Abdullah Faisal, another rabble-rouser of a similar stripe to Abu Hamza; much of what applies to Faisal applies to him as well. The short version is that I’m not a fan. I have never defended his ideas, most of which I am against; I have only defended him in the interests of justice.

One such incident was in 2004, which was not long after the police raid on the Finsbury Park mosque, which finally saw him and his gang displaced from the building others had built but which they had come to dominate. My feeling was that this should have been done a long time ago, but that our governments (under both John Major and Tony Blair) had seen fit to let them remain until the international embarrassment they posed became too great. For one thing, they were an intelligence honeypot, drawing in all those looking for some “action”. I got the impression that many Muslims thought the police somehow had no right to raid a mosque; the reality is that the police can raid anywhere they like, and reportedly they covered or removed their shoes to avoid soiling the mosque’s carpets, much to the ridicule of the tabloids. In fact, the community at Finsbury Park had been crying out for action against Abu Hamza for years. The only thing wrong was that it took them so long.

Anyway, when Abu Hamza was attacked in jail by some self-righteous common criminal in 2005, the Sun, a low-rent, mass-circulation Murdoch tabloid, gloated. They printed a story headlined “Crook smacks Hook”, the nickname referring to his hand hooks, ending with a phone number for the thug to call to speak to the Sun, followed by: “by the way, WELL DONE!”. This was disgusting — a national newspaper, which normally stands for “law and order”, singing the praises of a thug who assaulted a fellow inmate. Violence by self-righteous lags against the alleged worst prisoners (sex offenders, those convicted of crimes against children, terrorists) is a well-known problem in jails, to the extent that many of them are segregated for their own protection. It does not matter to the thugs that their victims might be innocent; Donna Anthony, who was jailed for murdering her babies in the early 1990s and later cleared on appeal (after the so-called expert who testified against her was found to have played tricks with his figures), reported that many prisoners did not call her by her name, only “BKB” (baby-killing bitch), and that she was attacked, as was Angela Cannings, jailed for similar reasons and released a couple of years later.

I wonder what this hooligan did that got him put in jail - perhaps he was mugging little old ladies to feed his drug habit, or beating up his girlfriend, or maybe an old girlfriend who wanted rid of him, or perhaps diddling some old dear out of their life savings. I am not sure if Abu Hamza really has any blood on his hands, but I know who I would rather meet in a dark alley between him and his jumped-up low-life attacker. That’s why I posted this entry. The Sun also persistently harped on Abu Hamza’s hooks, which are (or used to be) a common substitute for hands for people who have lost their real hands; scissors are another. I recall reading a Reader’s Digest piece about a woman who was raped and whose hands were cut off by her attacker who was trying to kill her, but who survived and was fitted with scissors instead of prosthetic hands. Am I really the only person who finds the spectacle of a mass newspaper ridiculing someone, even a character like Abu Hamza, on the grounds of a physical deformity to be inappropriate, to say the least?

The real issue now surrounding Abu Hamza, however, is the extradition law under which a British citizen can be extradited to the USA without any demonstration of evidence on their part beyond a call for “written information”, understood to be fact, about their supposed wrongdoing. British citizens are not allowed to challenge the evidence against them in a British court, while American citizens can do so in relation to British extradition demands; the US Constitution guarantees this (and other countries are even more stringent; Russia, for example, does not extradite Russian citizens at all). The treaty was supposedly designed to make it easier to extradite terrorist suspects after Lotfi Raissi successfully challenged a request in the British courts; meanwhile, the treaty has been used against people other than terrorist suspects in the UK, while apparently part of the deal was that Britain would not use the treaty to extradite Irish terrorist suspects, who have been living freely in Boston and other parts of the USA for decades.

As might have been expected, this treaty was promptly used against people far removed from terrorism, but the most disturbing thing is that many of them did not commit crimes in the USA, but did things in this country which had effects in the USA. First it was the NatWest Three, who have since been convicted of corrupt practices but could, in fact, have been tried here as these things are illegal here as well. Gary McKinnon does not deny cracking NASA’s and the Pentagon’s computers, but we have a perfectly serviceable law against such behaviour here as well. However, a couple from Scotland are being threatened with extradition, and have already spent several months in jail here before being released on bail, for exporting substances to the USA which are perfectly legal here but are illegal there, because they are used to make crystal meth. The substances have many other uses, however, but such arguments now carry no weight in British courts.

In short, this treaty means that British citizens must obey American law when dealing with Americans, particularly when those Americans are on home soil, a radical innovation and a privilege most other countries do not enjoy. If a British bakery company sent a consignment of poppy seeds to the United Arab Emirates, where they are banned as a supposed source of opium, would the British entertain an extradition warrant against them? Given that the slippery slope has so far led to British citizens being threatened with a foreign court trial without having broken the law, one wonders when such a demand might be made regarding a dispute between a British citizen or resident and an American on British soil — perhaps a 16-year-old American girl falling pregnant after having sex with someone in the UK, which is legal here but falls under American “statutory rape” laws — or if the British government considered that when they signed this treaty. Some might say “fair enough, the Americans are powerful and that’s the law of nature for you”. People also say that they are our closest ally, which has saved us twice in half a century from German aggression, and we need them on side. The answer to all this is that other countries have refused similar treaties and are still standing, and that Britain refused to send troops to a war the Americans had chosen for themselves at a time when we had a real enemy (or a real potential enemy, at least) with a real army occupying part of a nearby country and with nuclear missiles pointing at our cities, namely the USSR.

However, if this really were a treaty signed under threat from an angry post-9/11 American government, the government here might have been expected to poke a few holes in it quietly, by not locking up those demanded for extradition and quietly letting them escape, for example. Britain is a “model pupil” when it comes to following international obligations such as treaties and EU directives, which many other EU countries are much slower to implement than the UK is. While British sovereignty no longer counts for British citizens dealing with Americans in their home country, a British court refused an attempt to sue the Saudi state for torture, on “sovereign immunity” grounds, despite the fact that torture means inflicting physical injury in an attempt to pervert the course of justice, both criminal acts in any country which has the rule of law, so that the Saudi state could pretend to its peoople that the bombings they had witnessed were just a dispute among foreigners over booze rather than acts of political terrorism aimed at the Saudi state and its foreign backers.

Besides the UK’s record of punctilious observation of international treaties, however, the present government also has a slavish devotion to America which leads them to copy things from the USA which are falling into discredit there. Andrew Stephen of the New Statesman notes that the recent controversy over ETS, the company which was awarded (but has since lost) the contract to mark the British Sats tests and has a reputation for marking errors in the USA, is part of a long pattern of this government’s cringing subservience to America, paying tribute to its institutions and cultural norms and ignoring their failings, while mocking Britain’s own institutions (the example given being the dress of the Lord Chancellor). Perhaps the reason for this is a painful sense of the decline of Britain’s position in the world; a common characteristic of a defeated nation is a sense that they were defeated because they were not more like them, which leads to cringingly imitating and deferring to them. In reality, Britain has no need to display such subservience. I am sure it suits the American administration down to the ground for the British government to think there is, because they can make veiled, empty threats and have them delivered on lock, stock and barrel. The fact is that America helped Britain out in World War II after much internal debate, and after Germany declared war on them, and largely on a basis of loans, which Britain finished paying back only recently.

To answer the question of why we do not simply send Abu Hamza to the USA and let them pay for his keep, the answer is that justice is not all about the money, even though it costs money. We have a perfectly good legal system in this country, which we pay for in our taxes and of which British citizens (even those without much respect for British institutions) have a high expectation. We do not expect to be summarily handed over to a foreign power, of which we know rather less and of which we have rather less confidence when it comes to matters of justice. We have laws not only to stop crimes being committed, but to stop ordinary people carrying out summary “justice” against their real or alleged enemies. The upkeep of Abu Hamza, and the relatively small number like him, may seem like a lot of money to the average British citizen, but for the government, it is small change, and paying for the upkeep of such people is among the expenses which arise from having a justice system at all. Otherwise, we might let him loose and let someone kill him if they want; but the same would apply to anyone else who felt themselves offended.

Besides, this treaty is yet another example of the British state kicking away people’s rights, sometimes long-established rights, in the interests of momentary efficiency. The right to silence was abolished under John Major in response to a media-inspired moral panic; under Blair, we have seen the right to protest curtailed, the right to free speech curtailed, and now our rights to follow our own laws in our own country abolished, just so that our government could please the mass media with an illusion of efficiency or toughness or maintain their illusion of a cosy relationship with the Americans, or even get rid of frustration of their whims by the judiciary. All these things seem costly to the ordinary Sun or Daily Mail reader who worries about where their tax money is going, and does not think that these rights could benefit them one day. Many of these things could not have happened in America, or in most other democracies. The law against “glorifying terrorism” would have been struck down on First Amendment grounds, as the Communications Decency Act, passed under President Clinton, was. Some right-wingers attack the Human Rights Act because they do not like the idea of judicial supervision of Parliament; in other democratic countries, particularly the USA, this has been the norm for decades, even centuries.

The conclusion is that we live in a country which will sell us down the river, which sends our troops to fight in pointless wars in the service of their foreign masters (at our expense, of course), which signs away our rights for the pleasure of those same masters, which refuses to do what a state is supposed to do — to protect its citizens from the designs of foreign powers. Why does such a state deserve anyone’s loyalty? Our rulers do not take oaths of allegiance to us or to their country, but only to the Queen, and the Queen simply does what she tells them. They are a bigger enemy to this country, and its people, than Abu Hamza ever was.

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