In his piece published on the Telegraph Blog today, When the next bomb goes off in London, blame the judges, Con Coughlin has, to my mind, produced the most crass and unpleasant piece of demagoguery hosted by the modern broadsheet press (though you should feel free to make your own nominations in the comments).
The Court of Appeal today held today that details of what our own security services knew about a foreign power torturing a British citizen should not be kept secret, a decision Big Brother Watch welcomes. Writing about the decision, Coughlin begins,
Why don’t our judges just come clean and sign up with the Taliban?
And it goes downhill from there.
Every time they are asked to choose between the defence of the realm, or upholding the rights of some Islamic militant who claims his human rights have been violated, the judges invariably find in favour of the latter.
Sometimes, Con, innocent people find themselves in courts. Or perhaps this is a concept entirely alien to your point-and-condemn worldview. What sort of society do you think we're defending? I want us to defend a society in which we believe in innocence until proven guilty, freedom of speech, even for those with whom we disagree, and, perhaps controversially to your mind, not torturing people. What do you want?
Whether it is holding suspected terrorists so that thorough investigations of their activities can be carried out,
In the form used in the UK, "holding" is sometimes lengthy imprisonment without trial and sometimes (viz control orders) without even the prospect of trial.
or pandering to civil rights campaigners such as the odious Clive Stafford-Smith, the judical establishment never misses an opportunity to undermine the government’s efforts to protect us from harm.
Perhaps it’s because me lerned friends are too grand to travel by public transport, but the only reason I can think of to explain their egregious behaviour is that they somehow feel immune from the threat posed by Islamist terror groups.
Ignoring the lerned typo, I point out that judges are hardly immune from terror threats. The IRA bombed the Old Bailey.
Even when the security services have raised the current terror threat level to “severe”, the judges are more interested in bending over backwards to accommodate deeply unsympathetic characters like Binyam Mohamed than paying proper attention to the nation’s security needs.
Should the law change because our security agencies shift the scareometer from "black" to "black special"? I don't think so. During the time of the IRA, which objectively posed a much greater threat to us (and often tragically delivered on that threat) we did not allow our way of life to be changed. When we did - from removing bins on Oxford Street to Diplock courts - the changes were far smaller and more robustly debated than presently, as we change things in the face of a smaller threat, perhaps because we lived in a society more intellectually committed to the values of liberty and freedom than today. When we did make those less significant changes in the face of the Republican terrorist threat, it was wrong. Consider that in comparison with the enormous changes wrongly wrought post-9/11, largely unchallenged by our legal system, and then look at the crass odium poured on the heads of our judges here by someone who presumably wants no fetters at all on what the security services can do. This isn't a debate about a man's right to benefits or protection from deportation or freedom from phone tapping, for pity's sakes - it's about not being complicit in torture.
That is what we're concerned with here. The judgment concluded that Binyam Mohamed had been subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities" - that is to say, a British citizen was tortured, by our allies. Is that something we should not know?
Mohamed's treatment was first discussed in a High Court judgment last year, which was redacted after an appeal by David Miliband. That judgment concluded: “We regret to have to conclude that the reports provided to the SyS [Security Service] made clear to anyone reading them that BM [Binyam Mohamed] was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment. The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972 [in the UN convention on torture]."
Poor Binyam claims he was tortured after he was caught “back-packing” in Afghanistan. Of course no one in the judiciary pays the slightest bit of notice when Binyam insists that he had travelled to Afghanistan simply to help out with some charity work, rather than, as our intelligence and security services suspect, to assist the Taliban and al-Qaeda with their plots to blow up the West. They are only interested that, once he had been safely removed from the battlefield, his human rights might somehow have been violated.
For these purposes, I don't care if he was serving with the Taliban. That service against our country would mean many things, including rendering him a legitimate target for warfare in the theatre of war, but it does not render him a legitimate target for torture, because nobody is. There are certain things that no civilised state should do, no matter how severe the provocation. Torture is one of them. It is the lot of free societies to fight with one hand tied behind our backs against the thugs who oppose our values. These are the values which make us different from them and giving them up grants them victory even as you torture them. For this reason, if we caught him we shouldn't even torture someone like Osama Bin Laden, let alone someone released without charge after several years of imprisonment.
The document that has now been released by the Foreign Office relates that Binyam was subjected to sleep deprivation, rather than the more lurid claims his lawyers have made about him having his testicles slashed with razors. Poor diddums. When I travel to Afghanistan with the Army we live on three hours sleep a night, but no one complains about sleep deprivation. We just get on with it.
I wonder if anyone reading this can see a distinction between these two things? The former is a form of aggressive interrogation wrongly imposed over time on someone imprisoned who ought to receive humane treatment. The latter is a brave sacrifice made by heroes who volunteer to serve, in the course of their duty. At least, it is when the soldiers do it. For his part, Couglin's eliding of his journalistic role with that of soldiers reads as if he needs professional help.
But there is a serious point to today’s disgraceful ruling by the High Court. Our national security depends heavily on our intelligence-sharing cooperation with the U.S., and it is thanks to the intel provided by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies that we have managed to avoid a repeat of the July 7 bombings. But if the Americans, alarmed at the willingness of our judges to humiliate them in public, decide to scale down the level of cooperation, our national security will undoubtedly be placed in jeopardy.
It is not "humiliating" anyone to say that torture is wrong. But in any case the decision was not, in fact, made because the court had a commitment to liberty, freedom of information and free speech - would that it it had been; rather, as Coughlin's own newspaper appreciates, the court reached the conclusion that the information should not be kept secret in the UK because it had already been published in the USA. Didn't he even inform himself of the barest facts of the case before pouring his chest-beating bile from his festering bucket into his PC?
Certainly, if another al-Qaeda bomb goes off in London, the judges will be as much to blame as Osama bin Laden.
Which I think is probably the most stupid sentence I've seen in print, including the internet. And that's a winner emerging from a pretty big field.