Britain Responds to the "Rule of Law" Nuisance

One of the problems for the U.S.

One of the problems for the U.S. Government in releasing Guantanamo
detainees has been that, upon release, they are be free to talk to the
world about the treatment to which they were subjected. When the Bush
administration agreed to release Australian David Hicks after almost 6
years in captivity, they did so only on the condition that he first sign a documenting stating that he was not abused and that he also agree -- as The Australian
put it -- to an "extraordinary 12-month gag order that prevent[ed]
Hicks from speaking publicly about the actions to which he has pleaded
guilty or the circumstances surrounding his capture, interrogation and
detention," a gag order which "also silence[d] family members and any
third party."

Last month, in response to increasing pressure in Britain over reports of British resident Binyam Mohamed's deterioration in Guantanamo, the Obama administration released him back to Britain. Ever
since, he has been detailing the often brutal torture to which he was
subjected over several years, torture in which British intelligence
officials appear to have been, at the very least, complicit. As a
result, despite the efforts of both the British Government and the Obama administration to keep concealed what was done to Mohamed, the facts about his treatment have emerged and a major political controversy has been ignited.

because torture is illegal in Britain, as it is in the United States.
But unlike the United States: Britain hasn't completely abandoned the
idea that even political officials must be accountable when they commit
crimes; their political discourse isn't dominated and infected by the
subservient government-defending likes of David Ignatius, Ruth Marcus,
David Broder and Stuart Taylor demanding that government officials be
free to commit even serious war crimes with total impunity; and they
don't have "opposition leaders" who are so afraid of their own shadows
and/or so supportive of torture that they remain mute in the face of
such allegations. To the contrary, demands for criminal investigations
into these episodes of torture (including demands for war crimes investigations from conservatives) span the political spectrum in Britain:

Conservative leader, David Cameron, called for a "targeted and clear
review . . . to get to the bottom of whether Britain was knowingly or
unknowingly complicit in torture".

The Liberal Democrat
leader, Nick Clegg, said: "It is not enough for Gordon Brown to say the
government does not endorse torture. There remain serious questions
concerning how far senior political figures were implicated in these
alleged practices."

Because of those facts, the British Government has now been forced to commence a criminal investigation into whether British government agents colluded in Mohamed's torture:

attorney general, Lady Scotland, announced the unprecedented move in
light of damning evidence that Britain's security and intelligence
agencies colluded with the CIA in Mohamed's inhuman treatment and
secret rendition.

She said the police inquiry would look
into "possible criminal wrongdoing" in what the high court described as
Mohamed's unlawful questioning.

As The Guardian reported,
the British Government was, in essence, forced into the criminal
investigation once government lawyers "referred evidence of possible
criminal conduct by MI5 officers to home secretary Jacqui Smith, and
she passed it on to the attorney general." In a country that lives
under what is called the "rule of law," credible evidence of serious
criminality makes such an investigation, as The Guardian put it, "inevitable." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has clearly tried desperately to avoid any such investigation, yet as The Washington Post reported this morning, even he was forced to say in response: "I have always made clear that when serious allegations are made they have got to be investigated."

Wouldn't it be nice if our government leaders could make a similar, extremely uncontroversial statement -- credible allegations of lawbreaking by our highest political leaders must be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted? In a country with a minimally healthy political culture, that
ought to be about as uncontroversial as it gets. Instead, what we have
are political leaders and media stars virtually across the board
spouting lawless Orwellian phrases about being "more interested in looking forward than in looking backwards" and not wanting to "criminalize public service." These apologist manuevers continue despite the fact that, as even conservative Washington Post columnist Anne Appelbaum recently acknowledged in light of newly disclosed detailed ICRC Reports, "that crimes were committed is no longer in doubt."

in the U.S., each new disclosure of just how pervasive and brutal was
our Government's criminality prompts new calls for investigations from
previously government-defending precincts, and -- thanks largely to the
ACLU and other groups -- some of the most potent new disclosures are imminent. As a result, it's becoming increasingly difficult for David Ignatius and friends to dismiss advocates of investigations as "liberal score-settlers" when people like Bush 41 U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Reagan FBI Director William Sessions, Gen. Antonio Taguba, and Anne Applebaum are now demanding investigations into these crimes of torture.

more detainees are released and are thus able to speak publicly about
what was done to them, and as more documents are leaked and are
formally disclosed, the extent of our Government's depraved criminality
will be increasingly difficult to ignore, no matter how eager our
current Government might be to do so. Indeed, even investigations in
places like Britian -- which centrally involve receipt of CIA telegrams detailing Mohamed's torture
-- are highly likely to lead to the disclosure of even more graphic and
incriminating evidence proving that American leaders committed war
crimes. The profoundly incriminating evidence is piling up, and will
continue to, on its own.

Still, just look at what is happening in
Britain to see how far off course we are from even a pretense to living
under the rule of law. The British have hardly been paragons of human
rights and transparency. They've worked as closely with the Bush administration
in most of these abuses as any other country in the world (with the
possible exceptions of Egypt and Morocco). And their government has
been almost as desperate as ours to keep secret what was done.

despite allegations of criminality far less extensive than those that
have been made against the U.S., their political system is compelling
serious investigations into these crimes. That's because for countries
that aren't completely corrupted to their core, political leaders
aren't free to commit serious crimes and then simply be shielded from
investigation and accountability. Credible allegations of high-level
criminality -- and only the hardest-core Bush followers deny that we
have that -- compel criminal investigations. As the British
controversy demonstrates, that isn't remotely a controversial
proposition for anyone who believes in the most basic precepts of the
rule of law.

* * * * *

Just as a reminder of two upcoming events:

(1) On the evening of March 31,
I'll be at Ithaca College to receive the first annual Izzy Award for
independent journalism -- named after the great I.F. Stone -- along
with my co-recipient Amy Goodman. Both Amy and I will be speaking at
the event on independent media and related issues, and more than 1,000
people are expected. The event is free and open to the public and
event details are here.

(2) On April 3, beginning at noon, I'll be at the Cato Institute in Washington to present my drug policy report, entitled Drug Decrimialization in Portugal, which details that country's successes with its 2001 decision to decriminalize all drug possession and usage. Event details and RSVP are on Cato's site (here), where it can also be watched live. I wrote about the background of the report here.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 Salon