Subversion” old and new

Abu_Qatada_CartoonAn inter­est­ing art­icle in yes­ter­day’s Tele­graph by polit­ic­al com­ment­at­or Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada.  This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the Brit­ish polit­ic­al and media classes over the last couple of days.  Oborne’s art­icle strips out the bom­bast and takes us back to basic prin­ciples — as did this oth­er recent art­icle in the Inde­pend­ent a day or two ago by Christina Pat­ter­son.

How­ever, what really grabbed my atten­tion in Oborne’s art­icle was his ref­er­ence to Dav­id Max­well Fyfe, the Brit­ish politi­cian and law­yer who was tasked by Sir Win­ston Churchill to lay the found­a­tions of the European sys­tem of human rights after the atro­cit­ies of World War Two — a peri­od when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.

Maxwell_FyfeWhile Max­well Fyfe laid some good found­a­tions for European law, his name also has res­on­ance to all who worked for the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, MI5, dur­ing or in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Cold War.  It was Max­well Fyfe’s dir­ect­ive, issued in 1952, that was instru­ment­al in allow­ing MI5 to spy on Brit­ish polit­ic­al act­iv­ists sub­vers­ives.  This dir­ect­ive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a leg­al foot­ing for the first time in its then 80 year his­tory, with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act 1989. Here is a seg­ment about the Max­well Fyfe dir­ect­ive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers”:

Back­ground to sub­ver­sion

At this time MI5 was still using the same cri­ter­ia for record­ing indi­vidu­al sub­vers­ives and their sym­path­isers as was set out by Home Sec­ret­ary Dav­id Max­well-Fyfe in 1952.  He called on the ser­vices to identi­fy any indi­vidu­al engaged in under­min­ing Par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy, nation­al secur­ity and/or the eco­nom­ic well-being of the UK by viol­ent, indus­tri­al or polit­ic­al means.  In fact, many would argue that groups who used only polit­ic­al means to get their point across were merely exer­cising their demo­crat­ic rights.  In fact, MI5 used pho­tos of demon­stra­tions, cop­ies of elec­tion lists and even lists of sub­scribers to rad­ic­al left-wing book clubs as indic­at­ors of sub­vers­ive sym­pathy and mem­ber­ship.  Of course, the world was a very dif­fer­ent place when I joined the sec­tion, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declar­a­tion, not least because of the dis­in­teg­ra­tion of the Soviet Uni­on and its East­ern bloc allies.  

TrotskyFrom Maxwell-Fyfe’s state­ment to Par­lia­ment, which was nev­er made law, MI5 and sub­sequent gov­ern­ments used to argue that all mem­bers of cer­tain parties –such as the Com­mun­ist Party of Great Bri­tain (CPGB) or later the bewil­der­ing array of Trot­sky­ists, with names like the Inter­na­tion­al Marx­ist Group (IMG), Work­ers’ Revolu­tion­ary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolu­tion­ary Com­mun­ist Party (RCP) and Revolu­tion­ary Com­mun­ist Group (RCG), anarch­ists and the extreme right — were threats to the secur­ity of the state or our demo­crat­ic sys­tem.  This in itself is a con­ten­tious pro­pos­i­tion.  None of these Trot­sky­ist groups was cul­tiv­at­ing East­ern bloc fin­ance or build­ing bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legit­im­ate demo­crat­ic meth­ods to make their case, such as stand­ing in elec­tions, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and edu­cat­ing ‘the work­ers’.  They cer­tainly had no alle­gi­ance to a for­eign power, the primary rais­on d’etre for the invest­ig­a­tion of sub­ver­sion, because, unlike the Com­mun­ist Party, they abhorred the East­ern bloc.

Greenham-commonSince MI5 was effect­ively invest­ig­at­ing indi­vidu­als for hold­ing opin­ions the gov­ern­ment did not like — a very un-Brit­ish pos­i­tion — it was always at pains to point out that it took its respons­ib­il­it­ies with regard to human rights very ser­i­ously, although not ser­i­ously enough to ensure that these activ­it­ies were reg­u­lated by a leg­al frame­work.  All the service’s phone taps pri­or to the passing of the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlaw­ful because there was no legis­la­tion gov­ern­ing the inter­cep­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions.”

The dir­ect­ive was not a leg­ally bind­ing doc­u­ment, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive sec­tion tasked with hunt­ing “sub­vers­ives” dur­ing those dec­ades.  It allowed intel­li­gence officers great lat­it­ude in inter­pret­ing what was deemed sub­vers­ive activ­ity and who were “legit­im­ate’ tar­gets.  And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this sys­tem by para­noid, seni­or intel­li­gence officers over the years.  More inform­a­tion can be found in this chapter on sub­ver­sion from the book.

So my point is, yes, Bri­tain ostens­ibly led the way in devel­op­ing a sys­tem to pro­tect human rights in the after­math of the Second World War.  But the very archi­tect of that sys­tem then pro­duced the dir­ect­ive that gave Brit­ish spies carte blanche to invest­ig­ate polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents with­in their own coun­try, which they abused for dec­ades.

Mark_KennedyAnd now we have com­ment­at­ors rightly say­ing that we should uphold basic human rights’ val­ues in cases such as Abu Qatada.  But what about all the UK act­iv­ists who were illeg­ally invest­ig­ated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more per­tin­ently today, what about all the act­iv­ists and pro­test­ers who have been aggress­ively spied upon by the unac­count­able, under­cov­er police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illeg­al cat­egory of “domest­ic extrem­ists”?

I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace act­iv­ist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrus­ive sur­veil­lance over the last 6 years.  Per­haps he should quote Max­well Fyfe on human rights dur­ing his case?

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hit­ting the head­lines this week, is that of Jord­ani­an-born alleged ter­ror­ist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged pass­port almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absen­tia of ter­ror­ist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in sev­en oth­er coun­tries for ter­ror­ist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been vari­ously interned, placed under con­trol order, and held in max­im­um secur­ity pris­ons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be depor­ted to stand tri­al in his nat­ive coun­try, but these rul­ings were recently over­turned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had con­cerns that Jord­ani­an dip­lo­mat­ic assur­ances that he would not be tor­tured could not be relied on, and that evid­ence against him in any retri­al there might have been obtained using tor­ture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a res­ult, Mr Justice Mit­ting of the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeals Com­mis­sion (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T‑PIM (the new con­trol order).  This decision has pre­dict­ably roused the froth­ing wrath of the Home Office and the read­er­ship of the Daily Mail.  Politi­cians of all fla­vours have rushed out their sound bites con­demning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the com­pla­cency and the very dis­dain for law that the Brit­ish polit­ic­al and intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture has dis­played for the last dec­ade that has cre­ated this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion, and indeed intern­ment without tri­al with­in the UK, the rule of law had been fol­lowed, the coun­try would not cur­rently find itself in this leg­al quag­mire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due pro­cess to invest­ig­ate a ter­ror­ist sus­pect as you would any oth­er sus­pec­ted crim­in­al: gath­er the evid­ence, present the case to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, hold a tri­al in front of a jury, and work towards a con­vic­tion. 

How quaintly old-fash­ioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the incep­tion of the hys­ter­ic­ally bru­tal “war on ter­ror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into pris­on for years on the secret word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, where even the sus­pects’ law­yers are not allowed to see the inform­a­tion against their cli­ents.  The Brit­ish leg­al sys­tem has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yes­ter­day’s Guard­i­an about the Abu Qatada rul­ing:

The Con­ser­vat­ive back­bench­er Domin­ic Raab echoed Blun­kett’s anger: “This res­ult is a dir­ect res­ult of the per­verse rul­ing by the Stras­bourg court. It makes a mock­ery of human rights law that a ter­ror­ist sus­pect deemed ‘dan­ger­ous’ by our courts can­’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tor­tured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jord­ani­an justice sys­tem.”

Julian_assangeIn the case of Juli­an Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice sys­tem? While the Swedish judi­cial sys­tem may have an ostens­ibly more fra­grant repu­ta­tion than that of Jordan, it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair tri­al.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the leg­al terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”.  And, to bas­tard­ise the above quote, who now really trusts the Amer­ic­an justice sys­tem?

A secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­gin­ia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can­’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

For­get about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-break­ing new form of high-tech journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retali­ation for the embar­rass­ment he has caused by expos­ing US double deal­ing and war crimes over the last dec­ade, and no doubt as a dread­ful example to deter oth­ers.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US sol­dier Private Brad­ley Man­ning, has been kept in inhu­mane and degrad­ing con­di­tions for well over a year and will now be court-mar­tialed.  The gen­er­al assump­tion is that this pro­cess was designed to break him, so that he would implic­ate Assange and pos­sibly oth­er Wikileaks asso­ci­ates.  

In my view, that means that any US tri­al of Assange could essen­tially be rely­ing on evid­ence obtained under tor­ture.  And if Assange is extra­dited and and judi­cially rendered to the US, he too will face tor­tur­ous con­di­tions.

So, to sum­mar­ise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight coun­tries for ter­ror­ist offences, has already been con­victed twice in his home coun­try, but who can­not be extra­dited.

And on the oth­er hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or con­victed of any­thing, but is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing on minor and appar­ently trumped up charges in anoth­er coun­try, yet who has also been imprisoned in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the Brit­ish author­it­ies are happy to col­lude in his extra­di­tion.

Both these men poten­tially face a mis­tri­al and both may poten­tially exper­i­ence what is now euphemist­ic­ally known as “degrad­ing and inhu­mane treat­ment”.

But because one faces being sent back to his home coun­try — now seen for the pur­poses of his case as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture — he shall prob­ably not be extra­dited.  How­ever, the oth­er faces being sent to an ali­en coun­try well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judi­cial sys­tem oops, sorry, as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a leg­al laugh­ing stock around the world and our judi­cial frame­work has been bent com­pletely out of shape by the require­ments of the “war on ter­ror” and the rap­idly devel­op­ing cor­por­ate fas­cism of our gov­ern­ment.  

The UK is cur­rently cel­eb­rat­ing the bicen­ten­ary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens.  Per­haps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he dis­cussed in one of his best-known nov­els, “A Tale of Two Cit­ies”.  Do we want our coun­try to slide fur­ther down the path of state ter­ror­ism — a phrase adop­ted from the ori­gin­al Grande Ter­reur of the French Revolu­tion? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due pro­cess of law, and justice.