Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Abuses of Power

So John Reid is calling for changes to the way that the 'rules of war' deal with
a deliberate regression towards barbaric terrorism by our opponents.

Well fair enough, it's certainly an area that needs looking at. Problem is, Mr. Reid has decided to stick with the Blairite line and refer to Guantanamo as an 'anomaly', when of course what he actually means is 'absolute bloody disgrace'. It's a simple mistake, granted, but one which I feel will somehow colour the conclusions that Mr. Reid finally comes to.

Without wishing to state the bleeding obvious, the problems with Guantanamo have absolutely nothing to do with International Law or the Geneva Convention, and just about everything to do with the simple application of power. Petty word games and semantics about 'unlawful combatants' quite frankly wouldn't fly if they were being banded about by anybody else. What we have here is simple Foucault - Power, in that the US can create and maintain such a facility which the international community can do little to oppose, and Control, in that it has spent the last five years trying its level best to convince everybody that terrorism is such a huge and ultimately different threat than before that we are perfectly justified in throwing the rulebook out the window and treating terrorists suspects however we damn well please.

Thing is, we all know that this happens; that in the excise of power the rules don't always mean too much. Not a lot we can do about it sometimes, other than highlight the abuses and see if they make a difference. Which is why it has surprised me about the extent to which the US (and, especially over Iraq, the UK) have tried to apply a sheen of legality to their actions. I mean, would anybody actually be convinced if the Supreme Court actually turned around and said 'yep, all above board'? But equally, why do they need to bother? Guantanamo obviously isn't going anywhere soon, regardless of whether it proves to be legal in the long-run or not. The only suggestion I can make is that the legal cases are just another attempt to Control - but this time aimed at those who may prove less resistant if they believe the action to be legal after all.

Which is why, to be perfectly honest, I think the whole reappraisal of the rules of war is a complete con; misdirection at it’s very best.

2 comments:

Gavin Ayling said...

On Guantanamo: Of course they could issue a bilateral statement to the effect:

"We utterly condemn the illegal treatment of prisoners held by the US government and believe that leaders and those who comply with said leaders who contravene the Geneva Conventions should be placed before a tribunal at the earliest possible time."

Of course, the reasons they don't are:

- Power damages the ability of the politician to remain in touch both with public opinion, but also with their conscience
- Powerful lobbies have vested interests
- The US holds sway over our nuclear deterrent
- The US is a seriously important trading partner
- The US is a seriously important defensive ally (presumably we can no more defend ourselves from a sustained and serious invasion without US assistance).

MatGB said...

Power damages the ability of the politician to remain in touch both with public opinion, but also with their conscience
I trust you'll remember this in the future ;-)

Again; the system of power is the big problem.

Powerful lobbies have vested interests

Very true, and not just a certain Austro-American media type.

The US holds sway over our nuclear deterrent

Which we don't need anyway.

The US is a seriously important trading partner

Yup, but again, one of many these days, besides, they're not going to cut off links because we condemned camp X-ray.

The US is a seriously important defensive ally (presumably we can no more defend ourselves from a sustained and serious invasion without US assistance).

Hmm. See, in the modern era. Serious direct threat to British soil? Last time British territory was invaded it was by, um, the Americans (I know, Grenada dependent territory, doesn't count, but still...)

We could defend ourselves if we had warning. Given there are no nearby threats, we'd get warning. Russia may be a sleeping giant, but I can't see Putin invading just yet.

X-Ray is wrong, and most Americans think it. So condemning it, from the 'closest ally', would do more good than from anyone else.