Not Saussure

September 28, 2006

Dr Reid: ‘It’s just plain wrong’

Filed under: civil liberties, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 3:49 pm

“And let’s be clear. It cannot be right that the rights of individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, life and limb of the British people. It’s wrong. Full stop. No ifs, no buts. It’s just plain wrong.”

John Reid at the Labour Party Conference.

Interesting little rhetorical trick there; note how he sets the rights of the individual suspected terroristagainst those of the the whole of the British people.

More accurately, I think, he should pose it as a matter of balancing the rights of every single individual in the country against the protection that someone thinks may be afforded some of the British people (since no individual suspect, I think, can be a danger to all of us, all the time) if we ignore particular rights that we all enjoy at the moment, which are there for our protection in case a police officer or even a Home Secretary makes a mistake — which has been known to happen. Even cabinet ministers, after all, have sometimes to rely on intelligence assessments that are, with hindsight, less than 100% accurate.

I wouldn’t be side-tracked by the idea it’s only possibly being suspected of terrorism (subtext: if you’re not a young Muslim, particularly a male one, there’s not that much to worry about) that’s going to cause everyone problems; it’s probably not in John Reid’s mind at the moment, but it won’t take too long for some logically minded soul at the Home Office to start to wonder why, since we ignore rights upon which, so far, everyone’s been able to rely, when someone’s suspected of even quite peripheral involvement in terrorism, we preserve those rights for people suspected — often with better cause — of far more direct involvement in very serious crimes.

I must confess that I can’t quite see, if we’re trying to protect the ‘life and limb of the British people’ against those who are suspected of involvement in something that

(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

we don’t protect against any and all such threats, no matter what their motivation might be.

If someone’s contemplating serious violence against me, I’m not at all bothered about whether he’s doing it ‘ to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause’ or some more mundane reason, such as his wanting to rob me. I want him stopped, and we’ll worry his motives later. Agree to Dr Reid’s proposal, and we’ll rapidly see the protections we all enjoy under the law eroded — as they were, of course, and for much the same reason, in another country which Dr Reid used to admire very much.

Dr Reid’s dismissal of his communist party membership — ‘I used to be a Communist. I used to believe in Santa Claus’ — shouldn’t , to my mind, allow him to skate so easily. I used to believe in Santa Claus, too, but I didn’t still believe in him when I was in my late 20s, which is how old Dr Reid was when he joined the Communist Party, and nor did I believe in him in the face of evidence for his non-existence was quite as glaring as was, in the mid 1970s, the evidence of how appalling the Soviet Union was for those unfortunate to live there. Despite the best efforts of The Sword and the Shield of the Party to protect them.


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