The War on Terror is a War on Reason

by Stella Jorgensen

Cherie Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister and a highly respected human rights lawyer, recently spoke about the “war on terror” at a conference in Malaysia. Surprisingly, she launched a powerful offensive on the methods approved by her own husband. She said that we must not “fight against terror in a way which cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation”. She said that the law is marginalised people’s defence against the tyranny of “majoritarian politics”, adding that national security or not, the government has a duty to act in accordance with the law.

Mrs Blair’s speech follows the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician shot eight times by London police, who mistakenly believed him to be a Muslim suicide bomber.

Following Jean Charles’ murder, a clumsy attempt was made at a disinformation campaign — police said he was wearing a conspicuous heavy coat, when he was actually wearing a light denim jacket, as the crime scene photos show. The police suggested Jean Charles was an illegal immigrant — the Home Office have now said they believe he was in the country legally. Police said they shouted warnings and were ignored, but eyewitnesses report not hearing any shouts. Publication of police guidelines show that they were unlikely to have issued any warning, since doing so would contravene official methods used for apprehending suspected bombers. The police also said he ran away from them — we now know he did not.

That the police and government colluded in a cover-up is more than just rumour and supposition - a police report leaked to the media this week has contradicted literally every single claim that they initially made. With lies no longer obscuring the reality, it is clear to see that Jean Charles de Menezes is dead because he was a dark skinned man in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in front of the wrong officers.

When it comes to the racial aspects of the war on terror, we need to ask if there is such a thing as the right officers. Following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, the Metropolitan Police (London’s force) was condemned by Lord Macpherson as “institutionally racist” in a 1999 official government inquiry. In 2003, a BBC documentary called “The Secret Policemen” exposed packs of violently racist police officers in Wales, Cheshire and Manchester, suggesting a seam of racism running through forces throughout the UK.

Considering this, it is no surprise that crime against minority victims is treated less seriously than crime against white people. Officers are also more likely to dismiss the evidence of minority witnesses. More recently, the Home Office has been forced onto the defensive over the abuse of “stop and search” powers by police. Ethnic minority individuals are up to six times more likely to be stopped by police than a white person, despite the fact that they comprise just 7.9% of the total population. How can this racist police force with its tattered credibility be trusted to fight a war against terror rooted deep in the alienated and frightened Muslim community?

The truth is, the police can’t be trusted. Large numbers of them are incapable of putting aside their racism long enough to do even regular police work. Recent events have shown they are unfit to enforce the shoot-to-kill policy. They do not deserve, and must not be given, any more powers to bungle.

The other question that we must ask is why a war on terror is needed at all. If we remove the hysteria that breeds around the subject, we are left with some problematic issues. Why does fighting this particular crime require more powers than fighting any other kind? Terrorism is terrible, but it is not any more terrible than regular, non-politicised killing. The attack on the twin towers killed 3000 people. That is appalling and tragic, but in the same year, roughly 15,000 Americans were murdered with guns by their own countrymen. This is even more appalling and tragic.

The horror of seeing the victims of terrorists die en masse on television and in newspaper pictures affords their deaths massive emotional impact. But why are the crimes treated with more gravity by police and other agencies once the emotion has faded? Why are school shootings and other mass killings not treated as terrorism? Why are no attempts made to legislate for their prevention? Why is there no War on Gun Crime? Would it impact too much on the profits of arms manufactures? Campaign donations, even? Would it be unpopular with the constitutionally minded American people? Evidently, the US government has decided that it would, and choose instead to deal disproportionately with the far lesser threat, which by happy coincidence also turned out to be a vote-winner for the Republicans.

Of course, the police and security forces are not just asking for increased powers to punish actual terrorists. They also want increased powers to deal with suspected terrorists. If, as they insist, it is ok to shoot a man who might be a suicide bomber, is it also acceptable to kill a man who might be a drunk driver? He could kill a dozen innocent people when he tries to drive home. What about someone who might be a drug dealer? He might sell tainted supplies — he might eventually be responsible for the deaths of hundreds.

Since September 11 2001, when the British government first started thinking about terrorism, terrorists have killed 57 people on British soil. Since 2001, more than 200 people have died in police custody. The figure rises by half again if those killed in pursuit are added to the total. Statistically therefore, British police are a greater threat to British citizens than Muslim terrorists. When will we see a War on the British Police, and what special measures will they require to fight themselves?

Thanks to the IRA, Britain is intimately aquatinted with terrorism, and has been for decades. Mistakes were made in policing Irish Republican terrorism too — detention without trial acted as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA, increasing the number of terrorists, and ultimately the number of civilian deaths. Racist policies saw the Birmingham Six and the Guilford Four declared innocent and released, years into their sentences. The new way of fighting the “new” threat may not provide the luxury of releasing innocent people alive. Mistakes made in policing this unnecessary war will mean more dead men, more broken, tortured men and more ghost men spirited away to prison camps, perhaps never to be released.

Cherie Blair was right — the morally corrosive effect of fighting dirty is dangerous for the souls of our nations. On a more practical level, oppressive policies have a way of fanning outwards and broadening in use. It is necessary to ensure that even terrorists, suspected or otherwise, are treated fairly under the law, because if the rights of the very lowest cannot be guaranteed, nor can your rights, or mine.