I would rather put my own safety before the next man's civil liberties

I am less wedded than others to calling in the judiciary before we chain a would-be shoe-bomber to his desk
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The Independent Online

Obituaries in the papers last week for Peter Malkin, the Israeli secret service agent who in 1960 snatched Adolf Eichmann from the streets of Buenos Aires. Not what you are supposed to do, nick people from foreign countries.

Obituaries in the papers last week for Peter Malkin, the Israeli secret service agent who in 1960 snatched Adolf Eichmann from the streets of Buenos Aires. Not what you are supposed to do, nick people from foreign countries.

Not an action respectful of the diplomatic niceties or indeed of Adolf Eichmann's human rights. No warrant, no judge consulted, simply the three words "Un momentito, señor", followed by a gloved hand round Eichmann's throat. The glove to preserve Malkin from fleshly contact with a member of the Master Race.

Whatever else we think about the politics of Eichmann's subsequent trial and execution, I am taking it for granted that the majority of mankind - the usual crazed revisionists apart - acknowledge that his capture answered to a higher justice. We would not want a Nazi of his eminence to have got away with it. We would not rather have forgotten what his trial made us remember. Humanity is served by that glove around his neck. Thus does a little international illegality shine like a good deed in a naughty world.

Call me naive, but you have to put your trust in something, and I put mine in Peter Malkin and his kind - agents of political pragmatism, let us call them - doing what they have to do their way because otherwise it won't get done. From which you will deduce that I am less wedded to calling in the judiciary before we chain a would-be shoe-bomber to his desk than others are. I mean no disrespect to the judiciary by this. Although I consider the partiality, inequity and asininity of the law to be among our most treasured national assumptions, some of my best friends are judges.

And it isn't me you hear accusing their lordships of being lick-spittles every time they preside over an inquiry which doesn't yield the outcome we desire. Why, it was only yesterday that every judge in the country was a laughing stock. Now, suddenly, lawyers are all that stand between us and tyranny. Thereby proving that legal scruples are dear to us only when they're on our side. So on those occasions when they happen to be on the side of an Eichmann, call in Peter Malkin, I say. And let God be our judge.

Sir John Stevens put it more circumspectly, as behoves a policeman, when he attacked opponents of the Government's anti-terror legislation last week. But by accusing them of failing to understand "the brutal reality of the world we live in", he was reminding us that nice points of law won't make the world a nicer, still less a safer place.

Myself, I am an unrepentant safety nut. First you look after me, then you worry about my rights. And if looking after me means a little roughhousing here and there, I am not such a moral infant as to blame you for it.

Ditto if it means what the unimaginative call overstatement. Two hundred was Sir John Stevens' estimate of the number of Osama bin Ladens loose on our streets. No sooner had the figure left his lips than the pedants were out correcting it. Two hundred was too many. Two hundred was scare tactics. One hundred more likely. Maybe 80. Maybe 40.

So let's take the lowest estimate. Let's say there are 40. No, let's say there are 39. Thirty-nine walking bombs with murder in their hearts and the science of annihilation in their brains. Feel safer now? Feel better about rousing judges from their beds? Then how about waking Lord Hoffmann, whose original anti-anti-terror laws ruling at the fag end of last year is responsible for the actual mess in which the Government, and the moral mess in which its opponents, now find themselves. It was Lord Hoffmann, you will remember, who, in the fatuous, not to say tautologous language of the hippie, declared: "The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these."

Real! Does that mean that Lord Hoffmann knew, was certain, beyond any reasonable degree of doubt, that there was no threat - no "real" as opposed to merely fanciful threat - from terrorism? And if he didn't mean that, if he accepted that there was some danger from terrorism, then by what scale of reality was it lesser? A threat to life presumes the possibility of death, and how are you made more dead by one threat than another? "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," Mark Twain famously said. A joke we all love because of the black absurdity at its heart: you cannot exaggerate death.

Beware the man who accuses you of exaggeration. Not because he has no play in him, but because he denies what is at the heart of things.

Exaggeration is truth loosed from accidentals. Exaggeration shows us what is true essentially.

There is an anti-exaggeration mood abroad. Holocaust revisionists, those enemies of essential truth, whittle away at that Six Million, as though the number is the only measure of the crime. Reduce the figure and you will at last expunge the deed. Ken Livingstone, mayor of a city which the French call Londonistan, and a man who cannot join two words together without making at least one of them gross, wrote the other week of Jews "distorting" the amount of anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe. Some of us are watchfully jealous, it would seem, of other people's portion of anxiety or pain. But only a fool or a scoundrel would tell a dying man he isn't dying that much.

Reports of the dangers of terrorism, like reports of racism, might have been exaggerated. But who is to decide the mean beyond which we needn't worry? And what judge dare presume to decide for me the balance of my fears? Hence the need for a Peter Malkin. When I think of that glove encircling that throat, I feel safer than I've felt in years.

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