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Justice and the Enemy, By William Shawcross


Ziauddin Sardar
Friday 09 March 2012 01:00 GMT

You would be wrong to think that the detention centres in Guantánamo are a "cruel and illegal hellhole". On the contrary, the US military base is one of the best equipped and managed prisons in the world. The inmates enjoy halal food, receive free copies of the Qur'an, play games and are encouraged to learn languages. The facility boosts a library stocked with books in 16 languages, where Harry Potter is in great demand. There are even arrows pointing the way to Mecca. So why are Muslims and critics of America complaining?

In Justice and the Enemy, William Shawcross offers a shameless justification of the policies of the Bush administration. In this neo-con universe, justice is a surreal concept totally subordinate to the "security" of the US. The "terrorists" in Guantánamo deserve to be there. They are "Nazi and Communist" mass murders, a product of intrinsically despotic Arab and Islamic societies. It is of no relevance that they have been kidnapped and held in cages without trial. Or that some are teenage boys, or old men suffering from dementia, and that lurid confessions were extracted from them by maltreatment. Or, indeed, that vast majority were totally innocent.

Torture is a natural "response to the most urgent problems" of terrorism. So sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and prolonged wall standing are all fine. And "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding - a grotesque relic of the Spanish Inquisition – are equally essential. "Extraordinary rendition", where suspects are sent to another country to be tortured properly, is fine when necessary.

In the "security" interest of America, one should have no qualms about reducing other countries to wastelands. The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq is not important. Any country that is perceived as a "threat" can be happily invaded.

Shawcross has no notion of context. There is no awareness of the fact that despotic regimes in the Muslim world have been imposed and supported by the West. There is not even a hint of the possibility that some people may have genuine grievances against the US. The world is divided into evil doers and angelic America. And the way of Bush is the only way to deal with those who stand up to the US. Obama is praised where he agrees with Bush; and condemned where he disagrees.

It may be "war on terror" but the terrorists themselves are not prisoners of war. Since the Taliban, as Bush declared, "represent no nation, they defend no territory, and they wear no uniform", they are "unlawful combatants" and the Geneva Convention does not apply. In fact, the Taliban are a part and hence representative of a nation called Afghanistan. Their claim is probably more justified than those of the current, American-imposed, regime. They do defend a territory called Afghanistan. And they do wear a uniform, visible to all but the blind: a turban, a tribal dress, and a universally recognised beard.

Those labelled as "unlawful combatants" have no human rights. Human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, are misguided fools. Lawyers defending them are practising "lawfare" – giving protection to terrorists.

What these barely human individuals deserve is targeted killings, extra-judicial murder, and most important of all, drone attacks: "the most significant national security accomplishment" of recent times. The fact that drone attacks have killed thousands of innocent villagers in Pakistan is immaterial.

Drawing parallels from the Nuremberg trails, Shawcross argues that the 9/11 attackers and other terrorists should be tried in a military court. But during the initial trials, the court at Nuremberg was multinational, with representatives from US, Britain, Russia and France. It operated under international law and not the law of a particular country. The trials were open for all to witness. The contemporary equivalent would be the International Criminal Court in The Hague, of which, not too surprisingly, the US is not a member. The military courts in the US are a parochial affair where justice is neither seen to be done, nor, some would argue, can be done.

Shawcross's father, Hartley Shawcross, was a prosecutor at Nuremberg. In his closing speech, Shawcross senior pointed out that it was "mankind itself" that was judging the Nazi war criminals. The Nuremberg trials, he stated, demonstrated that "ultimately the rights of men... are fundamental". Shawcross junior not only tramples on these rights, but is happy to justify immorality in the name of security. The old man will be turning in his grave.

Ziauddin Sardar, co-editor of 'Critical Muslim', is Professor of Law and Society at Middlesex University

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