I have no sympathy for Reyaad Khan or Ruhul Amin, the British citizens fighting for the so-called Islamic State who were killed by an RAF drone strike. I’m sad for their families, who never asked for any of this. But Khan and Amin were foolish and arrogant young men who signed up to an organisation which thinks it just fine to oppress and rape women, to enslave non-believers, to throw gay people from high buildings, and to destroy the cultural heritage of humanity.
Khan and Amin went off to a foreign land where had no business being in order to kill those who don’t share their narrow misinterpretation of a holy book. But that doesn’t mean that the British state which ordered their deaths should escape criticism. By killing these two young men who had become enthralled to a perversion of an ancient faith, Britain has shown itself to be a state which practises summary justice. The great problem with summary justice is that it’s very difficult to distinguish from summary injustice. Summary justice is no justice at all. Even kangaroos have courts. The only difference between the UK and Latin American states with their death squads is that we have worse weather and no banana plantations in which to hide the bodies.
The chilling truth is that the British state has now sanctioned the assassination of British citizens, without trial, without public disclosure of the evidence against them, without accountability. That’s a dark and dangerous road to go down. The fact a drone strike is carried out remotely doesn’t make it any less of a death squad. Is that the country we want to live in? Because whether we like it or not we now live in a country which has a hit list of citizens whose deaths can be ordered by politicians behind closed doors for reasons that are not disclosed, on evidence that is not revealed.
The reason we condemn the so-called Islamic State is that it practises a perversion of justice that is clearly unjust. We condemn it because it has recourse to violence as a first option. We condemn it because we like to imagine that we occupy the moral high ground, that we have fair laws, that we have just rules, that we have impartial courts, that we have compassion and understanding as well as justice and punishment, that violence is never our first option. Ordering drone strikes puts us on the same knee jerk level as Khan and Amin. They should have been captured and put on trial. I expect, I demand, that a democratic state should adhere to higher standards. I want us to be better than the likes of Khan and Amin, not to adopt their tactics and methods, not to skulk in the undergrowth spreading death and then demanding that we trust blindly in its judgement as though it was holy writ interpreted by wise men whose word must not be challenged.
Because the harsh truth is that the judgement of the British state is suspect. That’s suspect in the same way that a DWP fit for work test is suspect, or you might suspect a man who’s climbing through your window of wanting to burgle your house. There’s a tide of refugees begging for help and homes, and Britain’s answer is to send some bombs. It wasn’t too long ago that the House of Commons voted on air strikes in Syria, and refused to allow permission for them. Yet here we are just two years later and there are British air strikes in Syria. But we’re supposed to believe that these air strikes are legal, because the wise men who interpret the holy writ of the UK government says so.
In the UK, justice and law increasingly mean whatever the government and the establishment want them to mean. When you get into that situation, then there is precious little law and there is no justice. Over twenty years ago the UK government ordered the shooting dead of three IRA members in Gibraltar, claiming after the event that they had been engaged in planning a terrorist action. Those shootings were ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights because the court did not accept that summary execution was the only means open to the UK to prevent the terrorist act. The IRA operatives could and should have been detained and put on trial. It’s hard to see the difference between that case and the present one. That’s the same court of Human Rights that the UK goverment wants to stop UK citizens having access to. It’s hard not to reach the conclusion that the UK government wants that because it wants to be able to kill with impunity.
Apparently the UK government in its gung ho macho let’s blow them to buggery approach to dealing with radicalisation and terrorism has a list of British citizens who are considered targets for drone strikes or hit squads. This is the same UK government that assured us that Iraq had WMDs which could be ready within 40 minutes, yet we’re supposed to trust blindly in its judgement when it comes to the extra-judicial killings of British citizens.
There is no justice in the UK any more, and any pretence that the British state is a democratic one is running away from the consequences of UK policies as quickly as Iain Duncan Smith would run from Easterhouse. If there was any justice, Alistair Carmichael would have been forced to sit through the grinding tedium of the case against him being heard in Edinburgh. If he wins his case it will be because he’s proven himself to be a political liar who sought refuge in legalisms. Which is a whole lot more refuge than the UK government is prepared to allow to Syrian refugees.
The lesson we learn from the Carmichael case is that in the UK lying is fine as long as it’s political lying. And this is the same political system that wants us to trust it with drone strikes against unconvicted British citizens. Is that political too? Does that mean that the UK can kill its own citizens with impunity and lie about it? It certainly seems so. Is this the kind of state we want to remain a part of? No wonder support for independence is growing.
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