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Blogs

Abu Qatada and the problem of freedom-stomping friends - Spectator Blogs

12 November 2012

4:13 PM

12 November 2012

4:13 PM

And so, once again, the judges are in the dock for insisting that due process be followed even when, as in the case of Abu Qatada, it is inconvenient to do so. On the face of it, the decision to thwart Qatada’s deportation to Jordan seems unreasonable. But the truth is that few of us are in any position to judge the worth of the Jordanian government’s assurances that none of the evidence used against Qatada will have been tainted by torture. It may be that, as the ECHR ruled, those assurances are credible (and if so, that’s in part thanks to the work of bodies such as the ECHR) or it may be that, as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has determined, they are not.

The bigger problem, really, is one I wrote about in February:

Jordan may not be Saudi Arabia or Iran but it is not Canada or Finland either. Freedom House are quite clear on this: Jordan is in the “Not Free” camp. Is this the kind of country to which we should be deporting anyone, even those of whom we may have good reason to disapprove?

And there is this: either the UK government disapproves of torture or it is happy to disapprove of it in some countries while tolerating and perhaps even tacitly encouraging it in others. Though deporting Qatada to Jordon would dispose of the problem of what to do with him it also makes the British government an accomplice to the activities of the Jordanian security apparatus. It encourages the use of torture in other cases for the Jordanian authorities – or those in other countries where comparable cases may arise – will discover that though western governments deplore their brutality publicly they are happy to take advantage of it when it proves convenient to do so. (Of course this is also true of intelligence sharing but that’s a different matter.)

[…] If [all] this means we must tolerate unpleasant, even awful, people bcause we lack the laws to imprison them simply because we suspect they hold unpleasant, even awful opinions then so be it. There will always be those who argue “but if it saves just one life” and those who prefer to be “safe than sorry” but where does this end? Few people are really willing to push those arguments to their grim, illiberal end. So […] lines must be drawn even by those with little appetite for liberalism.

On the whole, I’d think better of a country that refused to send suspects to countries with a proven fondness for torture. Doing so is another signal to those regimes that they can stamp on their own people’s rights and, when this proves useful to us, we will not make a fuss. It puts us on their side, not that of the brave liberals and dissidents who oppose regimes that, in normal circumstances, we consider utterly deplorable. The affairs of state may be an organised hypocrisy but that does not mean we must champion that hypocrisy.

Again, little of this is satisfactory and few people have reason to be cheerful about any aspect of this case. Successive governments have scarcely distinguished themselves on this matter and nor, perhaps, have the courts; not least since this case is plainly not quite as simple or straightforward as some – or many – of us might like to think.

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