Guantanamo Is Small Part of Bigger Picture; Birmingham Lawyer Phil Shiner Explains Why Our Basic Human Rights Could Be the Biggest Victim of the Government's 'War on Terror'
Byline: Phil Shiner
Guantanamo Bay is back in the news. On Thursday two judges ruled that the High Court could not order the Foreign Secretary 'to make a formal request' to the US to release two British residents.
This week the Attorney General, the Government's chief legal adviser will call for Guantanamo Bay to close, denouncing its illegal practices as 'unacceptable'.
There is no doubt that the Attorney General is right, although he is bound to cause a diplomatic row with the Bush Administration. There have been violations of the most fundamental rights of all: the absolute prohibition on torture, the right not to be detained without trial and the right to a fair trial. Why then is the Attorney General out of step with Tony Blair who stands accused of weasel words in saying only that Guantanamo Bay is an 'anomaly'? And is the real debate here, and elsewhere, about human rights only, or are there broader considerations?
Guantanamo Bay, the US practice of extraordinary renditions, and the UK's reliance on diplomatic assurances when deporting foreign nationals at risk of torture, are all undeniably bad things.
Lately, however, the British media have tended to focus almost exclusively on these relatively narrow human rights issues to the detriment of the bigger picture. An analysis of recent political events might explain why Tony Blair will not cross the White House over Guantanamo Bay or other issues, and challenges us to resist extremely worrying developments within international law in the present era.
It must be understood that the Blair and Bush Administrations stand together in pushing forward a new project. They use the attacks of 9/11 and the rhetoric of a 'war on terror' for a very different agenda. This becomes clear from, for example, the recent speeches of Tony Blair and John Reid, the outgoing Defence Secretary.
These speeches build on earlier ones, such as Blair's speech in his constituency in March 2004, and earlier events, for example, the political row when it became clear that existing international law would not sanction the attack on Iraq in March 2003.
One can summarise this agenda from a UK perspective: in the era of global capitalism the international community is increasingly interdependent. It must act together to enforce global values and meet global concerns. There is a fundamental clash between, on the one hand, progress and modernity and, on the other, extremism and conflict. Extremism is defined as Muslim fundamentalism or terrorism. This clash about civilisation is hugely determinate of the UK's future.
The international community needs to reform its institutions, in particular the UN and its Security Council, to ensure that international law does permit the international community to take preemptive action if a state threatens these global values.
Such action may have to be justified through the language of humanitarian intervention so that another exception to the prohibition on the use of force in international relations can be opened up. This exception will allow future interference in the affairs of a sovereign state if there is 'actual or threatened repression'.
What is key here is that this project is already well underway. Both states have already demonstrated on ample occasions that when international law gets in the way they will find devices to change it, or they will ignore it. …