Thursday, 10 September 2015

Who wants politicians deciding who deserves to die?

Earlier this week, the British government announced it had used a drone attack to kill two young British men, Reyaad Khan and Rahul Amin, who’d joined ISIS and were fighting alongside it in Syria.

It was interesting to hear a Steven Marvin, a childhood friend of Amin’s, point out that he was sorry for the family but as for Amin himself, joining ISIS had been “his own decision and he knew what was going to happen eventually… He chose to go over there and, if these things happen, then he’s asked for it, basically… He knew what he was getting into.” Essentially, the young men had it coming to them.

Instrument of execution: In the hands of government?
To be honest, I rather sympathised. ISIS is a particularly obnoxious organisation, cruel, brutal, bigoted and apparently irredeemable. In her comments on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt wrote that she wished the judges had told him:

… just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations – as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world - we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.

Though Im firmly opposed to the death penalty, I can understand this reasoning: if you break all bonds to other human beings, and therefore feel you can snuff them out at will, as the Nazis did and ISIS does, you forfeit the expectation that anyone else will respect your right to life. The Royal Air Force destroys you in a drone attack? As your friend said, you brought in on yourself.

So far then I find nothing to disagree with in the killings the government carried out.

But then come the second thoughts. And it’s that word ‘government’ that focuses them for me. It was government, and government alone, that took the decision to kill those men. “Government”, like it or not, sounds like some kind of superior abstraction; reducing it to something more concrete, however, it is a collection of politicians and party politicians at that.

The government has made it clear it has no intention of publishing the legal advice it was given, and which it felt justified its action. Nor is it ever likely that we shall see the intelligence information on which it based its judgement that these young men posed an imminent danger to the UK itself, and therefore military action against them was legitimate under UN rules: intelligence stays hidden on the grounds that publishing it would put sources at risk.

So what we’re saying is that a government that has no intention of being held to account, took a decision on its own authority, to kill two men whom it had deemed criminal enough, on evidence it won’t publish, to merit death, though the death penalty is banned in Britain.

That two terrorists, fighting in support of a terrorising code, are dead? I have to admit I’m glad that they’re gone. That government, without so much as a judge’s intervention, can decide who is or isn’t a terrorist? That gives me serious concern. That this same government can then decide to kill the person it has identified as a terrorist, without allowing a challenge to its decision? That makes my blood run cold.

What’s ironic is that Conservatives always claim to be the party of small government. But in reality they’re the party of money, and their commitment to small government is only a commitment to spending less.

Assigning itself the right to kill citizens may not sound objectionable, as long as they’re terrorists. But when it decides that it alone will choose who is or isn’t a terrorist, doesn’t that become more worrying? Certainly, it feels to me like big government. And not particularly good government, at that.

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