Skip to content

Poor Ukrainian or wealthy security service official, justice is justice

There will be few links made between the rape and murder of a Ukrainian girl and the involvement of the British security services in illegal rendition and torture. This just shows that justice for those deeply embedded into the state is non-existent wherever you go.

Once again it is the juxtaposition two stories sitting close to each other in the day’s newspapers that seems to me to capture best some of the wrong-headed thinking of the British State. In all the newspapers today is the story Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a Libyan dissident, is suing the UK government over its role in his illegal rendition.

The facts seem to be that the British Government learned that he was trying to get to the UK to claim political asylum (at a period where we no longer considered Libya or Gadaffi an enemy). Unwilling to let this happen the UK contacted the CIA which apparently intercepted him en route and rendered him back to Libya via British Crown ‘possession’ Diego Garcia. Once back in Libya he was given tea and cake. Oh, actually no he wasn’t. He was tortured.

What is most embarrassing about this is that he is now head of the Tripoli Military Council. Ah, how quickly friends become enemies and the dissidents become the establishment… That puts him in a position to take action and be taken seriously. And so he is suing a number of British interests for their role.

Meanwhile, in the Scotsman is an interesting analysis piece about the state of judicial independence in the Ukraine. It revolves around the horrific rape and murder of a teenage girl at the hands of men who, via their links to senior government officials, were quickly released from custody. The analysis suggests that the outcry and subsequent re-arrest of the men is a sign that Ukrainian justice may be evolving into something more recognisably just.

Why is the juxtaposition so telling? Well, in both cases there is pretty convincing evidence that people with links to those high up in the state apparatus were deeply engaged in horrible crimes but that the state did little or nothing to hold them to account. In fact, on the contrary, in both occasions the state tried to cover up the crime. The key difference is ‘what we have to say about it’. In the official story-world of the British State our vile behaviour towards Mr Belhadj is a sign of our sophistication. It is the combination of our all-seeing wisdom and our clear-headed willingness to do the ‘right thing’ for ‘the security of the UK’ that clearly justifies our actions. In the Ukrainian case it is their backwardness and lack of liberal sophistication which means that people go unpunished for crimes simply because they are linked to powerful state actors.

There can surely be no-one left who really believes the Jack Straw line that the Blair Government wasn’t up to its neck in illegal rendition and detention or that the UK secret services weren’t up to theirs in complicity (and in some cases direct aid) to torture or that they merrily fed questions to torturers and used the resulting information. But it is expected that, as a sophisticated modern nation state we must surely realise that sometimes the rape and murder of a teenager has to be overlooked for the greater good of the integrity of the state. No, hold on, I just got my crimes and my justifications mixed up, didn’t I?

The point is that every state in history has taken an exceptionalist view of the world – that its misdemeanours are an exception to universal principles of justice that apply everywhere else. The problem is that Britain’s self-assured exceptionalism is so deeply embedded that the powers that be (which is not, incidentally, so much the elected government as the secret state) believe that all they need do is say the word ‘security’ and then do whatever horrible thing they were planning anyway.

I’m certainly no expert on international law and justice but an enlightening book I read a few years ago explained a principle that seems simple but is not properly understood. I paraphrase badly but it is as important for justice to be done evenly as it is for justice to be done fairly. If people with blue eyes are prosecuted fairly for crimes over which people with brown eyes are given immunity, the impact on the justice system is just as bad as if blue-eyed people were prosecuted unfairly. So if there are people in Britain who organised torture and are walking free, all justice in the country is tainted.

There should be some means of addressing this, but there isn’t. The thing about prosecuting the state is that the state will consider this as against the interests of the state and therefore not only does the state consider itself justified in evading prosecution, it also considers those threatening the interests of the state as being inherently a threat and therefore an enemy.

Tonight a grieving mother will continue her campaign for justice for her dead child while a groups of well paid men in pinstripe suits will take brandy and cigars in a prestigious members’ club and making jokes about the silly Libyans and their archaic belief that the British State should be held to account. And no-one will connect the two.

Robin McAlpine