Reading opinion pieces these days, especially in The Times, makes me want to pinch myself. (For medical reasons I read neither The Guardian nor The Independent, but then hardly anyone else does.)
Am I asleep and having a particularly nasty nightmare? Am I hallucinating? Am I finally off my rocker, as Penelope suggested when I put on my tennis shorts inside out? Reading Daniel Finkelstein’s article, I pinched myself so many times that the inside of my left arm has acquired a macabre bluish tint. But I did have to make sure.
No, I’m not insane yet. Neither, unfortunately, is he. The blighter actually presents a sequential argument encapsulated in a sentence halfway down: ‘But I have started to fear those who want to deport Abu Qatada at any price almost as much as I fear him.’
Mr Finkelstein freely admits to having strong feelings about the matter: ‘I hate Abu Qatada too.’ However, he’s selflessly prepared to override his irrational animosity for the sake of public good: ‘But the law is the law.’
This is almost a verbatim translation of the Roman adage dura lex, sed lex (the law is harsh, but it is the law), so Daniel must be a classical scholar. Alas, a legal scholar he ain’t.
The UK Immigration Law states unequivocally that ‘A foreign national may be made the subject of a deportation order for a number of reasons. These include: The Secretary of State believes that is in the interests of the public good that the foreign national is removed from the UK…’
Therefore, logically there can be only two possible reasons to take issue with the Jordanian’s deportation: 1) it isn’t in public interest or 2) the UK law has no jurisdiction in the UK. Let’s consider them in this order, borrowing freely from Daniel’s gospel.
AQ ‘is a dangerous man who thinks it is a good idea to kill Jews’. Many of his friends ‘ended up in court on a series of terrorist charges… One of the main ideas was to kill Jewish tourists’. ‘And [AQ] was wrapped up in the plotting… He’d handed over the money to buy a computer, messages had been found between him and the gang, and he had, the evidence suggests, proposed targets and congratulated the bombers when the explosives went off.’
In my simplistic way I’d suggest that public interest would be well served by AQ’s removal. However, what upsets Mr Finkelstein’s finely tuned legal sensibility is that the case against AQ relies heavily on the testimony of supposedly coerced witnesses. ‘And although this has always been denied, the denials have never been wholly convincing.’
I don’t know, they sounded convincing to me. But does our evangelist think that those chaps at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, none of whom is held there by due process, led Navy Seals to Osama out of the goodness of their hearts and a sense of public duty?
A moral test: MI5 is aware that nuclear charges have been placed all over London, and they’re due to go off in two hours. The man who has placed the charges has been arrested but refuses to talk. Would you use torture to find out where the charges are? I would. Mr Finkelstein apparently wouldn’t – his flaming conscience and a keen sense of legality would be more important than the lives of millions.
‘Do we seriously want the Home Secretary to ignore the pesky courts and just shove this man on a plane?’ he asks rhetorically. Yes we do, is my answer. Things Mr Finkelstein himself mentioned make this desirable. And the British law I cited means that it’s also legal – not everything has to go through a court, especially when a foreign national is involved.
Here we get to the crux of the matter. For it’s not any British law that keeps AQ in Britain, but one imposed by the European Court of Human Rights. While Mr Finkelstein feigns unease with the foreign provenance of this legislation, he loves the idea of a human rights court (‘I think it is better, and hope that it might be possible, that we have a British Bill of Rights’) and is ‘astonished at how many people, particularly on the right,’ fail to see the light.
We’ve come full circle. Such people, those on the right, frighten Mr Finkelstein more than AQ does – even though he wants to kill Jews, of whom Mr Finkelstein is presumably one (I apologise if this presumption is incorrect, but every Finkelstein I’ve ever met is Jewish), along with everyone else who happens to be in the neighbourhood.
I’m not particularly surprised at this outpouring of the usual ‘liberal’ effluvia, this time leavened with illiterate quasi-legal casuistry. It’s The Times after all. But the extent of ignorance is somewhat surprising in someone who has been to school.
Britain, Mr Finkelstein, has no need for a Bill of Rights – the English Common Law, evolved over a millennium, provides perfectly adequate protection of our freedoms. The country he evidently sees as an ideal needed such constitutional amendments because it was neonatal – having rejected the law governing the metropolis, Americans had to put something on paper quickly.
Yet the top journalist at The Times ought to have observed that the existence of a Bill of Rights didn’t prevent the Americans from setting up Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Neither did it prevent them, during the war, from interning thousands of Americans guilty only of possessing a subversive skin colour.
‘Britain is a liberal democracy built on law,’ Mr Finkelstein kindly informs us. Personally, I’ve always thought Britain is a constitutional monarchy, but let’s not quibble about such trivia.
Whatever we are, we have no law that says we must commit national suicide to please our EU partners, whose own legal rectitude is of rather more recent origin than ours. Neither do we have one that says our Secretary of State can’t throw that foul obscenity out. I suggest Mr Finkelstein take a refresher course in such things – but steer clear of the LSE this time, Daniel. They teach all sorts of nonsense there.