Extraordinary Rendition is in the news again. If the truth be told, it’s never really gone away. It keeps turning up like a bad penny.
I struggle with the term, but as I understand it, it refers to the covert policy adopted by certain unnamed countries, like the United States [oops] who ‘detain’ unsavoury characters who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and let’s face it, they’re spoilt for choice. They then fly them, at taxpayers’ expense, to assorted banana, date or oil republics where human rights are but a hookah pipe dream, and stand idly by whilst these ‘detainees’ have the living s**t kicked out of them. The ‘disclosures’ flowing from this treatment are then factored into a database and used in the fight against terrorism.
That then leaves the thorny question of what to do with these unsavoury characters. They can’t be put on trial, or at least not in a ‘civilised’ country, as evidence obtained by s**t kicking is invariably inadmissible, so they are dumped unceremoniously in Guantanamo Bay, or if they’re lucky, in Good Olde Blighty where we operate an open door policy, or best of all, in Bermuda, much to Her Britannic Majesty’s displeasure. Dumping miscreants in the colonies went out with the dark ages.
But all this has a serious side to it. How far should investigators be allowed to go in pursuit of their version of the truth? English law has for centuries applied the rubric that a statement against self interest is the best evidence of guilt, so confessions are high on the list of things to do when assembling a water tight case. In the bad old days, where the suspect refused to play ball, the investigators simply invented a confession, and most of the time it worked. Then came along a few high profile cases where it could be shown that the confession was invented, so the rules were changed, requiring investigators to tape record interviews. To make matters worse, every suspect had to be offered the right to legal representation, and guess what? Where sharp eyed lawyers spotted a weak case, they advised their clients to say nothing, and the investigators were stuffed!
Then along came the IRA, euphemistically called the Irish troubles, and when bombing atrocities crossed to the mainland, there was public outrage and a demand for justice. Every Paddy and Mick with their roots firmly planted in God’s Green Acre was arrested and interrogated, but they too remained silent. So in 1996 the government brought in a law allowing juries to infer guilt from silence, and it has been used to some effect ever since. It sits uncomfortably with the right to silence, but needs must when the devil drives.
All these changes and endless fine tuning have the imprimatur of the state stamped upon them, and whether we like them or loathe them, they are, or should be, transparent. The problem with Extraordinary Rendition, or State sponsored torture, is that there are no rules, no safeguards for the suspect, innocent or guilty, and anything goes.
We as defenders of a civilised society have to strike a balance between right and wrong. If state sponsored torture is inherently wrong, what price the end game? Can it ever be justified, even if the information obtained saves lives? I am certainly in favour of eavesdropping, intercepts, and covert surveillance, so long as it doesn’t affect me, and if it does, I shall cry “human rights” from the roof tops. Question is, who will listen?