Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I think I'm going to give up Radio 5

Why? Because it scares me. Because it endangers my mental health by inducing me to snarl and grrr at the babbling noisebox in my living room. Because it makes me feel fascism is coming soon. No, this is not the beginning of a counter-I Believe in the BBC campaign. It's not the reporting or the presenters or the guests - it's the public! I realised I must give it up this morning when I was desperately tempted to do the unthinkable and take part in a phone-in myself. The horror. Shuddering, I placed the spared mobile back on a table and took deep breaths. That way madness lay. I'd looked into the abyss and for a moment had thought - it wasn't that deep after all!

They had been discussing the return to the UK of several Guantanamo Bay inmates, who have been arrested on arrival in order that the Metropolitan Police can formally decide whether or not they have committed a crime. The string of callers were sick-shocking. Here, behold the chappie who first of all demanded to know "If some Christians had gone to fight for the Serbs against...the KLA, would they have got a Catholic priest? Eh? WELL WOULD THEY?" The answer is in fact "yes, it's in the Geneva Conventions, and British forces' standing orders on these things require it", but no-one had the wit to wap him with that one. No, he was convinced that it was a special and unfair privilege granted to Muslims that they might have the services of a priest. Oh dear. It only got worse, though, as he wanted them to be shot. "Of course, you would put them on trial first". No. He nearly bust an eyeball over this. "What were they doing in a war zone? That's what I wanna know!" But he stuck by the proposal of extrajudicial shootings.

It didn't improve. A string of dopes came out with the same war-zone remark, usually demanding that the men "explain what they were doing in Afghanistan". No-one raised the idea of presumption of innocence, prima facie evidence etc. Tiresome details. Apparently the same government who had invaded Iraq and detained a number of persons right here without trial or charge were "wimps". From evil and stupidity we descended to corruption. First a Sikh, then a Muslim came on the line to denounce treachery and demand greater viciousness. "I think they should go to Afghanistan if they want to be there - I love England!" A Cockney Wanka: "And I'll buy the ticket!" No notice to the point that one poor man had actually been seized from a Taliban prison. No inkling that no evidence has ever, anywhere, in any way been offered to even suggest their involvement. The constant reiteration of the phrase "war zone". This needs scrutiny.

So many said that (in effect) the alleged fact of their presence in a "war zone" was proof of guilt - specifically of direct acts against British interests. What can this mean? Especially as a) some of the men involved were arrested many hundreds of miles from the area of the fighting, and b) some may actually have been in Pakistan at the time. Clearly, it is assumed by these folk that all of Afghanistan was in effect a free fire zone: everyone there was "in the war zone", hence on the enemy side and hence legitimate targets. Not to mention the fact that after the main fighting was over, guerrilla activity went on and US forces conducted large cordon and search operations, that is to say encircling a given locality and then searching it. Obviously, anyone within the cordon was possibly subject to arrest. As most of this activity took place near the Pakistani border, that might easily include persons trying to leave the "war zone". There is no status in law for any presumption that civilians of any nationality or none in a "war zone" are aiding one side or the other. Justifications like this have been used by all sorts of very unpleasant armies: the Germans on the Eastern Front in 1941-5 were exhibit A, effectively declaring the eastern theatre of operations to be a zone without law.

It's frightening to see just how many people of all races in one's country are potential concentration camp guards - harbouring the justifications of war criminals..

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