A Matter of Sovereignty

Let me say up front that I agree with David Cameron: Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi should not have been released from prison. I think he was a fall guy for what was a Libyan government planned and executed operation, but he was convicted and barring a successful appeal, he should have stayed in prison.  However, I think the U.S. Senate is way out of line in investigating his release.

This goes back to my most recent post: it is consistently the view of the US government – at least of the Executive and Legislative branches – that the sovereignty of other countries is always secondary to American interests. The Senate has invited Scottish Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, Scottish prison health director Andrew Fraser, former UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair to appear before it to answer questions as to how and why Megrahi was released from prison on compassionate ground. (This despite the fact that Blair had been out of office for nearly two years at the time of the release.)

Though I have no political affinity to any of the Brits invited, I have to agree with the assessment of Jack Straw:

“It is, in my experience, highly unusual for the legislature of one sovereign state to conduct an inquiry into decisions of another sovereign state, including, as in this case, decisions by a devolved administration on the release of a prisoner. There are therefore important issues of principle here which could affect UK governments of any party, and which will need carefully to be considered before I come to a final view.”

In other words, it is none of their business. The crime occurred over Scottish airspace. Even if the bomb was put on the plane somewhere else, at no time in question was the plane in the United States or its airspace. Neither was it even in international airspace, as the death of 11 Scots killed on the ground in Lockerbie made clear. Scotland had jurisdiction then and it has jurisdiction now. It may come as a shock to a lot of Americans, but killing Americans somewhere in the world does not give the government of the United States jurisdiction over that place or the power to investigate their killing. If Americans leave the sovereign territory of the United States, they assume the risk that they may come to harm without the US Government having the right to vindicate their cause.

Perhaps it is David Cameron’s admission that the UK is the junior partner in the Special Relationship both now and for at least the past 70 years that has emboldened the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to think its senior status carries some sort of weight.

Even if, as has been strongly insinuated by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, BP lobbied – or even, as has been suggested – bribed UK or Scottish officials or ministers, it is not the business of the US Senate. That is true even though BP is responsible for that terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently needs to be punished further, whatever excuse can be found. If there has been impropriety, it is for the UK government to investigate.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, since 67 British people died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker, has been tortured and charges against him have been dropped, re-instated, and dropped again.  Should the British Government open an inquiry and invite US officials to appear before it to answer for how they have dealt with it? Should British parliamentarians and ministers be demanding explanantions? If the American public learned of such an inquiry – that is, if the American press even took it seriously enough to report it – the public would be everything from bemused to outraged that another country would think it had jurisdiction to demand American officials explain themselves.

Sovereignty is sovereignty. It’s time the US respected the sovereignty of other nations to the extent it demands respect for its own.

Hypocrisy, Caricature, and Abuse: How Treating Nick Griffin Badly Failed, Badly

I haven’t gotten much response in the past when I said anything about the British National Party, but lack of response has never stopped me before.  Considering that the BNP has been the only topic in the news media for the last few days, I thought I’d add my tuppence.

The national news papers on Friday all carried giant headlines about Nick Griffin’s appearance on the BBC current affairs panel show Question Time. It was a huge, big, giant deal when the BBC invited the leader of the BNP as one of the panellists. It was in line with the BBC policy of including parties that have reached the electoral threshold of 5% and have leaders elected on a national level. Griffin is now one of the Euro MPs for Northwest England.

The show was stage managed so that rather than talking about the issues of the week, everything was about Griffin and the BNP. It was a set-up job, really. Half the debate, both before and after, was whether this was a good thing or bad thing for the BNP. No one wanted to give them time to air their views, but everyone wanted to get have a chance to get in a shot at them. Every panelist and every audience member given air time went to extraordinary lengths to declare their revulsion toward Griffin and the BNP. The papers Friday then took every possible sound bite out of context and ripped into Griffin and the BNP again.

Now let me state clearly that I do not support the BNP. But neither do I support hatchet jobs justified because the policies of the BNP are so repugnant to so many. I wish I could say it has amazed me, but it is really what can be expected from what passes for British journalism these days.

For example, Griffin claims to have changed views he’s held in the past. No one believes him. He was a member of the neo-Nazi National Front when he was in and just out of Cambridge and when it comes to neo-Nazis, the leopard never changes his spots. The Nazis, after all, killed millions of Jews, which makes them evil.

At the same time many members of the Labour Party were part of neo-Communist groups such as Militant, but that’s apparently okay. The Communists killed millions of Jews, Christians, and all sorts – millions upon millions more than the Nazis ever could have and over many more years – but being a former – or still borderline – Marxist is perfectly okay. No one gets the hypocrisy.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw was on the Question Time panel. No one brought up (or would have even cared) that when he was elected chair of the Leeds University Labour Society, he had the name changed to elected chair of the Leeds University Socialist Society and withdrew support from the Labour Party for not being left-wing enough. No one brought up (or would have even cared ) that when he was elected president of Leeds University Union, it was with the support of the Communist Society.

The biggest headlines I saw as I walked by news stands in the aftermath of Question Time were about Griffin’s support for the KKK. He was questioned by David Dimbleby about having appeared at a public gathering with David Duke and the KKK and before his answer was cut off, he said that it was a non-violent KKK group. Neither Chicago-born panelist Bonnie Greer nor the tabloids were having any of it, though even the (former?) Communist David Aaronovitch in The Times acknowledged that it was true. But the caricature of KKK sells more newspapers than trying to explain the complexities of racist politics in American history, so even suggesting that there are racists who are not going around lynching every black man in sight is tantamount to showing support for them.

When Griffin attempted to explain any of his views, he was excoriated as being a weasel and a liar. Either he accepted the facile comments that were thrown at him from audience and panelists alike and admitted that he was the vile person they insisted he was, or he rejected their accusations and thus proved he was the vile person they insisted he was. It was a lose-lose situation.

Not everyone bought the dinner of bile and vitriol being served up. There were about 300 complaints to the BBC about the programme. about 75% were complaining about the way Griffin was treated. But the telling indicator was the YouGov poll taken hours after Question Time. It showed that 22% of voters would consider voting BNP. This is not because the BBC agreed to have Griffin on the panel. It is because everyone on the panel made it the Nick Griffin Show and neither they nor the audience, nor David Dimbleby for all his protestations to the contrary, could restrain themselves. They gave the BNP the credibility it gained.