Thursday, 15 March 2012

Justice once was blind, but now it sees.

The US soldier accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan on Sunday has been flown to Kuwait, "based on legal recommendation" from the Pentagon. The excuse is that the US doesn't have the appropriate detention facilities in Afghanistan, and the US military likes to deal with misdemeanours committed by their personnel. They take care of their own, as Bruce Springsteen might say. Meanwhile it's making Cameron and Obama's (Camama?) confidence in the nascent Afghani justice system seem much lower than they would have us believe, as well as smelling of rank hypocrisy. Not only is the prison camp at Guantamo Bay still open, but both countries have previously insisted on people being tried by the people against whom atrocity has been committed, whether that was Saddam Hussein in 2003 or al Megrahi in 2000, whose trial was held under Scots law at a disused US military base in the Netherlands. Apparently it simply wouldn't have been just to try him in a neutral country (as suggested by, among others, Nelson Mandela).

It perhaps isn't surprising that a country with the unaccountability of the USA, and where the chief legal advisor to the government doesn't think that due process necessarily has to involve a court, doesn't feel a need to play by the rules it sets other people. What's the point of policing the world if there aren't any perks to the job? But isn't one of the key things about justice that it's meant to provide a level playing field? That power should not be allowed to play a part in it? Obviously no justice system is going to be completely free of bias (even if that's merely because people with more money can afford better lawyers), but with fairness being so deeply ingrained in our psyche surely such international bullying should be called to account?

And not just international bullying, for nations do not have a monopoly on injustice. A student of Cambridge University has been suspended for 2 and a half years for an entirely peaceful act of protest. The protest was staged against the government's higher education policy by a large group of people who have all freely admitted to being participants, but who are not sharing in the unprecedented and completely disproportionate punishment. And this punishment, which will completely derail the student's study, has been arbitrated by the University internally, without reference to...well, anything, as far as anyone can make out. The University doesn't like protests, but should know to expect them when it invites contentious people to give lectures; when my faculty was closed for 5 days so that the Premier of China, a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world, could give a prestigious lecture, a student took exception and threw a shoe at him. He was tried in a courtroom, and cleared on all charges (allegations that he was only tried due to pressure from the Chinese government were found to be baseless). He did not have to put his life on hold for years as a direct result of protest.

There is a petition to sign, and a protest to go on, and I highly encourage both. This isn't the first time I've moaned about the inner workings of Cambridge University on this blog, and it may not be the last, but this one takes the biscuit. When Mandela was trying to have al Megrahi tried in South Africa, he said that this was because
no one nation should be complainant, prosecutor and judge
and when trying their marine at home the USA might attempt to use this as a figleaf on their hypocrisy. But Cambridge University in this instance is all three. Other people have written eloquently about the absurdity of a university punishing a student for reading contentious poetry, but I hope someone reminds them what they are taking into their own hands. Ruling the roost in your ivory tower is great until the International Anti-Poaching Foundation catches up with you.

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