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Posted Online on Thursday 8, December 2005 22:35 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsBritain and America Responsible for "lawlessness on a truly grand scale" British Judge

By M Ghazali Khan

The Milli Gazette Online

London, 6 December: One of Britain's most senior judges, Lord Steyn has said that the British and American governments might be guilty of war crimes. In an interview to the British TV, Channel 4, Lord Steyn also urged the British Government to “…stand up to the international rule of law… unambiguously and publicly.”

Rejecting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s argument that captured terrorists of 21st Century do not fit easily into traditional system of criminal, military justice Lord Steyn said, “It is undoubtedly from 9/11 onwards a new situation and modern terrorism involves far greater risks to the public. But, in my view, it is even more important now that one must stand by human rights law, respect the treaties. The need for them has not been lessened but increased.” 

He also accused the US administration adopting “…a definition of torture which is extremely narrow. It involves causing death, total organ failure and so forth. The true definition is much wider and it includes coercive questioning.”

Holding US administration responsible for incitement to terrorism, Lord Steyn said, “We have seen a scale of lawlessness unravel which in my opinion is the logical extension of Guantanamo Bay because Guantanamo Bay involved taking prisoners from Afghanistan, and many other places, to an island where there would be a lawless black hole where they can never escape from, where they have no right to trial. This logically is not very different from what the Americans call rendition which, in truth, is abduction. It is not authorised by international law and the connection between this and Guatanamo Bay is very close.”

The 71 year old judge who is known for his frank and liberal views, emphasised, “Of course everybody condemns terrorism ­ it's a scourge, an outrage. But we do not improve the modern world or make it safer by adopting methods that have outraged a very large part of the world. They've outraged the devout Muslim world, the moderate Muslim world. It is just simply a fact that events for example like Abu Ghraib would have outraged moderate Muslims throughout the world.”

On the question of the alleged terrorists being moved from one centre to the other Lord Steyn said, “One must go back to the Geneva Convention and the matter is governed by the Geneva Conventions and prisoners must be dealt with in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. And the Geneva Convention is not something you can opt into or opt out as you like. Those are binding conventions.”

Rejecting US Administration’s argument that the detainees of Guantanamo Bay were illegal combatants, Lord Steyn said, “The argument that they are illegal combatants because they didn't wear uniforms is not one a court would find terribly impressive. So I wouldn't accept that. But in any event, if the Geneva Conventions are not binding then customary international law is of the same effect and the United States is undoubtedly bound by customary international law.”

Commenting on the effects of Guantanamo Bay Lor Steyn said, “The cumulative effect of all these matters is lawlessness on a truly grand scale. It has the effect of giving a setback to international law, to humanitarian law ­ human rights law ­ for a very, very long time. And what was built up after the Second World War ensured an international rule of law. I'm specifically referring to Nuremberg, to the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international covenants. I'm referring to things like Pinochet, the creation of the International Criminal Court, all those events are hugely damaged by what has been done here.”

On countries allowing the violation of International law Lor Steyn said, “…we can go back to Nuremberg. The person who tortures, who beats up prisoners can be guilty of torture depending on the level pain that is inflicted. But it doesn't end there. The person who authorises someone to do the beating may be guilty of torture and of a war crime. And what's more, somebody who set up a system calculated to cause such events to take place himself could be guilty of war crimes.”

He said that, “If prisoners are tortured at Guantanamo Bay or at black sites ­ if they are ­ those who commit those acts will be guilty of war crimes, and those who authorise it can be similarly guilty of war crime.”

On the ineffectiveness of the International law to deal with threats by suicide bombers, Lord Steyn said, “I give the answer that President Barak, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court ­ and a very outstanding lawyer ­ has given to that. The answer he gives is that a democracy must sometimes fight with his hands tied behind his back. And it that way it becomes stronger, not weaker.” 

So in the given circumstances what should the British public be doing? “From a legal perspective, I would say we are at least entitled to ask of our government that it must stand up to the international rule of law that it must no so unambiguously and publicly. That necessarily involves that there should be no kow-towing to the lawlessness of the US administration.” He replied.   

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