Gareth Peirce

Gareth Peirce is a defence lawyer who has represented a number of individuals threatened with extradition to the United States. On Torture and the Death of Justice will be published by Verso in September.

Although at least one senior State Department lawyer, Harold Koh, maintains that the new administration’s changes mean that the United States can now claim that its national security policies are fully compliant with domestic and international law under ‘common and universal standards, not double standards’, the administration, unnerved by the political backlash, is swiftly beating a retreat from its early insistence on civilian trials and considering the retention of indefinite detention without trial. Perhaps most chillingly, it seems not to appreciate that almost every basic safeguard necessary to achieve a conventional fair trial for the accused has, in practice, long since been destroyed in the US.

It is, of course, now all about oil. Only a simpleton could believe that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, was not recently returned to his home in Libya because it suited Britain. The political furore is very obviously contrived, since both the British and American governments know perfectly well how and for what reasons he came to be prosecuted. More important than the present passing storm is whether any aspect of the investigation that led to al-Megrahi’s original conviction was also about oil, or dictated by other factors that should have no place in a prosecution process.

If we look carefully there is sufficient evidence that British foreign policy, and indeed its domestic policy, have for many years been conducted in a way that is in violation not only of our own law and of international law, but which, far worse, has led us to be complicit in torture and in the commission of internationally prohibited crimes against humanity.

As good a place to start as any is 19 December 2001. On this date a dozen men, all foreign nationals, were interned in this country. Recognising the connotations of the term ‘internment’, discredited and abandoned in Northern Ireland, the government insisted this was not equivalent to arbitrary detention without trial, a practice forbidden by the European Convention on Human Rights except in extreme emergencies, because each man was free to leave.

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