I am proud of western values. These for me include the idea that every person matters, and we should all enjoy the right to certain freedoms. We do not think some people are of greater worth than others by dint of birth or acquired status – all must be equal under the law. We think that all who face allegations of criminal conduct deserve to be told of the accusations and have a fair trial to assess the validity of those claims. The basic freedoms in Magna Carta, topical this year, should unite the transatlantic brothers, as they are part of our shared heritage. If people are thought to be immediately dangerous our system allows for their detention pending trial with charges known.
It would be good to think that the two leading ancient western democracies, the UK and the USA, can now do some soul searching on how we preserve and enhance our system and our beliefs in an age of terrorism, asymmetric warfare and fundamentalist revolts. Mr Cameron did have to raise again the issue of Guantanamo Bay. It was no great advert for western freedoms and liberties. The argument that if people are bad enough they deserve to be locked up without trial does not fit neatly into our belief that the accused should stand trial to establish his guilt, and only if established then face an appropriate punishment. To those who say it is naïve to give to violent thugs the same rights as to other citizens, I say no-one said it was easy defending freedom, but who is to say who should be locked up without trial? And what if they locked up the wrong people?
It would also be good to think that instead of considering how best to pursue further military conflict in Iraq and maybe other places, the two great democracies also paused to consider what good has been achieved by recent past Middle Eastern military interventions. What can be learned from the collapse of law and order in Libya and the absence of effective government, once a nasty autocrat was successfully removed by force? What has been learned from the long and difficult campaigns in Afghanistan? And what effects have drone attacks across the borders into Pakistan had on those the allies wish to defeat? Can Iraq survive and prosper as a united nation, now Sunni,Shia and Kurds wish to fight each other for control of parts of their country?
The west was rightly horrified by the deaths in Paris at the hands of terrorists’ guns, and went on a peace march to show solidarity against the evil ones. The west continues to be appalled by the barbaric actions of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and offers limited military help to local forces fighting ISIL on the ground, seeking targets to bomb from the air. The west condemns the even greater brutality of Boko Haram in Nigeria( as measured by numbers of reported deaths in recent attacks) but does not intervene militarily there, giving limited advice and training to Nigerian forces when requested. Which of these responses is the best? Why are they so different?
If a young thug travels from the UK to Iraq to join ISIL our treatment of him changes. All the time he is plotting murder and mayhem in the UK we proceed by collecting evidence with a view to arrest and trial. If he reaches Iraq and plans murder there, he may be blown up by a smart bomb sent to his address or attacking a vehicle he might be using. Again we need to think through our varied responses in these difficult times.