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Jurists: War on Terror Tactics Have Undermined Basic Values

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At a press conference in Geneva yesterday the International Commission of Jurists released the results of its three-year study of new policies adopted by the United States, Britain, and other nations to address the war on terror. The Washington Post reports:

“We have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world,” said Arthur Chaskalson, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, in a statement announcing results of a 3-year study of counter-terrorism measures since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights,” said Chaskalson, a former chief justice of South Africa.

The complete report, which is quite readable, can be accessed here.

Roughly two-thirds of the American public now want there to be more accountability for war on terror-related crimes committed by the Bush Administration. And a storm of controversy has engulfed the British Government over its cooperation with American intelligence authorities connected to the torture of a British subject, Binyam Mohamed, who is expected to be released from Guantánamo and returned to Britain within the next few days. Parliamentary figures and others have charged that the evidence available implicated British intelligence services in the prisoner’s torture, while the British Government, resisting disclosure of the evidence, denies this. The Post reports that the former head of MI5 is defending her service even as she assailed U.S. abuses in an interview with the Spanish press:

“It would be better that the government recognized that there are risks–rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism–that we live in fear and under a police state,” said Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, the domestic intelligence-gathering agency. In an interview with Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper, which was republished in the British press Tuesday, Rimington compared the controversial anti-terror practices at the U.S.-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba with Great Britain’s MI5 security service.

“MI5 does not” engage in the same activities, she said, adding that the U.S. practice of prosecuting terror suspects through the military system, and using widely denounced interrogation measures, “has achieved the opposite effect — there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.”

These remarks are provoking skepticism in Britain and demands for a fuller accounting.

The International Commission of Jurists will issue their report at a function to be held at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on Friday, February 27 at 9:30 a.m. I will be participating in a panel discussion at the event, which is open to the public and Harper’s readers are welcome to attend.

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