Boost for civil liberties

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, June 15th 2008

David DavisPREOCCUPIED as we are with wanton and random bloodletting, rampant crime, spiralling food prices and football politics, major national issues in this crowded barracoon, interesting developments in the wider world could steal past us hardly eliciting a glance. Last week, David Davis, a very senior member of Britain’s Conservative Party, shocked his colleagues and England by resigning his parliamentary seat over renewal of the “42-days detention” law. And in Washington the US Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision: detainees at the controversial Guantanamo detention camp are entitled to the privilege of habeas corpus.

Readers may well ask of Davis: who he? Until last Wednesday, he was the Tories’ shadow home secretary-Britain’s equivalent of our National Security Minister. True, his party is in opposition. But with ex-PM Tony Blair leaving the ruling Labour Party trailing the Conservatives in just about every poll, and worse, losing badly in recent local elections, the David Cameron-led Tories are smelling Whitehall blood. So potentially, Davis could be seen as Britain’s home secretary-in-waiting.

Indeed, he is widely considered as prime ministerial material, having challenged Cameron for leadership of the party five years ago, and carrying 21 years of parliamentary experience under his belt. He cast aside what many saw as a dazzling political career on a principled stand. He felt the controversial law, which was extended by the narrowest of margins (some Labour members voted against it), which allows the police to detain “terrorist suspects” for up to 42 days without charging them, was part of a “slow strangulation of fundamental freedoms.”

According to The Independent, “He thinks it is more important to make a stand now; that 42-day detention is such an infringement of our liberties. It may sound pious in the Westminster village but it may play well in the real world, where people have switched off from political parties.”

David himself put the reasons for his dramatic action this way: “In truth perhaps 42 days is the one most salient example of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedom. And we will have shortly the most intrusive identity card system in the world. A CCTV camera for every 14 citizens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with thousands of innocent children and millions of innocent citizens on it.”

I may have little in common with David politically, since I’ve always viewed the Tories as well, too conservative. But this is an ex-SAS reserve officer who had the moral courage to stand by his convictions, to act against what he saw as government trampling on civil liberties. That I can identify with. It’s among the basic tenets drilled into young, Sandhurst-trained officers. As the legendary Field Marshal Slim put it: most men with moral courage learnt it by precept and example in their youth.

His friends could not understand why he would sacrifice a prime place in the future-Cabinet because of what they saw as his ego. One MP-friend, Michael Brown, wrote: “He is bold, brave, courageous-and wrong-in this incredible decision to put principle before career.” For Brown and others like him-that includes most politicians-holding office is more important than standing by principle. Do we have a David here in the person of Keith Rowley? Time-and proof of allegations-will tell.

In Washington, a majority of members of the conservative Supreme Court dealt a serious blow to President Bush by declaring that the hundreds of “terror suspects” held at Guantanamo must enjoy the right to fair trials before civilian courts. Bush, Cheney, Rice and members of the White House Gang have arrogated unto themselves God-like powers in treating with “terrorists”. More than 300 people, many of them boys, have been held for more than five years without recourse to any semblance of justice. They have been tortured, demeaned, isolated, lost to their families and to the world. They simply did not exist.

Until last Thursday, when the judges ruled that the authorities must bring them before regular courts, prove them guilty of the crimes they are accused of, or free them. By a very slim majority (4-3), the court has restored a human face to America’s ugly image in most parts of the world. The few detainees who have been released without being charged or tried have told chilling stories of the conditions under which they were captured (the Americans paid for many captives), held, and eventually released-without even an apology.

Before that Bush and his gang resisted all efforts to either bring the men to trial or free them. Now, as he prepares to ride into oblivion, George W has to cope with a wind of change that’s gathering storm-strength in that country. A Black man as presidential candidate with the support of huge numbers of Whites is haram. Now his Supreme Court has stopped short of deeming him a war criminal.

These two developments augur well for the world, post-Bush, post-Blair. We in this country can learn important lessons from them, if only we take “time out” from dealing with our ocean of woes.

4 Responses to “Boost for civil liberties”


  • Ah, a man of Rowley’s principles, British PArlaiment, where democracy was founded. How wonderful. In the meantime, we must ask ourselves what are principled stands worth, in TnT, when a principled stand by one member of the CAbinet gets him fired from his post, and instead of serious discussion, we have reports of “commess” and “bacchanal” Principled people do not go quietly into that Good night, unless the people whom they represent do not understand whta a principled stand is.

    Britain is so different from Trinidad and Tobago, which can be described as was said of the Jews in Biblical times, “A fractious and difficult”people. To be the representative of such people, one must have the balls of a Brahma bull, and have private means so that one’s parliamentary salary is not the source of bread and milk. In such a cse, why should they serve.

    The public good is a great idea, but it is worth the flagellation by that same public?

  • Linda throughout history there have been men and women who took what many thought were unpopular positions in pursuit of limiting the power of the state and strengthening the scope of individual freedoms and rights. The reasons and rationales that will form the bases for critiques of these two decisons, coming as they do unexpectantly from political conservative niches in Western Democracies, will be little different than those that questioned goals like universal adult sufferage, emancipation of humans held in bondage, or expansion of affirmative educational actions for the so called “backward classes” of India.

    Mahatma Gandhi’s refusal to kow tow to the dictates of an apartheid system in South Africa was also an example of challenging the power of the state to restrict the rights and freedoms of the individual. And people should not forget that Japanese Americans were detained throughout World War11 under the same pretext being offered up today in support of the expansion of state power over the freedom of the individual.

  • Why does everyone believe that Rowley is on the right side of this saga? It is extremely popular to fall on the Rowley side of this issue.PM Manning is an honorable man and has always demonstrated the type of behavior which is worthy of someone who is above the basic wrangling of lesser mortals. Rowley is a disgruntiled membeer of parliament who is searching to find a name for himself.

  • My problem with that “Honorable Man” who did demonstrate these traits in past issues, is that he used hearsay evidence from people who have no track record in the party as parliamentarians,to publicly whip and scorn a party faithful, who held the Diego seat for the party for all these years. Due process required that something else be done here. Remember the teapot affair with Chandradesh Sharma in the Parliament Tea Room. The situation looked dire. Rowley was accused of throwing a teacup. Then it turned out that the opposition tried to get people like Gillian Lucky to lie about what came out in evidence. Then the same PM, who promptly turned over any implication of wrongdoing on the part of two members of his former cabinet, to the police, summarily fires Rowley because some people reported that he behaved badly in a meeting that the PM did not attend.

    What the hell is going on here? (MY thesis is that Rowley was fired because of his support for Ken Valley when he was being pressured out of the last group to run for office. Tell the world I am wrong nuh!)

    Even the least skilled parent, in a country where parenting skills may have never been taught, except as they evolved from slavery and its brutality, may have suspected in this situation, that some ganging up had occurred. Unless the parent wants the others to gang up on one to bring him down a notch or two, that parent would dig deeper into things. That the PM FAILED TO DO SO, says there was more in the mortar, than the pestle. Those intrested in good government, are therefore entitled to keep asking what was being covered up by this spectacular and high handed firing. Now. mind you, if Rowley had behaved disgracefully in public, that may have been a different matter, but this was an internal meeting to which the public had no access.

    Would you, T-Man, use that as eveidence to condemn a man to political ostracism and death? Well based on what I have been reading in the papers, that is what our esteemed leader did.

    That cannot be a fair and open way of doing anything. That is why I support Rowley. I support openeness in government. I support good government. I do not believe in management by mauvais langue. Rowley is not my friend, my country is.

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