US justice isn’t fit for a dog. Why won’t people say it?

UK Policy, World Policy Apr 11, 2012 Add a comment

There is no crime which could justify the way the US goes about its system of ‘justice’. Rape, torture, slavery, executions, racial bias and rigged trials are a fundamental feature of the system. Why does Britain still go along with this horror?

I don’t think I’d like Abu Hamza. I suspect I wouldn’t dislike him quite a vehemently as I’m supposed to, but I suspect that he’s not an awfully nice person. I also suspect – though I don’t know – that if he could he would do some pretty horrible things. And as far as I can tell, some of the things he has done are pretty horrible in themselves (though it is not clear to me what actual impact his crimes have had other than generalised ‘incitement’). I don’t consider these issues to be of no significance, although I think that as with almost everything to do with either ‘Islamic extremism’ or ‘riots’ the judicial bar seems to me to be lowered significantly and the punishment increased significantly. And I also think that if the pretence that the law is enacted equally were even close to true there are an awful lot of people who might be in a similar boat that are currently considered upstanding members of society (if Abu Hamza must spend the rest of his life in jail for what he has done, I can see nothing that differentiates his behaviour from that of Mark Thatcher who actively fundraised to enact what would have been a brutal and utterly illegal military coup in Equatorial Guinea).

I open with this to demonstrate some balance so the following is seen in that context; I would not allow his extradition to the US to face that nations ‘judicial system’. I wouldn’t allow it for the simple reason that I wouldn’t allow a dog to be extradited to the US. I know that the received wisdom is that the US is a modern democratic nation and so criticism of its domestic behaviours should be set in the assumption that basically it is a fair and just nation. At least that must be the only reason why almost no-one is able to say what we know – your chances of getting a fair trial in the US are hit and miss at best and its entire judicial system is riddled with third-world injustice.

I repeat that I can see little reason for any of the five men now facing extradition to the US should be facing super-max detention – writing nasty things and possibly raising money for nasty people is bad, but hardly the worst offence imaginable. But even if it was, be aware what this means. They will be held in a cell 8ft by 12ft cast entirely of concrete and with only a small window designed so they can see only a small square of empty sky. They will be left in there with no human contact at all for 23 hours a day (meals will be passed anonymously through a slot in the door). They will get an hour of exercise in what sounds to me like a pit, also designed so they can see nothing but a square of sky. This they will also do in absolute solitude. They will then face this for ten years. Or possibly for life. No human contact and kept in a tiny concrete box for a decade and more? If this isn’t torture, what is?

Of course, we also know that American ‘justice’ is not slow to use actual, full-blown torture (though not domestically, or not officially domestically). And we know that American justice now contains a large number of ‘get out’ clauses for the state – you don’t actually have to accuse someone of a crime, you can simply kidnap them and detain them for the rest of their lives with no right for them to make a defence. We know for certain that this has happened to many innocent people.

And even if all this happens abroad, still there is everything to despise about the domestic judicial system. We know that there is no expectation of equality of judgement and that conviction is very largely predicated on how much you can afford to spend on lawyers. The endless and utterly shocking tales of (mainly) young black men picked up and convicted on an evidential basis that would be laughed out of a UK court are awful to consider. That just under one in ten black Americans are currently in jail or under some form of judicial supervision (parole and so on) is shocking, not least because it is so out of kilter with the average (‘only’ on in a hundred Americans is in jail or under supervision). It is also a shock that it makes no difference what is the racial make up of a city, the incarceration rate is much the same – a white-majority city will have 40 per cent of the jail population as Afro-American, but so will a majority black city.

It’s not just race – America locks people up like a sport. It has the highest documented incarceration rate of any country in the world. Rwanda, a nation just out of a genocidal civil war, has a lower rate of incarceration. America has the most draconian sentences anywhere (which is the main reason for the insane prison population). It locks people away for nothing much – you can get a life sentence for stealing a bottle of water from a grocers.

And of course it is currently forth on the ‘kill ‘em’ league table. Only last week we read over here about a man whom a dozen independent forensic experts have said could not have committed the crime for which he is soon to be executed but the judge says he cares not a jot. That’s in large part because US justice is a sort of X-Factor for punishment – so much of the judiciary relies on election that it is forced into lowest-common-denominator populism. Which in much of the US means taking great pride in how many people you have killed. Of course, you don’t need to be killed when 21 per cent of inmates claim to have been coerced into sexual acts in jail and seven percent claim to have been raped.

Those who survive are then obliged by many of the privatised jails to work for nothing. No option. This is big, big business in the US and certain industry sectors are dominated by prison labour. Make no mistake, forced labour of this sort is slavery by any definition. Not least by the definition of more or less all independent human rights and penal monitoring organisations. But it matters not because at the Federal level the pretence that justice isn’t politics has long been extinguished by the Supreme Court which has become what looks awfully like a judicial coup by the right. A Supreme Court with a majority rigged by President George Bush is soon to decide whether an elected president is ‘allowed’ to introduce healthcare.

No, a system of torture, illegal detention, unfair trials, racial prejudice, slavery, rape, unjustifiable sentences, virtually industrial scale executions and politicised justice does not live up to the basic standards we would expect in the UK. Not even nearly. But no-one says anything because we’re supposed to pretend that the US is a civilised nation.

And a final point to put the real fear into you. Two of the people about to be extradited to face this hell-on-earth have not even been accused of committing any meaningful crime in the US. They posted something on a website that is hosted in the US – only that. Now think about it. You or anyone you know could post something the US doesn’t like and be extradited for rape, slavery and torture. And everyone knows it. The fact that half of the political and legal class are so quick to object to the extradition of Gary McKinnon (the young man who hacked the Pentagon computers) is not really because he has Aspergers but because they know in their soul that to throw such a vulnerable man into that hell is a barbarism beyond what we can stomach.

I don’t expect the UK Government to kick back against this. In fact, it seems to me that the UK Government is doing anything it can to make sure certain people don’t get prosecuted here because of the annoying lack of torture. But I do expect to hear more of an outcry. The US does not offer frontier justice, it offers grotesque biblical retribution with no real interest in justice.

I wouldn’t send a dog. In fact, I would even campaign to prevent the extradition of Mark Thatcher on a matter of principle. If that statement doesn’t express my level of disgust at US justice I don’t know what more to add.

Robin McAlpine

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