Thursday, 11 September 2008

The aim of the game

An unexpected and brilliantly put article at The Register regarding the liquid bomb plot, by Lewis Page who used to be a mine clearance diving officer in the Royal Navy. My emphasis added.

The message is clear - the British courts are fair, or anyway their juries are. You will be given the benefit of the doubt in a jury trial, even if you are a dark-skinned bearded man with a scary name; even if you have made suicide videos and you admit up front that it was your plan to let off high explosives in a crowded public place. If the prosecutors can't prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were also going to blow up a plane, you still won't be convicted of trying to.

Frankly, if I was the Home Secretary I'd be making a massive propaganda coup out of this - not thinking about wasting a shipload of taxpayers' money on a retrial. (That would be expensive. Lawyers and judges are paid a lot more than either prison guards or surveillance teams, and you'd still need screws and spooks afterwards even if the retrial was "successful".)

It seems that the British security services are pointing the finger at America over the failure to make the airliner charges stick. It's being said that US-inspired haste at the Pakistani end of the operation meant the UK cops had to move too soon, before the bombers had even bought their airline tickets. Everyone's moaning about the pesky Americans going off half-cocked.

But what's the aim of the game here? Is it victory to get a longer jail sentence for a terrorist? One might argue that once you're talking about jail you're talking about damage limitation after a defeat, not victory of any kind.

Victory, you might say, is when a young man meets a Taliban or al-Q recruiter - travelling in Pakistan, at the mosque back home, at university, wherever - and finds himself unconvinced. That sort of genuine and elegant victory, you could argue, is more likely following this week's results - not less.

And it just could be that this time the hasty Americans in Pakistan, triggering an early end to the UK surveillance operation, have actually done us a favour. Possibly the accused men were planning mass murder, as the prosecution contends: but the cause of Western democracy gains a lot more by showing the world the manifold excellences of trial by jury than it could ever lose by failing to make that charge stick.

No comments: