2007-04-20 : Combating terrorism


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2007-04-20 : Combating terrorism

Postby GOSA » Tue, 2007-04-24 10:16

Combating terrorism
•Fri, 20 Apr 2007

Combating terrorism using the methods of a police state plays
straight into the hands of those seeking to destroy democracy.

One night in October 2005, Khalid Rashid, a Pakistani national,
was detained at his home in Estcourt. There were 20 arresting
officers, some of them with unfamiliar accents, and they
travelled in unmarked cars. Rashid vanished without trace until
last week when Amnesty International discovered that he had
appeared before a tribunal at the Supreme Court in Islamabad.
What happened to him in the meantime raises important and
disturbing issues.

There is strong circumstantial evidence that his was no ordinary
deportation, but extraordinary rendition — a newfangled term for
official but illegal kidnapping — by South African and foreign
intelligence services. The efforts of Rashid’s lawyer, Zahir
Omar, to protect his client’s legal rights were described by the
Department of Home Affairs as undermining the international
standing of South Africa, a curious accusation that simply
raises further suspicion. Both what is known about this case of
involuntary disappearance, and — more importantly — what is not
known, evokes strong memories of the behaviour of the security
forces during the apartheid era.

It is beyond dispute that democratic societies face a severe
challenge: al-Qaeda is prepared to use mass murder to publicise
a reactionary ideology that despises modern, hard-won freedoms.
But it is equally true that there can be no moral or practical
justification for defending democracy by means that are
essentially undemocratic. Abduction, long-term incommunicado
detention without trial and torture through physical abuse or
sensory deprivation quickly turn democracies into authoritarian

Amnesty International has called for Rashid to be charged and
tried, or released — another flashback to the apartheid years.
Although little is known about him, it has been suggested that
he has information about the Afghan border with Pakistan of
potential use to those hunting al-Qaeda. But this is no excuse
for detention without trial for 18 months. If he is thought to
have committed an offence, he should be put on trial so that the
details of his crimes can be revealed to the public. Justice and
truth go hand in hand and both emerge from open court cases.

Combating terrorism using the methods of a police state plays
straight into the hands of those seeking to destroy democracy.
In the long term, such policy could do just as much harm to free
societies as the exploits of brainwashed, deluded bombers
themselves. Societies must protect themselves, but the response
has to be proportionate. The argument that democracies are at
terminal risk and that any tactic is justified in their defence
must be treated with profound scepticism.

The announcement this week that the British have stopped using
the phrase “war on terror” is to be welcomed. Its use allowed
governments to argue that constraints on freedom have a
legitimate military objective. But above all, it dignifies the
activities of murderers and reinforces their view that they have
a cause worth the lives of innocent people. Criminal activity
has to be defeated within the bounds of the rule of law. The
moral high ground of democracy must not be surrendered.

Published: 20 April 2007
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