In the Sunday Times of 1 October, the home secretary was reported as having it in mind to 'strip some terror suspects of the automatic right to be protected from torture', should ministers rule that there were 'overriding considerations of national security'. Knowing as we do that 'overriding' here means that considerations so labelled cannot on security grounds be shared with the public - or even, given Blair's record in these matters, with other members of the government - we have good reason to see this quite dreadful prospect or else intention as fresh evidence that in its own mind the administration is now answerable to nobody at all. Only in his dreams could John Reid imagine that the changes that would be required to the present more than adequate anti-terrorist laws to enable the Home Office's hitherto frustrated torturers to be let loose on selected inmates of Abu Belmarsh, could be got through the House of Commons, let alone the Lords. But how depressing that he should first have let it be known at the recent Labour Party Conference how far he was ready to go to protect 'the rights, life and limb [sic] of the British people', as if that was just the sort of tabloid rant that those members of his shrinking - and who's to wonder? - party who still have the stomach for that event wanted to hear. Odd in the circumstances that the party flew Bill Clinton over to address it when they should clearly have had Al Gonzales, the creepily evasive successor to John Ashcroft as George W.'s attorney-general, who in the celebrated 'Bybee memo' four years ago suggested that an American president, aka the commander-in-chief, might have the power to 'override' (again) the constitution in permitting terrorist suspects to be put to the question.
LRB 2 November 2006 | PDF Download