Chomsky: Britain has failed US detainees
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Saturday, 30 August 2008
Britain has failed in its duty to stop the US from committing “shameful acts” in the treatment of suspects detained during the war on terror, one of America’s most respected intellectuals warns today.
In an interview with The Independent, Professor Noam Chomsky calls on the Government to use its special relationship with Washington America to secure the closure of Guantanamo Bay.
Claiming that he has heard only “twitters of protest” in the UK , the emeritus professor of linguistics also asks British “thinkers” to be more conspicuous in their opposition to the erosion of civil rights since the 9.11 attacks on the US.
In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, Prof Chomsky, a leading opponent of the Vietnam conflict, has been the most prominent among US intellectuals critical of the war with the Iraq and the treatment of terror suspects sent to Guantanamo Bay and other prison camps around the world.
Professor Chomsky’s comments now call into question Britain’s political and intellectual will to stand up for the rule of law in the face of actions that have been repeatedly condemned by courts on both sides of the Atlantic.
While a small number of British writers, artists and philosophers continue to voice their concerns about UK involvement in America’s rendition programme and its refusal to close Guantanamo Bay, a concerted opposition among the so called liberal intelligentsia has failed to materialise.
“A country,” says Prof Chomsky, “with any shred of self-respect will be vigilant to ensure that it does not take part in this criminal savagery. Because of the “special relationship,” Britain has a particularly strong responsibility to bar these shameful crimes in any way it can. [And] In whatever respect the relationship is “special”, the UK can use it to bar these shameful crimes.”
Asked whether Britain should be doing more to seek the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Professor Chomsky answered: “Definitely. I’ve seen only twitters of protest.”
Noam Chomsky has been a fearless critic of US foreign policy since the 1960s when he became one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War with the publication of his essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” in 1967. And his reputation as an outspoken American dissident has made him many enemies in his own country where he requires police protection.
Professor Chomsky believes that the case against Guantanamo needs to be made more forcefully.
“We hardly needed evidence (although there is more than enough) that Gitmo was going to be a torture chamber,” says Prof Chomsky. “Otherwise, why not place “enemy combatants” in a prison in New York? The security argument is not serious. Taking a step back, does the US have the right to hold these prisoners at all? Hardly obvious. In brief, there are plenty of grounds for protest (and action), at varying levels of depth.”
His comments have met with broad support from those who have been campaigning for the British government to take a more critical position in its relationship with the Bush administration.
Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer representing British Guantanamo detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said: “Professor Chomsky is right. To borrow from President Clinton, the world is much more impressed by the power of America’s example than the example of American power. Likewise, the world is more impressed by British principle than the pretense of Britain’s special relationship. A true friend to American would not stand by while President Bush squanders America’s birthright.”
Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the all party parliamentary group on rendition, said: “The UK Government’s reaction to the US programme of rendition: a policy of kidnapping people and taking them to places where they may be tortured, has been inadequate, to say the least. It is scarcely credible that now, despite all we know about rendition and the UK’s involvement in it, the British Government still refuses to condemn this illegal, immoral, and counterproductive policy.”
He adds: “As an Atlanticist, I believe that a strong transatlantic alliance is an essential part of combating dangerous extremism. But this does not mean turning a blind eye or, as the High Court recently found in the case of Binyam Mohamed, facilitating America’s deeply damaging rendition programme. We cannot afford to undermine the values we are seeking to export. The UK must use its influence to convince the United States that rendition does precisely this.”
But Peter Hitchens, political commentator and author, argues that many of the so called liberal intelligentsia, who might have been expected to oppose the Iraqi war and other US policies, have placed too much faith in a Labour government: “I think perhaps Chomsky has been looking in the wrong place. The Mail on Sunday and I have certainly been trenchant in our criticism of some this – the war in Iraq and Guantanamo. For example, we were one of the first to run pictures of the orange jumpsuits alongside stories about Guantanamo.”
Mr Hitchens says Prof Chomsky is right in the sense that many of the writers on left have either supported the war or made no protest.
“In some respects there has been a failure of the modern left, where traditional leftwing writers have been supporting the ‘war on terror’ as some sort of liberal crusade. That is partly because of the Labour government which made the left believe they have had friends in office. Chomsky needs to look in other places if he wants to find voices of criticism.”
Professor Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technolog, says that the US must now hand Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba.
“The region was taken by a ‘treaty’ that Cuba was forced to sign under military occupation. The US has been violating the terms of this outrageous treaty for decades – e.g., using it for holding Haitians who were illegally captured when they were feeling terror in Haiti (for which the US bore ample responsibility). Current use also radically violates the terms of the outrageous treaty. ”
Rise of a libertarian socialist
Noam Chomsky, 79, rose to prominence in the field of linguistics during the 1950s by positing new theories on the structures of language. His naturalistic approach to the study of linguistics deeply influenced thinking in both psychology and philosophy. But it was his strident opposition to the Vietnam War which brought him to the attention of a wider American public.
Through his adherence to libertarian socialism he became a cheerleader for the dissident left in opposition to many aspects of US foreign policy. Later he described his belief as “the proper and natural extension of classical liberalism into the era of advanced industrial society”.
Professor Chomsky, who lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and the “war on terror”. In 2005 he was voted the leading living public intellectual in the Global Intellectuals Poll run by the magazine Prospect. His characteristic reaction to the news of his achievement was: “I don’t pay a lot of attention to polls.”