Sunday, February 06, 2005


Patriot Acts

Sound familiar?:

[The] Government panicked. It suspended habeas corpus, allowing the courts to imprison suspects without charge, and a High Treason Bill was rushed through Parliament. The Bill condoned indefinite detention for suspected terrorists on the grounds that “it may be inconvenient in many such cases to proceed forthwith to the trial of such criminals, and at the same time of evil example to suffer them to go at large”.

"The year," the Sunday Times of London goes on to note in its review of Jessica Warner's new biography John The Painter, "was not 2002, or 2005, but 1777" -- and it was in London. John Aitken's attack on a highly flammable London naval warehouse filled with rope set off a string of copycat arsons by other British sympathizers with American rebels, though the Times review describes him as more of an opportunist than a idealogue -- though occasionally an itinerant housepainter, his primary career seems to have been in armed robbery. But all London fires afterwards were suspect; notes the Times: "Americans, and their sympathisers, were blamed. America was denounced as what we would now call a terrorist state, part of an axis of evil that included France. "

It is the fashion among some American politicians to wonder why our Bill of Rights is so concerned with the rights of the accused, and not of victims. This may give them a clue why, if indeed such people are capable of having a clue at all. And that is this: that our founding fathers were criminals, one and all, so far as the British government was concerned. You can see why matters of crime and punishment were still very much on their minds, for every one of them had been a marked man. Their fate, had they been caught, would not have been much better than Aitken's:

He was hanged from a mizzen mast at Portsmouth, the scene of his first crimes, and dangled 60ft in the air above 20,000 spectators. His soiled clothes were then stripped from the body and sold as lucky charms. Then his corpse was covered with tar, for exhibition in the gibbet or iron cage used as a spectacular form of entertainment and deterrence. He swayed above the entrance to Plymouth harbour for several years before being finally brought down as a nuisance.

You'll recall, incidentally, how well suspending habeas corpus worked for the British in winning that war with the Americans.

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