Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Law Report on coercive powers

Dr Manhattan posted 2 weeks ago about investigative powers v human rights.

ABC National's The Law Report is this week discussing the same case, and coercive questioning by police. Apparently that very issue is about to be decided by the European Court of Human Rights.

You might remember academics Mirko Bagaric and Julie Clarke (who has not one but eight websites!) raised this polemical issue in 2005, which raised some debate! They later wrote a book, Torture: when the unthinkable is morally permissible.

The Law Report can be downloaded, podcast, or you can read a transcript.


Sarah Goodwyn said...

Thanks for letting us know about this radio show. I'm finding uot about lots of new resources from following this blog.

I listened to it this morning. Good to be able to put a voice to Jeremy's posts (sounded younger than I expected!) but I'd hate to be the European Court of Human Rights right now. Nobody wants to be on the side of a child kidnapper and murderer but we don't want the police to torture people for information no matter how important it might be.

Thanks again!

Dr Manhattan said...

You're very welcome, Sarah.

Your point of view is certainly a valid one. I think there are a number of others that are equally valid, and I applaud Mirko Bagaric and Julie Clarke for being willing to represent the opposing point of view to the one you've put forward.

A situation that raises similar issues is playing itself out in the US. Denver man Najibullah Zazi is currently in the custody of authorities, suspected of a plan to blow something up. At present, it seems that the authorities aren't clear on what (if anything) he intended to do.

They haven't yet revealed what they allege Mr Zazi's target was, or he was working with. The media are suggesting that this is because they don't know the answers to these questions; that they are keeping an eye on a number of suspects, but (to borrow a famous phrase of Donald Rumsfeld's) they don't know what they don't know.

So let's assume that the media coverage is absolutely correct, that the authorities have got the right man but don't know the full extent of the plot. And let's assume that the plan is further advanced, to the point where we can be confident that a bombing is imminent. And finally, of course, we have to assume that Zazi knows something that cannot be discovered in any other way, that could lead to the prevention of many deaths.

I think a lot of people would countenance torture in such circumstances. And still more would if they themselves, or somebody that cared about, was potentially at risk.

New York State has swung back and forth in its attitude to capital punishment over the years. At the moment there is no Death Penalty, and the most serious penalty Zazi may face is life without the possibility of parole.

Zazi's attorneys had been engaged in negotiations with investigators last week for him to disclose the information he has in exchange for a deal. It's been said that the breakdown of negotiations are what has led to his re-arrest.

Some might say that it's a bit rich to say that a threat to punch someone in the nose if they don't cooperate is wrong, but a threat to send them to jail for the rest of their lives (or in other circumstances, kill them) is okay. But it seems like if proper procedure is followed, the United States approves of the latter but not the former.