A Brave and Strange Decision

August 20, 2009

I can’t help but admire the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, in facing down the ferocious rhetoric and phone calls from American officials including Hillary Clinton.  In today releasing Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombings, MacAskill risked the ire of the American Government and many in his own country.

I think we know what would have happened had this particular power not been conveniently devolved to Scotland by Westminster.  The spineless creep Jack Straw will have hastened to assure Washington that it would get what it wanted, if indeed they did oppose Megrahi’s release.  I wonder whether State department officials compete to come up with the most degrading and ridiculous requests and demands, to see if the New Labour Atlanticists have a limit or capacity for independent thought.

Apparently not, and I’m hoping that they are cooking up some plan to have David Miliband ride backwards on a donkey, naked, into the UN General Assembly, or perhaps ask Gordon Brown to hold his breath for 10 minutes, or more cruelly for him and the rest of us, smile for one minute.

So MacAskill was brave, but was his decision correct?  I think so, but not for the curious reasons he gave at the press conference earlier today.  The decision to release Megrahi was correct solely because there is too much doubt about his guilt, because he was never given a fair trial where all evidence was presented, as the excellent work by the late Paul Foot showed.

While the American relatives of the Lockerbie victims seem content that Megrahi was the perpetrator and that he should therefore end his days in a Scottish prison, many of the British relatives are less convinced.  Both sets of relatives are clear that we haven’t learned the full truth of what happened, and that the US and UK governments will not let us find out.  The demand for a full, unrestricted inquiry is completely right of course, though the suffocating secrecy surrounding the murky actions of the British and American States means we will probably never get one until capitalism is overthrown.  Luckily that should be happening in 2010, so I hear.

So what of MacAskill’s decision today?  The right one for the wrong reasons.  MacAskill reasoned that Megrahi had received punishment from a ‘higher power’ in the form of his terminal cancer for his alleged crimes, and that it was the compassionate and merciful thing to send him home to die.  Wrong and wrong.

The first assertion is downright insulting, suggesting that cancer is somehow a punishment for wrongdoing, and invoking a God giving people cancer as divine justice.  This isn’t far removed from the kind of assertion that cost Glenn Hoddle the England job, namely that disabled people must have done something wrong in a previous life.  Illness and infirmity is a sign of immorality or criminality in this world view, a very offensive and dangerous one.  It also assumes Megrahi actually committed the bombings, a highly dubious conclusion.

The second assertion I have found troubling also.  If Megrahi had committed this atrocity, the idea that he should be allowed to go home to die does seem to clash with the fact that hundreds of innocent people were killed without warning and without a chance to say goodbye to loved ones.  If Megrahi had committed this crime, we shouldn’t feel compassion, he really should have ended his days in Greenock Prison.

In a way, those of us commenting on this affair are playing hide and seek in the dark.  We can only really guess at the intrigues and manoeuvres  behind the scenes.  Megrahi was clearly required to drop his second appeal in order to be released, and this was to stop any revelations coming out in that appeal.  The American Government probably support the release behind closed doors for this reason, the British government likewise.  As to who committed this terrorist act, they have got away with it for a variety of reasons we are not party to.  This is unacceptable.

One of the demands of the Left with regard to private companies is ‘Open the books’, and the opening of the State books would make very interesting reading.  State secrecy allows security and intelligence services to commit horrific and immoral actions under the cloak of darkness.  Our demand should always be for full-disclosure, and to encourage the development anjd defence of media such as WikiLeaks and IndyMedia so we can check, in a limited way, what the Masters of the Universe are up to.  One day what we find out might bring one of these Masters to justice for their crimes, in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Palestine.  Or maybe Lockerbie.

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Bankers on trial – why and how?

March 16, 2009

The old adage about those who own banks being worse criminals than bank robbers is one that has been increasingly voiced, either in jest or in seriousness, by respectable capitalist apologists over the last year or so.  There certainly seems to be some fervour, not just among the left but also establishment commentators, for the indictment of the former masters of the universe, whose actions have made this crisis much more severe than it otherwise might have been without their clever ruses.

Why are these voices calling for these parasites to be held to account?  Mainly to restore confidence in their sick and rotten system by identifying the crisis publicly with the craven greed of a smattering of reviled and discredited figures.  While more honest capitalist commentators have admitted faults in the system, and identified Marx as someone with important and relevant ideas, the general propaganda effort has been to shine the light towards spivs of the calibre of Madoff and Stanford, the better to cast darkness on the workings of the capitalist system which brought about this mess.  The message they want to avoid anyone getting is that the economic crisis is not as a result of the capitalist system failing or misfiring, but working precisely as it is always has.

The failure is not one of regulation, in not sufficiently reining in the excesses of particularly greedy individuals, or even in the type of capitalism – free market Washington Consensus rather than a post-war upswing style ‘social capitalism’.  To see things that way is to put the oak before the acorn.  The (legal and illegal) actions of the bankers (which I use as a catch-all term for general financial services ne’er do well) were shaped by the material economic circumstances, that is super profits generated as a result of a restructuring of capitalism that began 30 odd years ago, itself generated by the end of the post-war upswing which was only ever a temporary aberration brought about by remarkable circumstances.  The logic of the system is to re-invest the super profits in the most profitable way – this turned out to be credit and the complex repackaging of debt.

Capitalist apologists would like to see the criminal bankers on trial to demonstrate three things.  One, that this was a crisis made by flawed individuals and not a flawed system.  Two, to allow anger and vengeance to be focussed and dissipated on these individuals.  Three, to purify the system and return to business as usual by demonstrating that it can rid itself of diseased elements and return to function in the way they claim it to function, all using bourgeois laws and regulations.

Many on the left would like to see these bankers on trial also, for reasons more to do with justice, or its closely related cousin, revenge.  The last 25-30 years have seen a regression in the workers movement and the triumphalism of capitalists and their cheerleaders.  To see some of these sent down does warm the cockles, and is just.  It isn’t very effective though in achieving our stated aims.  It won’t keep a family in the home with a mortgage they can’t afford to pay, it won’t make sure the capitalists pay for the crisis rather than workers, and it won’t guarantee that this won’t happen again.  Only an end to the capitalist system will ensure that.

Should we just leave the bankers alone then?  Under capitalism it does actually seem that maintaining a focus on bankers is counterproductive.  This does not mean that they should escape justice, merely that the justice will have to wait until an international workers authority presides over it, purely for the reason of justice.  This justice is necessary not only in itself, but to catalogue the crimes of the capitalist system and the individual actors within it.  The justice will not entail trying those merely guilty of bourgeois crimes, but will entail trial under offences created by the new society which will necessarily be retrospective in nature.  To be bound by the laws of the previous class society would be to continue its oppression.  There is a good precedent for this in the trial of Charles Stuart, who was tried for the novel offence of ‘tyranny’ alongside the more straightforward ‘treason’ and ‘murder’.  Punishment would not be in the usual fruitless imprisonment, but in active restitution for the victims of the ‘economic mischief and recklessness’ they were joint authors of.