Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Intellectual Consistency

From The Euston Manifesto:

The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of "rendition", must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit.

OK, that sentence after "principles" is pure baloney (perhaps Geras passed the pen to Johnson or vice versa). The import is clear enough: "... the practice of "rendition" ... must be roundly condemned..." I suppose there is a loophole - rendition which does not violate basic human rights standards does not need to be condemned, but I can't see how kidnapping can be in accordance with the human rights of the kidnapee.

There's a helpful list of "Eustonian Blogs". Guess what? Go on try. No really. Oliver Kamm's is among them. This Oliver Kamm:

Rendition is justifiable because it interdicts terrorists, and terrorism is not merely a problem of law enforcement.

I had to look up a word in ter dictionary, and for the life of me, I think interdict can only be used in the sense of 'restrain' when followed by an action. (Shorter OED, definition 2.) Ie '... it interdicts terrorists from eating deep-fried Mars bars'. A simpler word like 'arrest' is out of course, because rendition does not arrest anyone. Perhaps Mr Kamm means 'Rendition [of terrorists] is justifiable because it renders terrorists ...'

Update First, I should admit that I can't remember if Oliver Kamm signed the EM or not; and the page which listed signatories seems to have disappeared.

Second, via Matthew Turner, I see that Norman Geras has posted at length on this and moved Oliver Kamm to reply. I think Norman Geras's case is convincing. Matthew considers Oliver's defence to be 'powerful'. I don't. I could spend all night thinking of appropriate adjectives, but 'powerful' is not among them.

Norman might counter that French justice is a case apart from states where human rights violations and even torture occur. But that surely supports my argument: the proper objection is to abuses of rendition, and the role of European governments is to anticipate and prevent them.

Norman has already countered with "[Eichmann was] made subject to due legal process in a country [Israel] that took seriously its obligation to afford him this." And he was clear about this: Eichmann was put on trial; Islamist terrorism suspects have been denied trials whether they were taken to Cuba or sent to god-knows-where like Syria or Saudi Arabia. Oliver then goes on to change the subject: he raises the usual idiots who comment on CiF as if being attacked by a looney is some kind of justification. And he concludes with a weak and unconvincing argument (which still ignores Norman Geras's righteous indignation):

In my view, the most powerful argument against renditions is that, because they require a lower standard of evidence than a criminal court, then abuses - against the guilty, never mind the innocent - are much more likely to occur.

*If* we were talking about renditions such as those of Carlos the Jackal and Eichmann, then the rendees (or whatever the term is) would end up in court. I may be wrong here, but I think there's a parallel with arrest, which in civilised countries (such as ours) also requires a lower standard of evidence than a court does for a jail sentence. If abuses happen, they can be ameliorated with compensation and the abusers tried themselves. This isn't the argument against the renditions Oliver seemed to be defending. Those renditions are entirely in bad faith: the suspects won't be put before a court, although they're accused of a serious crime. I think renditions are dodgy anyway, but I think I've written enough for now here, and I'd need to prepare a better researched argument for why I think the whole idea stinks besides the very good arguments that Norman Geras gives.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For entertainment in relation to rendition. Habeas Corpus Act 1679 s 12:

XII. And for preventing illegal imprisonments in prisons beyond the seas; (2) be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no subject of this realm that now is, or hereafter shall be an inhabitant or resiant of this kingdom of England, dominion of Wales, or town of Berwick upon Tweed, shall or may be sent prisoner into Scotland, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, Tangier, or into parts, garrisons, islands or places beyond the seas, which are or at any time hereafter shall be within or without the dominions of his Majesty, his heirs or successors; (3) and that every such imprisonment is hereby enacted and adjudged to be illegal; (4) and that if any of the said subjects now is or hereafter shall be so imprisoned, every such person and persons so imprisoned, shall and may for every such imprisonment maintain by virtue of this act an action or actions of false imprisonment, in any of his Majesty's courts of record, against the person or persons by whom he or she shall be so committed, detained, imprisoned, sent prisoner or transported, contrary to the true meaning of this act, and against all or any person or persons that shall frame, contrive, write, seal or countersign any warrant or writing for such commitment, detainer, imprisonment or transportation, or shall be advising, aiding or assisting, in the same, or any of them; (5) and the plaintiff in every such action shall have judgment to recover his treble costs, besides damages, which damages so to be given, shall not be less than five hundred pounds; (6) in which action no delay stay or stop of proceeding by rule, order or command, nor no injunction, protection or privilege whatsoever, nor any more than one imparlance shall be allowed, excepting such rule of the court wherein the action shall depend, made in open court, as shall be thought in justice necessary, for special cause to be expressed in the said rule; (7) and the person or persons who shall knowingly frame, contrive, write, seal or countersign any warant for such commitment, detainer or transportation, or shall so commit, detain, imprison or transport any person or persons contrary to this act, or be any ways advising, aiding or assisting therein, being lawfully convicted thereof, shall be disabled from thenceforth to bear any office of trust or profit within the said realm of England, dominion of Wales, or town of Berwick upon Tweed, or any of the islands, territories or dominions thereunto belonging; (8) and shall incur and sustain the pains, penalties and forfeitures limited, ordained and provided in and by the statute of provision and praemunire made in the sixteenth year of King Richard the Second; (9) and be incapable of any pardon from the King, his heirs or successors, of the said forfeitures, losses or disabilities, or any of them.

Regrettably, this section was repealed in 1948 (Statute Law Revision Act 1948, Schedule 1)

Mike Macnair

3/11/2008 06:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that Andrew Ian Dodge is still on the list of Eustonian blogs!

Also note that by definition, rendition interdicts suspected terrorists, rather than "terrorists" tout court, a distinction which used to be regarded as rather important by some of the ornerier Federalists.

I seem to remember saying at the time that I thought Oliver Kamm wouldn't sign the EM, because a number of the human rights violations and war crimes that it explicitly condemned were ones that he endorsed (following Conor Cruise O'Brien) when carried out by the right kind of government. As a man who as a leftist I idolise and worship without question once said, chickens coming home to roost never made me sad, always made me glad.

3/11/2008 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oliver Kamm is indeed close to the scrupulous ethical minds that showed us our sins with with the Euston Manifesto. Recall Prof Geras's response to his own Normblog Profile' question, "If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose?" >

"I'd like to see my friend Oliver Kamm take a shot at it. I think he'd do well."

Marc Mulholland.

3/11/2008 08:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In his piece on CIF, Kamm claimed that rendition was underwritten by the European Court of Human Rights because The terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal was brought to justice by France in 1994. The European Court of Human Rights specifically rejected the defence argument that Carlos's rendition from Sudan was illegal

Well since the Court's judgements are available through a web portal, I decided to check for myself. The *only* judgement I could see in respect of this terrorist was to do with his being kept in continual solitary confinement, which he did indeed lose. Unfortunately comments were closed early before I could tackle Kamm about this. To put it mildly, it would appear that Kamm has been relying on secondary sources - right wing US blogs? - and the claim that the European court accepts rendition as legal is an untruth.

3/11/2008 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Kamm is listed as a signer.

When I hear Israel mentioned in connection with rendition, I find myself thinking of Mordechai Vanunu.

3/12/2008 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

It was Kamm's use of Guardian CiF commenters conspiracy theories rather than adressing Geras's arguments directly that I found particularly "powerful".

He's sort of right on the ECHR, it was the commission, not court, which rejected the claim.

Rights body rejects bid for Jackal jail release
The Times (London); Jul 16, 1996; p. 1

Full Text:
(Copyright News International Newspapers Ltd. Jul 16, 1996)

THE European Commission of Human Rights yesterday declared inadmissible a claim by Illich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal, that he was illegally arrested two years ago in Sudan and sent to France.

The Venezuelan-born guerrilla had hoped to win freedom from a jail near Paris by convincing the commission that he was kidnapped in Khartoum, drugged and bundled on to an aircraft bound for Paris. "The commission considers that the facts as presented reveal no violation {of the European Convention of Human Rights} and that the request should be rejected," said the commission, which decides whether to pass cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

The commission added that the struggle against terrorism "often requires co-operation among states".

France alleges that Carlos killed 83 people in attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in the Middle East and Europe. His most audacious coup was to kidnap 11 ministers at a conference of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna in 1975.

Carlos, who says his arrest was part of a shadowy deal between Sudan and France, is under investigation for attacks carried out in France, which says he was legally brought to the country. The commission ruled that the seizure was authorised by a June 1994 arrest warrant issued by an anti-terrorism magistrate.

3/12/2008 08:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman is a political philosopher of weight and erudition. So it's fortunate for me that my critics also include numerous contributors to the discussion threads at "Comment is Free".

How on earth does this work in a reply to Geras? Having loons attacking you is only 'fortunate' because it means that you can quote them at length, allying them with your 'serious' opponents, and ignore the properly-thought-out accusations levelled at your argument. But it pads out your response, fulfilling one of the key aspects of Kamm's gimlet...

Does anyone else but me find Norm's insistence on calling him 'my friend Oliver Kamm' as opposed to 'Oliver Kamm' fairly nauseating?

3/12/2008 08:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Kamm appears to have blocked me from his site for politely asking him for clarification on the Carlos case, I thought I'd post my reply here:


Thanks for the clarification that it was the commission, not the court, which rejected Ramirez's claim that his arrest was unlawful. However this scarcely amounts to a legal underwriting of rendition itself, simply a recognition of its lawfullness in one specific case. At least in the Eichmann and Ramirez cases, since both were subjected to the rule of law after their initial abductions, any mistakes could be rectified. It is not an ideal situation but the exigencies of each case could justify it. I can't so how extending these cases to a general principle on rendition can be warranted.

I think you are being a little disingenuous when you say that it is 'extraordinary' that so many '911 truth campaigners' and other nutters are driven to comment. Shit attracts flies and posting anything contentious on CIF is going to attract nutters. Since you use about a third of your response above quoting said nutters, it would appear that their obliquy has been quite useful to you.

3/12/2008 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamm isn't a thinker, he's a second-rate historian with an excellent library.

Pathetic piece of 'meanwhiling' over the CiF goons as well. Especially given that most of the saner commentators raise exactly the same objections as Geras.

More evidence that Kamm regards everybody who doesn't have a newspaper column with complete contempt. He's one of the biggest snobs I've ever met.

3/12/2008 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

As there appears some confusion I should add that calling Oliver's response, "powerful", was sarcasm, as it was obviously very weak and merely designed to produce a smokescreen. The style is meant to be an in-joke at the way Kamm, Geras, Cohen, Finkelstein and that chap who writes for the Spectator (and to a lesser extent Aaro) like to link to each other with mutual backslapping.

In other news Aaro is backing Livingstone! I suspect it's got more to do with having another dig at Nick et al than anything else, but it's an interesting development.

3/12/2008 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew, just in case you are referring to me, my response was not to you but to Kamm himself, who appears to have blocked me! OK, it was a bit futile posting it here but the text was in my 'cut'n'paste' buffer so I thought, why waste it.

3/12/2008 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it curious how, when Geras is criticising his friends' arguments, the usual bile, limp sarcasm, sanctimony and sweeping generalisations are entirely absent. I managed to get through the whole piece without wanting to throw anything at the screen. Almost commendable.

3/12/2008 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


If the real practice of extraordinary rendition has been to accommodate or encourage the use of torture, that emphasis ought to be on condemning what's wrong with it, rather than on defending it in a purified version

I am really rather hoping that Norm picks up this ball and runs with it, as the general schema:

If the real practice of [currently illegal practice favoured by the Bush Administration] has been to [have empirically observable disastrous consequences for human rights and survival] , that emphasis ought to be on condemning what's wrong with it, rather than on defending it in a purified version.

has a lot of other applications to various aspects of the political program outlined in the Euston Manifesto.

The last time I accused Norman Geras of making baby steps in the direction of sanity, he got really really pissed off, so I think I'm gonna do it again.

3/12/2008 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Matthew, I thought it was sarcasm, but I decided to rant a bit anyway.

Anon, you've met Oliver Kamm? You have my sympathies. And everything he writes reeks of snobbery. Even when he right (criticizing Enoch Powell for instance), I always suspect he's thinking "Well, he seems very clever, but did his mater translate Asterix? Hmm? Hmm?"

Simon, indeed.

This is good: Oliver Kamm: nothing is too vile for me to try to justify.

3/12/2008 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger jwatson1 said...

The CiF comment goons are very important to Kamm and his ilk. They like to pretend that the commenters are all Guardian readers and therefore represent the 'liberal left'. It's standard Decent practice - elevating every sad troll on the Internet to the status of mainstream leftist thinkers. Normo Tebs used to do the same thing with the 'loony left' in the 80s. What would Kamm and Cohen do without these strawmen to attack?

3/12/2008 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The CiF comment goons are very important to Kamm and his ilk. They like to pretend that the commenters are all Guardian readers and therefore represent the 'liberal left'

I am sure that was one of the reasons why Kamm chose to post his article on CIF, as he knew he'd harvest some pretty suphurous personal attacks. I inwardly groan when the nutter contingent start their personal attacks on Kamm or Cohen as it hands them such an easy victory.

It's made it almost impossible to make a sensible comment on an Israel or Palestine thread as the place fills up with foaming anti-semites, and whatever the equivalent is of anti-palestinianite/anti-muslimite refugees from Harry's Place.

3/12/2008 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger steven said...

Spot the difference: Oliver Kamm 2008; Condoleezza Rice 2005.

3/12/2008 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Kamm's general approach always seems to me to be a bit Oxbridge JCR: the sort of person who insists on making (or defending) a tendentious and exaggerated position using a tortuous argument and then congratulates themselves on how clever it makes them.

Well, yes, clever in one sense, but stupid in another. It's an empty and a provocative style and nobody comes away thinking there's any substance to the person who employs it.

3/12/2008 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I was very surprised when I discovered he was in his mid 40s (and a little depressed). When I first came across his stuff I assumed he was fresh out of university. The JCR "intellects" I knew did eventually grow out of it.

3/12/2008 04:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Anon, you've met Oliver Kamm? You have my sympathies.'

Oh, that's nothing. I've also met Nick Cohen.

Not a pleasant experience for me, but much worse for the women in the room.

3/12/2008 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Ah, can I raise an objection against comments like that being made anonymously?

3/12/2008 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a pleasant experience for me, but much worse for the women in the room.

I think its not fair to tantalise us like that. Please expand.

3/12/2008 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

Kamm's general approach always seems to me to be a bit Oxbridge JCR: the sort of person who insists on making (or defending) a tendentious and exaggerated position using a tortuous argument and then congratulates themselves on how clever it makes them.

I agree. His general approach appears to be to apply superficial, debating society-style argument in support of whatever the government is doing. If that involves, say, hoping for Bush's re-election on supposed left-wing grounds then so much the better, because it does make him so daringly counter-intuitive.

What I cannot fathom, though, is how his preposterous mode of writing, allusions to his Mayfair business address, disquisitions on fountain pens, and so on, have not alienated even his fellow war supporters. Why aren't the Decent Left embarrassed by their association with him on style grounds alone?

3/12/2008 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, it's not as if everybody on the left (or indeed the "liberal-left") writes with the fluency of a poet.

3/12/2008 07:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people compare Kamm to Nick Cohen and he is immensely flattered by the comparison. However the proper comparison is to Neil Clark, who is a similarly clownish figure on the opposite ideological side. Today we have Kamm defending rendition; a few months ago we had Clark advocating reprisals agaainst Iraqis who have worked for British forces. They are two sides of the same coin.

3/12/2008 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

In OK's trainspotting post (thanks to Stuart A above) he says (dated October 07, 2007) "My office is in Mayfair and is a useful vantage point. Earlier this year, I spotted on Old Bond Street the then Presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy. I didn't stop him as he appeared to be touchingly engrossed in the conversation of Mme Sarkozy." M Sarkozy's Wikipedia profile says "Sarkozy and Cécilia ultimately divorced in October 15, 2007."

3/12/2008 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

Well, it's not as if everybody on the left (or indeed the "liberal-left") writes with the fluency of a poet.

I'm not just saying Kamm's writing style could do with improvement (although in my view it is diabolical). I mean the way in which it is bad seems remarkable, and of a piece with his absurd online persona.

Cohen, Aaronovitch, et al. adopt a populist tone that is reflected, most obviously with Cohen, in an attempted-Orwell style. Part of their shtick is a simulated concern for the common man, a distruct of those fancy intellectuals. And yet they embrace this banker pseudo-historian, with his ludicrous affectations and his fusty elitist prose. That is baffling to me, and it's independent of the fact that he's an oily courtier.

3/12/2008 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger jwatson1 said...

The fusty elitist prose is the result of a transparent desperation to be taken seriously. 'Listen to me, my views matter,' every sentence seems to say. And just in case his readers don’t get the message, he sometimes reminds them: ‘I am a sort of pundit’.

3/13/2008 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamm's like a desperate contestant in the blogosphere equivalent of Pop Idol.

3/13/2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Actually full marks to some of the commenter here - as noted Oliver took that point straight from Rice's speech, and as a commenter on his site notes, it was rather misleading. The ECommisionHR found it not incompatible with the EConventionHR because Sudan wasn't (and isn't, obviously) a signatory.

3/16/2008 11:54:00 AM  

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