Friday, February 19, 2010

Precious to me

Christopher Hitchens on the Gita Sahgal thing.

It is not what is said, it is what is not said.

In time, the organization also evolved policies that opposed the use of capital punishment or torture in all cases, but the definition of “prisoner of conscience” remained central.

All true. However, AI also takes a stand against extrajudicial punishment per se. Hitchens also fails to mention that the policy that "Amnesty did not adopt people who either used or advocated violence" meant that they - very controversially - did not support Nelson Mandela.

Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization’s “gender unit.” It’s fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender,” she wrote, “is a gross error of judgment.” One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.

Love the "gender unit" quotes. It's rather hard to be clear, but it seems to me that Ms Sahgal was suspended for saying the above to the media, in the form of the Sunday Times, rather than for making an "uncontroversial statement". As far as I can tell, this issue was discussed within Amnesty International UK - and her arguments failed to convince whoever decides policy. And if torture and/or extrajudicial imprisonment do violate human rights (as I believe they do - as do AI and - if I've understood him - C Hitchens), then I don't see why Moazzam Begg can't both be "a human rights defender" and a "supporter of the Taliban". (NB I'm not trying to imply that Mr Begg is a "supporter of the Taliban", merely that Hitchens' assumption that the two are mutually exclusive doesn't work.)

There's a lot more in the Hitchens commentary. But what's the point? Phil d'bap, Alex M-H bring it on. Seriously, I want to hear (see, whatever) your views on this.

Update 10:15 Sunday 21 Blogger won't take my comment (I'm signed in already), so I'm pulling rank and sticking it here. (Feel the power! Feel the power!)

I'd say that the same goes for the lawyer story. This has the following elements, as I see it:

1. Ms Sahgal approached human rights lawyers (and ones she knew - presumably through AI), and they responded:
a) they also work for Amnesty, so there is a conflict of interest;
b) they are not specialists in UK employment law (which is very complex) and therefore unqualified to represent her anyway, even if a) can be got round.
2. If she also approached employment lawyers, they may have told her that her contract can't be read in her defence. She can pay them lots of money - and lose her job. Or she can go to AI less antagonistically and take her chances.

Whatever, the "there's a conspiracy not to represent Gita Sahgal among bien-pensant claret-quaffing lawyers" line (which I think is Nick Cohen's and C Hitchens merely copied) isn't convincing either.

I don't know about Slate (where Flying Rodent found the Hitchens piece) but the comments on the link I gave come from the usual retinue of Amnesty haters.

See also letters to the Observer, the first from Matthew Ryder of Matrix Chambers. (Didn't NC used to have a bit of soft spot of Cherie Booth, QC? I can't find any evidence now.)


Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Hitchens: For Saghal to say that Cageprisoners has a program that goes “way beyond being a prisoners’ rights organization” is to say the very least of it. But that’s all she had to say in order to be suspended from her job.

Also: As I write this, she is experiencing some difficulty in getting a lawyer to represent her.

What; she can't find a firm who think she has a case strong enough for a contingency fee arrangement, or meritorious enough for pro bono work? Or she can't get legal aid?

No shit, Sherlock.

Or is H really claiming (rather than trying to mislead the reader into assuming) that solicitors won't take her money?

Or alternatively, is this bollocks, perhaps intended to suggest she has a case when in fact she doesn't?

2/20/2010 01:31:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Pissing hell.

It wasn't because she said it, it was because she said it in the context of denouncing her organisation and her employer to the press after the matter had been discussed within Amnesty and she'd failed to win the day.

I mean, I've worked for quite a lot of organisations who I think could usefully be denounced in the press, not that anybody would have cared to listen. But if they had, I think I would have understood that the price of doing it was that I quite likely didn't work there any more.

Why is this so difficult to understand? Why is it so difficult to mention?

I mean, I know tht Htchens is a freelance journalist and has been for many decades, and maybe he no longer understands how the world of employment works. Maybe the whole point, in that world, is that you wouldn't bother writing a column denouncing youur employer, because it'd get spiked. But really, is there nobody who can engage with the concept that organisations don't really decide policy through denunications in the press, and that if you choose - quite likely for perfectly honourable reasons - to go down that route, then you don't really give your employer much option but to act?

2/20/2010 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

Come on Justin - it's all about pretending you don't understand. Pretend with the Dude, guys!

The idea that Hitchens doesn't get this is ridiculous on its face, and doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

2/21/2010 12:53:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Was she actually fired in the end? At first it was just suspended.

2/21/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Actually, thinking about it, more or less every employer I've ever had could have done with being denounced in the press. Except when I was working for the missus, perhaps.

2/21/2010 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



2/22/2010 11:11:00 AM  

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