42 Days

By Sadie Jones

In every war, each side asserts its higher morality, and under this banner of righteousness, countries, armies and individuals are released from the laws that normally bind them. They can destroy one another with extravagance and impunity. It is a precarious starting point for any code of behaviour, and yet the wily human race, endlessly arguing the sections, sub-sections and minute clauses of morality, so as not to be utterly damned, has found ways to enshrine even warfare in respectability. We have made conventions: 'A prisoner of war must be afforded the dignity of his rank', 'Prisoners of war may not be tortured...'


How quaint that all seems now.


With this new war, this 'War on Terror' it seems the rule book for both military and civil justice is being hurriedly rewritten.


The definition of the word 'terror', in any dictionary published in the centuries prior to 9/11, is "extreme fear, terrifying person or thing"; terrorism being "systematic intimidation as a method of governing or securing other ends."


This not pedantry, this distinction between a war on terror, and a war on terrorism; this warping of the language is significant. Terrorism can be investigated and prevented, terror itself is amorphous. It is gigantic and spreading, cannot be contained by normal means. If we are to fight terror we must break the rules.


It has been compellingly argued - by better informed and equipped minds than my own - that increasing the length of detention without charge for terrorist suspects would make no practical gains in our national security. It would be very effective in other ways though; it would place in the public mind the idea that the sacrificing of human rights is essential to our safety, that, in short, we must be terrified, fighting fire with fire and terror with terror.


These suspects, whose detention without charge may be extended, are potential prisoners of a war that has been placed beyond the laws of all other wars by its very name.


The moral and the practical are inseparable, and essential to what it is to be human; we cannot sacrifice the one without the destruction of the other, and doing away with our human rights would be a fast degradation indeed.