The Big Debate: Should “Jihadi John” have been given a fair trial?
Is bombing the hell out of an executioner really the ‘right thing to do’? An executioner only acts on orders, and this (unconfirmed) killing won’t stop or even slow ISIS in any way whatsoever. What it will do is fuel ISIS’s propaganda machine and give them even more reasons to hate the West.
According to the UN Charter, killing in self-defense is only legal ‘if an armed attack occurs’, and worsening the conflict in the Middle East by continuously and irresponsibly breaking international law, like the UK’s drone strikes did two months ago, will undermine anyone’s efforts to bring about peace ahead of the G8 summit next year – if we continue to break the rules, why shouldn’t ISIS? Assad? Russia?
I am not saying that “Jihadi John” was not guilty and should not have been held responsible for his actions. What I am saying is that we need a comprehensive approach to addressing the problem in the whole of the Middle East, instead of countries taking turns to throw stones – this is a war involving numerous parties, and mindlessly bombing individuals from just one of them will fuel, not solve, the conflict. Are we supposed to keep picking off ISIS members one by one until they’re all dead?
Even Cameron agrees that a political solution is needed, so he is either lying about this being ‘the right thing to do’, or is simply acting as a puppet to the US – or, of course, he was lying in the first place. Either way, this has put the UK in more danger, all for the sake of political bravado.
On a side note, it is sobering to note the hypocrisy of Britain targeting this executioner with such hate because he has killed so many Muslims while we, as a country, simultaneously turn our backs on the refugees created because of the very same conflict that we are now publicly, proudly, and irresponsibly contributing to.
But bloody hell, Dave – the US, our greatest friend and ally? We can see the puppet strings.
Paradoxically, I’m going to start by accepting the opposite side of this argument: Yes, Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) should have been given a trial.
However, at the heart of the issue is the question of whether the United Kingdom, acting in conjunction with the United States, had the right to kill him without the prior hearing of a trial – and I will argue that yes, we had an absolute right to do so, because it was not we who denied Emwazi a fair trial; it was Jihadi John who denied it to himself.
Originating from the ancient Magna Carta, which celebrates its 800th anniversary this year, the right to a fair trial was never meant to prevent our government from acting to protect us from those who would visit the spectre of terror upon our people.
This does not imply that it is not a liberty enjoyed by terrorists – rather, it simply means that it is a right that can only be claimed after submitting oneself to the authority of the state. Through our government, we give the right to our armed forces and armed police, to use lethal force where necessary, without a prior trial, to stop those who pose a threat to innocent life, where there is no realistic prospect of enforcing legal process upon them.
We have no issue with a soldier in the heat of battle shooting dead an armed combatant, because we recognise that there is no prospect here of prosecuting them before a jury of their peers; the killing of Mohammed Emwazi, who posed a continuing threat to innocent lives, is no logically different.
Emwazi had a penchant for beheading, and to compare his case to that of Michael Adebolajo, and Michael Adebowale, who demonstrated a similar preference for decapitation in May 2013 when they beheaded Lee Rigby on the streets of south London, we can see the clear difference. In this case, both Adebolajo and Adebowale were apprehended, and sentenced to life imprisonment by means of a fair trial, because they were in an environment where their arrest was a realistic prospect. Emwazi, deep in enemy territory and protected by an army of crazed lunatics armed to the teeth, could not have been arrested, and we were thus justified in acting unilaterally to neutralise the threat he posed.
If he wanted a fair trial, he should have returned to the UK and handed himself in, but he didn’t. He knew the rules of the game he was playing, he knew the price of losing that game, and there can be no complaints now he has lost said game – and paid said price.
Additionally, to address the disingenuous language used by some, this was not an “execution”, in any normative sense of the word; there can be no sane comparison between blowing up a dangerous, murderous terrorist in a warzone, and strapping a prisoner to a gurney before sticking a barbiturate-laden needle in his arm.
To most people, the term “execution” implies the prior custody of the victim; it implies an active choice by the state to see the killing of someone as a preferable outcome, rather than the inevitable outcome of the only certain defensive measure – and it further implies the exclusivity of punishment as a factor, whereas this case was nuanced by a much more significant preventative motive.
Concluding, I can fully understand the claims of those who believe we should not have extrajudicially killed Mohamed Emwazi, but I find these claims naive, and, far from being supportive of the principle of the right to a fair trial, they actually threaten it by stretching its brief to a situation where it cannot be said to be applicable – and those who claim it was illegal do so in ignorance of Article 51 of the UN Charter.
We exist in a chaotic world, where there is no omnipotent authority that can force criminals in enemy territory to hand themselves in to our custody, and one principle from this emerges to stand paramount: those who do not submit to a fair trial cannot expect governments to give them one.
Image: Wikimedia Commons