Monday, 25 April 2011

Enduring freedom

I took another look at the peace-camp on Saturday. It's been shifted to the pavement in Parliament Square while the grass, which London mayor Boris Johnson said he wanted to preserve for the people of London, is closed off with tall fences and patrolled by security guards.

The peace-campers' tents are neat and there's plenty of space for pedestrians on the pavement. I was one of many people visiting to read the banners. But it's still hard to reach the traffic island – I've yet to find a set of traffic lights that enable the public to reach the island. I had to employ my usual technique of a quick dash as the third lane of traffic slowed.

I suspect there will be an attempt, on some pretext or other, to remove the peace-campers before Friday's Royal Wedding, even though they offer no more risk than a fairly quiet protest on a range of issues, most – but not all – related to war. One man's banners announce that he is undertaking a hunger strike because he has been unjustly imprisoned. If he were in Tripoli the British press would probably declare him a hero. As it was, none of the campers even offered me a leaflet. I read their hand-made banners without interruption. Theirs is a quiet, enduring protest.

If the peace-camp is cleared, it will make the streets more home-like and welcoming for the despots and their representatives who are attending Prince William's wedding. The Crown Prince of Bahrain has finally pulled out, citing troubles at home – these could include the brutality his own and Saudi troops are showing to unarmed demonstrators and the doctors who treat them. But London and the Royal Family will still welcome representatives of Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

Looking at summaries of the Guantanamo files, I can't help thinking that these tyrants have much in common with our other allies – and perhaps with our own, more secretive activities elsewhere in the world. Apparently the United States military didn't just take people to Guantanamo because they thought they were terrorists. They also kidnapped and imprisoned people who they thought might have useful information. A taxi-driver, for instance, was reckoned to have good knowledge of a particular region because his work took him through it. One man – a British citizen – was held because he had been imprisoned by the Taliban and was therefore likely to have good knowledge of their interrogation techniques. A 14-year-old who had been kidnapped and was known to be innocent of all terrorist activities was kidnapped again – this time by the Americans – because he might have knowledge of the Taliban and local leaders.

As for evidence of terrorist activities – the U.S. military didn't need much ground for arrest, deportation and torture. Visiting Afghanistan after 9/11 was enough. So was possession of a Casio watch, although the models the U.S. found suspicious are cheap and widely available.

I expect the United States ambassador will be at the Royal Wedding. After all, the North Korean ambassador has been invited – as have kings, queens, princes and princesses from several countries that have been republics for a long time. I hope that none of them – and none of the “ordinary” people invited – are wearing Casio watches. That could set off some serious security alarms.

More than that, I hope the peace-camp survives Will and Kate's special day. It would be good to think there's still a small patch of pavement in London where freedom survives, despite the actions of the state.

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