Should a Government break the law to protect its people?

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by Micawber, Sep 19, 2010.

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  1. Right, what about this for a proposition:

    'The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to protect
    its citizens just because the criminal law cannot, in a particular circumstance,
    serve the purpose.'

    Is it correct then, that the that the duty of a government to protect its people is above that government's obligation to obey the law?

    Personally I do not think so but the above is the first 'intelligent' argument for it that I have heard and I thought it might provoke some discussion.

    It sounds to me like the justification of every dirty trick the CIA, for example, has ever pulled.

    Certainly the Mercans' enthusiasm for going ugly early in any recent conflict you care to mention has cost them every cent of the moral authority they had so much of at the end of WW2.

    But have all the undoubtedly illegal murders, torture sessions, drug smuggling and assassinations been worthwhile?

    I've always liked the quote from Nietzsche along the lines of:'He who would fight with monsters should beware lest in doing so he too becomes a monster'.

    But perhaps the State has a duty to behave monstrously every now and then in order to keep its citizens safe from all the other monsters out there.

    PS - The proposition is a paragraph from an address made last week by head of MI5 Jonathan Edwards to a security conference.

    But I do not know the context in which it was made and I certainly do not want to traduce a man to who (whom?), as a private citizen of the UK, I undoubtedly owe more that I will ever know about, so if we can leave him out of it and just discuss the paragraph as is that would probably be good.
     
  2. 9 times out of 10 the excuse was there was no other way was just an excuse:(.
    Gitmo prime example give the scumbags POW status if in doubt then they can stay locked up until TWAT is over then don't look like a bunch of torturing freaks.
     
  3. To be honest, I'd rather a few people had their human or civil rights abused to ensure the protection of our country than to take the moral high ground and suffer the consequences of not acting decisively.
     
  4. No.

    The government is in power at the behest of the people, it is there to protect every citizen on behalf of the Queen. There have been cases were you can understand why the Government break the law(the dirty war in the troubles), but at the ned of the day if the Government can break the law what does that say for society at large.
     
  5. maguire

    maguire LE Book Reviewer

    I would say the physical safety of the majority has to be the highest priority. in choosing between an act with the consequences on the scale of 9/11 (for example) and the rights (or even lives) of a few dozen people, I'd put the majority first.
     
  6. "First they came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist..." When the ruling elite get to dictate who is right or wrong how do you get to assertain that they are choosing the same right or wrong as in your own personal moral code? This is why it SHOULD be avoided.

    The most visible reason the law has to be observed by the elite though is that the law is not a physical construct it is a mutually agreed pact between the masses and their rulers to enable communal living with the maximum of comfort and both sides have to respect it and abide by it or both feel able to reject it at will - every time the public become concerned about the law being broken on the other side their respect for it decreases noticably (look at the emotions raised by the case of John Kelly - whatever happened in those woods it has had the same effect of virtually society wide doubt over the safety of the independence of the judiciary and the police from the purposes of upholding the law).
     
  7. Trans-sane

    Trans-sane LE Book Reviewer

    The highest principle of a government should be the Rule of Law. Without it a government looses all moral legitamacy (kimmi cited the David Kelly affair above and that was just an allegation of illegal conduct) and the voting public gets cynical and suspicious. Democrasy gets shakey in such circumstances and has to become ever more autocratic. An autocrasy no matter how benevolent as only a few heart beats away from becoming a tyranny. Magna Carta established that no one- not even the kings- were above the law. They may (indeed rightly) be exempted from certain laws in certain circumstances but The Law applies to all.

    However I am pragmatic enough to know that opperating entirely within existing legal framework (with its reams of prescedents) can be a dangerously limiting rule-set. Sometimes stepping outside of the rules is necessary BUT there should be penalties of some kind to discourage this sort of behavior. While large chunks of society may idolise loose cannon types (with a seemingly disproportionate number of them script writers for police films and TV programmes), the reality is they generally make a mess that needs to be cleaned up by their colleagues. The regular stepping outside of the law by the security and enforcement organs of government would sooner or later result in anarchy.

    However, a fictional example for you to consider. Admittedly it is from a computer game (Mass Effect) but its relavence is fitting. One of the species in this fictional setting- the Quarians- is a refugee population almost entirely living a nomadic lifestyle on a fleet of space ships. Each ship has a Captain that is to all intents and purposes a dictator of a (small) city state and his or her word is law on that vessel. Most ships have an elected council that advises the captain and it would be a fool who disregards their advice regularly (imagine a dictator that manages to alienate his beaurocrats, civil service, police and armed forces). The fleet as a whole elects representative to the governing council, who then formulate policy. This policy is then diseminated down to individual vessels and implemented by that vessels captain and his advisor council. With me so far? Good. Now we get to the important part that has relavence to the discussion at hand. The Quarians however are a refugee population that was forced to flee their homeworld after loosing a war. That state of war still exists so technically the fleet remains under martial law. The final arbiters and enforcers are the miltary who are commanded by the Admiralty Board. The Admiralty Board is made up of the five most senior and influnetial admirals in the fleet and they have the power to overule ANY law or policy the civilian ruling council proposes or implements provided they unanimously agree to do so. However the cost of doing so is that ALL members of the board must resign and become civilians once again.

    Following this fictional model, I would propose have certain classes of agent who had proven their skills, abilities and moral courage. Groups from the police, security and intelligence agencies and armed forces (probably mid ranking officers and SNCOs) could be authorised to take whatever steps they deem necessary at the time of crisis. However this is done on the understanding that when the crisis has been averted there will be a draconian investigation at the end of which they will very likely face criminal proceedings and the harshest of punishments if the investigation deems them to have overstepped themselves. Even if they are exonerated they will be forced to retire, be banned from working for any public body and will suffer financial penalties such as partial removal of a pension etc. Just a thought I had this arvo while spannering my car ;). Disturbing that I wasn't thinking of naughy things to do with the likes of Girls Allowed, Gabriella Climi and Summer Glau but I spend my work time doing that
     
  8. No, the modern Englishman wants security and consumer goods. Hence the birth of the New Labour project.
     
  9. Would never happen. One self-interested person would be enough to cripple the body when they decided that their income was more important to them than some hazy sense of duty. Besides, why punish people for making the best decision they could in the circumstances?
     
  10. Trans-sane

    Trans-sane LE Book Reviewer

    I know it wouldn't work in practice. Humanity is too fucked up frankly. Plus there are probably not enough people with the required moral courage to support the attrition rate. As for the punishments, my reasoning behind that was to ensure that they deem it damn well necessary before they carry out an attrocity. It may well be the necessary course of action but it should not be readily used and should NEVER be easy to implement even in your own head. That way lies expediency and "it was for the greater good" arguments.
     
  11. Brotherton Lad

    Brotherton Lad LE Reviewer

    Surely, the answer is absolutely not. The government is obliged to act within the law. If the law needs to be amended, then the MPs we have elected can strive to change the law and the executive is obliged to frame the law in a suitable manner. Any other action destroys the trust of the electorate and deserves to be exposed. Many hundreds of thousands of people have fought and died for that right.

    And that's why you live in a country where you can ask the question, and say what you want in response, without waiting for the 4am knock on the door.
     
  12. You need to consider things from the American perspective. We all saw the tragedy unfolding on 9/11. The twin towers collapsing on top of 400 fire men. The passengers in airliners being taken to their deaths. The Americans saw the same thing but they interpreted it in an entirely different way.

    George Bush flew in Air Force One from Florida to Offutt Air Base in Nebraska after the 9/11 attacks started. This wasn't just because it had superior comms. to Air Force 1. He could have teleconferenced on a borrowed Blackberry if he had to. It wasn't even because Offutt has a deep bunker to protect George. There's a massive bunker under the White House.

    In its entire existence, there had never been a substantial attack the continental USA before 9/11. They got through WWII with a few shells landing on California, fired from a Japanese submarine. 9/11 was viewed as Armageddon - the end of civilisation. George went to Offutt because it's one of the hubs in America's nuclear command network. He was getting ready to push the big red button.

    After things calmed down a bit, the CIA, FBI, NSA and many other three letter abbreviations went into overdrive. "We're facing genocide - so a bit of water boarding is OK." or "It's a war - so internment without trial is OK".

    The trouble is, when the law becomes irrelevant, how do you know where to stop? Consider this:-

    You've got Osama bin Laden in a room. There's a nuclear bomb somewhere in London. He knows where it is. Do you torture him to find the location and save millions of lives?

    You've got a bunch of Muslims in a room. There's a dirty bomb on a boat somewhere off the coast. One of the Muslims knows where it is. The rest are innocent bystanders. Do you torture them all to save millions of haddock?

    There's a rumour going round that somebody will take a shot at the Pope. You nick a load of Muslim road sweepers. They might be Papal assassins. On the other hand, they might be perfectly innocent. Do you torture them?

    Going outside the law is a very slippery slope and you can end up bumping your arrse when you get to the bottom.
     
  13. Trans-sane

    Trans-sane LE Book Reviewer

    Give the man a prize for the best articulated argument against. The old adage of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely fits the bill.
     
  14. There's a simple reason why governments shouldn't break the law. If they do then citizens enjoy the same right. Of course the state would then come down on them like a ton of bricks, but you're simply left with power without legitimacy - like an old Communist block regime.

    There's still this tradition in Britain of periodically electing ordinary local folk and sending them to Parliament to make the law on our behalf. The system's creaking at the seams, there's a hell of a lot wrong with it, many of the law-makers are buffoons or sheep-like party placemen, or actively corrupt (leftovers from the MPs' expenses scandal) but it's still working, just.

    Plus there's no need for an effective government to break the law. If they find a law's not working they must come to Parliament, explain the problem, present their arguments, and vote to change it. Or draft legislation in the first place that isn't so idiotic they feel the need to break it to protect the national interest.

    But I don't want to be in the position where my neighbours feel it's their "right" to break the law, pointing to government law-breaking as justification.