Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for May, 2015

Towards a Theory of a Rule of Law Society

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 17 May 2015 13:07

After having suffered in silence for many years now, I wanted to write up some general and academic thoughts on the extrajudicial punishment operation that I have been exposed to since 2011.

In the most general terms possible, my diagnosis of so-called modern Western civilization following years of harassment is that we do not have a “rule of law society”. By this I mean two things. One, the rule of law is not guaranteed institutionally. Second, the rule of law is not enshrined in culture, to the point where culture could act as a counterforce in the event that institutions should fail. With these two combined shortcomings, Western ” democratic” credentials aside, there is very little in the way of checks and balances in place if and when a government elects to trespass on the fundamental principles of habeas corpus, equality before the law and the presumption of innocence.

Let me give an example. Let’s assume that the police in a given country – in my case Norwegian police – decides to pursue a strategy of extrajudicial punishment against an individual whom they may dislike for whatever reason. In a true rule of law society, citizens would promptly reject any kind of involvement in an extrajudicial operation, simply because such an operation constitutes the very antithesis to the rule of law. If a citizen in a rule of law society were asked by police to harass another citizen – however trivially it may seem, such as for example by driving with peculiar lights on their car, or making particular comments to the targeted individual – they would immediately refuse, and ideally warn the police officer in question that he or she will be reported to the relevant authority for investigating complaints against the police. They would reject any role for the police in morality questions that are not addressed by the laws in force, because morality is the domain of priests and philosophers and not for the police. They might ask the police questions. For example, “if what you are trying to do is legal, why can’t you write about it publicly and confess to it with your full name? Why does it have to be secret?”. Or, “how do you even know where this targeted individual is?” (The answer would be, ” illegal supervision”. ) Or, “How long has this been going on (four and a half years in my case) and, apart from underminig our democracy in the most serious way imaginable, what is this operation costing the taxpayer?” (millions of Norwegian kroner in my case). “Who are you protecting, and against what specific crime?” (Umm, casual street photography. But it IS illegal in Sudan!) And so on and so forth. In short, members of the public in a true rule of law society would immediately understand that a police officer engaged in extrajudicial punishment is perfectly comparable to priests energetically screaming “Satan” from their pulpits: Extrajudicial punishment is the deadliest sin in a rule of law society, because it undermines the rule of law and perverts the role of the police, throwing its unique legitimacy into disrepute. Citizens in a true rule of law society will understand these most holy and unalienable principles. If they don’t, then we are not in modern Western civilization anymore, but in North Korea.

Many terms can be used to describe members of the public that take part in such extrajudicial operations. Most obviously, in most democratic countries such participants will be criminals, since typical extrajudicial punishment operations of the police-stalking kind is illegal in any country that has passed laws against torture including psychological torture (for example Norway, the UK and New Zealand), or has adopted stalking laws (for example the Netherlands). Even in democratic countries without such specific legislation, the invasive surveillance upon which any police stalking operation rests will at the very least be illegal, and thus those who cooperate with the operation will ultimately be accomplices of a crime, one way or another. It is also reasonable to describe citizen participants in extrajudicial punishment operations as uneducated, since the basic principles of the rule of law and the total impermissibility of police acting in a punitive role is part and parcel of the most basic education curriculum in any democratic country, at least at secondary school. Still,, the most fitting and academically satisfactory term for citizen participants in extrajudicial punishment is “medieval”. These are individuals who still today accept what was accepted in the Dark Ages, when priests or police-like entities could rhapsodically administer justice with no or scant reference to courts of law and other basic judicial processes. The punishment that was meted out was frequently inhumane and degrading , and not at all aimed at societal reintegration. Public humiliation was a prime goal (public exposure in stocks being a case in point). Of course, with the radical developments that took place in Western justice following the French Revolution, all of these inhumane practices have in theory been abolished. But all those key developments in Western humanism over the last three centuries have been completely lost on people who still think the police has any right to judge or punish. Such people simply do not comprehend that only the courts are entitled to any decisive opinion about misgivings police may have about an individual, and that every second extrajudicial persecution goes on, the police only adds to its own catalogue of crimes. In my case, of course, in the laws and legal tradition of all Western democracies, to casually photograph random people on the street is not a crime, and to persecute someone for engaging in this kind of activity is a crime. Thus, the only aspect of my case that has any legal dimension to it is the Norwegian police’s own criminal steps against me. Even if I were Osama bin Laden and they succeeded in taking me out using those methods, they would be the ultimate losers because of the scale of the treason of democracy that results from the use of extrajudicial punishment. In short, only the worst enemies of democracy would engage in, or assist in, extrajudicial punishment.

In my experience, the most important player undermining rule of law societies and taking us back to a medieval state of minds are pseudo-intellectuals. No number of police can construct a police state on their own, and if participation in extrajudicial punishment were limited to the uneducated classes, real intellectuals would be able to act as a buffer capable of restoring the rule of law even in the case of institutional failure. Pseudo-intellectuals, however, will profess loyalty to the most noble democratic ideals when they lecture in auditoria or write their books, and then go on to collaborate in the most horrible police-state crimes when they encounter members of the police in a face to face situation and are asked to contribute to an extrajudicial punishment operation. Why so many educated people are able to live with such contradictions inside themselves is an open question. In my experience the preponderance of young families in extra-judicial punishment operations suggests that parenthood represents a particular challenge for intellectuals, perhaps reigniting more basic protective instincts that prompts them to unreservedly embrace anything the police might do on the presumption that it protects their children from something horrible, regardless of the severe transgressions of civil rights that are involved in such operations. Pseudo-intellectuals seem to have a particular problem with alternative sexualities, and will not tolerate any kink except general homosexuality, which has achieved status as the “accepted sexual otherness” among most pseudo-intellectuals. Pseudo-intellectuals react to kinkiness in a xenophobic way instead of insisting on the universality of human rights, including the rights of sexual minorities and micro-minorities (hence the often forgotten Q and the frequently ambivalent T in discussions of LGBTQ rights). Beyond their avid protection of sexual orthodoxies, another truly stupefying aspect of pseudo-intellectual behaviour is they don’t seem to realise the amount of secret supervision police likely carry out against them themselves in order to verify that they are indeed genuine pseudo-intellectuals suitable for participation in illegal extrajudicial punishment, and would not dream of doing the right thing and go straight to a judge or independent police monitoring body to complain about the illegalities of the police! In sum, extrajudicial punishment constitutes a rejection of Western modernity and liberalism, and Western intellectuals who play any part in it are a rejection of themselves.

In the absence of rule of law societies, police state tendencies can thrive. In my experience with the Norwegian police, an apt parallel for those police units that engage in extrajudicial punishment operations is the Islamic State terror organization (Daesh). Organized crime units in countries like Norway and the IS organization are so similar in their principles – if not their precise modalities – that terms like “Daesh within” are highly appropriate. Exactly like in the case of IS, Norwegian police, officials working for organized crime units have in my case declared themselves judges in an ad hoc fashion without having the slightest formal credentials to justify their lawless behaviour. Like IS, they do not care what the law or the court say; rather they make up their own rules and implement them as judges, jury and executioner in a single institution. In my case, the persecution of a member of an identifiable sexual minority by Norwegian police is comparable to the persecution of gays in areas of IS control, with targeting simply because of sexuality and sexual orientation rather than a specific crime.

Of course there are differences of modality between IS and Norwegian police. IS extrajudicial punishment tends to end brutally and fast, with literal decapitations frequently the outcome. But individuals can also be destroyed more slowly, as in my case with an operation lasting for four and a half years, involving expulsion from my home in Oslo, removing me from my job at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and finally openly interfering with my attempts to find new gainful employment. And when the destruction of an individual is the same underlying motive, consider also some of the stunning structural parallels. Take the widespread employment of children in punishment operations, the strictures on unusual sexual practices, and the medieval ethos of public exposure of vaguely defined evil-doers. All of this echoes common extrajudicial or quasi-judicial proceedings in areas under IS control. The organized character of the attack and the targeting of identifiable members of a minority group and the deprivation of one or more of their fundamental human rights clearly satisfy the definition of a crime against humanity as it is described in all relevant legal texts and conventions.
In short, when sexual intolerance in the general population gets married to state-sponsored extrajudicial punishment it becomes very difficult to describe the structural differences between our own societies and that of Caliph al-Baghdadi. The irony of my case is that one of key strategists in in the organized crime unit of Oslo me that targeted me was eventually jailed and is still under investigation for very serious crimes of corruption and drug dealing in Norway, yet his juniors continue to carry out other aspects of his “untraditional” repertoire against my photography abroad, with the full support of the Norwegian government. This officer was eventually himself targeted not for his role in developing extrajudicial punishment methods, but for suspected involvement in common drug crime. Such crime may still represent a red line for police units in desperate need of sacrificial lambs to cover up their own widespread human rights abuses.

In this way, my case speaks volume about the medieval and premodern character of our supposed modern society and the fictional nature of modern liberalism. How can this terrible situation and the acute threat to our democracies and Western way of life be best rectified? The degree to which extrajudicial methods have become widespread differ from country to country. In places like Norway and New Zealand, these practices are concentrated in so-called organized crime units that can be targeted for prosecution and replaced by new forces. In the case of Norway, though, it will be imperative to restructure the entire judiciary, which in comparative perspective is currently dominated by the police to an unusual extent, probably acting as a permissive factor conducive to the widespread use of extrajudicial punishment. In others countries, like the Netherlands, the problems seem more widespread and more comprehensive reform of the entire police is needed, perhaps in the direction of demilitarization and building a new cadre of public safety assistants.

What must be clear is that in a rule of law society there simply is not much space for what police like to euphemistically describe as “disruption methods”. Once such methods get individualized and targeted, they will almost automatically violate the presumptions of innocence, habeas corpus and the ban on extrajudicial punishment, three of the most fundamental principles on which our democracies rest. Individualised disruption methods are the lobotomy of policing – popular and widespread but deeply wrong and completely unacceptable from a democratic point of view. Practitioners of such methods must be approached in the same way that practitioners of lobotomy were approached in psychiatry and police must get back to its primary role as an instrument of transportation between society and the courts, which are the only place where justice is legitimately served. Whenever police strays from that basic role as a transportation agency between society and the courts – and in practice usurps the role of the latter – democracy is under threat. It is to that basic role the police must return in order to continue to serve as a vital foundation of our liberal democracies.


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