4th February , 2002
From: The desk of Courtenay Francis Raymond Barnett at web site www.ar-africare.com,
To: Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Anthony Blair
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2 AA
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN
Dear Prime Minister Blair,
Re: al- Qaeda prisoners of war vis-a-vis the shackling of attorney Lloyd Rodney
You and I are both lawyers, trained and qualified at the British Bar.
We both accept that legal systems, whether domestically or internationally, ought to dispense justice by reliance on integrity, credibility and consistency.
I have noted the position of Her Majesty's Government on treatment of British citizens who were allegedly combatants in the recent war in Afghanistan. I agree that the shackling of human beings does not accord with humane treatment and the provisions of international law. Application of a "terrorist" label for permitting non-compliance with the rules of international law is the legally discredited position adopted by the United States of America.
A dangerous precedent is being set when legality is sacrificed at the altar of convenience. Circumstances do alter cases – but, here, consistency and credibility under international law are in issue.
Can legal standards for humane treatment under international law be applied in a selective, inconsistent and discriminatory manner by either the government of the United States of America or Her Majesty's Government, and then credible proclamation be made of consistent respect for the rule of law?
In 1994 I defended a lawyer who had criticised the judicial system in a British colony, the Turks and Caicos Islands, as being nepotistic and manifestly corrupt. A factual basis for such criticism can be found at the web site www.ar-africare.com.
My client, Mr. Lloyd Rodney, is a cousin of famed Caribbean intellectual, Dr. Walter Rodney. Lloyd Rodney's lineage aside, he had invoked provisions of law permitting him to state freely under the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands, his honestly held views. The British authorities imprisoned Mr. Rodney for expressing his views, and sought to deter him from further expressions of his honestly held views, and factually substantiated complaints. I notified Amnesty International for Mr. Rodney's prompt release from false imprisonment. Amnesty International agreed that Rodney had done no wrong, and Amnesty told the British Government to release Rodney forthwith or he would be declared a prisoner of conscience. Her Majesty's Government unnecessarily prolonged Rodney's incarceration, but under appropriate sustained international pressure permitted Rodney to be hospitalised for much needed medical attention. While in his hospital bed, Rodney was unjustifiably assaulted and shackled on two separate occasions by servants and agents of the Crown. Finally, Rodney was unconditionally released as was demanded by Amnesty International. The barbarism of this conduct was known by Her Majesty's Government never to have accorded with either provisions of the domestic law within the colony, or with International law. The law indubitably had been contravened by the state authorities.
There is an undeniable meaningful comparison to be made between the alleged al-Qaeda "terrorist" combatants captured in Afghanistan, and a non-combatant civilian so brutally assaulted and shackled for no other reason than the despotic pique of a publicly criticised British colonial system. I think that the alleged terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are deserving of treatment consistent with the law. I remain unable to find any provision in domestic law, applicable in the colony, or international law, governing Britain and Britain's colonies, which permitted the treatment meted out to my client, a law abiding lawyer in a British colony.
Point of Inquiry
As Her Majesty's Government has insisted on upholding legal principle that the shackled British subjects who are allegedly al-Qaeda combatants must be treated in accordance with international law - is there not then a basis to state that in shackling Mr. Rodney, a British subject of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the British authorities knowingly acted in a manner which was wrong and contrary to law, as is applicable to other British citizens?
The two(2) cases( (1) assault/shackling (2) false imprisonment) which I have fought over the past seven (7) years for Mr. Rodney should now be concluded in a principled manner.
My client believes that the judicial system in this colony is compromised and unable to deliver justice. Rodney is not alone in his concerns about the flagrant compromises in the justice system. Rodney has repeatedly stated, on a factual basis, his concerns about the manipulation of the justice system. He has been taken seriously enough to be reported by a human rights agency acting under the auspices of the United Nations, the Human Rights Tribune ( Des Droits Humains) , April 1998 Vol. 5, Nos. 1-2. He has spoken in public and been a defender in the public interest, seeking improvements in the justice system for the benefit of all. When I defended Rodney, on the eve of his first trial, he was subjected to an earnest, but failed cowardly effort, to have him disbarred, which effort was ultimately defeated. He does not discern judicial impartiality where he is tried for an offence, in double jeopardy, arising from events over which he already had been unlawfully assaulted, falsely imprisoned, and shackled. He believes that the court entertaining that process engaged in a manifest travesty of justice intended primarily to intimidate him with the threat of loss of his profession and livelihood.
A democratic government, inclusive of Her Majesty's Government, which fervently advocates and ardently supports the virtues of democratic institutions in the world, should be very concerned that in a system over which Her Majesty's Government presides and is ultimately responsible and accountable, the dispensation of justice can be so knowingly debased to a level where support has to be sought, of necessity, internationally in defence of democratic rights and freedoms. For international credibility to exist, there must be consistency of conduct. For justice to prevail, there must be structures of integrity in place, which afford justice an opportunity to be done, even in a colony. Justice cannot be done, where no such opportunity is afforded.
Her Majesty's Government has always wanted the Americans to act speedily, on the al-Qaeda issue, so as to ensure that fair and impartial courts are able to dispense justice. The very problem which Mr. Rodney faced and continues to face is that he has factually sound reasons to believe that the present colonial system acts on the whims of colonial power as reflected in a make believe independent judicial system. When an entire quorum of Court of Appeal judges has expressed just cause, and now resigned, protesting in 2002 in unison, I suspect that Mr. Rodney is proven unanimously right upon very high authority. Thus, if fair opportunity had existed for justice, I would otherwise be very constrained from venturing at all, the administrative route for settlement.
Albeit having the power of the sate behind one, for camouflaging and facilitating wrong, might does not equal right.
It was an egregious wrong to have falsely imprisoned Mr. Rodney, and equally wrong for British authority to have shackled him. Prime Minister, should you visit the web site www.ar-africare.com you will see Mr. Rodney's picture there holding the shackles used on him in his hospital bed. That picture was taken from the front page of the colony's national newspaper, the "Turks and Caicos News”. Continuing to deny and suppress opportunity for the protection of the rights of one individual in a British colony, even when alleged terrorists have been afforded principled British consideration with due regard for the provisions of international law, makes Her Majesty's Government appear hypocritical and inconsistent. Surely, one set of standards do not apply to Mr. Lloyd Rodney as would have permitted his false imprisonment and shackling, and a wholly different body of rules permit justifiable condemnation of imprisoned and shackled alleged al-Qaeda combatants being denied fair recourse to justice. I therefore urge Her Majesty's Government, for reasons of both credibility and consistency, to act fairly and address the outstanding issue of the false imprisonment of Mr. Rodney as was accompanied by the barbaric shacklings.
Prime Minister, I trust that ultimately you will employ the moral authority conferred by your high office, to ensure that consistency is evidenced. I also hope that political expediency, and the might of the state, will not triumphantly trample the rights of even one shackled and brutalised non-combatant civilian in a British colony, in any further prolonged official pretense of being right. Indeed, if this be the course of official choice, then one, sadly, would be moving in the same direction as countries and leaders most vehemently criticised by Britain for legal compromises and transgressions from democratic principles.
Amnesty International settled any further issue when Her Majesty's Government was found wanting of any lawful basis and/or credible explanation for the treatment meted out to Mr. Rodney, and Her Majesty's Government quite rightly complied by granting his unconditional release.
I shall await your reply, and, I think, a necessary and appropriate apology, with a view towards securing just compensation for all the violations of human and legal rights as were advanced against Mr. Lloyd Rodney.
Attorney for Mr. Lloyd Rodney, Courtenay Francis Raymond Barnett