Britain has failed in its duty to stop the US from committing “shameful acts” in the treatment of suspects detained during the war on terror, one of America’s most respected intellectuals Noam Chomsky warns.
In an interview with The Independent, Professor Chomsky calls on the government to use its special relationship with Washington to secure the closure of Guantanamo Bay.
The emeritus professor of linguistics said that he has heard only “twitters of protest” in the UK asking British “thinkers” to be more conspicuous in their opposition to the erosion of civil rights since the 9.11 attacks on the US.
In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, Prof Chomsky, a leading opponent of the Vietnam conflict, has been the most prominent among US intellectuals critical of the war with the Iraq and the treatment of terror suspects sent to Guantanamo Bay and other prison camps around the world.
Chomsky’s comments call into question Britain’s political and intellectual will to stand up for the rule of law in the face of actions that have been repeatedly condemned by courts on both sides of the Atlantic.
“A country,” says Chomsky, “with any shred of self-respect will be vigilant to ensure that it does not take part in this criminal savagery. Because of the “special relationship,” Britain has a particularly strong responsibility to bar these shameful crimes in any way it can. In whatever respect the relationship is “special”, the UK can use it to bar these shameful crimes.”
Asked whether Britain should be doing more to seek the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Chomsky answered: “Definitely. I’ve seen only twitters of protest.”
Professor Chomsky believes that the case against Guantanamo needs to be made more forcefully.
“We hardly needed evidence that Gitmo was going to be a torture chamber,” clarifies Chomsky. “Otherwise, why not place “enemy combatants” in a prison in New York? The security argument is not serious. Taking a step back, does the US have the right to hold these prisoners at all? Hardly obvious. In brief, there are plenty of grounds for protest (and action), at varying levels of depth.”
His comments have met with broad support from those who have been campaigning for the British government to take a more critical position in its relationship with the Bush administration.
Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer representing British Guantanamo detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said: “Professor Chomsky is right. To borrow from President Clinton, the world is much more impressed by the power of America’s example than the example of American power…A true friend to American would not stand by while President Bush squanders America’s birthright.”
Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the all party parliamentary group on rendition, said: “The UK Government’s reaction to the US program of rendition: a policy of kidnapping people and taking them to places where they may be tortured, has been inadequate, to say the least. It is scarcely credible that now, despite all we know about rendition and the UK’s involvement in it, the British Government still refuses to condemn this illegal, immoral, and counterproductive policy.”
Professor Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technolog, says that the US must now hand Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba.
“The region was taken by a ‘treaty’ that Cuba was forced to sign under military occupation. The US has been violating the terms of this outrageous treaty for decades - e.g., using it for holding Haitians who were illegally captured when they were feeling terror in Haiti. Current use also radically violates the terms of the outrageous treaty. ”
Rise of the libertarian socialist
Noam Chomsky, 79, rose to prominence in the field of linguistics during the 1950s by positing new theories on the structures of language. His naturalistic approach to the study of linguistics deeply influenced thinking in both psychology and philosophy. But it was his strident opposition to the Vietnam War which brought him to the attention of a wider American public.
Through his adherence to libertarian socialism he became a cheerleader for the dissident left in opposition to many aspects of US foreign policy. Later he described his belief as “the proper and natural extension of classical liberalism into the era of advanced industrial society”.
Professor Chomsky, who lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and the “war on terror”. In 2005 he was voted the leading living public intellectual in the Global Intellectuals Poll run by the magazine Prospect. His characteristic reaction to the news of his achievement was: “I don’t pay a lot of attention to polls.”