The US’ response to the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon ignited a conflagration in Afghanistan and Iraq whose tendrils of fire now expand in all directions. In addition to the uncounted and uncountable deaths, injuries, maiming and destruction the US’ unending “War on Terror” set in motion, the most significant casualty of the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist action has been any appearance of adherence to civil or human rights.
I use the word “appearance” deliberately: any familiarity with American or European wars of intervention in the Global South makes clear the extent to which such rights are applied unevenly, asymmetrically and according to colonial and racialising criteria. Torture – used extensively by the French, British and US in the mid-20th-century wars of decolonisation – is increasingly normalised and justified, and incarceration without charge and without end has become an ordinary tool in the counter-terror arsenal.
One response to this use of torture has been to appeal to law and procedure. What Nisha Kapoor shows in Deport, Deprive, Extradite is that even – maybe especially – where law and procedures are deployed, the substantive rights of the racialised Muslim suspects go out the window. She focuses on a number of cases where War on Terror suspects are kidnapped, detained and extradited to the US from all corners of the globe, but particularly from the UK. She demonstrates in detail, drawing from court cases and news reports, that legal procedure comes to serve the interests of the US in two ways.
First, when civil, rather than military, procedures are used to deport these men, the institutions expected to safeguard their rights (for example, the European Council’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights) do not even lodge protests about extraditions which are, at best, procedurally deficient and, at worst, outright assaults on the suspects’ humanity.
Second, Kapoor illustrates how, in the processes of extradition from British soil, the government engages in horrifying acts of violence and violation of human rights. Beatings and maltreatment by detaining officers seem to be such an ordinary part of police procedure that criminal courts do not even take account of them. Perhaps even more horrifying, the government strips suspects of citizenship in order to make them more vulnerable to state coercion.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt wrote of the condition of statelessness into which a large number of Europeans were thrown after the First World War: “The fundamental deprivation of human rights is manifested first, and above all, in the deprivation of a place in the world which makes opinions significant and actions effective. Something much more fundamental than freedom and justice, which are rights of citizens, is at stake when belonging to the community into which one is born is no longer a matter of course and not belonging no longer a matter of choice… They are deprived, not of the right to freedom, but of the right to action; not of the right to think whatever they please, but of the right to opinion.”
Kapoor’s carefully argued and well-documented book shows how the most powerful states in the world did precisely this, depriving people of the ability to think and act. In so doing, they laid the foundations for a world on fire in which we all now reside.
Laleh Khalili is professor of Middle East politics at Soas, University of London.
Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism
By Nisha Kapoor
Verso, 240pp, £16.99
Published 27 March 2018