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The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, recently declared the UK would not get in the way of the US sought to impose the death penalty on two captured infamous ISIS members:

The government came under attack from MPs and experts on Monday after it made a “secret and unilateral” change to its stance on the use of execution for two terror suspects in the US.

Critics said the decision to suspend the normal approach of demanding a “death penalty assurance” could put the UK’s principled opposition to the the death penalty in jeopardy.

The security minister Ben Wallace was forced to answer an urgent question in the Commons after it emerged that the home secretary, Sajid Javid, had written to the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to confirm the UK’s position on the case of two former Britons accused of being members of the Islamic State cell known as “the Beatles”. The prime minister, Theresa May, was aware of the position adopted in the letter.

Hearing widespread condemnation from Tory, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat MPs, Wallace said the government would not seek assurances when that would “get in the way” of seeking criminal justice.

What is interesting about this is that the UK has always previously only acted in accordance with other nations under the promise that the death penalty is not sought.

Personally, as a hard determinist of sorts, I am against the death penalty and all for continued rehabilitation or continued humane detention. The UK is against the death penalty and this is why we no longer have it. And, therefore, we decry it in other nations. In this latest scenario, it seems like the Home Secretary has gone back on the country’s moral principles. There is a definite air of hypocrisy here as he is perhaps trying to second guess the retributive psychology of the general public in reaction to the beheading horrors that these moral monsters committed.

But, if we are against the death penalty as a nation, then we are against it full stop. You can’t open up that slippery slope by allowing in exceptions to the rule. (In addition, there is ample evidence that the death penalty is not a good deterrent anyway). As The Guardian continued reporting:

The development has been widely criticised, including by relatives of Kotey and Elsheikh’s alleged victims. The UK’s shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, said: “Sajid Javid appears to have secretly and unilaterally abandoned Britain’s opposition to the death penalty. By doing so he is not just playing with the lives of these particular terrorists but those of other Britons – including potentially innocent ones – all over the world.

“Just as we should be persuading countries like the US and Iran to drop the death penalty, Sajid Javid appears to be encouraging this grave human rights abuse.”

Lord Carlile, a former reviewer of terrorism legislation, described Javid’s letter as extraordinary.

“It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament. It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty. That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.”

“It is precisely because of the barbaric nature of the crimes which they committed that we, as a country, have to show we are better than them and what they did,” said Labour’s Hilary Benn.

Where it gets confusing is that the pair were stripped of their British citizenship and, therefore, Javid can escape potential judgement for his defence:

“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought,” Javid wrote, in the letter dated 22 June 2018.

“I have instructed my officials to set out the terms of our assistance and to work with your officials to action the request. As you are aware, it is the long held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK Government’s stance on the global abolition of the death penalty.”

Perhaps their lack of citizenship makes the whole point moot. Even this, though, is not clear.

Standing in for Mr Javid, who was on the cabinet away-day in Newcastle, Mr Wallace insisted UK anti-terror laws were not strong enough to prosecute the fighters in this country.

Ministers had to “balance” their opposition to the death penalty against their “obligation to the citizens of this country,” MPs were told.

“We are not going to seek assurances because we do not think we have the evidence to try them here in the United Kingdom,” Mr Wallace said.

He denied the fighters were being “extradited” because they were not “UK citizens” – confirming long-standing rumours that the pair, both from London, had been stripped of their citizenship.

But Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said it was impossible to be a “little bit in favour” of the death penalty, adding: “Either we offer consistent opposition or we don’t”.

She added: “This decision to abandon our principled opposition to the death penalty is both abhorrent and shameful, and I call on ministers even at this late stage to reverse this decision.”

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs committee called for them to be tried in the UK for “betrayal”, saying it was “a crime in itself and should be tried as one”.



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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...