I kept wanting to call the author "Honest Tom Bingham". He was a Supreme Court Judge in Britain, unafraid of Europe, he comes across as a real internationalist, a universal values individual. His writing style is clear and unadorned, honest Tom.
He lets the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights bellow for themselves. He follows the development of Habeas Corpus, and lets us contrast this with Guantanamo. As you would expect with a judge, everything, eventually becomes either right or wrong. The ambiguity of the West's response to Terrorism is anathema to him. Let the Sky's fall.
So, in my praise of this book ,also comes my reservation. Individuals allow their behaviour in societies be guided by laws, to which they have some input and to which they give consent. If done impartially, judgements can be accepted. Laws made by dictators are invalid from their inception, (so, no, you cant just be obeying orders). Fine on the first bit, what do you do about the second bit?
So the specific unease. What do we do about assassinations ordered by democratically elected politicians, done in the name of protecting society from terrorists? How far do we go?
I write this in the week when Osama Bin Laden was killed. I am not sure if the killing was legal, per se, though I can see how it was justified. I think that if he had been captured alive, there would have been an almighty legal tangle about where to jail him, where to try him etc. And yet he was a homicidal maniac, with quite a following. Also I am aware of the Tunisian revolution, sparked by a youth committing suicide in despair at this treatment by a corrupt government. The rule of the people overthrew the government, not the rule of law.
So it seems there is a basic tension about the rule of law, and its relationship to communal violence and governance which still leaves us uneasy.
Tom Bingham doesn't address this, but brings us through the facets of the rule of law which underlie developed society. During the `Arab spring' his book made me realize why China and Russia are probably terrified of civil unrest, whereas the democratic world can and should welcome it.
Honest Tom Bingham's book is a must-read to understand where the tensions lie.