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December 30, 2005 || 8:18 pm
John Felton, Craig Murray and Gordon Brown
Over dinner two nights ago we came to a mention of the famous case of John Felton, the assassin of the Duke of Buckingham, who, when told that he might be tortured in order to reveal who had put him up to the deed, said
"if it must be so he could not tell whom he might nominate in the Extremity of Torture. and if what he should say then must go for Truth, he could not tell whether his Lordship (meaning the Bishop of London) or which of their Lordships he might name, for Torture might draw unexpected Things from him." (source)
Another source has him pointing the finger more ominously: "if I be put upon the rack, I will accuse you, my Lord of Dorset, and none but yourself." The judges were then consulted and "declared unanimously, to their own honour and the honour of the English law, that no such proceeding was allowable by the laws of England." This was the last time that an English writ for torture was attempted - in 1628.
We remarked then that this was particularly apposite given current debates around torture, and now today all over the blogs (especially here) is the case of Craig Murray former ambassador to Uzbekhistan, who the Foreign Office is now trying to gag because of the documents that he is trying to publish regarding the use by the UK of information gained through torture in that country. They've been trying to get his website (which publishes the documents in full) taken down (although even the Times links to it!) but numerous mirrors have been appearing in the blogs and his site is also now back up and running.
It is notable that Felton (who also plays a bit-part in the Three Musketeers let's not forget) was referenced by the Law Lords in the hearing in which they ruled on the inadmissability of evidence procured by torture, just three weeks ago on the 8th December. One of the things I love most about the English legal system is the use of historical precedent in this way to make strong cases about the principles of English justice and, perhaps, nationhood. I would like to think that Gordon Brown's speech recently might have had this in mind when he spoke about the values which
"when taken together, charted through our history, are at the heart of a modern Britishness...our shared values formed and expressed in the best of our history...[including] liberty as both the rights of the individual protected against an arbitrary state and, more recently, as empowerment... So there is indeed a golden thread which runs through British history of the individual, standing firm against tyranny and then of the individual participating in his society. It is a thread that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215 and on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 to, not just one, but four great reform acts within less than a hundred years."
He quoted Hazlitt, Voltaire, Locke and even George Orwell, though sadly not the judges in the case of Felton. I wonder what he will think, as someone who clearly does believe in the value of the 'historical view', and who is broadly read and thoughtful on the subject, when (as will happen soon) he or his ministerial colleagues will be asked to defend the gagging of Murray and more broadly, their possession and use of material (I can't call it evidence) obtained through torture conducted by a totalitarian regime that we call an 'ally'.
[P.S. I don't necessarily think Craig Murray is the pin-up that some on the left are making him...but regardless, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the Uzbeks are horrendous torturers, and I'm just glad that the documents are out in the open. In case anyone accuses me of being in with the lefty love-in.]
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