The Blog

Rule Britannia: Land of Cowards, Bullies and Lackeys

The temporary detention and interrogation of Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda at Heathrow is a pathetic, stupid and vindictive act on so many levels.

The temporary detention and interrogation of Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda at Heathrow is a pathetic, stupid and vindictive act on so many levels. Firstly, it is a disgraceful and arbitrary abuse of power which has no other purpose other than to punish and intimidate Greenwald for his part in the Snowden revelations, while simultaneously seeking to please and ingratiate the UK government with the Imperium, which was apparently given a 'heads-up' beforehand.

Secondly, it is a blatant and arrogant misuse of the 2000 Terrorism Act, or rather, another demonstration of the conveniently elastic and essentially meaningless concept of 'terrorism' that enables the state to detain anyone it wants simply by invoking the phony justification of national security.

The UK authorities clearly had their own reasons for striking back at Greenwald, given Snowden's revelations about the relationship between GCHQ and the NSA, but the detention of Miranda is also another demonstration of the essentially servile and deferential role of the British government to Washington - a relationship that increasingly resembles the relationship between Samuel Jackson's houseslave Stephens and Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie in Django Unchained.

Last, but not least, its attempt to intimidate Miranda into giving up his computer and phone password is a chilling indication of the growing threat to press freedom from cowardly, authoritarian and dishonest governments that increasingly pay only lip service to the essential premises of a democratic society.

This threat was further highlighted today in Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's description of how he was ordered by ' a very senior government minister' to return or destroy the Snowden material that his newspaper was working on. According to Rusbridger:

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."

What is striking about this exchange is not just the imperiousness and arrogance of these 'shadowy Whitehall figures', but their suggestion that the revelations contained in the Snowden material were nothing more than a kind of game and irrelevant 'debate' that would not change anything. Not to mention the idiocy of those involved, since destroying the Guardian's hard drives was really a case of bolting the stable door long after the horse had bolted.

But HMG's representatives seemed incapable of understanding this very simple concept. The ludicrous result was that two GCHQ minions were allowed to go to the Guardian's offices and smash a computer to bits, even though the information contained on it was already available in various countries. That must be what enforcing national sovereignty means.

Rusbridger is right to point out that such behavior is not exactly conducive to investigative journalism and is in fact an 'absolute threat' to it. As is often the case with the Guardian, one can't help feeling that it could have been more robust in its opposition to the government's demands.

It could, for example, have refused to do what it was told to do. It could have revealed the name of the 'senior government minister' the moment he or she intervened. It might have invited other members of the press to witness the GCHQ officials destroying its computer - or insisted that the destruction be carried out in a public place instead of a basement so that everyone could have witnessed the absurdity of what Rusbridger calls a ' peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism.'

Never mind. Because it has now become clear to anyone who cares about such things that HMG has behaved with the dour methodical zeal of a KGB flatfoot, and believes that it can bully and intimidate critics with impunity, especially if it can gain some extra kudos in Washington in the process.

The fact that the symbolic victim was a mere Brazilian clearly made the target more tempting to these noble and courageous defenders of national security, but those responsible don't seem to realise or care how craven, dumb or overbearing they have made their country look to so many people across the world.

Because they only have one audience they want to please, and none of its members live in Brazil.