I AM writing from Trumpland. It is a fairly terrifying place. The OED has just welcomed in its phrase of the year – “post-truth”, coined to mean “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
This is, in turn, something of a euphemism: what it really indicates is that truth has been jettisoned from the political debate. Policy can be confected based on conspiracy theories, upon the fantastical.
Many liberals I have encountered were relying on Trump to temper his rhetoric, with the election won, and appoint people who would ameliorate the bizarre and extreme positions he voiced during the campaign.
Instead, as I walked between meetings in New York, I came upon Trump Towers. Fifth Avenue was closed off by a cordon of machine-gun toting paramilitary officers, so that a succession of fringe figures could troop in to vie for patronage jobs from the President-elect. He had just appointed Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. Apparently, the General’s subordinates at the Defence Intelligence Agency used the term “Flynn Facts” to describe his own tenuous relationship with veracity.
After taking the Amtrak train to Washington, I found my liberal friends in a catatonic state of despair in the warm November sunshine (the weather itself perhaps a harbinger of the future, given Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the notion of climate change). Indeed, it seems likely that the Trump years are going to be a disaster, with the Alt Right jackboot coming down hard on the poor and disenfranchised.
However, with respect to the litigation of human rights (my own small section of the world), the election of President Trump is a welcome change. For eight years we have had to deal with Barack Obama – and nobody would believe that such a decent man could do anything that was really wrong.
Yet, while he said he opposed detention without trial and torture, and promised to close Guantanámo, I still have a number of desperately dispirited clients in the Cuban prison, all of whom were tortured, and none has had a trial. He allowed the CIA to fight tooth and nail to prevent the release of the Senate Torture Report, notwithstanding that it was so toothless itself that it included not a single interview with torture’s victims. He has released Guantánamo detainees at a far slower rate than the Bush Administration, notwithstanding the fact that fully a third of the remaining 61 men held have been cleared for months or years.
And he substituted a Kill List, euphemistically called a Disposition Matrix, for rendition to prison. Indeed, one day every week – dubbed “Terror Tuesday” – he sits with his national security advisers, watching a powerpoint display of people they advise him to kill. He turns his thumb up and down as if he were Nero in the Colosseum.
As of today, this liberal law professor turned Hashashim has a Kill List that includes at least four journalists, the director of a Middle Eastern NGO, various members of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, and even a governor of an entire region of Yemen.
For the past many months, we have got little traction on this issue, even though it is nothing more nor less than the death penalty without the irritating formality of a trial. Had Hillary Clinton been elected – clearly a better alternative for the world – we would have had a leader whose only foreign policy idea in the first presidential debate for solving the crisis in the Middle East was to assassinate Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who would have been immediately replaced by another extremist.
Trump’s campaign has reminded us that hatred is a powerful motivator. That sorry principle flows both ways: a hate figure in the White House is perhaps the only way to generate solidarity among factional liberals. (The ability of the Left to cannibalise itself was satirised in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where the various Judean rebels fought bitterly among themselves in the basement, while the Roman legionaries stomped around above them.
It is difficult to imagine that President Trump and General Flynn will be sensitive to my complaints about the Kill List. Ironically, the original Hashashim were an 11th century group of assassins, formed to challenge the Sunni authorities.
Come January 20, 2017, when Trump takes on the role of the world’s foremost assassin, seeking to kill more Sunni Muslims, I am betting that liberals will finally begin to harbour doubts about these medieval ways.
Clive Stafford Smith is the director of the legal action charity Reprieve (www.reprieve.org.uk). He received an honorary doctorate yesterday from Sheffield Hallam University for his outstanding contribution to human rights, law and opposing the death penalty.