tisdag 29 december 2009

British subject executed for drug smuggling in China

I thought that there were many disturbing aspects of this case. I am not in favour of the death penalty, but it is the decision of the Chinese to punish drug smuggling in this way and that surely is the end of the matter. There is a good case to be made for the severest punishment for drug dealing. There is an even better case for decriminalising it altogether. What there is not a good case for is to make it a criminal offence and not imposing the severest punishment, which is the policy in the UK. Chinese society was for centuries enfeebled by opium addiction and the country's determination is understandable. The Chinese have not forgotten that the British went to war against China to protect the "rights" of British merchants to sell opium in China.

Also worrying was the fact that that a man with severe mental illness had been lost track of by both his family and the British health care services, to the extent that he had ended up in China. Is this part of "Care in the Community"? Though it is not clear how his mental illness led him to commit the particular crime of drug smuggling. One can envisage all sorts of crimes for which mental illness would be a mitigating factor and grounds for claiming diminished responsibility, but drug smuggling is not, on the face of things, one of them.

Finally, the protests of the British government strike me as hypocritical. If anyone is to be blamed for this, they are not in Beijing, but very close to home. Was this man known to the Social Services, and who was responsible for his Care Plan? How did he come to fall through the system? If his condition was never picked up by the authorities, where is the evidence for his illness?

And all this from a government that has failed to resist pressure from the US for the extradition of a man with autism or Asperger's syndrome, who, from a computer in his bedroom, allegedly cracked the security of a US military computer system. Now, that alleged crime is precisely the kind of act that might be expected of someone with Asperger's syndrome. It is also evidence of a high level of skill which the authorities can ill afford to lose. The place for this individual is at GCHQ or some similar organisation. It should not be forgotten that brains behind the predecessor of GCHQ, Bletchley Park, were similar oddballs such as Alan Turing. In the days of GCHQ they were known as boffins, and they helped to win the war. It is a serious indictment of contemporary British culture that there is no room for them to make the contribution they undoubtedly could.

And in any case the US authorities are picking on the wrong targets. The guilty parties are those who specified and commissioned the computer system, who should be Court Martialled for neglect, and the suppliers of the system, who should be sued.

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