Monday, November 29, 2010

Chewing Through Broken Teeth

The chapter I read in a theory of justice was, among other things, about formal versus substantive justice and it got me thinking about one of the arcs of Queen and Country I just read.

Past here are spoilers. You've been warned.

The four issues comprise a single arc and that arc is set off with an assassination of ex-Russian general in Kosovo by an SIS agent called Tara Chase. We find out later he's dealing arms to bad people, but he's shot in the head with a sniper rifle and the story is out of the gates from there. The assassination was done as a favor to the CIA.

There are hitches, but Tara gets out of Kosovo. End issue one.

(A brief intemission. There was some commentator attempting to disparage Hamid Karzai, the President/Prime Minister/whatever of Afghanistan by calling him "paranoid." Man, if I was a reasonable person who was in charge of Afghanistan, I'd be paranoid too. There's terrorist attacks how often there and no way of knowing whether the traffic on the road is just the morning commute or an attempt on your life.

This is not to vouch for the man's character entirely. I have no idea what his policies are like on the ground and I have no insight as to what his priorities or allegiances are. He could be one of the worst people on earth, but I think it's reasonable to be paranoid when you're in charge of a country in the midst of a civil war.)

There is retaliation, by way of a rocket attack on the SIS building at the beginning of issue two. Three people are killed, two of them, total wankers, (to use the vernacular) and the other, a lovely man, a janitor, by the name of Ravi. The head of the section (but not the department) wants some blood. The head of the department says no as politely and then as bluntly as he can. More things happen, the people responsible for the attack get drawn out and captured.

The head of the section wants them to be killed (to show that the SIS is not going to fuck around if you attack their building with rockets at 4 a.m.) and asks for permission to assassinate them. He does not get this permission and the terrorists are to be flown the hell out of the country to face whatever Russian justice awaits them.

That's barbaric, you say, wanting to kill prisoners. Kind of right. So, the head of the section comes up with a new plan: Use Tara and Co. to what appears to be crash the car containing the prisoners so they are killed in an accident. The information they get on the route is false and the SIS watches as the terrorists are sent on an American plane to Russia.

It is hard to say formally, justice is not dealt. The terrorists are not murdered for their reprisals. (As opposed to killed. It's a thing.) But something still feels wrong. There's a quote: It is maintained that where we find formal justice, the rule of law and the honoring of legitimate expectations, we are likely to find substantive justice as well. (52)

Of course, this is Queen and Country, where justice is a little harder to quantify than we're used to in the course of our normal lives. Of course, this is normal lives for some people within our world, within the intelligence and surveillance services. For the record, the idea of a service that someone else can buy to watch you makes me really uncomfortable. Yes, I know it exists and I am under its watchful eye right now. Still. It makes my skin crawl if I stop to think about it.

That's the world the services live in and one they navigate constantly. From the perspective of the head of the section, Crocker, the British need to be seen retaliating in harsh measures to ensure that anyone who is willing to carry out a brazen attack against Her Majesty's Service thinks twice and gulps, visibly at the cost of the response. From the perspective of the other services, they are in business of avoiding direct assassination, if possible, which a bloodthirsty section director does not help.

Substantive as distinct from formal justice is a powerful enough motif to think on for a while. Is justice served if the terrorists are killed and have their bodies returned to their native countries in boxes? Is justice served if the supposed enemy is emboldened by thinking the consequences are not dire and thus put more people in danger? It's part of a game of degrees, or if you prefer, part and parcel of a moral code that's not black and white, but instead black and gray. (I stole that last bit from tvtropes, a place that I won't link to because it's a wonderful, wonderful time sink.)

Like I said, lots of My Chemical Romance. First up: Summertime. We're talking straight Cure ballad here. Enjoy.

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