The Guardian today has a piece on a number of apparently peaceful protesters who beaten nigh on to death in Genoa in 2001 in a raid by the Italian police on a school which they were staying in. I'd quite forgotten about this, although I'm sure I was fairly exercised about it at the time. Now, I know that there's a general sense in the blogosphere that the Grauniad is a shameless promoter of sectarian liberal causes which cannot be trusted to be honest, but a) if half what this piece says is true, then this was really, really f*cking disgusting behaviour on the part of the Italian state, and b) it makes, or allows others to make for it mostly, an interesting argument, that a deliberate tactic was adopted by a number of Western countries of encouraging police brutality towards anti-globalization protestors in an attempt to silence them. It does strike me as reasonably unlikely that such a large-scale police action at such a high profile international meeting would not have been discussed amongst, and implicitly sanctioned by, at least the security services of the states there, so maybe the accusation is fair.
If it is, that's chilling. First, there's the old liberal free speech point: the line at which the right to free speech ends is at most at the line of gratuitous, deliberate insult, and these people were apparently nowhere near that line. Second, and more important, the rule of law - that agents of the state will not subject people to violence, will not imprison them without trial, will not deny them medical treatment - is foundational to any just government, to any government even attempting to be just, and not only was that broken here, but it seems to have been part of a deliberate policy of breaking it. It doesn't matter what the people who are not having their legal rights respected are doing, the state must uphold the law if it is to retain any moral authority at all. If it doesn't, it becomes them, it becomes much worse than them, because it is an entity whose existence is only justified by the need to uphold the rights it is currently using the full extent of its powers to violate. It absolutely failed to do respect those rights here, on a scale that is almost beyond imagining.
Postscript: Chris Brooke has provided me with a link to an eyewitness account at the Voice of the Turtle. Read that too.