A Second Open Letter to James O’Brien



Dear James,

I find myself compelled to write to you a second and hopefully final time. My first letter was heartfelt but far more widely read than I anticipated that it might be, and, I fear, occasionally misinterpreted. One of your friends, who I have agreed to neither name nor involve in this correspondence, told his radio listeners that my first missive was ‘mean.’ The words to him appeared to be an attack on his friend, and I understand and occasionally share the overwhelming passion that an attack on a friend can engender. I partly write for him.

Many of those who were complimentary of my first letter applauded what they saw as me calling out a bully. In truth I do not believe you are a bully. I think you sometimes fall into the trap of bullying. I can also understand why that may be. Being the target of inelegant social media communications is unpleasant. I know. In my small way I also attract passionate reactions and it is often difficult to distinguish between insult and disagreement. Occasionally those who swear, threaten or insult, find themselves agreeing at a later point on a different issue. Getting to that point can be painful, but I believe it is worth it. I partly write for all of them.

I mainly write, however, because I listened to you today. I confess I was nervous. One of your colleagues had retweeted my first letter and it gained a significance it was never intended to have. I wondered whether it may have made its way to you. I wondered whether you would be tempted to use the extraordinary platform that you have in order to redress the insult by demonising me in the way I suggested that you were capable of demonising others. You didn’t.

I am sure the reason why you didn’t is because you either didn’t read my first letter or if you did, you treated it with equanimity, as the writings of someone who was entitled to express a view but not in a position to require a response. I am sure that my letter has had no effect other than to amuse and offend your foes and your fans who happened to chance upon it. In your case it would never have been more than water off a big billy goat’s back.

Nonetheless I listened to your programme and enjoyed it. Your manner was inclusive and your callers informed and informative. You tackled a question that was hugely controversial without shutting down the debate. You discussed the extraordinary inequity of a treaty that Tony Blair signed for his friend George Bush that can now result in people being taken by force to the US without any evidence of any offence ever being put before any UK court.

You touched the common ground I imagine people on your side of politics and people on mine could find. You see the essence of the case of Lauri Love is not the complex legality that underlies it, nor even the Asperger’s that adds tragic colour to it. It is the extent to which states use their violent power to deal with individuals. There is no doubt that states should have a monopoly on violence. It keeps us safer if the stronger individuals are dissuaded from using violence to settle disagreements. Nonetheless that monopoly must be tempered with real consideration.

The idea that a state could imprison anyone, whoever they are and whatever their mental state, for life, in order to dissuade others from exploiting the weaknesses in their technological infrastructure is highly troubling. It is understandable that the US is keen to protect the national security that is now intimately bound up with our brave new virtual world. We are equally keen to protect our own. We have not, however, taken the view that the threat of life imprisonment is likely to achieve that. That threat obviously doesn’t prevent people from killing each other either. We take the view that the value of human life justifies that sentence but the value of information can’t. The US disagrees.

 Your question about why, if we believe in the rule of law and the independence of the UK judiciary, we allow the US view to prevail is one for politicians. I hope that our Home Secretary thinks very hard before allowing this man to be taken away from our justice system and handed over to another. If the horrific prospect of him ending his life is enough to persuade her then all well and good. Far more importantly our politicians should look carefully at the terms of the deal Mr Blair agreed to very carefully. They should look at it in the context of the new relationship we are building with the US. It will be a hard conversation to have with our friends. It is a conversation that can only be positive if we haven’t wasted our energies insulting their President in ways that will have no real effect but will make us feel virtuous. We may have many such hard conversations. We can’t talk to a demon. Laurie Love is as good an argument to avoid demonisation as any I can think of.

I continue to listen to your programme when life and time allows. I don’t know if I will find the ‘listening James’ or the ‘rabble rousing James’ when I tune in. I suspect your audience figures have far more to do with that than any other factor. Nonetheless I finish where I began two days ago. You have two ears and one mouth. A great deal of intelligence and information sits between them. If you use them in the right proportion your programme could be very special indeed. I live in hope.

Yours Truly

Jamie Foster