I’m Taking My Case to Switzerland
by Reidar Visser
Dear Switzerland. This is to inform you that I will shortly arrive in one of your cities. I would like to encourage you to kindly refrain from harassing or torturing me or discriminating against me on the basis of my sexual orientation.
I realise this is an unusual and possibly superfluous request. After all, the UN human rights charter and the European human rights convention provide guarantees against extra-judicial punishment. The Convention against Torture specifically bans degrading and other unusual forms of punishment. And your own constitution of course guarantees against discrimination on the basis of way of life.
Nonetheless, since a large number of democratic states have indeed violated international charters and their own constitutions in my case, I wanted to add some further information about it. But since you are who you are and have one of the best human rights records in the world, I need not lecture you on how an operation of this kind is a flagrant violation of international treaties and conventions. In fact, in entering your country, I am simply following the advice of one your diplomatic corps members, with whom I discussed my case and who suggested this kind of approach as a possible option. Let me instead try to be the devil’s advocate and focus on how the operation is a failure even from the most cynical police perspective one can imagine.
Firstly, despite the fact that this operation involves enormous outlay of expenses and countless transgressions of international conventions and national legislation for a period of more than two years, it is very hard to see what results are achieved. Normally, when disruption methods are used by police as an alternative to prosecution, the idea is to find a practical solution to a perceived problem for which no legal approach is within reach. This typically involves forcing someone to change their behaviour or leave a particular geographical area or a whole national jurisdiction. But in my case, for two years after I stopped my controversial photography, left Norway and withdrew entirely from public spaces where my presence supposedly constituted a problem, the police forces in foreign countries keep punishing me even in in my private residence when I am working on academic studies related to Iraq! The result is that the original logic of disruption as a policing method is reversed and we are back to square one: Because of the intensification of the police harassment in my private home including intensive use of non-conventional, Mengele-inspired directed energy weapons, I am forced back on the streets, where I supposedly constitute a greater threat to the public safety because of my erstwhile controversial photography. In other words, the police is exacerbating the problem rather than eliminating it! Not only that, when I am forced to move around a lot in the public sphere, inevitably a greater amount of police resources are needed to keep track of me. In other words, I am more in the public sphere where I am supposedly a problem, at a greater cost for the police. Inevitably, the quality of real policing will be affected when resources and the attentiveness of the police get diverted to harassing me instead. Some of the resources that get tied up in this way are also probably of a quite advanced and valuable nature, since the mainstay of police stalking is extreme intrusion – in my case requiring surveillance and foreign linguistic capabilities that would likely be assigned to anti-terror operations under normal circumstances. My specific case also presents a tragic but very thought-provoking juxtaposition of real policing and absurd police-stalking digressions: When the Oslo police should have monitored the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in spring 2011, they were busy extra-judicially punishing me for my legal photography Seattle, thousands of miles away from Norway.
This of course proves what I have always said, that the police operation targeting me is nothing but an extra-judicial punishment operation with zero law enforcement content. What is enforced are the fantasies and bigotry of a renegade unit within the Oslo police, and what is broken is not only national law but international conventions on torture and other forms of inhuman and unusual punishment. This case could have been solved many years ago if the Oslo police had spent exactly 50 cents to take 5 minutes to tell me that they were concerned about my photography – in which case I would have promptly discontinued it without engaging in any sort of legal bickering. But the police weren’t interested in that kind of dialogue scenario. Instead they wanted to travel to exotic destinations and do extra-judicial punishment through “international police cooperation” at the taxpayer’s expense.
What this operation shows is that disruption doesn’t work when there is no plausible end game and when the target is convinced of his or her own innocence and hence unafraid to speak to the general public. Apart from the air miles accrued by the officers involved, there is no apparent purpose in this operation. That is, of course, unless the goal is to project the image of a police capable of enforcing arbitrariness in an unlimited way, going after its enemies even beyond national borders. If that is the case, however, there is no longer any difference between us and North Korea.
Now, I am sure you are wondering how a travesty like this could originate in Norway, which has a very reasonable human rights reputation. I myself was shocked at first. But after having three times unsuccessfully encouraged PM Stoltenberg to intervene, I have no other option than to situate my case within some broader and disturbing trends in Norwegian politics and society , and to try to describe those tendencies as best as I can as an historian.
The problem with many of the indexes that give Norway good human rights scores is that many of them rely upon lazy and unempirical reiterations of descriptions that may have been valid in the first part of the twentieth century, but are no longer adequate to describe the realities of Norwegian democracy. Always remember that many of these league tables, such as that of the World Justice Project, are mere perception indexes!
Historically, it makes sense to identify at least three trends in Norwegian law enforcement and politics that enable the paradox whereby a state with a liberal reputation is home to some of the most heavy-handed policing in the Western world.
The first is the Rinnan trend, going back to the Second World War, when the leaders of the pro-Nazi Rinnan gang impressed even Gestapo for their incredible brutality in torturing members of the Norwegian resistance. This kind of police brutality has reappeared with such regularity in Norwegian history that it makes sense to study it as a broader cultural problem. In the 1970s and the 1980s there was a high number of shocking police brutality cases in Bergen. More recently, the organised crime unit of the Oslo police has become something of a national centre of competence in illegal methods. In my own case, I experienced something of a Rinnan/Gestapo contrast when I left Norway following a month of heavy mistreatment by the Oslo police in March 2011 and found the FBI-led harassment in the USA to be a comparatively humane experience. But this tendency is not limited to specialised harassment units. Abuse of power is so rampant in Norwegian police that it can even be glanced from such open sources as the Twitter feed of the Oslo police, which in one case poked fun of Muslims for praying after a car breakdown and in the next expressed gleeful satisfaction that someone who had urinated publicly was made to dry up his urine using his jacket on an icy cold winter night.
The second important trend can be called the Dorenfeldt trend after the Norwegian chief prosecutor in the 1960s and 1970s, Lauritz Dorenfeldt. It is characterised by judicially weak and often hysterical prosecution attempts, frequently prompted by bigotry and anti-intellectualism as was seen in the cases against great Norwegian authors like Agnar Mykle and Jens Bjoerneboe. The trend was proven alive and well by a recent attempt to prosecute the anti-feminist Eivind Berge, though that case was promptly thrown out by the supreme court. The hysteria of individual cases like these in turn relates to a more systemic and institutionalised problem that makes Norway a little-noticed outlier in comparative Western justice: Its uniquely police-dominated prosecution service. Thanks to the heavy reliance on so-called police lawyers, prosecutions are often judicially inferior and subject to the whims of police officers to a greater extent than in any comparable Western judicial system. In my case this reached the point where police lawyers actually participated in the extra-judicial punishment and harassment orchestrated by the police – a mixing of roles from which even full-blooded totalitarian states tend to shy away.
Thirdly, there is a more general authoritarian tendency identified as the “Stalinist” trend by the celebrated Norwegian historian Jens Arup Seip already in the early 1960s. Seip specifically related it to the Norwegian Labour party and its heavy-handed ways of dealing with its enemies. Still today, it is often next to impossible to have a rational conversation with members of the Labour party regarding the historical legacy of the late Haakon Lie, the Labour strongman of the second half of the twentieth century that prompted Seip to choose his radical nomenclature. More recently, the current Labour government has revived the authoritarian spirit of the past by introducing law proposals that verge on criminalising thought – as seen in legislative proposals regarding actions preparatory to a “potential terrorist act”, as well as a hate speech bill.
It is perhaps the fusion of these three trends that constitutes the most dangerous threat to the rule of law in Norway. It is that sort of fusion that enabled the economic crime agency Okokrim to push forward the police’s panopticon agenda, whereby among other things it has become impossible to procure a pay-as-you-go mobile in Norway without registering your full personal identity details. For its part, the Labour party became wedded to police criminality through two formative experiences over the last decade. First, there were the Aker Brygge murders in 2006, when the government responded by beefing up an organised crime fighting agency, giving it carte blanche prerogatives. Secondly, there was the passage of a law criminalizing buying (but not selling) sex in 2008. The law was as difficult to enforce as it sounds, but in order to make the statistics look good, the police have ended up harassing female sex workers (who were not supposed to be directly targeted by the bill). Both developments strengthened relations between the Labour party and the organised crime unit of the Oslo police to the point where the unit’s leaders publicly boasted of their liberty to limitlessly apply police methods that directly violate article 117a of the Norwegian penal code. As a result, Norway is now in situation shockingly similar to China, where the BBC recently revealed how a mere order from a police officer can confine an individual to forced labour. The only difference in Norway is that if you get placed on the hit list of the organised crime unit in Oslo, the police will follow you across the globe instead of incarcerating you as per the Chinese approach. It is a more expensive solution, but the police get to travel a lot.
Does this sound somewhat weird and unbelievable? To understand it, you need to appreciate the extent to which Norway has become influenced by Gulf state tendencies in recent decades. Again, I am building this mainly on what others have written about our excessive oil wealth, including the writings of Simen Saetre. One particularly important factor is the decline in educational standards. This is seen above all in the sciences, where Norway for the past few decades has been fast diving in the league tables and now has positions far down the lists that are not commensurate with our high standards of living. Or maybe that is the problem, leading to an atmosphere where incompetence can thrive in the public sphere and where silly projects can easily obtain funding. In my case, this tendency was epically highlighted when Norwegian police officers followed me to Qatar and had to teach the Qatari police – officials of a rentier economy par excellence – the latest tricks in illegal policing. The Norwegian quest to punish me for my sexual orientation apparently resonated with the Wahhabi Qataris, whose campaign against polytheism is highly comparable to the Oslo police’s crusades against sexual minorities and academics.
One final broad and somewhat related tendency that is particularly worth highlighting in my case relates to Labour politicians’ apparent fear of advanced knowledge. This has been expressed in many different ways over the past decade, one of which being the “reform” of Norwegian higher education that was implemented by Trond Giske, a previous Labour minister of education. The net effect of the move has been to severely cut down the time postgraduates spend on doing real research, thereby ruining postgraduate study programmes that were previously quite close to a semi-doctorate in terms of the time spent on real research. I have personally seen how this cultivation of mediocrity plays out in the field of Middle East studies, where people who talk a lot on TV and have extremely limited empirical knowledge of the region (let alone Arabic or Persian language skills) easily get promoted to high positions in the office of the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. Three times I have asked Stoltenberg to intervene in my case to simply discontinue the illegalities so that I can focus on my Iraq research. Three times Stoltenberg has refused to do anything, effectively covering the asses of some of the worst torturers and human rights criminals in post-Communist Europe. It is a sad fact that today, in what amounts to a War on Knowledge, Labour ministers feel closer to the thugs and torturers than to advanced academics.
I should stress that none of these criticisms and remarks are due to any general anti police attitude on my part. I am no anarchist. Quite the contrary, my criticism flows from a sense of deep respect for honest policing, as well as admiration for the often underpaid and underappreciated work done by a majority of highly competent police officers in Norway and elsewhere. Through my work on Iraq, I have come to recognise the great sacrifice made by police officers there, often giving their life in the fight for a more democratic society.
Nor are my writings intended as a criticism of the fight against organised crime in principle. But it seems to me there is the same problem of sloppy targeting in the war against organised crime that I have previously criticised in the war on terror. I have spent many years trying to explain US authorities why it is wrong to universally conceptualise Iraq’s Sadrists as terrorists, and that labels like “Mahdists” are often used to stigmatise people that have done no other crime than having a different point of view. That is exactly the same kind of logic that led me to getting targeted by Norwegian police. It is a logic which can easily turn the fight against organised crime into a war on dissenters, artists and free thinkers. Exactly like in the battle against terrorists, it is important that the police rise above their enemies instead of degenerating to standards that are not compatible with rule of law ideals, even in challenging territory involving organised crime. The fight against organised crime must become smarter, and that involves taking a critical look at many so-called disruption methods. In areas where there is no law, the police must accept the fact that it is a conversation partner like everyone else, and work through democratic channels if it wishes to change something rather than trying to engage in “idea enforcement” on the pattern of the Oslo police.
After 780 days of continuous mistreatment, I am tempted to use colourful language of the kind employed by Thorgeir Thorgeieson in his criticism of the Icelandic police. The European Court of Human Rights found that it was not unreasonable to do so, and that the Icelandic government’s attempt to gag him was a violation of the right to freedom to expression. Let me nonetheless try to put this as clinically as possible: The police officers attached to my operation are not professional police. They are on the job to break the law, not to enforce it. What they are enforcing are their own ideas and concoctions, with zero reference to the laws on the books. They have a track record of embroiling authorities in scandal because of their dubious and illegal methods. After some of them had been in Brazil and illegally shared information about Norwegian citizens, a member of the Norwegian parliament had to travel all the way to South America to try to clean up after them! Much of what they touch ends up as scandal, and the only thing these people “disrupt” is often the provision of honest police work of the protect-and-serve category. Again, these are the people who prioritised harassing a photographer over monitoring a mass murderer and terrorist.
Clearly, through association with these people, you run the risk of soiling your pristine reputation. They will try to subvert your laws and constitution in the way they have already done in a dozen other countries, including implicating the Netherlands and New Zealand in crimes against humanity. I need not tell you that any involvement in this operation would be incompatible with your illustrious role as a host for such important human rights organisations as the UN committee against torture, which works specifically to eliminate the degrading and unusual punishment of the kind the Norwegian police have embarked upon. And again, by colluding with them you run the risk of being affected by their contagious inability to get priorities right and differentiate between real crimes and things they just dislike.
I come to Switzerland with the singular ambition of working quietly on Iraq analyses, like the ones I have prepared for the 20 April local elections. Few other Western analysts provide commentary of this kind in a timely way, and it is unnecessary to point out the immense significance of Iraq to major drivers in international politics, ranging from the oil price to the challenge of radical Islamism and sectarian struggles in the wider Middle Eastern region. Since I was never given the right to explain myself to the Norwegian police, I have created my own quasi-legal process on my blog where I address every aspect of my case. I am happy to be subjected to any kind of electronic tagging or monitoring, including inside my private dwellings (as of today, this monitoring is done illegally). I would abide by a restriction order to not carry any photographic devices, if that is the main worry related to me. I would provide advance notice of my movements to make it easier to monitor my every move: Lots of money could have been saved in that way and I don’t care much about my privacy since it has irrevocably been taken away from me by Norwegian police long time ago anyway. You can monitor as much as you want or ask me any question. But you cannot torture me.
I have shown that there is no criminal act involved in my photography (something even the Norwegian police officially admits). I have also shown that the slander story the police use to generate a pogrom based on my sexual orientation is also completely contradictive and lacking in basic logic. So what is left of the case against me? I have made it perfectly clear that I will never return to Norway unless those responsible are held accountable, so there is no point in trying to force me back. And so, even if the Norwegian government insists on its fanatic persecution, there is no rational reason other governments should follow its primitive example and carry on with an operation that is so flawed and embarrassing to the police that it cannot be formally recognised. Indeed, in line with the relevant international conventions, other governments have a duty to refuse cooperation with such an operation involving degrading and unusual punishment.
I rest my case.