When the state breaks the law

The brewing controversy involving the alleged abduction and interrogation of five Pakistani immigrants living in Greece raises a number of crucial questions. The law, of course, gives the intelligence services the power to interrogate terrorism suspects. Nevertheless the authorities chose the illicit path – in a way that does not appear to be an accident. It seems that politicians are to blame but for more than just illicit actions by secret agents. Such practices are not exclusive to Greece’s intelligence services. Under pressure to combat international terrorism, many European governments have yielded to the temptation of tolerating – and in some cases giving the green light to – dubious practices. But the case in Greece has taken a farcical dimension. The climax was the publication on Sunday of the names of seven Greek intelligence agents that took part in the alleged abductions and interrogations. Even if it is proved that certain agents exceeded – on orders from above – the limits of their responsibility or that they broke the law, the publication of their names is still not warranted. This is especially the case when a probe has been launched into the case. A first conclusion to be drawn from these developments is that the most sensitive aspects of the state apparatus, those which are entrusted with Greece’s national security, are dangerously unreliable. Even if the accusations stand, it is deeply worrying that the agents’ names were leaked to the press, obviously from people inside the organization itself. The state image is valuable and it must be protected by all – most crucially by its functionaries. And herein lies the crux of the matter. The ease with which legal proceedings have been violated is just one side to the problem. The other, an equally sad sight, is the ease with which names, rumors and scenarios began to circulate. Another problem arose over the manner in which Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis reacted. It is the obligation of the government, of state officials and the media to carry out their functions in a serious and responsible fashion. Otherwise, the crisis will justify those who scoff at the state as a group of rowdy, garrulous politicians.