It goes (quite literally) without saying...

Not only is there no corresponding inquiry into an apparent epidemic of sudden, unexplained deaths at Malta’s only prison: but the (confidential) magisterial inquiries still remain under wraps to this day

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article defending the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder from criticism – coming from Glenn Beddingfield, at the time – along the lines that it had ‘degenerated into a political exercise’.

In a nutshell, my argument was… yeah, well, that was all along the whole point. The inquiry’s terms of reference were precisely “[to determine] whether any wrongful action or omission by, or within, any State entity facilitated the assassination or failed to prevent it”… so it sort of stands to reason that the same inquiry would inevitably delve into the responsibilities of the State (in which government - ergo, ‘politics’ – happens to play a rather large part).

And yet… what do you know? Notwithstanding my painstaking efforts to clarify the situation… Joseph Muscat went ahead and resuscitated precisely the same criticism in his testimony before the inquiry last Friday. (I mean, honestly: what is even the point of publicly debunking flawed arguments… if the people making those arguments just… never… goddamn… LISTEN?!)

There: been meaning to get that off my chest that since September 24…

But in any case: in light of Muscat’s testimony, I decided to go back and have another look at that same article… and I now realise that I may have left out a small (but rather important) detail.

Not that it changes the substance of the above argument in any way; but it dawned on me that the significance of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry goes far beyond its (undeniably important) role in establishing the full truth about this particular case.

I stand to be corrected, of course: but to the best of my knowledge, it also represents the only example of any form of public investigation, ever having been held at all, into the question of whether or not the State is indeed fulfilling all its own obligations and responsibilities … not just with regard to Daphne’s murder: but in all spheres, everywhere.

Now: with some difficulty, I will resist the temptation to meander off into an endless digression about what those obligations even are, and how they originally came about – because that would take us all the way back to the Paleolithic Era: when a certain Ugga first started realizing (probably after observing a colony of ants for too long) that… ‘heck, maybe we, too need some kind of organised structure to keep ourselves in check: if nothing else, to prevent us from clubbing each other to extinction…’

… but I don’t have time for that right now. So let’s just say that: yes, around 250,000 years of societal development have landed us with a social contract, that supposedly binds both parties – governors and governed alike – to certain basic contractual obligations (and failure to observe those regulations, by one party or the other, can – and very often does – result in ‘avoidable death’).

But while the community’s role in maintaining that social order is indeed called into question, all the time – it’s the reason we have such things as ‘laws’, ‘law enforcement agencies’, ‘law-courts’, ‘prions’, etc. – well… how often do we hold the State to the same level of scrutiny?

Coming back to those terms of reference, for instance: without in any way detracting from the importance of applying them to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia - a case which certainly warrants all the attention it is being given: not just because of the hideous nature of the crime itself, but also because of its weighty implications for a whole host of other fundamental issues: freedom of expression, State-capture of national institutions… even Malta’s international reputation, if it comes to it…

No, without even remotely questioning any of that: the same terms of reference could also be made to apply to other mysterious (or otherwise unexplained) deaths, which likewise call into question the role and possible responsibility of the State.

Like, for instance, the 11-or-so fatalities recorded at Corradino Correctional Facility over the past two years…

But first, in the interest of pre-empting some of the criticism this article will no doubt attract: I’m not bringing it up now to detract attention from the ongoing public inquiry.

Quite the contrary, in fact. It may admittedly be an irrelevant detail: but there is no doubt in my mind – none whatsoever – that Daphne herself would be writing about those prison deaths, if she were still alive today. It’s a subject she always took very seriously indeed: yes, even when the unexplained deaths occurred under a Nationalist administration.

So all things considered, I feel entirely justified in extending at least a couple of the same concerns about Daphne’s murder, to those other (otherwise unrelated) fatalities; also because… well, they are not entirely ‘unrelated’, either.

The death of a single Corradino inmate (not to mention the deaths of around a dozen, within the space of 24 months) may not shake the country to its foundations, quite in the same way as the bomb that blew up Daphne did in 2017. And it probably shouldn’t, either.

But, where there is room to argue about the State’s precise responsibility for what happened in the case of Daphne’s murder – that is, indeed the whole point of the public inquiry – there can be no corresponding doubt with regard to those 11 dead prisoners… or even, for that matter, the 760-odd human beings that make up Malta’s (living) prison population.

Leaving aside that the Human Rights Charter - minus the ‘right to liberty’, naturally - happens to apply to them, too (a point that is seems to be overlooked with disturbing frequency in this country)… the State’s responsibility is in this case not just indisputable… but thunderingly self-evident, too.

Unlike almost any other category of human being - including the most vulnerable among us - a prison inmate depends wholly and exclusively on the State, and nothing but the State, for even the most fundamental of human needs: food, clothing, shelter, safety… and also basic healthcare.

And yet – while we (rightly) hold a public inquiry when a journalist is blown up in her car… not only is there no corresponding inquiry into an apparent epidemic of sudden, unexplained deaths at Malta’s only prison: but the (confidential) magisterial inquiries that so far have been conducted into each individual fatality – whether concluded or otherwise - still remain under wraps to this day.

Meanwhile, government is stolidly refusing to divulge the contents of those reports; including, inter alia, the autopsy results… which would at least establish the precise cause of those deaths: a rather important first step, I would have thought, towards determining:

a) whether or not any of those fatalities could have been ‘avoided’, and;

b) whether or not ‘any State entity’ – in this case, most likely the prison management – may have been guilty of ‘any wrongful action or omission [which] facilitated the [death]’.

As things stand, however, all we have to go on are Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri’s personal reassurances that – having been the only one to actually read the conclusions of the magisterial inquiries - there was nothing to be remotely suspicious or alarmist about.

“The first question I ask,” he said, “is whether the death was a result of natural causes, or whether it could have been avoided. I can say that the absolute majority of cases were natural death…”

But this is not exactly very ‘reassuring’, for at least two reasons that seem to arise directly out of his own statement.

The first is that: regardless how ‘absolute’ or… erm… ’relative’?... this ‘majority’ may be: it still means that a ‘minority’ – however small – were actually ‘unnatural deaths’.

And … that could mean quite a few things in the specific context of a prison: the least of which would certainly warrant a full-scale public inquiry, in most other comparable countries in the world.

In the (likeliest, I fear) case of suicide, there are international prison protocols and guidelines to be followed; but if, on the other hand, we are talking about accidental deaths… like, say, a prisoner electrocuted thanks to a faulty wiring system… then questions would also have to be asked about the health and safety standards of Corradino prison itself (a building that,  at the end of the day, dates back all the way to the Paleo… I mean, Victorian… era).

Drug overdoses, on the other hand, would force us to scrutinise the prison director’s earlier claims that ‘drugs have been eradicated from prison’… not to mention ask questions about the rehab treatment (if any) made available to inmates with drug dependency issues, etc.

And this leaves us with the most worrying possibility of all: ‘unnatural death’ could also mean ‘murder’… which is not, of course, to suggest that this may indeed have been the cause of death, in any of those 11 deaths.

But given that we are, ultimately, talking about prison here… and bearing in mind that (without any form of valid justification) the public is still denied access to all 11 magisterial inquiry reports: some of which into deaths that occurred two whole years ago…

… let’s just say it’s not a possibility that can exactly be dismissed out of hand, either.

Secondly, Camilleri himself seems to be implying that a public inquiry would only have been warranted, had any of those deaths been ‘unnatural’… for all the world as if the State he represents (in this precise instance, anyway) bore no responsibility whatsoever for the general health and well-being of people entrusted to its care: and who have no means – short of escaping, anyhow – to provide for those needs themselves.

If so… sorry, but he is very much mistaken.

To put it bluntly: if a prisoner dies from entirely natural causes, while serving a sentence in Malta’s prison… but it turns out that those causes might have been identified, or treated, in time to save his life, with (for instance) better access to healthcare… then it goes without saying that the State would certainly bear at least some responsibility for the fatality in question.

And I mean that quite literally, by the way. It ‘goes without saying’… not just in the sense that I shouldn’t even have to be calling for a public inquiry in the first place – it should have been an automatic response, to a situation that would be considered ‘troubling’ (to say the last) almost anywhere else in the civilised world…

… but also because we can’t really ‘say’, with any certainty, that the State is entirely blameless for any of those 11 deaths, either: certainly not without having something slightly more substantial to base our opinions on, than just the ‘personal reassurances’ of the responsible minister himself.