Wednesday, August 31, 2005 

Lock us all up.

Looks like the ways of the USSR certainly haven't quite died out yet:

A leading human rights activist in Uzbekistan has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in an echo of Soviet-style practices after distributing anti-government leaflets which prosecutors claimed insulted the country's emblem.

Elena Urlayeva had earlier criticised President Islam Karimov for the Andijan massacre in May when government troops allegedly shot hundreds of innocent protesters.

Mrs Urlayeva, who is a member of the opposition Free Peasants party, was arrested in the capital, Tashkent, on Saturday and incarcerated in the mental health ward of a city hospital.

Talib Yakubov, chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said Mrs Urlayeva had been detained in the past and forcibly injected with drugs. "It is because she is such a persistent critic who works 24 hours a day to help the people," he said.

Mr Karimov's regime is accused of a catalogue of human rights abuses and fears a backlash from opposition groups. The Free Peasants party is not officially recognised.

A police spokesman confirmed to Interfax news agency that Mrs Urlayeva was arrested for distributing leaflets with a caricature of the Uzbek national emblem: a fairytale bird with outstretched wings representing freedom that was depicted as downcast and bedraggled.

Yesterday the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights called for Mrs Urlayeva's immediate release.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend Anne Applebaum's incredibly moving and detailed short history of the Russian gulag, primarily focusing on it during Stalin's time as leader, but also before and after. Unlike most history tomes, it's readable and doesn't fall into being dry. From the 60s right through to the collapse of the USSR, throwing activists into psychiatric wards was a popular of getting rid of them, and also involved doctors making up fake disorders to keep them there. It's sad to think that similar practices are still being used today, and even more shameful that Craig Murray was sacked for speaking out about such dreadful abuses in Uzbekistan.

Share |


Britain already using new terror laws to stop other "subversives" from entering the country.

I really didn't see this one coming, oh no:

Charles Clarke, the home secretary, has used the government's crackdown on preachers of hate to ban an American professor who speaks for the Animal Liberation Front.

Steven Best, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso, had intended to travel to the UK to take part in an event to celebrate the closure of a farm breeding guinea pigs for research.

In the wake of the London bombings of July 7, the Home Office announced it would not allow people to enter the UK who "foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; [or] foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts."

In July Dr Best spoke at an international animal rights conference in England. At that conference, he was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: "We are not terrorists, but we are a threat. We are a threat both economically and philosophically. Our power is not in the right to vote but the power to stop production. We will break the law and destroy property until we win."

According to the newspaper, he added that activists did not want to "reform" vivisectionists but to "wipe them off the face of the earth". The Home Office cited these words in a letter to Dr Best last week banning him from entering the UK. Dr Best, who claims his words have been taken out of context, said he was not surprised by the ban. "It was only a matter of time, especially after July 7. The climate in Britain is totally unbelievable. It's very fascist. It's becoming a police state," he told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Animal Liberation Front is a destructive violent organisation which I hold no brief for. Despite this, the laws in current effect are meant to deal with those who are preaching hatred against the country and fomenting suicide attacks on innocents. The Animal Liberation Front has never done either of the above, although it is an organisation which can quite easily be described as terrorist in nature. Why stop this obviously foolish academic from coming to crow about how "they" stopped a guinea pig farm from continuing business?

In short, it's another step towards the US approach of having lists of people with names that might be connected with terrorism, who they immediately stop from entering the country or who they detain on arrival. Expect it not to be too long before we have Yusuf Islam barred from this country.

Share |

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 

Deadly Israeli hypocrisy.

This is a really horrible case that exposes the Israelis not only as hypocrites, but as hypocrites that are prepared to let a child with cancer die.

The electricity pylons that could mean the difference between life and death for Ennas al-Atrash are dotted a few hundred yards from the little girl's village in Israel's Negev desert.

But the residents of Sawa are Bedouin Arabs whose village is deemed "unrecognised" by the state, and so they are deprived of the basic services that Ennas's doctors say are essential if the frail three-year-old is to have a chance of survival.

Ennas was diagnosed with cancer in her chest cavity in January and subjected to weeks of chemotherapy and two operations. She was sent home to recover with a daily injection of medicine to boost her collapsed immune system. The drug has to be stored at a steady temperature between zero degrees and 4C (32F-39F).

But the Atrash family has no reliable means to do so because the Israeli government refuses to allow 80,000 Bedouin Arabs to be connected to the power, water or sewerage infrastructure on the grounds that their villages are illegal - even though many have stood since before the modern Israeli state existed.

It has made no difference that Ennas's father, Yusuf, is a doctor in Israel's state health system who treats other, more fortunate, children while his own daughter's health is hostage to politics.

"We put her drugs into a plastic bag and pack it with ice cubes to try to keep it cool. We're not sure it keeps it the right temperature," he said.

Last week, Ennas, who has lost her hair and is said by her mother to be terrified of going to hospital, fell victim to secondary infections and underwent another operation. The doctors say she needs radiotherapy and more drugs to boost her immune system. But the family still has no proper refrigeration.

The Atrash family shares a generator with four other homes, but the cost of running it constantly is so high - about £900 a month, which is the average monthly wage in Israel - that it is turned on for only four hours each evening.

The family says its last hope is a petition to Israel's highest court to be heard on Thursday.

Dr Atrash spent months pleading with government departments. Officials said they were constrained by the law, although this has not stopped the infrastructure ministry from providing power, water and roads to Jewish outposts in the West Bank which are also regarded as illegal.

The Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal. According to Israel, the Bedouin Arabs village is also illegal. The difference is that the Arabs aren't the right religion or the right colour. It's ok if their children die, while Jewish settlers were shown being cradled by IDF soldiers, their bodies spasming with emotion and misery as they were evacuated from the Gaza strip, recorded as a part of Israel dying. If Israel still has any compassion for anyone apart from its own population, it will let the little girl's family have power.

Share |


Skewed priorities.

Jane Longhurst was murdered by a friend's boyfriend. She was 31 years old and a special needs teacher. Undoubtedly, her death was a tragedy. What makes this death different from any other however is that her killer was found to have an obsession with violent internet pornography.

Coutts (35), a voracious consumer of web sites devoted to snuff movies and necrophilia, was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum tariff of 30 years. The Scottish-born part-time musician visited Web sites with names such as "necrobabes", "death by asphyxia" and "rape pleasure".

More than 800 pornographic images were found saved on Coutts' home computer over three quarters of which showed acts of violence against women. The court also heard that Coutts had accessed violent images the day before Ms. Longhurst was murdered in March 2003.

After strangling Ms. Longhurst with a pair of tights, Coutts took her body to a storage unit, for which he had a pin number for out-of-hour-access. The security log showed that he had visited the corpse at least 10 times in the month before he finally disposed it in a marsh.

After the discovery of Ms. Longhurst's body, employees at the Big Yellow Storage company in Brighton informed the police that Coutts had hired the lockup shortly after her disapperance. When they opened the lockup, police found Ms. Longhurst's possessions as well as a blood-stained rope and a condom containing Coutts' semen.

What has followed this case has been the usual calls for a complete crack-down on violent internet porn. The government has now appeared to cave-in to such a measure.

The Home Office will today propose to outlaw the possession of extreme adult pornography downloaded over the internet from abroad.

Although the existing Obscene Publications Act makes publishing such pornography an offence, the government argues that the internet has made getting hold of it easier while at the same time allowing suppliers to evade prosecution. In a consultation document published today the Home Office suggests making illegal "the possession of a limited range of extreme pornographic material featuring adults". It cites the depiction of bestiality, sexual interference with a human corpse or certain forms of extreme violence involving serious bodily harm.

"This is material which is extremely offensive to the vast majority of people and it should have no place in our society," said the Home Office minister, Paul Goggins. "The fact that it is available over the internet should in no way legitimise it. These forms of violent and abusive pornography go far beyond what we allow to be shown in films or even sold in licensed sex shops in the UK, so they should not be available online either."

The government and campaigners cite the case of Jane Longhurst, killed in 2003 by a man obsessed with violent sexual pornography. Her mother Liz, who has helped organise a petition that has so far been signed by more than 35,000 people, yesterday welcomed the proposed new law.

Snuff movies do not exist. There has never been a single one that has come to light which depicts the actual murder of a person, with it being sold as entertainment and the others involved in the movie getting paid. So, does real necrophilia on the internet really exist? I personally feel that it is extremely unlikely, but who knows? There might be some real east European necrophilia sites out there somewhere, or possibly on an obscure usenet group. The chances of Mr Coutts actually running into one of those and not a site which depicts necrophilia is far more likely. There are defintely sites such as that out there, as there are ones based around incest (again, debatable whether they are real or not) beastiality, and extreme bondage/S & M/rape type sites.

I find a lot of pornography distasteful, but I'm happy to admit I watch and use it. I also have a soft spot for Jess Franco type softcore erotica. I'm a firm believer that the government should keep out of the bedroom. That also applies to what consenting adults wish to do for money. If they want to take part in films that depict rape and involve pain to do with sex, that is up to them. If an adult wishes to pay to view such simulated acts, that is also up to them. The most important part of the government's consultation document is the following.

The consultation document admits that research into the subject is not advanced enough to confirm the link between such pornography and violent crime. "We recognise that accessing such material does not necessarily cause criminal activity," it says. "We consider the moral and public protection case against allowing this kind of material sufficiently strong."

In other words, we don't have any evidence that viewing such material will turn such a person into a necrophiliac that will go out and seek women to strangle. However, we do have a campaign on our hands and with some of the most draconian laws on obtaining porn in the western world, who's going to care about banning disgusting violent porn?

A case highlighted by the campaigns at Melon Farmers is that of a man identified only as "braintree". He was illegally selling DVDs recorded off adult channels. However, he unfortunately happened to have an animal and scat DVD in his possession when he was raided. While he had no intention of selling such material, he was charged with intent to supply under the Obscene Publications Act. In addition to the these two DVDs, some of the others he had recorded contained urination (urinating is allowed on its own at R18, but urinating on another person or showing someone licking or drinking it is usually cut) and fisting, both of which are regularly cut from R18 titles by the BBFC as they are considered "obscene". In the end, he pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to 4 months in prison. A fuller account is available here.

What did the above case serve anyone? Yes, he was breaking the law by selling DVDs he had recorded, but there are many other examples of sites based in the UK selling R18 DVDs, which itself is illegal as recently decided by a high court ruling. Why are the police not going after them? As usual, the police and the power of state is turned on one person.

If the above consultation stays in more or less the same shape and becomes law, we can expect there to be many other braintrees. The government has no evidence that such explicit material makes a person likely to be more violent. I've always found that those who watch or seek out such material are less likely to act out any fantasies they might have had once they have actually seen it or acts depicting such fantasies. Mental health professionals admittedly are split on the issue, though. Furthermore, would such a law affect mainstream "art" cinema? Films such as Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave are still not available uncut in the UK, both of which deal with rape and the resulting revenge. The first inparticular is possibly the best polemic against violent gratuitous action films and even violence itself which I've seen. Irreversible, which contains a long anal rape scene, passed uncut in the UK, could also fall under such laws.

Why has this come up now? This government is facing such pressure over so many other issues that a tabloid-pleasing law such as this may help take some heat off Labour. As a result, many innocent citizens who have unusual or minority tastes may end up in prison for paying to watch consenting adults have sex for money. I thought those days had passed. Most of all though, is this what Jane Longhurst would have wanted? Is this what Graham Coutts' ex-girlfriend wants? Why is it that one murder can cause the loss of freedom for so many? It seems we are no nearer moving away from knee-jerk reactionary decisions.

Share |

Monday, August 29, 2005 

The Sun-watch.

Yesterday was a pretty slow news day, I'll admit. What with a huge hurricane looming off the Gulf coast of the United States, threatening to swamp New Orleans, and the Shias and Kurds pushing through an Iraqi constitution without Sunni approval. Hell, there was even a cricket match of some sort won by some country. So, what does the leading tabloid newspaper put on its front page for this fine bank holiday Monday?

Yep, it picks on a "welfare cheat" who's been spreading his seed a little too freely. That's if the story's true, of course. Rebekah Wade, if you actually did edit the paper yesterday and you're not swanning it off on some beach somewhere, you're an inspiration to us all.

Share |


You mean the government knew the Iraq war was stirring extremism???????

New Labour, as most governing parties are, is often fundamentally dishonest. The cries from Tony Blair and others that the attacks on July the 7th had nothing to do with the war on Iraq, and that there was no reason to think such a thing have been rather undermined by the appearance of a letter leaked to the Observer, available here.

The Foreign Office's top official warned Downing Street that the Iraq war was fuelling Muslim extremism in Britain a year before the 7 July bombings, The Observer can reveal.

Despite repeated denials by Number 10 that the war made Britain a target for terrorists, a letter from Michael Jay, the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary, to the cabinet secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull - obtained by this newspaper - makes the connection clear.

The letter, dated 18 May 2004, says British foreign policy was a 'recurring theme' in the Muslim community, 'especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq'.

'Colleagues have flagged up some of the potential underlying causes of extremism that can affect the Muslim community, such as discrimination, disadvantage and exclusion,' the letter says. 'But another recurring theme is the issue of British foreign policy, especially in the context of the Middle East peace process and Iraq.

'Experience of both ministers and officials ... suggests that ... British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence among especially the younger generation of British Muslims.'

The letter continues: 'This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organisations (e.g. recruitment drives by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroon). The FCO has a relevant and crucial role to play in the wider context of engagement with British Muslims on policy issues, and more broadly, in convincing young Muslims that they have a legitimate and credible voice, including on foreign policy issues, through an active participation in the democratic process.'

The letter or the article doesn't tell us anything we didn't know already. What it does show is that the government knows full well what it is doing and what it is doing wrong. They know they was no reason for Britain to take part in the war on Iraq, apart from Blair's slavish subservience to George Bush. What has he got in return? His majority at the election was slashed, he's widely viewed as a liar and many no longer have any trust in what he says. That it took 8 years as prime minister for this to come about is more surprising than anything else. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this is that Blairism and the sycophants who surround Blair are now seen as spoilt goods. While it's hard to get enthusiastic about a Brown-led Labour party and government, surely anything is better than the deceit and spin that the Blair years will be remembered by.

Share |

Saturday, August 27, 2005 

John Bolton: what a guy!

John Bolton, besides grooming his mustache to look as much like Stalin's as possible, has been busy. Around a month after being made US ambassador to the UN by President Bush, thanks to a recess during which Congress could not oppose or filibuster his choice, he's laid down a number of hugely encouraging amendments to the UN summit agreement, due to take place in September. All in all, he's made around 750 proposed changes to the UN draft. Here's just some of the changes:

Values and principles

We further reaffirm that core values and principles, such as respect for human rights and human dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, [deleted: respect for nature], the rule of law, shared responsibility, multilateralism, and non-resort to the threat or use of force [inserted: in a manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations] are essential for peaceful coexistence and cooperation among states.

We rededicate ourselves to support [deleted: all] efforts to uphold ... the sovereign equality of all states, respect for their territorial integrity and political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of states, resolution of disputes by peaceful means, and the right of self-determination of peoples [deleted: which remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation]

We pledge to make the United Nations more relevant, more effective, more efficient, more accountable and more credible [deleted: and to provide the organisation with the resources needed to fully implement its mandates].


We [deleted: remain concerned, however, by the slow and uneven implementation of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium development goals and] reaffirm our commitment to eradicate poverty and promote sustained economic growth, sustainable development and global prosperity for all.

We resolve to... make the fight against corruption at all levels a priority, as agreed at Monterey, and welcome all actions taken in this regard at the national and international levels including the adoption of policies that emphasise accountability, transparent public sector management, competitive markets [deleted: and corporate responsibility and accountability]

[Deleted: We welcome the establishment of timetables by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7% of gross national product for official development assistance by no later than 2015 and to reach at least 0.5% by 2009 and urge those developed countries that have not yet done so to make concrete efforts towards allocating 0.7% of their GNP for ODA...]

Protecting our common environment

[Deleted: We recognise that climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the world. We call for further technological and financial international cooperation for the sustainable use and management of natural resources in order to promote sustainable production and consumption patterns as a means of keeping the balance between the conservation of natural resources and the furtherance of social and economic objectives.]

We therefore resolve to [deleted: undertake concerted global action to address climate change, including through meeting all commitments and obligations under the Kyoto protocol...].

Meeting the special needs of Africa

We resolve to provide, as a priority, assistance for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment in African countries [deleted: on a grant basis, and encourage pharmaceutical companies to make anti-retroviral drugs affordable and accessible in Africa]

I'm sure you'll agree that all of these changes are excellent substitutions for the originals. I personally cannot wait for the day when the United Nations

Use of force under the UN charter

We also reaffirm that the provisions of the charter of the United Nations regarding the use of force are sufficient [deleted: to address the full range of security threats and agree that the use of force should be considered as an instrument of last resort].

Disarmament and non-proliferation

We also recognise that non-compliance with existing arms control, non-proliferation and [deleted: disarmament] agreements and commitments also threatens international peace and security of all nations and increases the possibility of terrorist acquisition of WMD.

We reiterate our firm commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty [deleted: its three pillars, disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy].


... we commit to end the impunity for the most serious violations of international humanitarian law, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes [deleted: by cooperating with the international criminal court, the existing ad hoc and mixed criminal tribunals and other mechanisms for international justice as well as through strengthening national legal systems].

I'm sure you'll agree that all of these changes are excellent substitutions. There's no way that the UN should have any concern for nature or worry about climate change, bring war criminals to justice through an established international criminal court or dare to suggest that the use of force to settle disputes should be the last resort. Also, corporations should be self-governing and responsible only to their shareholders. Plus, who cares about those damn Africans? It's their own fault for being poor and catching AIDS through their own dumb promiscuity. Why should drug companies lower their prices just for them? Thank God for the straight talking and shooting John Bolton, he's finally shook some sense into a moribund and irrelevant organisation. What a guy.

Share |


New Labour, no compassion part deux.

A day after the Kachepas were deported to Malawi, the government is wasting no time in deciding to start sending back failed Iraqi asylum seekers to quite possibly the most dangerous country on the face of the earth.

The first enforced returns of failed asylum seekers to northern Iraq are expected possibly as early as this weekend despite objections from regional Kurdish authorities and the UN refugee agency.

The Home Office has confirmed that 38 men are being held at immigration detention centres around Britain and that officials are "looking at a number of dates" for their return.

They are likely to be flown on an RAF aircraft, via Cyprus, to the newly opened airport in Irbil, the regional capital. The Kurdish community believes the first flight will leave tomorrow. Many refugees say they could be killed, even in northern Iraq.

There are thought to be as many as 7,000 Iraqis in the UK who have been refused asylum and face deportation. The deportations will begin by the dispatch of single men to Iraqi Kurdistan, which has largely - though not entirely - been spared the onslaught of Islamist suicide bombings.

"We will only return to areas assessed as sufficiently stable and where we are satisfied individuals will not be at risk," a Home Office spokesman said yesterday. "Enforced returns will be taken on a case-by-case basis.

"It's important for the integrity of the asylum system that anyone found not to be in need of protection is required to leave the UK. Enforced returns will commence as soon as we have made relevant arrangements."

The decision to deport was taken in February 2004 but two new factors have stiffened the government's resolve: a reassessment of immigration priorities after the London tube bombings and the first flight this month into Irbil of those returning voluntarily.

Although only 18 people were on the plane arranged by the International Organisation for Migration, it opened up a route that avoids the dangers of overland journeys via Baghdad.

"It has made life a bit easier for those wanting to go back," said Marek Effendowicz of the organisation. "In the last year we have helped 300 Iraqis return from the UK."

But the Home Office decision has triggered protests by human rights bodies and refugee groups who warn it is not safe anywhere in Iraq. One Kurd told the Guardian he was no longer reporting to the Home Office because he feared he would be detained.

The London office of the UN high commissioner for refugees yesterday restated its opposition. "Iraq is still extremely unstable and dangerous," it warned. "No part of Iraq can be considered safe, although ... some areas are more stable than others. The UK government [should also] review its low recognition rate of Iraqi asylum seekers."

Even the regional government in Irbil has warned it does not want to be burdened with unwilling returnees.

It seems somewhat beyond comprehension that we can even consider sending people back to Iraq yet. The Kurdish regions are not by any means safe, as continued fighting in Mosul and Kirkuk has shown. As mentioned above, even the government does not want failed asylum seekers to be sent back at the moment. This is also ignoring the individual plights of some of the asylum seekers; not all fled because of persecution under Saddam's regime. Some are still frightened due to tribal conflicts, and the overthrow of the Ba'ath party has not made that threat go away.

Returning refugees to Zimbabwe was recently stopped thanks to the high court deciding that new evidence is needed to prove that Zimbabwe is "safe". If Zimbabwe isn't safe, Iraq sure isn't. Again, this whole problem can be linked back both to the tabloids and colonialism. There is no way that all the recent problems in Zimbabwe to do with Robert Mugabe would have got so much attention in this country if it wasn't a: a former British colony and b: affecting rich British exile farmers. Rigged elections and removal of "slums" are par the course in Africa. It is the same tabloids and papers which were still supporting apartheid in South Africa 25 years ago that are now campaigning for tough sanctions on Zimbabwe. This is not to say the country is not ruled by a despot with no regard for life; it is. What then is so different about Iraq?

The Sun newspaper (Proprietor R. Murdoch. Every single paper he owns supported the war in Iraq, including those in China.) was the head cheerleader in this country for the disastrous Iraqi adventure. Unsurprisingly, it is also one of the biggest cheerleaders for deporting asylum seekers and other "undesirables". The Labour government has long been afraid of incurring the Sun's wrath, almost as much as it has the Daily Mail. One conspiracy theory was that a meeting with one of Mr Murdoch's associates led to Tony Blair calling a referendum on the European constitution in return for support in the election. True or not, the Sun has a stranglehold on a lot of politicians and the largest circulation of a daily paper. Its influences run wide. It was through such campaigns as "kick out asylum seeker scroungers" that led to Labour adopting a hardline approach to asylum, although the Tory election campaign also has had an impact. We are now also told that the 7th of July attacks have also led to the immigration situation becoming much more important.

In short then, the government is not sending immigrants back to a country governed by a despot, but still at least has a functioning government, while it is prepared to send them back to a country occupied by foreign armies and infiltrated with suicidal insurgents. A typical case of New Labour joined up thinking. 52 innocents were killed on the 7th of July; thanks to tabloid pressure and a lack of empathy, many more will be living in fear of their lives. Congratulations Mr Murdoch and Mr Blair.

Share |

Friday, August 26, 2005 

New Labour, no compassion.

Just when you thought that this government could not sink much lower in the human empathy stakes, what with bombing Iraq and executing innocent Brazilians on tubes, they deport a settled integrated family despite fears for their lives.

The first time they were snatched by immigration officials at dawn before church on a Sunday. On the second occasion, they left 50 Weymouth teenagers weeping as they took a hired van to Heathrow.

And yesterday, Verah Kachepa and her four children were made to go through their third traumatic farewell to their adopted home as the Home Office finally deported the family to Malawi.

Two hundred local people, from pensioners to school children, gathered outside their flat and joined prayers, gave impromptu speeches and applauded the Kachepas on to a coach which immigration officials drove to the airport.

Today Mrs Kachepa, Natasha, 21, Alex, 17, Tony, 16, and Upile, 11, will wake in Zimbabwe before being flown to Blantyre in Malawi. Mrs Kachepa's eyes glazed over when asked what lay ahead.

The Kachepas legally arrived in Britain in 2001. Soon afterward however, Mrs Kachepa's husband left, returned to Malawi and started a relationship with the former dictator Hastings Banda's niece. They were warned never to return to Malawi, and death threats were also made. In response to this, the Kachepa's claimed asylum. They were refused, and have been fighting to stay in Britain ever since. Yesterday, after previously being arrested by immigration officials and held at a detention center, as well also having packed ready to leave only for the incompetence of the immigration service to temporarily reprieve them as no one arrived to put them on the flight, they were deported.

Why? What harm was this family causing to anyone? The family had integrated. The eldest daughter was to study at Southampton University to become a nurse. The eldest son is a talented musician and actor, receiving an award for his part in a short film. Verah Kachepa herself worked in a charity shop and helped out at a pregnancy centre. The whole family had campaigned for racial tolerance and understanding. What more could have been asked of a family? The tabloids constantly moan about "sponging asylum seekers". This family was the very opposite, yet they have fallen victim to the tabloid hate campaign. The government has only recently decided to become "tough" on asylum thanks to the lies and intolerance preached nearly every day by the Sun, Mail and Express. Thanks to stories such as "ASYLUM SEEKERS EAT OUR DONKEYS AND SWANS", a whole part of society which deserves compassion and help has become stigmatised and a scapegoat. The result? Families such as the Kachepas being deported back to countries where they may well end up imprisoned or even killed.

Despite the best efforts of the people of Weymouth who wrote letters, protested and elected a Labour MP who promised to save the family, the Kachepas now face a life of fear and uncertainty. Labour is now likely finished in the Dorset area. Worse than that, the immigration minister and services have shown their true faces. Targets for deportations and the tabloids are more important than the wellbeing of actual people. Not just a sad day for those who knew the Kachepas, but also for those who thought they were living in a country which defended freedom and the right not to live in constant fear.

A site for leaving messages for the family is here.

Share |

Thursday, August 25, 2005 

It's the oil, stupid.

Oil prices have hit a record $68 a barrel after the US reported a fall in gasoline stocks, while China said its crude imports had risen sharply.

Fears that tropical storm Katrina might hit production in the Gulf of Mexico also pushed the cost of oil higher.

US light crude touched $68 a barrel in Asian trade on Thursday before slipping back to $66.95. In London, Brent crude hit $66.56 before falling to $65.69.

Demand from the US, China and India is expected to keep oil prices high.

Maybe the price of oil will drop back when the American driving season finishes. Maybe. One politician suggested that the price of a barrel could hit $100 by 2012. To me that sounds incredibly optimistic. The price of a gallon in the good ol' USA is currently around $3, half of what it costs here in this septic isle, and they're already deluging the phone-ins on the radio stations complaining. It's going to be quite a shock when they start to realise that high oil prices are here to stay, and are likely to get higher year on year. Maybe the US really should take Pat Robertson's advice and put a price on the head of our friend Hugo Chavez, especially after his latest comments that he might supply cheap fuel to poor Americans:

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela hit back vigorously at calls by an ally of President George Bush for his assassination by offering cheap petrol to the poor of the US at a time of soaring fuel prices.

In a typically robust response to remarks by the US televangelist Pat Robertson, Mr Chavez compared his detractors to the "rather mad dogs with rabies" from Cervantes' Don Quixote, and unveiled his plans to use Venezuela's energy reserves as a political tool.

"We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to poor communities in the United States," he said.

Venezuela, the world's fifth largest crude exporter, supplies 1.3m barrels of oil a day to the US. It remains unclear how poor Americans might benefit from the cheap petrol offer, but Mr Chávez has set up arrangements with other countries for swapping services in exchange for oil. Cuban doctors are working in the poorer areas of Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil going to Cuba.

Jamaica yesterday became the first Caribbean country to reach an agreement with Venezuela for oil at below-market terms. The Petrocaribe initiative is a plan to offer oil at flexible rates to 13 Caribbean countries. Jamaica will pay $40 a barrel, against a market rate of more than $60.

Mr Chavez said oil importers such as the US could expect no respite from the oil market, predicting the price of a barrel would reach $100 by 2012.

I'm pretty sure that such talk is simply rhetoric, as you can imagine the huge outcry about subversion and infiltration within the States if such a proposal actually became reality. However, that doesn't stop the main thrust of Chavez's point. The real power soon could be in the hands of those who have the oil. China has been making deals around the globe with countries such as Sudan and Iran which the United States is loath to work with. It all depends whether they decide whether to do business with tyrannical regimes, or take the easy route and bomb them into submission. At the moment, it appears to be advantage China and Chavez.

Share |

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 

New photos of Saddam Hussein!

I know that this is what I was waiting for. Here's a brand new picture of this hairy beauty, looking a lot better than in previous photos which showed him washing his underwear:

Personally, I still prefer this luscious shot:

Share |


Dare to justify Palestinian suicide bombings, get deported.

"As long as young people feel they have no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress."

Who do you think said the above remarks? Was it Yasser Arafat, Omar Bakri Mohammed or maybe even an al-Qaida apologist of some sort? No, it's an exact quote of what Cherie Blair said three years ago on the day of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Why do I bring this up? Well, today Charles Clarke published the guidelines or rules which if broken by foreign nationals in this country will result in their deportation:

The list, which the Home Office says is "indicative rather than exhaustive", will cover any foreign-born national "writing, producing, publishing or distributing material, public speaking including preaching, running a website; or using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader to express views which foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts; or foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK."

Although the list does not give the home secretary more powers to deport extremists than he currently enjoys, it specifies behaviours which will define the basis of "not conducive to the public good."

Mr Clarke said: "As I said when the consultation started, we recognise the sensitivities around the use of these powers and intend to use them in a measured and targeted way. These powers are not intended to stifle free speech or legitimate debate about religions or other issues. Britain is rightly proud of its openness and diversity and we must not allow those driven by extremism of any sort to destroy that tradition."

Note that this only applies to foreign nationals. Due to the fact that the government either can't be bothered to introduce new laws which would make the above easier to prosecute or won't face up to the security services opposition to such plans, they've decided to just get them out the country. This is similar to the way a child will clean his room by just pushing everything under the bed. Out of sight, out of mind.

No Trousers Charlie's follow up remarks are also comical. He lists what will be considered not conducive to the public good in Great Britain, then says that this will not stifle free speech or legitimate debate. Tell us Mr Clarke, if Cherie Blair was a foreign national, would comments such as hers lead to her deportation? Suicide attacks within Israel cannot be justified. I personally find that attacks on the IDF in the occupied territories are justifiable, if not in either sides best interest. Does this make me not conducive to the public good in this country?

There seems little point in arguing with the guidelines set out today, as it's unlikely to make any difference whatsoever. Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrats are fully behind the plans. According to a Grauniad/ICM poll on Monday, 73% of the British public believe it's right to give up civil liberties to "improve security". Faced with this, perhaps we'll end up with we deserve. When unpopular political viewpoints can lead to a foreign national being deported, we lose the moral high ground. Charles Clarke and parliament should keep this in mind before carrying out any further expulsions.

Share |

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 

Eviscerate the proletariat.

Every so often someone comes along and says that so and so should be killed. It's a pretty regular occurrence. Last year around the time of the US election, Charlie Brooker, who writes a column commenting on TV, covered the debates and wrote this:

On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?

Not probably the smartest thing to write admittedly. However, Brooker is a satirist. He writes hilariously and harshly on TV programs, and his column is meant to be humourous. It wasn't meant as a call to arms. Despite this, as can be expected, the right wing lunatic blogger fringe found it and jumped up and down and got the Guardian to print a sort of clarification. Brooker is a journalist, and one pretty low-down the food chain. He's no Seymour Hersh. He doesn't inspire much militancy or garner that much attention in general. Yesterday however, one person who just can't stop saying ignorant and bigoted things stuck his foot in his mouth again. He is Pat Robertson, and he does have a large audience.

Mr Robertson, 75, said on Monday's edition of the 700 Club: "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.

"It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop."

A spokeswoman for the Christian Broadcasting Network told the BBC: "We are at a time of war and Pat had war on his mind when he made the comments."

Yeah, he had war on his mind. The war being the one between the part of his brain that knows he shouldn't say things he's going to regret later, and the other part the encourages him to spout drivel such as this:

"We have allowed rampant secularism and occult, et cetera, to be broadcast on television. We have permitted somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 million unborn babies to be slaughtered in our society. We have a Court that has essentially stuck its finger in God's eye and said, 'We're going to legislate you out of the schools, we're going to take your Commandments from off the courthouse steps in various states, we're not going to let little children read the Commandments of God, we're not going to let the Bible be read -- no prayer in our schools.' We have insulted God at the highest levels of our government. And, then we say 'why does this happen?' Well, why its happening is that God Almighty is lifting His protection from us."

That was two days after the September the 11th attacks. Note he doesn't blame fanatical suicidal terrorists, or any government. No, what he's attacking is society itself. We're bringing all this on ourselves with our decadence and our decision to separate church from state and not live our lives by a book that was written thousands of years ago, which has been mistranslated, and then badly interpreted by people such as himself.

The sad facts of this are that the US probably wants to assassinate Hugo Chavez. The CIA already tried to get rid of him through a shortlived coup in 2002. It failed when huge demonstrations demanded that Chavez be returned to power. He's since won referendums on his changes to the constitution, and attempts to remove him from power. It's surprising the US hasn't done anything to Venezuela in the last few years apart from try to support the opposition without getting overly noticed. Perhaps Robinson knows something we don't. Or maybe he's just a man slowly going senile with a world view that belongs to an era long gone. Whichever it is, don't expect for him to be condemned like Charlie Brooker was. After all, Chavez has won elections. Bush didn't the first time, and may not have done the second. But he sure has a lot more support from those who are important than Chavez does.

Share |


"It is going to be a cleanup day to find those weirdos who think the messiah will come".

Not the words of a Palestinian rejoicing at the Gaza settlements being nearly evacuated, but of the IDF's Brigadier General Hagai Dotan. Ariel Sharon has now, if anything, shown how effectively settlements can be dismantled and the extremists removed. How then does he now stop the pressure on him worldwide to evacuate the larger settlements in the West Bank? Why, by saying there will be no more pullouts and that the settlements will be further expanded, of course!

As Israeli forces removed residents from the last Jewish settlement still to be cleared in the Gaza Strip yesterday, Ariel Sharon sought to win back support from the Israeli right by promising continued expansion of Israel's West Bank colonies and no more unilateral pullouts.

In an attempt to reassure the Israeli right, the prime minister told the Jerusalem Post that he will continue expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are home to about 400,000 people. "There will be building in the settlement blocks," he said. "Each government since 1967, right, left and national unity, has seen strategic importance in specific areas [in the occupied territories] I will build."

The newspaper said Mr Sharon specifically mentioned further construction in Ma'ale Adumim settlement, designed to link it to Jerusalem despite Washington's objections. He said that Ariel settlement, in the heart of the West Bank, would be annexed as "a part of Israel for ever". The prime minister also said there would be no further unilateral withdrawals.

Is this rhetoric an attempt to stop Binyamin Netanyahu from attempting to overthrow Sharon as Likiud leader? Partly. However, I don't see how Sharon can now continue in this position. Can he really believe that the Palestinans will settle for an emasculated state, with fervent religious Jews and a wall separating them from their land, destroying their economy? Can the military or the country afford to keep the West Bank checkpoints, to keep killing Palestinians who go too near watchtowers, to keep taking loses just to protect some "weirdos who think the messiah will come?"

Let's hope above hope that Sharon sees the error of his ways in constantly expanding the settlements, in believing that Zionism can still exist when faced with a nation growing angrier by the year, with world attention now focused on how quickly and speedily those breaking international law and the road-map can be evicted. Let's just hope that Sharon has seen the light and realised that peace can be achieved not through the barrel of a gun, but through removing those who are blocking it with their houses.

Share |


Wiped off the face of the Earth.

London is probably the city with the largest amount of surveillance cameras in the world. In addition to the thousands of cameras there to make sure we're not breaking any law, such as dropping a cigarette or farting out of turn, there's also the many cameras which police the congestion charge in central London.

Imagine my shock then when it turns out that the cameras at the Stockwell tube station were actually working on the morning in question. They were recording. The tapes had been replaced the previous night before as usual, despite the police taking the 21sts away to help with their inquiries. Just one problem. When the police took away the videos of them wiping Jean Charles de Menezes off the face of the Earth, they "found" that the tapes themselves were blank. A "police source" however has told the Guardian:

But last night a source told the Guardian: "Tapes were recovered with useful material, although they don't cover all parts of the station. There is CCTV coverage from the ticket area but there is an issue about the platform."

Asked if there was no useful footage from either the platform or the train, the source said: "You may be right."

It wasn't the IPCC team which removed the tapes. It was the police, immediately after the shooting. The same police team which undoubtedly planted or paid off the witnesses who told such blatant lies and untruths to the waiting media. Despite all the evidence which is piling up, even the visiting Brazilian team doesn't want to rock the boat.

Brazilian officials have said they do not believe there was a Scotland Yard cover-up over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

But ambassador Manoel Gomes Pereira said he had been "perplexed" by leaks from the inquiry that contradicted early police and eyewitness reports.

He "completely" trusted the Independent Police Complaints Commission, he added.

The IPCC has said it will end its probe into the shooting this year. Mr Menezes died after being mistaken for a bomber.

The 27-year-old electrician was killed at Stockwell Tube station, south London, a day after the failed 21 July bombings.

In addition to that, the report is now not expected until Christmas, and also won't be published until possible criminal or disciplinary hearings have been held. In other words, we might be waiting years. Unlike the Brazilians, I don't have faith in the IPCC. A public inquiry should be held immediately, with a view to publishing a thorough investigation as soon as possible. Until then we will be stuck with a failed shoot-to-kill policy, trigger happy police and more lies and deceptions from those in high office.

Share |

Monday, August 22, 2005 

Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Here's what all the spilt blood and money has gone towards.

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.

One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.

A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.

That Islamist guerrillas were active in the area was no secret but only now has the extent of their control been revealed. They are the sole authority, running the town's security, administration and communications.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Haditha exposes the limitations of the Iraqi state and US power on the day when the political process is supposed to make a great leap - a draft constitution finalised and approved by midnight tonight.

There is no fighting here because there is no one to challenge the Islamists. The police station and municipal offices were destroyed last year and US marines make only fleeting visits every few months.

Two groups share power. Ansar al-Sunna is a largely homegrown organisation, though its leader in Haditha is said to be foreign. Al-Qaida in Iraq, known locally by its old name Tawhid al-Jihad, is led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There was a rumour that Zarqawi, Washington's most wanted militant after Osama bin Laden, visited early last week. True or not, residents wanted to believe they had hosted such a celebrity.

A year ago Haditha was just another sleepy town in western Anbar province, deep in the Sunni triangle and suspicious of the Shia-led government in Baghdad but no insurgent hotbed.

Then, say residents, arrived mostly Shia police with heavyhanded behaviour. "That's how it began," said one man. Attacks against the police escalated until they fled, creating a vacuum filled by insurgents.

Alcohol and music deemed unIslamic were banned, women were told to wear headscarves and relations between the sexes were closely monitored. The mobile phone network was shut down but insurgents retained their walkie-talkies and satellite phones. Right-hand lanes are reserved for their vehicles.

Now insurgents earn praise from residents for allegedly pressuring managers to supply electricity almost 24 hours a day, a luxury denied the rest of Iraq.

The court caters solely for divorces and marriages. Alleged criminals are punished in the market. The Guardian witnessed a headmaster accused of adultery whipped 190 times with cables. Children laughed as he sobbed and his robe turned crimson.

Two men who robbed a foreign exchange shop were splayed on the ground. Masked men stood on their hands while others broke their arms with rocks. The shopkeeper offered the insurgents a reward but they declined.

DVDs of beheadings on the bridge are distributed free in the souk. Children prefer them to cartoons. "They should not watch such things," said one grandfather, but parents appeared not to object.

One DVD features a young, blond muscular man who had been disembowelled. He was said to have been a member of a six-strong US sniper team ambushed and killed on August 1. Residents said he had been paraded in town before being executed.

The constitution talks, the referendum due in October, the election due in December: all are deemed collaboration punishable by death. The task now is to bleed the Americans and destabilise the government. Some call that nihilism. Haditha calls it the future.

Back home in America, where Cindy Sheehan once staged a lonely vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Texas, supporters of the war against Iraq have started their own counter demonstrations. 350 bikers drove past the camp. Other conservatives are due to leave San Francisco and travel down the country, picking up further pro-war enthusiasts on the way. Christopher Hitchens, a man who was once the editor of the Socialist Worker and wrote the Trial of Henry Kissinger, said that Cindy Sheehan was "spouting piffle". A more cerebral Fox News commentator said she was a "crackpot". It's not worth repeating what Rush Limbaugh said.

Is the above story what the latter wanted? Is that what they had in mind? Did they want a state that is likely today to announce a constitution which has Islamic law as its base rather than as a part of it? Did they want over 25,000 Iraqis dead? Did they want 1,970 US servicemen to lose their lives? Did they want to establish a country so corrupt that it makes even Saddam-era Iraq look good? That's what those still supporting the war are now defending. It hasn't made anyone safer. Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction. It didn't have any link with the September the 11th attackers. All that's left is the brutality of everyday life in Iraq, and the brutalisation of politics in the United States and Britain.

Share |


Houston, we have a problem.

Three days since I last posted about the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, and yet again, the details surrounding his death and subsequent police actions and statements get even worse.

In an interview with the News of the Screws (World, horrible Murdoch Sunday newspaper full of sleaze, adultery and right wing lunatics), Blair said that an officer came to him the day after the shooting and said the equivalent of 'Houston, we have a problem'.

'He didn't use those words but he said "We have some difficulty here, there is a lack of connection". 'I thought "That's dreadful, what are we going to do about that?".'

For one, I refuse to believe that he didn't know within hours, or even minutes of the shooting that they had killed an innocent man. They say a week is a long time in politics. The days following the July 21st attacks were like weeks in themselves. If he wasn't told by lackeys or those lower in command for over 24 hours, then he is head of either an incompetent organisation or one which was interested in covering up its own mess without informing him. Secondly, for an official to tell him that they had executed an innocent man who was not acting suspiciously but was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the phrase "we have a problem" is incredibly callous and offensive. To then repeat that to a right wing rag of the lowest denominator shows a lack of any feelings for the de Menezes family.

The Observer article goes on:

A police source said: 'There is no way those three guys would have been on the train carriage with him [de Menezes] if they believed he was carrying a bomb. Nothing he did gave the surveillance team the impression that he was carrying a device.'

The Observer can also reveal that the de Menezes family was offered £15,000 after the shooting. The ex gratia payment, which does not affect legal action by the family or compensation, is a fraction of the $1 million (£560,000) reported to have been offered the family. Police yesterday denied they had made the offer, which the family has described as 'offensive'.

Members of the firearms unit are said to be furious that de Menezes was not properly identified when he left his flat, the first problem in the chain of events that led to the Brazilian's death.

For the firearms officers involved in the death to avoid any legal action, they will have to state that they believed their lives and those of the passengers were in immediate danger. Such a view is unlikely to be supported by members of the surveillance unit.

For reasons as yet unclear, members of the firearms team have yet to submit their own account of the events to the IPCC. The two members of the team believed to have fired the fatal shots are known to have gone on holiday immediately after the shooting.

In short, the surveillance team and the firearms team are now blaming each other. Secondly, for the members of the firearms team to be allowed to go straight off on holiday instead of giving statements is another badly made decision. When you kill a man, you don't suddenly get out the country or elsewhere unless you have something to hide. They should have been taken off duty but not allowed to leave.

The amount of money offered to the de Menezes family is also an insult, especially the way in which it was conducted. The letter was in English. His parents only speak Portuguese. The offer was also put forward in Brazil without their lawyers being present. It appears almost to be an offer to shut them up. £15,000 and everything will be alright again.

Also now coming increasingly into the frame is the senior police commander in charge on the morning of July the 22nd.

De Menezes took a bus to Stockwell tube station, stopping briefly at Brixton. The surveillance operation logged his every step. An assessment was made on the basis of his demeanour: he was identified as a suspect. By whom? That is still unclear. It is also understood that the senior police officer in charge of the operation, Commander Cressida Dick, had ordered de Menezes at this stage to be detained before he went into the tube station and that he should be alive.

Apart from having a horrendously bad name, Cressida Dick needs to fully explain what she said and how she said it. What did she know and when did she know it? What made the firearms officers misinterpretret her so badly, if the official story is to be believed?

And finally:

The government yesterday entered the dispute to give Sir Ian its full backing. Asked if the prime minister had full confidence in the Met chief, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Yes."

John Prescott, the deputy prime minister - in charge of the government while Tony Blair is on holiday - and the home secretary, Charles Clarke, also both insisted Sir Ian, the most senior police officer in the UK, retains their full confidence.

Yep, we have full confidence in you "Sir" Ian. You told a press conference on the day in question that a terrorist suspect had been killed when you didn't know the facts. You instantly tried to stop an "independent" investigation. Your force spun what had actually happened and let the media stories go uncorrected. You let vital witnesses go away on holiday. Your force attempted to buy off the de Menezes family. There's no problem here, Houston.

Share |

Saturday, August 20, 2005 

Swaziland admits: abstinence doesn't work.

Thinking that you live in a culture-free decadent shithole full of selfish attention whores can get you pretty depressed. Knowing that the religious right wants the exact opposite of this always makes me feel just a bit better. Articles like this are then the equivalent of the best sex you've ever had combined with a feeling of euphoria you get from knowing that those you hate are wrong:

The King of Swaziland has abandoned a four-year campaign to enforce chastity among teenagers following criticism of his own behaviour and with figures showing that the policy has completely failed to stop the spread of HIV in the country.

The announcement in the kingdom's papers yesterday coincided with the release of government statistics revealing nearly a third of Swazi 15- to 19-year-olds carry the virus that causes Aids, the scourge King Mswati III had hoped to combat with his appeals to girls to remain virgins.

Alarmed at the high rate of HIV infection, Mswati in 2001 reinstated for five years the "unchwasho" rite, banning sexual relations for unmarried girls younger than 18.

Swazi girls were instructed to wear a tasselled scarf as a symbolic badge of virginity.

If an unchwasho girl was approached by a man, she was expected to throw her tassels at his homestead, forcing his family to pay a penalty of a cow.

When the king chose a 17-year-old as his ninth wife in 2001, about 300 young women marched to a royal residence, laying down their tassels in protest.

The king's aides argued the ban was designed to discourage casual relationships, not marriage. But Mswati surrendered the cow, which was roasted and eaten by the young women.

As a result of criticism that he has behaved hypocritically, the king decided to end the teenage chastity rite a year early.

The Aids crisis has compounded poverty, with estimates that 480,000 people now carry HIV. Aids has hit Swaziland harder than almost any country in the world.

According to results released yesterday, 29% of 15- to 19-year-olds are HIV-positive.

The report said 42.6% of pregnant women tested at clinics were infected and 40% of adults aged between 30 and 39 who opted for voluntary counselling and testing were HIV positive in 2004.

One of the tenets of the Bush administration's foreign policy, especially on Africa, is that countries will not receive any aid towards family planning clinics or anything that even suggests the evil that is abortion. This also applies to a lesser degree on condoms. The religious right is convinced of the virtue of this policy; after all, sex before marriage or with multiple partners is going to send you straight to hell. This obviously ignores the HIV/Aids pandemic which is sweeping through Africa, leaving a whole generation of children growing up as orphans, many themselves born with HIV. It's therefore heartening to hear that the king of Swaziland himself has admitted that such a policy is a complete disaster.

The UN supported fight against Aids in Africa is often referred to as ABC: abstinence, be faithful, condoms. The US problem is that it only wants the A and the B of that plan. Not only does this ignore the cultural differences of Africa, it also misunderstands the difficulty of a lot of women in the continent in saying no to male advances. It's often the husband who passes on the virus to his wife after he's slept around with other women without using condoms.

Uganda is widely regarded as the best model in the fight against AIDS; a report found that while prevalence of HIV was 15% in 1992, this has now dropped to around 6%, although this has been disputed. This was mainly due to education on abstinence and condoms in schools, as well as prophylactics being made widely available. The very worst advice comes from the Catholic church, which claims that condoms have microscopic holes which let HIV through.

It's about time that the United States stopped deluding itself over some of its very worst and inhumane policies. Sucking up to the religious right might work in the short term, but as usual it's storing up even more problems for the future. If we let the religious right impose their false moral superiority over Africa, it'll be us next.

Share |

Friday, August 19, 2005 

Rigorous Intuition: from fascism to Islamic fundamentalism.

There's a brilliant article on the free-thinking Rigorous Intuition blog, chronicling the changing views of one David Myatt.

In the mid-90s, in an essay entitled "Death Before Dishonour," he wrote:

To live and act like an Aryan - that is, with nobility of character - means upholding and living by this principle of Death Before Dishonour. Nothing else is more important - not personal happiness, not personal love, not personal comfort and wealth. This principle expresses the spirit, or ethos, of the Aryan warrior, and to be Aryan means to live like such a warrior, for however short a time.

Two years ago, in "The Perspective of Islam," radical theoretician and al Qaeda apologist Abdul Aziz wrote:

The majority of Westerners condemn martyrdom operations on the basis of the Western perspective, using Western criteria, failing to understand the Muslim belief that this life of ours is only a means, a test, and thus failing to understand that many Muslims are willing to give up their own lives in order to do their Islamic duty, trusting as these Muslims do in the judgement of Allah.... Our life here on this planet we call Earth is only an opportunity - never to return - to gain entry into Jannah and that one of the best means to gain such entry is to strive, and if necessary die, in the Cause of Allah.

What do these people have in common? Everything. They - and many more, besides - are the same person. Let's call him, for simplicity's sake, David Myatt. But what he is, there's nothing simple about that.

The article in full is here.

Share |


Mo Mowlam: 1949-2005

2 leftish Labour politicians dead in 2 weeks. Might may well be worth taking out a bet on Michael Foot or Clare Short kicking the bucket; after all, deaths are meant to come in threes.

Mo Mowlam was special though. It's not often that a politician can win gratitude and tributes from both the republicans and loyalists of Northern Ireland, as she did. Her effort in mediating the groups led to the Good Friday agreement and the inevitable recent statement that the IRA has abandoned armed struggle. More than that, she said what she thought and wasn't afraid to be radical and go against the political orthodoxy. There's a full obituary here.

Share |

Thursday, August 18, 2005 

"Sir" Ian Blair personally tried to stop independent investigation into Stockwell shooting.

Britain's top police officer, the Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Ian Blair, attempted to stop an independent external investigation into the shooting of a young Brazilian mistaken for a suicide bomber, it emerged yesterday.

Sir Ian wrote to John Gieve, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, on July 22, the morning Jean Charles de Menezes was shot at short range on the London tube. The commissioner argued for an internal inquiry into the killing on the grounds that the ongoing anti-terrorist investigation took precedence over any independent look into his death.

According to senior police and Whitehall sources, Sir Ian was concerned that an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission could impact on national security and intelligence. He was also understood to be worried that an outside investigation would damage the morale of CO19, the elite firearms section working under enormous pressure.

Later that same day, after an exchange of opinions between Sir Ian, the Home Office and the IPCC, the commissioner was overruled. A Whitehall insider said: "We won that battle. There's no ambiguity in the legislation, they had to do it."

Even more damning than "Sir" Ian Blair's attempts to stop an independent investigation required by law is the way the IPCC was then further obstructed:

But a statement from the Met yesterday showed that despite the agreement to allow in independent investigators, the IPCC was kept away from Stockwell tube in south London, the scene of the shooting, for a further three days. This runs counter to usual practice, where the IPCC would expect to be at the scene within hours.

That was in the Guardian this morning. Since then, the reality has got even worse:

Scotland Yard "initially resisted" the investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has said.

The inquiry was not formally handed over to the IPCC until five days after the Brazilian was shot dead by police on a Tube, BBC News now understands.

Three days, then five days. During that time it appears that the CCTV footage was either removed, or that the IPCC was told that it wasn't working or that the press was misled into thinking it wasn't working. There's been no conclusive answers on that score. Thankfully, the lawyers for the de Menezes family now do seem to be making their voices heard:

Lawyers for the family of the innocent Brazilian shot dead by police demanded today to be told whether misinformation about the killing was due to incompetence by officials or "something sinister".

Gareth Peirce and Harriet Wistrich, acting for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, said many of their urgent questions remained unanswered after meeting investigators this morning.

Ms Peirce said her main concern remained why the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had not been called in immediately to begin the inquiry.

None of this leaves the Met or the IPCC investigation in a good light. "Sir" Ian Blair at best was misinformed (being head of the Met, this would be damning of his leadership and the officers below him) about the shooting, and at worst actively tried to cover it up by delaying the investigation. If the latter is true, he also lied in the Friday press conference. It's still not clear how or why the documents from the IPCC were leaked to ITV News. Was it by a whistleblower who wanted the misinformation from the police corrected, or was it to draw attention to a cover-up which was actively being organised? The blocking of an independent investigation doesn't quite vindicate my suspicions that this shooting was an attempt to win plaudits for courage from the press and to stop investigations into the police use of fire-arms, but it also doesn't disprove it either. At the moment the whole thing smacks of a cover-up. Even the notorious right wing rag the Daily Mail asked a similar question on its front page today.

The lawyers are right to ask for an independent inquiry, and one needs to carried out quickly. While we've had a bad recent record in this country with inquiries, i.e. both the Hutton and Butler reports, we need one here to properly establish the truth of what happened on that morning, the police conduct following the shooting, and the IPCC's inquiries up until the leak. The faith in the IPCC's investigation has been shaken too far for their report to be considered fair or an accurate representation of what actually happened.

Share |

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 

Jean Charles de Menezes - It was murder.

The truth has come out. Jean Charles de Menezes was already being held with his hands at his side by a surveillance officer when he was shot dead.

From a Guardian article, following up the leaking of documents to ITV News:

The documents reveal that a member of the surveillance team, who sat nearby, grabbed Mr de Menezes before he was shot: "I heard shouting which included the word 'police' and turned to face the male in the denim jacket.

"He immediately stood up and advanced towards me and the CO19 [firearms squad] officers ... I grabbed the male in the denim jacket by wrapping both my arms around his torso, pinning his arms to his side. I then pushed him back on to the seat where he had been previously sitting ... I then heard a gun shot very close to my left ear and was dragged away on to the floor of the carriage."

Let's just get this completely straight. It's been admitted that Jean Charles was not aware he was being followed. He was not positively identified by the police watching the Tulse Hill flats, as the officer at the time was 'relieving' himself. It doesn't say whether he was masturbating or urinating, unfortunately. He was followed by plain clothes police on the bus to the Stockwell tube station. He was not wearing a heavy jacket or belt, rather as the above photo suggests, he was wearing a light denim jacket. He used a rail card to gain access to the tube station; he did not leap the barriers. It's now thought that was one of the armed officers in high pursuit. He may have ran to get onto the train as it arrived, details of that are rather sketchy. He sat down on the train. A shout of police was apparently made, and Jean Charles stood up and walked towards the surveillance officer and the CO19 (SO19?) gunmen. The surveillance officer grabbed Jean Charles, pinning his hands to side, and pushing him back into his seat. The witness then describes hearing a gun shot, and being dragged away.

It's now quite obvious from these reports that Jean Charles de Menezes was executed. An additional report in the Financial Times said that he was believed to have been Hussain Osman, the July 21st suspect arrested in Rome. If that is true, it doesn't make any difference. The only reason that this man was now shot is that it was an exercise in demonstrating the use of the shoot to kill policy, and also a further attempt to stop automatic investigations into police shootings. Imagine the tabloids on hearing that one of the evil terrorists had been killed by a heroic police officer just as he was about to detonate his explosives in a crowded tube train. The only problem with this was that they shot and killed an innocent man.

It's becoming clear that the police almost instantly recognised their mistake. They've been attempting to cover it up ever since. They planted witnesses or paid them off to speak to the press. Mark Whitby, one of the most interviewed witnesses has refused to comment on these revelations. There must now be questions about the independent inquiry itself. Why were these documents leaked to ITV News, and how did it happen? Both the Observer and Guardian reported that most of the CCTV cameras were not working at the tube station, according to the police. The image at the top of this post now already refutes that suggestion. Were these pictures and documents leaked by someone involved in the inquiry who knew that a cover-up and whitewash were being prepared? The police has already encountered problems with its CO19 (SO19?) fire-arms squad going on strike after two of its members were suspended from work following an investigation into the shooting of Harry Stanley. Stanley was shot in the back, after raising a chair leg in a plastic bag at an armed police officer. A similar setback here, with charges against the gunman now seeming likely, would be a disaster.

This is a huge mess of the Mets own making. They could have come clean straight away, admitted they had shot the wrong man in a tragic accident, and corrected the misinformation and lies which was spread immediately afterwards. While they did call the shooting a tragedy, they didn't stop the lies and the spinning. It's took a leak from the inquiry to do that. Instead it now seems as if a cover-up was in progress. Most of all however, there was no need to shoot the man, terrorist suspect or not. He had been held. He could have instantly been handcuffed. Instead he was shot 7 times in the head, once in the shoulder and 3 or 4 bullets even missed him. The perpetrators of this execution must now be brought to justice. The terrorist attacks were acts of criminal inhumanity. That an innocent man was murdered by police to win tabloid plaudits and stop legitimate investigations into avoidable incidents ranks on the same level.

An excellent comparison of the original stories and the leaked documents version of events is available here. Thanks to the Guardian and ITV News for the image at the top of this piece.

Share |

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 

Bearded extremist threatens to deport more "preachers of hate", alleges link between bombings.

A new wave of expulsions of foreign-born "preachers of hate" who foment terrorism is likely to emerge within days, the home secretary indicated last night.

The disclosure came as Charles Clarke warned that it would "be absolutely foolish" to assume there would not be a third terrorist attack on London - but he made clear after meeting the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, after his return from holiday that there was no specific intelligence to suggest another attack is imminent.

Mr Clarke said last night that a much wider purge of those "working against the interests of this country" will be implemented when his wider powers to exclude or deport come into effect this weekend.

The new powers announced on July 20 will give Mr Clarke the right to throw out of Britain or exclude from entering the country any foreign nationals who represent "an indirect threat" because they "foment terrorism" or justify or glorify terrorism by preaching, running websites or publishing material either here or abroad. The two-week consultation period on the "list of unacceptable behaviours" that will trigger such action ends on Friday.

"We are continuing to look at people in this country whose presence here is not conducive to the public good," said Mr Clarke.

"We will be looking at further steps that can be taken to ensure that those who are working against the interests of this country are properly dealt with."

After he emerged from Scotland Yard, the home secretary was asked if there was still a risk of a third attack on London. He said: "We remain worried. The commissioner has been very clear throughout that it would be ridiculous for us to assume that a further act would not take place.

The message was backed up by Sir Ian. "The fact that there's been two attacks makes it more, rather than less, likely that there'll be further attacks. I mean, that's just the logic of all this, but we of course are working incredibly hard with the intelligence services to prevent it," he said.

I'll come to "Sir" Ian Blair's incredible statement in a moment, but first let's welcome back No Trousers Charlie from his well-earned break. After having to deal with the ghastly Hazel Blears making daily statements, it's almost a relief.

It appears that Britain is following the United States policy, particuarly in the banning of individuals from coming here even to give speeches. I expect that Cat Stevens will be told of his imminent removal in due course. Secondly, we've had a long consultation period to consider these illiberal plans. Two weeks is hell of a long time when you're lounging around on a beach, especially when parliament isn't in session to discuss the measures. It's nice to see that the government can take such unilateral actions based on a quarter of the public's support at the election and on a majority of 67 seats. It's not worth debating the merits of deporting these so-called "preachers of hate" at the moment, especially as we don't know who they are. What has to be remembered is that these men have not committed a crime. They are being deported simply for "not being conducive to the public good". Also, they will again most likely be deported to countries that condone or have been known to use torture. Once again, the British government proves it is rising above the likes of the indiscriminate extremists. We won't torture you, but it's fine if our allies do.

Sir Ian Blair has already given out misinformation, and admitted to the Met lying about the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. In case you missed it, it turns out the CCTV at the station where he was shot wasn't working. You know, just a day after the attempted terrorist attacks, when everyone was incredibly nervous in case they might try again. Looks like the investigation will have to rely on witnesses, which to judge by the news reports are contradictory or even blatant police plants. Anyway, I digress. How does the fact that there have been two attacks make another more likely "Sir" Ian? How is that logical? The bombers in the July the 7th attacks are supposed to be dead. All the failed bombers of July the 21st are in custody. With two groups of terrorists gone, is he telling us that there are more out there, at the same time as saying that there's no intelligence of any groups planning attacks? Another case of blatant scare-mongering by those in power who have come to rely on it.

Here's No Trousers Charlie again, this time sticking his foot right in it:

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, today said it would be "very, very surprising" if the two terrorist bomb attacks on London last month were not linked.

In his first comment since returning from a strongly-criticised summer holiday, Mr Clarke said there was no evidence "in the judicial sense" to yet link the July 7 and 21 attacks, but that the intelligence services were looking at the "support, training, inducting and tasking" of the men involved.

If there's no evidence in the judicial sense, why is he bringing it up? If a newspaper printed this, there would be a possibility that it could be hauled in front of a judge under the contempt of court act. Linking the failed 21st of July bombers with those of the 7th who "succeeded" is surely a daft remark to make at such a time.
The 21st of July bombers were so well-trained that none of them killed themselves and that they were tracked down and arrested by the police without a fight. Hardly in the al-Qaida style of going out with all guns blazing, as has happened in Pakistan and Spain.

More and more misinformation is spiralling out of mouths and into print. I'd blame the silly season, but it looks like in Britain we might have to question everything for a long time to come.

Share |


More loyalist killings and aggression in Northern Ireland.

It's about time that attacks by loyalists on Catholics and loyalist feuds were higher up the news agenda. The alleged IRA bank robbery last December and the murder of Robert McCartney were front page news for weeks. These incidents are almost completely ignored:

A man was shot dead as he arrived for work in Belfast yesterday in what appeared to be the latest murder in a loyalist feud which has claimed four lives in the past six weeks.

Two gunmen ambushed the victim, Michael Green, 42, at 8.15am, as he got off his motorbike outside Gilpins furniture store, in Sandy Row, a loyalist heartland in the south of the city. The father of three was shot several times from behind. An ambulance arrived within minutes but he died at the scene.

The LVF blamed the UVF for the murder and although an LVF source denied Mr Green, from Ballysillan in north Belfast, was one of its members, other loyalists claimed he had LVF links.

He is the fourth man to be killed in the feud, which is costing £30,000 a day to police. All three previous murders have also been blamed on the UVF, which is supposed to be observing a ceasefire.

Jameson Lockhart, 25, was shot as he sat in a lorry in east Belfast on July 8; Craig McCausland, 20, was shot in front of his girlfriend and baby in their north Belfast home on July 12; and on July 30 Stephen Paul, a father of four, was shot dead outside his north Belfast home.

The UVF has vowed to wipe out the smaller LVF, which it accuses of terrorising people through drug dealing, but other loyalist sources say there is drug dealing on both sides and the feud is about power and grudges.

If it was a feud between say, the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, such a happening would be major news. As it's a loyalist feud, no one except the Guardian and Independent cares. The apologists for the Ulster Unionists and "Democratic" Ulster Unionist party in the Daily Telegraph ignore such incidents and only call on the IRA to abandon all activity immediately. Often in these communities, it's the loyalists who are causing friction, not the Republicans. Just one example:

A couple are to leave their County Antrim home after an overnight attack.

Bottles filled with paint were thrown at the house in Tudor Vale in Ahoghill, at 2330 BST on Monday.

Police have said they are treating the attack on the Catholic couple as sectarian. A primary school and Catholic church were also targeted.

Pat McGaughey, who has lived there for eight years, said they feared for their lives. "We are not willing to take a chance on our safety," she said.

"We are going to move, we are going to leave, we'll have to sell our house and go.

But Mrs McGaughey said she felt "nothing has been said" by the church leaders or the politicians to help to end such attacks.

On Tuesday morning, the parish priest of St Mary's Church on the Ballynafie Road in the village discovered that paint had been thrown on the driveway.

There was a similar attack at St Joseph's School in the village.

The DUP Mayor of Ballymena, Tommy Nicholl, condemned the attack and said he sympathised with the McGaughey family.

He called on "all right-thinking people to ensure that this type of activity is brought to an end".

Such weasel words from the DUP Mayor are worthless. Only weeks ago the DUP leader Ian Paisley was demanding that the IRA don "sackcloth and ashes" and produce photographs showing their disarmament. Apologies were also demanded for those who died in bomb attacks. Such measures are designed not only to humiliate the IRA, but also the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisley is the type of fire and brimstone preacher who could be deported under Charles Clarke's new measure for dealing with extremists. Sadly, there'll only be people with brown skin deported, while Ian will be invited to join Mr Blair in a nice cup of tea when he returns from his snorkeling holiday.

Share |

Monday, August 15, 2005 

Israel begins pullout from the Gaza strip.

Israel is at long last beginning to withdraw from land it has occupied illegally since 1967, in violation of numerous UN resolutions. It's obviously not worth getting over-excited about the chances of further withdrawals, as over 150,000 settlers now live in the West Bank. The majority of those are highly religious fanatical Jews, who believe in the so-called Greater Israel spreading from Samaria to Judea.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which has largely become a prison for its Palestinian occupants during the intifada, should be greatly welcomed. That it has been orchestrated by Ariel Sharon, one of the greatest proponents of settler communities and often called a war criminal, is all the more surprising. Critics on the left are wise to suspect that this may well be a ploy to keep huge parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It's worth remembering that President Bush himself declared that full withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967 was "unrealistic". Despite a call from the United States to stop any further building of settlements in the West Bank, itself a violation of both UN resolutions and of the "road-map" to peace, Sharon in 2004 gave the go-ahead for the building of 1,000 new homes. Also not to be forgotten is the security wall, which is surrounding Jewish settlements, cutting off some Palestinian farmers off from their land, and destroying the few remnants of economic activity which the Palestinians have left.

Although it may be scaremongering by the Israeli government, warnings have been constant about the possible threats to the lives of those carrying out and promoting the Gaza disengagement. Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by a extremist religious Jew after the Oslo peace accords. Similarly, the disengagement also faces resistance by some former cabinet ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been wrangling with Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party for the past few years. Netanyahu is a symptom of the Israeli far-right: the misplaced belief that strong military power, occupation and assassinations will keep the Palestinians suppressed, while suicide bombings by Islamists will stop the international community from demanding Israel stops such actions. We have seen over the years of infitada what a disastrous policy that is. Such a policy also ignores the consequences of the far higher Arab birth-rate within Israel and the occupied territories, leading to Arabs becoming the majority by as soon as 2025.

Despite all this, the disengagement is one of the first positive moves towards peace that Israel has made in the last few years. Now that Yasser Arafat is gone, the Israeli excuse for not having a partner to deal with has also disappeared. No longer should Israel be allowed to not discuss the status of the West Bank with the excuse that armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop the "terror" and disarm. The peace processes in Northern Ireland and Aceh in Indonesia did not start with the armed organisations instantly melting down their weapons. Neither should this be the case in Israel. A Palestinian state, living in harmony alongside Israel would be one of the greatest chances for the establishment of peace and the end of other theocracies and dictatorships throughout the Middle East. It would rid religious extremists of an excuse for terrorism all across the world, not just in Israel. It's uncertain whether Ariel Sharon can deliver peace. What is certain is that he will not unless he is fully pressured by the United States. If President Bush truly believes in bringing democracy and peace to the Middle East, he should start by making Sharon negotiate a viable Palestinian state on the borders of occupied 1967 land now. Anything less will, and should be rejected.

(Thanks to the Guardian for the map at the top of this piece. Click to enlarge it.)

Share |

Saturday, August 13, 2005 

Bush rattles sabre at Iran.

I think I'm getting deja vu. This all sounds very familiar:

US President George W Bush says he still has not ruled out the option of using force against Iran, after it resumed work on its nuclear programme.

He said he was working on a diplomatic solution, but was sceptical that one could be found.

The UN's atomic watchdog has called on Iran to halt nuclear fuel development.

Iran, which denies it is secretly trying to develop nuclear arms, restarted work at its uranium conversion plant at Isfahan on Monday.

"All options are on the table," said Mr Bush, when asked about the possible use of force during an interview for Israeli TV.

"The use of force is the last option for any president. You know we have used force in the recent past to secure our country," he said.

Despite claims by Scott Ritter (the dissenting UN weapons inspector over Iraq) who suggested that Iran would be attacked in June, it looks as though the neo-cons have decided to wait a little bit longer. Probably not a bad idea, seeing as Iraq is still causing the US army a slight problem. Maybe we'll end up going through the whole charade of the UN security council again, ending with another dose of shock and awe on a Islamic country. Maybe the Israelis'll go it alone again, similar to how they did on Saddam's nuclear reactor in the early 80s. Whatever happens, it's another step closer to all of us becoming obsolete.

Share |


Prisons dangerously overcrowded, but lock 'em all up anyway.

Britain is such a soft-touch:

More than half the jails in England and Wales are dangerously overcrowded and the conditions could be contributing to the number of prisoner suicides, a penal reform group warned last night.

The Prison Reform Trust, which campaigns on behalf of inmates and their families, said the prison system had 10,000 more inmates than it was designed to hold.

With inmates reaching a record 76,897 this week, 74 of the 142 jails are over the prison service's "certified normal accommodation", the charity said. It added that 15 prisons exceeded even their safe overcrowding limit in July.

The "operational capacity" of a jail is defined as the total number of prisoners it can accommodate, allowing for a safe level of overcrowding

In July last year, the then prisons' minister, Paul Goggins, was asked in parliament about overcrowding. He said: "All those prisons are within their operating capacity, which is the total number of prisoners that an establishment can hold, taking into account control, security and proper operation of the planned regime."

But a year on, the charity said, 15 prisons across England and Wales were operating beyond their overcrowding limit, thereby jeopardising, the "control, security and the proper operation of the planned regime".

"This overcrowding poses a real and serious danger to prison and public safety," said Juliet Lyon, the director of the trust. The government had grown complacent about overcrowding and was "breaching its own final buffer".

"The summer holiday season usually gives prisons a respite while the courts take their break, instead the population is growing month on month. Even in the quietest months of the year, pressure is still building up within prisons."

The charity fears the situation could worsen in the next five years. The most recent Home Office projections forecast a jail population of up to 90,000 by 2010.

Since the beginning of June, it said, there had been 26 apparent self-inflicted deaths in custody. Of these, 24 occurred in overcrowded jails.

There a few reasons why the prisons are so overcrowded, especially at this moment in time. We've recently emerged from an election campaign where crime, asylum and especially "anti-social behaviour" were all major issues, with both Labour and the Tories demanding further crackdowns, egged on by the tabloid and right-wing press. It's been noted before that in such an atmosphere judges feel inclined, subconsciously or not, to impose both longer sentences and to send offenders to prison who otherwise may have ordinarily faced a community penalty or fine. Anti-social behaviour and binge drinking have been this year's main crime related news stories, rarely out of the press and TV coverage for even a day. Offences linked to such are therefore punished more severely. Also of concern is the anti-social behaviour order legislation itself, which has led to prostitutes, beggars and even sufferers of Tourettes syndrome being given custodial sentences for breaking the terms of their order, even though they are not breaking any laws.

The situation in our prisons will not get any better until we start to completely rethink the way we punish offenders who break the law. Prison has never worked for minor offences, with the revolving door system leading not only to re-offending but also to more serious offences. Similar to the way in which people feel more secure with police patrolling the streets in a visible presence, a demand constantly made by the tabloid press, the general public feels safer when 'criminals' are locked away. Unless we challenge our basic assumptions and orthodoxies, more and more of the mentally ill, different and weak in our society will end up in jail. A suicide in prison only makes the news if it's a notorious offender, such as Harold Shipman. Otherwise it's confined to the news in brief section, even in the broadsheets. As the article states, 26 have killed themselves since the beginning of June, a highly upsetting figure.

The Conservative party pledged to build dozens more prisons in their election manifesto. Labour didn't challenge that with any great ferocity, after all, they've spent the last 9 years in power building new prisons with the private finance initiative and putting more jails in the hands of the private sector. When people being imprisoned are handed over to those only interested in making a profit, not only have we lost all sense of our ethics, we've also lost our moral superiority. Jail should be the last resort, for those who pose a real threat to society and others. Imprisoning prostitutes, shoplifters and beggars may make some of us feel better, but in the long run we all lose out.

Share |

Friday, August 12, 2005 

Howard Zinn: My country is in the grip of a president surrounded by thugs in suits.

Another pretty slow news day (unless you're interested in some squabble by British Airways staff at Heathrow). Here instead of my nonsense is an article in today's Grauniad by Howard Zinn. Zinn is most well-known for his outstanding alternate history of the United States, A People's History. Here's the article in full:

It has quickly become clear that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with that term during the second world war. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied countries. The United States liberated them from occupation.

Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the US established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. US corporations moved into Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The US framed and imposed, with support from local accomplices, the constitution that would govern Cuba, just as it has drawn up, with help from local political groups, a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation. An occupation.

And it is an ugly occupation. On August 7 2003 the New York Times reported that General Sanchez in Baghdad was worried about the Iraqi reaction to occupation. Pro-US Iraqi leaders were giving him a message, as he put it: "When you take a father in front of his family and put a bag over his head and put him on the ground, you have had a significant adverse effect on his dignity and respect in the eyes of his family." (That's very perceptive.)

We know that fighting during the US offensive in November 2004 destroyed three-quarters of the town of Falluja (population 360,000), killing hundreds of its inhabitants. The objective of the operation was to cleanse the town of the terrorist bands acting as part of a "Ba'athist conspiracy".

But we should recall that on June 16 2003, barely six weeks after President Bush had claimed victory in Iraq, two reporters for the Knight Ridder newspaper group wrote this about the Falluja area: "In dozens of interviews during the past five days, most residents across the area said there was no Ba'athist or Sunni conspiracy against US soldiers, there were only people ready to fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they themselves had been humiliated by home searches and road stops ... One woman said, after her husband was taken from their home because of empty wooden crates which they had bought for firewood, that the US is guilty of terrorism."

Soldiers who are set down in a country where they were told they would be welcomed as liberators and find they are surrounded by a hostile population become fearful and trigger-happy. On March 4 nervous, frightened GIs manning a roadblock fired on the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, just released by kidnappers, and an intelligence service officer, Nicola Calipari, whom they killed.

We have all read reports of US soldiers angry at being kept in Iraq. Such sentiments are becoming known to the US public, as are the feelings of many deserters who are refusing to return to Iraq after home leave. In May 2003 a Gallup poll reported that only 13% of the US public thought the war was going badly. According to a poll published by the New York Times and CBS News on June 17, 51% now think the US should not have invaded Iraq or become involved in the war. Some 59% disapprove of Bush's handling of the situation.

But more ominous, perhaps, than the occupation of Iraq is the occupation of the US. I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken over. I wake up thinking: the US is in the grip of a president surrounded by thugs in suits who care nothing about human life abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water or the air, or what kind of world will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.

More Americans are beginning to feel, like the soldiers in Iraq, that something is terribly wrong. More and more every day the lies are being exposed. And then there is the largest lie, that everything the US does is to be pardoned because we are engaged in a "war on terrorism", ignoring the fact that war is itself terrorism, that barging into homes and taking away people and subjecting them to torture is terrorism, that invading and bombing other countries does not give us more security but less.

The Bush administration, unable to capture the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, invaded Afghanistan, killing thousands of people and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes. Yet it still does not know where the criminals are. Not knowing what weapons Saddam Hussein was hiding, it invaded and bombed Iraq in March 2003, disregarding the UN, killing thousands of civilians and soldiers and terrorising the population; and not knowing who was and was not a terrorist, the US government confined hundreds of people in Guantánamo under such conditions that 18 have tried to commit suicide.

The Amnesty International Report 2005 notes: "Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times ... When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity".

The "war on terrorism" is not only a war on innocent people in other countries; it is a war on the people of the US: on our liberties, on our standard of living. The country's wealth is being stolen from the people and handed over to the super-rich. The lives of the young are being stolen.

The Iraq war will undoubtedly claim many more victims, not only abroad but also on US territory. The Bush administration maintains that, unlike the Vietnam war, this conflict is not causing many casualties. True enough, fewer than 2,000 service men and women have lost their lives in the fighting. But when the war finally ends, the number of its indirect victims, through disease or mental disorders, will increase steadily. After the Vietnam war, veterans reported congenital malformations in their children, caused by Agent Orange.

Officially there were only a few hundred losses in the Gulf war of 1991, but the US Gulf War Veterans Association has reported 8,000 deaths in the past 10 years. Some 200,000 veterans, out of 600,000 who took part, have registered a range of complaints due to the weapons and munitions used in combat. We have yet to see the long-term effects of depleted uranium on those currently stationed in Iraq.

Our faith is that human beings only support violence and terror when they have been lied to. And when they learn the truth, as happened in the course of the Vietnam war, they will turn against the government. We have the support of the rest of the world. The US cannot indefinitely ignore the 10 million people who protested around the world on February 15 2003.

There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress.

Share |


Bakri banned from re-entering Britain.

The radical Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed was today excluded from Britain, the Home Office said.

Mr Bakri's exclusion comes less than a week after he left London for Beirut and Tony Blair announced plans to deport extremist preachers and ban two Islamist groups linked to the cleric.

A Home Office spokesman today said that the home secretary, Charles Clarke - using his existing powers - had excluded Mr Bakri "on the grounds that his presence is not conducive to the public good".

The Syrian-born cleric's indefinite leave to remain in the UK has also been revoked.

Mr Bakri has lived in Britain for almost 20 years, and his wife and seven children remain in London. The family home is in Edmonton, north London.

A Home Office spokesman said today's decision would not affect the family, and they would continue to receive any state benefits they were due. Mr Bakri's benefits will cease.

Looks like I was right. Only one question. Who's next?

Share |

Thursday, August 11, 2005 

Israel gives soldier scapegoat 8 year sentence.

A former Israeli soldier was sentenced to eight years in prison by an Israeli military court today for shooting dead the British student Tom Hurndall in the Gaza Strip.

Taysir Hayb was convicted in June of the manslaughter of the 22-year-old Briton after shooting him in the head with a rifle from a watchtower in April 2003.

Witnesses said Mr Hurndall, from north London, was shot as he tried to usher Palestinian children out of the range of Israeli gunfire during demonstrations in the Gaza town of Rafah.

The conviction marked the first time an Israeli soldier had been found guilty of killing a foreign citizen during more than four years of Palestinian-Israeli violence.

Today the court handed Hayb, a former sergeant, an 11-and-a-half year sentence but said he would have to serve only eight years, with the rest of the term suspended.

Mr Hurndall, a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), died in a London hospital in January 2004 after lying in a coma for nine months.

His family fought a campaign to see Hayb prosecuted after the Israeli army initially denied Mr Hurndall had been shot by a soldier. It was only after pressure from the family and the British government that an official inquiry was launched.

In June, Hayb was also found guilty of obstruction of justice, incitement to false testimony, false testimony and improper conduct. The court heard how he fired at Mr Hurndall from an Israeli army watchtower, using a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight.

Hayb had faced up to 20 years in prison but the leading judge in the case, Nir Aviram, said today the panel had given him a lighter sentence after considering the tense combat situation in the area.

Israel has been embarrassed into handing down a, by Israeli army standards, very harsh sentence against a soldier who shot an innocent man in the head. It was only because this man was British and had relatives who didn't stop fighting for justice that the case happened at all. Countless Palestinians have been shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately for them, they don't have the British government demanding answers about their deaths. Similarly, hundreds of Israelis have died in the path of suicide bombers. However, only one community has the power to punish in Israel and Palestine. A soldier shooting dead an innocent Palestinian is unlikely to face charges. The family of a suicide bomber will most likely find that their house will be demolished by the IDF. This is justice. This is revenge. This is life.

Share |


Bearded extremist deports other bearded extremists.

Human rights groups have expressed fears over the fate of 10 people facing deportation from the UK because they pose a threat to national security.

The Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada, who is subject to a control order, is among them, the BBC has learned.

Charles Clarke said things had changed since the London bombings. It was vital to act against threats to the UK.

Tories backed Mr Clarke but critics are concerned at deportations to countries with poor human rights records.

The home secretary insists he has the necessary reassurances from Jordan that deportees would not be "subject to torture or ill-treatment".

Shami Chakrabarti, of human rights group Liberty, said it would take "more than a piece of paper to convince me that Jordan and some of these other possible north African and Middle Eastern regimes are suddenly safe".

And Amnesty International's Mike Blakemore said the assurances the government was trying to obtain were not worth the "paper they were written on".

"We are taking the word of known torturers that they won't do this again," he said.

Some additional info from the Grauniad:

A statement from the solicitor for some of the individuals detained today said families had been told they were being taken to Woodhill high security prison near Milton Keynes but might now have been moved again.

It also confirmed one of the 10 was detained at a psychiatric hospital and that five in all were suffering serious psychiatric conditions.

Although the statement did not name him, the former Belmarsh detainee Mahmoud Suliman Ahmed Abu Rideh is known to have been at Broadmoor high security hospital in Berkshire.

Once again, we are not being told of any of the reasons why these people are being deported, simply that they are viewed as a threat to national security. This is not good enough. Why can we not try these people in this country? Is the reason once again the fact the security services will not allow phone-tap evidence to be presented to the courts? Or is it simply because the allegations made against these men by the security services would not stand up in court?

We need to be told the true basis for why these men need to be deported right now. If Abu Rideh is also one of the men to be deported, that's at least two that are also under control orders. The replacement for detention without trial, the person under the control order cannot receive visitors without authorisation from the police or MI5. They cannot access the internet. They are under curfew. Essentially, they are under a much stricter form of house arrest. Why, when they are held under such draconian measures and are clearly a threat only to themselves, do they now need to be deported?

As Amnesty says, the assurance that the men will not be tortured in the country they are deported to is not worth the paper it is written on. At the moment, the only thing the government is interested in doing is grandstanding for the tabloids. They are effectively showing that they are taking some additional action. It doesn't matter if the action sends the accused into a hell even worse than being detained without trial in Belmarsh, not knowing why. After all, these men weren't going to cure cancer. Just get these terrorist fanatics out, and we'll deal with the blowback later.

Another bearded extremist tabloid favourite is also in the news:

The British-based radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed was today detained in Lebanon by the Lebanese authorities.

"Sheikh Bakri was picked up by security forces as he was on his way to a local television station for an interview," a Lebanese security source told Reuters. It is believed Mr Bakri's links to militant groups are being investigated.

The Foreign Office confirmed that the cleric was being held, but said it was not at Britain's request.

Will he emerge from Lebanon to return to Britain? I don't want to be the next Mystic Meg, but I think it's pretty damn unlikely.

Share |

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 

Something of the shite about him.

Well, what do you know? Just a couple of days after I mentioned him in a post about David Blunkett making threatening comments about judges, Michael Howard goes ahead and sticks his foot in it as well.

Michael Howard today warned Britain's judges that "aggressive judicial activism" could put the country's safety from terrorists at risk, and undermine public faith in the justice system.

Echoing recent complaints from the prime minister about judicial opposition to anti-terror measures, the Conservative leader repeated his pledge to repeal Britain's Human Rights Act in order to give the government more power to deport extremist Islamist clerics.

Mr Howard - like Mr Blair a former lawyer - broke the usual August truce between the parties to launch his attack on the judiciary, and the government's approach to it, both in the Daily Telegraph and on the BBC.

Mr Howard cited the law lords' decision last year that the indefinite detention without trial of foreign terror suspects under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act contravened the Human Rights Act, and referred to the difficulties the latter act creates for deporting extremists to countries where they may face persecution or torture. He said explicitly that political intervention by judges "could put our security at risk".

He wrote in the Telegraph: "Parliament must be supreme. Aggressive judicial activism will not only undermine the public's confidence in the impartiality of our judiciary. It could also put our security at risk - and with it the freedoms the judges seek to defend. That would be a price we cannot be expected to pay."

Mr Howard was ridiculed by the Liberal Democrat peer and human rights champion Lord Lester.

He said: "The idea that the judges are indulging in what he calls aggressive judicial activism is complete nonsense and is most unfair to the senior judges.

"I find it completely astonishing that a modern Conservative party should wish to whittle away these safeguards for you and me and those listening to the Today programme, by creating weaker, less effective judicial remedies than we have at present."

The Liberal Democrats' president, Simon Hughes, also disagreed with Mr Howard, saying: "Until we have a written constitution and bill of rights, British judges are the people's best safeguard against misuse of power by ministers and failures to guarantee human rights by parliament.

"The worst signal we could send across the world at this moment is that terrorists can force us to give up any of the basic rights or freedoms which are the hallmarks of secure democracies."

The right is becoming obsessed with the Human Rights Act. It's therefore worth looking into what the Human Rights Act actually says. A good summary can be found here, while the act in full is available here.

In short:

The Human Rights Act (1998) introduced the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, of which the UK was one of the primary authors.

What this means in practice is that people who wish to bring cases where they believe their rights have been violated, they will now be able to do so through the British courts, rather than having to spend years pursuing the case at the European Court of Human Rights.

The Act makes it unlawful for any "public authority" to act in such a way that is "incompatible" with a right under the Convention.

A person can only bring a case against a public authority if they can be classed as the "victim" in a specific circumstance.

This means that pressure groups will not be able to bring general cases to further their cause, they will have to seek cases to support through the courts.


Rule of law

This means that the Rights are subject to a limited amount of interference by the state in certain legally defined circumstances that benefit society as a whole rather than just the individual.

For example, the Convention protects somebody from "arbitrary detention" - meaning that a person can be jailed or held against their will "in accordance with a procedure prescribed in law" - ie a jail sentence after a trial.

Howard cites the Human Rights Act as being the basis for the demolition of the detention without trial parts of the Terrorism Act 2001. In this, he's right. What he doesn't mention is that the Lords did exactly the right thing in throwing out the law. Those who were held in Belmarsh and Woodhill under the 2001 Terrorism Act were not told of the charges against them. They were locked up without trial. Also, only foreign nationals could be held. In short, it was Britain's own little Guantanamo Bay in London. This is how Lord Hoffman described the case:

This is one of the most important cases which the house has had to decide in recent years.

"It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."

"This is a nation which has been tested in adversity, which has survived physical destruction and catastrophic loss of life. I do not underestimate the ability of fanatical groups to kill or destroy, but they do not threaten the life of the nation."

"Whether we should survive Hitler hung in the balance, but there is no doubt we shall survive al-Qaida. The Spanish people have not said that what happened in Madrid, hideous crime as it was, threatened the life of the nation. Their legendary pride would not allow it.

"Terrorist crime, serious as it is, does not threaten our institutions of government or our existence as a civil community."

Does Michael Howard seriously believe that al-Qaida and the acolytes of those who attacked on July the 7th seriously threaten the life of this nation? Does he also believe that sending suspects or terrorists to countries where they will most likely be tortured is acceptable? If he does, then that's fine. However, I don't believe he really does. The Conservative party under his leadership has become even more of a Thatcherite throwback. His race has been to the bottom of the barrel, through his targetting of asylum seekers during the election, their lies about taxation and the hypocrisy of their remarks over MRSA and the cleanliness of hospitals (they privatised cleaning). Michael Howard has not much longer to go as leader of the Conservative party. He should spend that time seriously considering challenging the government over their draconian attacks on liberty since July the 7th and 21st, instead of indulging in opportunism and going even further than Labour have. Is that too much to ask of an opposition party?

Share |

Tuesday, August 09, 2005 

Iraqi sandstorm delays constitution talks.

Apparently the worst to hit Baghdad since the USuk invasion.

Share |


French and Saudis knew of plans to attack UK.

Very slow news day apart from this story. It is the silly season and August after all:

Both France and Saudi Arabia had advance warning that Britain was about to be attacked by al-Qaida, according to a classified report and claims by the Saudi ambassador to London. The warnings came at a time when the British intelligence services had concluded that there was no imminent attack planned.

In a classified report on the Pakistani community in France, presented to the French interior ministry in late June, the Renseignements Généraux, or DCRG, France's equivalent of the Special Branch, said Britain "remains threatened by plans decided at the highest level of al Qaida ... They will be put into action by operatives drawing on pro-jihad sympathies within the large Pakistani community in the UK."

Saudi Arabian authorities also informed the UK of a potential attack, it was confirmed this week. The Saudi ambassador in London, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said in a statement: "There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and British intelligence some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London." However, the threats were not specific and, according to security sources, there was no detailed intelligence that could have disrupted the July 7 bombers.

The German foreign intelligence chief, August Henning, yesterday warned that further attacks should be expected elsewhere. "We fear developments in Iraq are radiating outwards," he told the Reuters news agency.

So who's telling the truth? To start with, I find it very difficult to believe that the 7th of July attacks can be blamed on al-Qaida. The break-up of the organisation and the establishment of autonomous groupings throughout the world, which have similar aims to those of Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri is much more likely to be to blame. These groups cannot be considered to be al-Qaida, and it's giving way too much credit to the aforementioned men to blame them.

Besides that, the British security services are keeping to their story that they had no intelligence that attacks were about to take place. Are security services sharing their intelligence with other countries, or are they once again keeping it to themselves? It's also worth noting how in the weeks before the attack the so-called threat level had been taken down from "severe-general" to "substantial". Will a paper trail of how the intelligence services warned of an impending attack, yet the government did nothing be uncovered similar to the one in the US after the September 11th attacks? Only time will tell.

Share |

Monday, August 08, 2005 

Robin Cook: 1946-2005

On Saturday Britain lost one of its finest and most eloquent parliamentary voices. Robin Cook was not telegenic. He was often compared to a garden gnome. In these days when looks are everything, he still managed to rise to very nearly the top of power. As foreign secretary he endeavored to introduce an "ethical foreign policy". He didn't succeed, but he probably came as close we will now for a long time. However, he will now undoubtedly be remembered for his majestic resignation speech before the Iraq war.

The reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading partner - not NATO, not the European Union and, now, not the Security Council.

Only a year ago, we and the United States were part of a coalition against terrorism that was wider and more diverse than I would ever have imagined possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition.

Our interests are best protected not by unilateral action but by multilateral agreement and a world order governed by rules. Yet tonight the international partnerships most important to us are weakened: the European Union is divided; the Security Council is in stalemate. Those are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot has yet to be fired.

I have heard some parallels between military action in these circumstances and the military action that we took in Kosovo. There was no doubt about the multilateral support that we had for the action that we took in Kosovo. It was supported by Nato; it was supported by the European Union; it was supported by every single one of the seven neighbours in the region. France and Germany were our active allies. It is precisely because we have none of that support in this case that it was all the more important to get agreement in the Security Council as the last hope of demonstrating international agreement.

Our difficulty in getting support this time is that neither the international community nor the British public is persuaded that there is an urgent and compelling reason for this military action in Iraq.

None of us can predict the death toll of civilians from the forthcoming bombardment of Iraq, but the US warning of a bombing campaign that will 'shock and awe' makes it likely that casualties will be numbered at least in the thousands.

For four years as Foreign Secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment. Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons programme and halted Saddam's medium and long-range missiles programmes.

Iraq's military strength is now less than half its size than at the time of the last Gulf war. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam's forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days.

We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat.

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term - namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create?

It has been a favourite theme of commentators that this House no longer occupies a central role in British politics.

Nothing could better demonstrate that they are wrong than for this House to stop the commitment of troops in a war that has neither international agreement nor domestic support.

I intend to join those tomorrow night who will vote against military action now. It is for that reason, and for that reason alone, and with a heavy heart, that I resign from the government.

He articulated on that night what millions of people throughout the country, if not the globe, were thinking. He didn't stop the war. He didn't stop the slaughter. What he did do is show that not all politicans abandon their principles. Perhaps if he had co-ordinated his resignation with Clare Short he could have stopped British involvement. We do though have to live our lives forwards instead of backwards.

Blair has lost one of his major critics. The country has lost another of its progressive voices.

Share |


Blunkett sticks oar in where it's not wanted.

David Blunkett, the disgraced former home secretary, forced to resign after he forgot about intervening in getting a visa for his lovers nanny, can't keep his nose out of anything. Here he is, in typical style, threatening judges:

The former home secretary David Blunkett yesterday warned judges in the strongest terms that the government would not tolerate any judicial attempt to overturn the new anti-terrorist measures outlined on Friday.

Mr Blunkett, citing the dictum of the retiring lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, that "upholding liberty is not a suicide pact", he insisted it was the elected parliament, and not the courts, who were answerable for the security of the country.

Mr Blunkett also confirmed he was "assisting the deputy prime minister", John Prescott, in taking decisions on terrorism while Tony Blair was on holiday, but denied he was in control of the Home Office in Charles Clarke's absence: "Hazel Blears substitutes for the home secretary. She is his deputy and she is doing extremely well. I obviously have the experience and the knowledge and I help out in terms of having to take, with John Prescott, the necessary decisions in the next couple of weeks," he said.

Mr Blunkett gave him (Mr Blair) strong backing, telling the judges they have a legitimate role in challenging ministers if they implement laws differently from parliament's intentions.

"If the judiciary say 'We think that parliament was wrong and therefore the democratic vote is wrong', I think that is a different matter ... We obviously have the right to go back to parliament and to say 'We, the sovereign body who are elected, are the only ones in the end who are answerable for the protection of security and stability in our country. We will make the decision'."

David Blunkett was the worst home secretary this country has had in recent memory (Yes, even worse than Michael "Prison works!" Howard). He was forced to resign to disgrace. Fortunately for him Tony Blair has no qualms about taking back former wayward members (see: Peter Mandelson) and he came straight back in after the election as Work and Pensions secretary. For a start, he has no business sounding off about judges and on matters which are none of his concern, especially with the current pensions crisis. Secondly, these measures have not yet been published in any complete matter for debate in both parliament and public. Blunkett has chosen to start threatening already, mainly because of the way the prime minister's announcement (or rant, as I found it) has gone down in the liberal press. This also appears to show that the laws as announced or proposed are unlikely to be majorly amended from Blair's speech, or compromised over. The way the country is at the moment, it seems very likely that these draconian measures will get through parliament with little trouble, especially with Tory support (who if anything, want even stricter laws). Our dark days may just be beginning.

Share |

Saturday, August 06, 2005 


60 years ago today, the most horrific weapon man has ever created was used for the first time on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Over 140,000 eventually died as a result. Today is not the time for arguments over whether the use of the atomic bomb was justified then or not. Today we should remember not only those who died in Hiroshima, but also all those who died in the second world war. A war on the scale of WW2 must never be allowed to happen again. Nuclear weapons should also never be used again. Nothing today, no threat from any country to another justifies their use. Call it misguided or otherwise, but nuclear disarmament can still be achieved. The United Kingdom should start by not building a new generation of Trident missiles. It should also follow the examples of South Africa and the Ukraine in dismantling the weapons it has. We have no use for such weapons today. By dismantling them we would send a message that even in these troubled days of international terrorism, such weapons of mass destruction should not be in the hands of any government.

Share |


Blair declares war on Muslims and liberal society.

Blair vows to root out extremism:

Tony Blair last night signalled a turning point in British postwar liberalism when he announced plans to deport extremist foreign Muslim clerics without appeal, close down mosques preaching hate, proscribe extremist Muslim groups and extend the use of control orders to British nationals advocating terrorism.

The prime minister also promised to wage a battle with the British and European courts, warning that he would amend the Human Rights Act if necessary to override likely judicial objections to the proposed deportation regime.

His startling package of measures sparked alarm among many Muslim groups and lawyers and led Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, to say Mr Blair was endangering the cross-party consensus developed since the July 7 bombings. The civil rights group Liberty said: "The fundamental values of a democracy cannot be changed because we are provoked by terrorists."

But the promise to end Britain's reputation as a sanctuary for extremism won broad backing from the police and the Conservatives.

The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said people had already been selected for targeting with the new measures. He told BBC2's Newsnight he was "very pleased" with the proposals.

Deportations of extremist clerics will start after finalising memoranda of understandings with as many as 10 countries including Jordan, Algeria and Lebanon to try to ensure anyone deported there would not be subject to torture.

Mr Blair said foreign nationals would be deported if they were found to be actively engaged in extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and organisations of concern. A database will list individuals who pose a threat to British society. Anyone on it will be barred from the UK, with appeals happening abroad.

Mr Blair pleased some Labour Muslim MPs by announcing he was proscribing two Islamist organisations, Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Mujahiroun. Hizb ut-Tahrir said: "This exposes the fundamentalism of the government ... Our organisation has a record of 50 years of non-violent political activity ... We will resist the ban through what legal means are available."

It looks what I've feared for a long time is coming to pass. Despite all the rhetoric on keeping a consensus between the parties and with the Muslim community, Blair has decided to once again appease the likes of the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Express.

To come to the proposals, the first and most ridiculous is clearly the idea of deporting foreign nationals or those with joint citizenship back to their country of origin. This will predictably be challenged in the courts and probably struck down. Why can we not prosecute these men in this country instead of deporting them? What is stopping us from doing this? This is one of the major reasons why wiretap evidence must be made admissible in the UK court system, which is stubbornly being refused by the security services for the fear of revealing their methods. The promises of not torturing such deported individuals will not be worth the paper they are written on.

The second stupid move is the banning of Hizb ut-Tahir and the successor organisations of Al-Mujahiroun, which disbanded last year. Hizb ut-Tahir is a horrid grouping which advocates the establishment of a caliphate, sharia law and all the connotations of "Islamic" states. However, it certainly isn't worse than the BNP or the National Front, and is also strictly non-violent and against the authoritarian dictatorships in the middle east. The successors to Al-Mujahiroun, whom a spokesman at a convention of which called September the 11th a "momentous day", are even more marginalised. Banning these organisations will just do more to bring vulnerable and curious individuals towards their paths. Banning something always gives it an air of mystique and subversion. I've always been against banning such fascist groups and extremist organisations, simply for the reason that we should we appear against them in public and show their arguments for what they really are, as a mess and implausible. There is also always the possibility that introducing legislation which outlaws "glorifying terrorism" could be used both against environmental activists and animal rights groups.

The creation of lists of "unacceptable behaviour" is also outrageous, especially in the vagueness of its criteria. Will "justifying" terrorism even narrow down to saying that we can understand why it happens when the British government was involved in an illegal war in Iraq? Will fostering hatred of this illiberal government come under unacceptable behaviour? That's how vague this proposal is at the moment. Also of concern is the new notion that "anyone who has anything to do with terrorism will automatically be refused asylum". As has already been pointed out, such a law in the 1980s could have stopped anyone fighting against apartheid in South Africa from fleeing persecution there. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Stripping citizenship for acting against the "interests" of the country is another terrifying prospect. Does that involve economic interests? Would those campaigning against road-building which destroys natural habitats fall under that?

Most importantly of all, would these proposals have stopped the July the 7th bombing, if we accept the current official story? They almost certainly would have not. We are once again told we have to give up our freedoms in response to attacks which could not have been stopped. The climate of fear and enemies in our midst is further being built up. We should not cast complete judgment on these laws and proposals, as they are yet to be fully published and debated. However, if they remain true to what Tony Blair said yesterday, parliament must stop such draconian and polarising measures from entering the statute books. Britain must not go down the American Patriot Act path.

Share |

Friday, August 05, 2005 

Israeli bus killer lynched by mob.

For those who claim that there is an anti-Israel bias in the British media, it's worth taking notice of the almost non-existent coverage of an extreme right wing Israeli shooting dead 4 Israeli-Arabs:

An Israeli soldier who shot dead four people on a bus in an Israeli Arab town has been lynched by an angry crowd.

The 19-year-old, believed to have deserted in protest against the Gaza pullout this month, opened fire as the bus passed through Shfaram.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the incident a reprehensible act by a "bloodthirsty terrorist" (sic).

The gunman was beaten to death by a crowd of people who stormed the bus after his weapon ran out of bullets.

Israel is preparing to pull its settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip and correspondents say there have been fears of attacks by Jewish settlers opposed to the pullout.

Apart from Ariel Sharon's hilarious comment, the incident is incredibly serious. The Gaza pullout must go ahead, whether or not it is simply a ploy by Sharon to gain an ever larger chunk of the West Bank and continue building settlements (in defiance of the road map). Whether Gaza is turned into a large open-air prison or not, this is a first step towards a possible peace and the two-state solution which has been dreamt about. Despite the Israelis claims, groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are prepared to settle for a Palestinian state, as long as East Jerusalem is the capital, the settlements are demolished, and the refugees have the right of return. The last of those demands will be the hardest to fulfill, and was the one which evaded Arafat at the Camp David negotiations.

Israel itself is facing a demographic timebomb. Before too long, Jews will be the minority, as the Arab birthrate is far higher. For Israel to remain a Jewish state, it needs to act now, unless it wants to seal its own fate. Hopefully the Gaza pullout is the first sign that peace can be achieved.

Share |


Petrol price hits £1 a litre.

The collapse edges ever closer:

Petrol prices in some areas have now gone over £1 a litre, the AA Motoring Trust warned today.

The average price in the UK is around 90p a litre, the AA said, but some garages in remote areas have been charging over £1 a litre since mid-July.

"Prices have risen 10p a litre since January, because of the rising cost of crude oil, which has gone up from about $58 to $60 a barrel," said the trust's petrol price analyst Ruth Bridger. "We don't expect average UK prices to exceed £1 a litre for a long time."

"But we received information yesterday showing that at least 46 garages are already charging over £1 a litre."

Some garages in the Western Isles admitted today that they had increased their prices to over £1 a litre.

The Uig Community Shop in Timsgearraidh, on the Isle of Lewis, has increased its prices to £1.05 a litre for diesel and £1.02 for unleaded. Elaine Newton, the shop's manager said prices broke the £1 barrier two weeks ago, after a month at 99p. "We're 37 miles away from Stornoway and that went up two weeks ago and we followed soon after," she said.

BP supplies the remote two-pump store in the Outer Hebrides every two or three weeks and according to Newton the price fluctuates at each delivery.

Ms Newton said: "BP gives us our cost price and we put a 10% mark-up on it."

As the price of motoring rises inexorably, you would think that public transport would become all the more important. With the underground and buses being targetted in London though, more have actually returned to using bicycles and unfortunately, driving into work.

No country in the world has yet faced up to the disaster of neo-liberal economic policies, that profits and domestic product must show growth every year. With peak oil production likely to be reached within the next decade, and that's being optimistic, our car and transport based economies are faced with terrible consequences. We are nowhere near accepting these facts yet, nor are we effectively planning for the end of cheap oil. The Labour government's transport policies are a complete disaster. The railways show little improvement since the Hatfield crash, which was the death blow afdisastrousastrious decision by the Major government to privatise British Rail. Even worse is Labour's stubborn determination to not even consider renationalising them. The roads get more clogged every year. Supermarkets demand for fresh goods and full shelves means that trucks fill the motorways. Unless we change course now, and start evaluating how our behaviour and economic assumptions are leading towards a global meltdown, we are quite frankly, screwed.

Share |

Thursday, August 04, 2005 

Corporate greed rises even further. Pope admits to admiring God and Virgin Mary.

Chief executives' pay rises to £2.5m average:

Directors' pay at Britain's top companies climbed an average of 16.1% last year - four times faster than average earnings and eight times the rate of inflation.

The increase takes the average pay for a chief executive, including bonuses and gains from long-term incentive plans, to more than £2.5m.

The continuing rapid rise in directors' remuneration is revealed in the Guardian's annual executive pay survey.

The 16% increase for 2004-05 follows a 13% rise for the previous year and 23% the year before that. Average earnings are rising at 4.1% and the average annual salary is £22,060. An average chief executive is paid 113 times more than an average UK worker.

The survey has identified more than 230 directors who received more than £1m last year - up from around 190 the year before. The figure is reached by adding salaries, annual cash bonuses and gains from longer-term share options and performance plans.

The highest-paid executive last year was Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, the world's second biggest advertising agency. Pay plans came to fruition for Sir Martin in 2004, taking his rewards to more than £52m.

Among other top earners was Tony Ball, the former chief executive of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, who is ranked second as a result of agreeing not to set up in opposition to Sky for at least two years. The broadcaster paid him £10.7m.

Jean-Pierre Garnier of the drug group GlaxoSmithKline, James Nicol of the engineering group Tomkins and David Harding of the bookmaker William Hill occupy other top slots.

The Guardian survey also reveals that five female directors were paid more than £1m last year - compared with none the previous year - but two made it into the exclusive league only because they received substantial payoffs.

Sir Martin Sorrell's one-off rewards make the WPP board this year's most expensive in the FTSE 100. Excluding WPP, however, the directors of Tesco emerge as the best rewarded for the second consecutive year.

The total boardroom pay rose from £26m to more than £31m in the last year. That dwarfs the £18m paid to the directors of BP, the UK's biggest company with a stock market value of £131bn. The market values Tesco at £25bn.

At the other end of the scale, the worst-paid employees work in the catering and hospitality industries, at companies such as Compass, Mitchells & Butler and Whitbread. Tesco is also among the companies with the lowest-paid staff.

It's worth noting that the Marjorie Scardino mentioned in the article is married to Albert Scardino, an executive editor at the Guardian who has recently announced he is leaving, so there is a slight whiff of hypocrisy. Despite that, the whole survey is shocking but still completely expected. As we grind further towards the inevitable major economic collapse, those at the top will continue to enrich themselves more and more. As oil production peaks, as global warming rages on, we can be safe in the knowledge that when the looting and panic breaks out, that our corporate heroes will be safely tucked in their mansons and bunkers, watching us. Our humanity won't have died, but theirs did a long time ago.

Share |


Army was involved in murder of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Surprise, surprise. Slowly but surely the truth is coming out:

A new army special forces regiment was involved in the operation that led to the killing of an innocent man at Stockwell tube station in south London last week, the Guardian can reveal.

The Special Reconnaissance Regiment, set up in April to help combat international terrorism, was deployed in the surveillance operation which led to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician, on July 22, according to Whitehall sources.

Yesterday Whitehall sources told the Guardian that soldiers of the Special Reconnaisance Regiment, modelled on an undercover unit that operated in Northern Ireland, was engaged in "low-level intelligence behind the scenes" when the Brazilian was shot. There was "no direct military involvement in the shooting", the sources said.

It is believed to be the first time the new regiment was engaged in an operation.

The regiment absorbed 14th Intelligence Company, known as "14 Int", a plainclothes unit set up to gather intelligence covertly on suspect terrorists in Northern Ireland. Its recruits are trained by the SAS.

Geoff Hoon, the then defence secretary, said the unit had been formed to meet a worldwide demand for "special reconnaissance capability".

It's all coming together. The RUC in Northern Ireland has been well-documented with carrying out assassinations. SAS involvement was always a possibility, and this now shows how the whole police and government story stinks. For now, it seems they haven't managed to get away with an execution. If the IPCC whitewashes the police actions, then shoot to kill will become a reality. That must not happen.

Share |

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 

Mo Mowlam critically ill.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam is critically ill, hospital officials said this afternoon.

Ms Mowlam had previously suffered a brain tumour and her increasingly frail appearance in recent months prompted fresh fears for her health.

The former MP for Redcar is at King's College hospital in London. A hospital spokeswoman described her condition as "critical but stable".

Although she stood down as an MP in 2001, she has been one of the most popular and charismatic politicians of recent times - earning massive public affection not just for her role in the Good Friday agreement, but from her efforts to overcome a brain tumour, which saw her appear in public with a headscarf to disguise her hair loss.

Mo Mowlam is also a case of a politician with some honest and integrity. As well as helping the Northern Ireland peace protest, she also campaigned for all drugs to be legalised. I probably like her mainly because she is firmly old Labour, and was against the war in Iraq. Most of all though, she is just a warm human being, and not someone who would never break the official party line. Here's hoping that she manages to pull through.

Share |


What we're up against.

The Sun is the biggest selling newspaper in Britain. It sells just under 3 million copies a day, and claims to reach 10 million. That's why when it puts such falsehoods and distortions on its front page it's a big deal. This is today's front page. On Saturday, the day after the alleged bombers of July 21st were arrested, its front page was a picture of one of the men, half naked, with the headline: "GOT THE BASTARDS".

What I like most about their front page is the juxtaposition of politically correct policing with racist murders on our doorstep. Obviously the Sun would like us to go back to the days prior to the Macpherson report, when the death of Stephen Lawrence led police to suspect the friend who was with them and to not tell his parents anything of the case. He was murdered by racists who are still at large. Political correctness is the catch-all of the right wing media, a stick it can use to beat those it thinks as "useful idiots". It's also vile that they consider the Human Rights act a bad thing, when it's probably the finest piece of legislation New Labour has ever passed.

Speaking of useful idiots, here's Anthony Browne, with a point i'm sure you'll agree with:

Islamic radicals, like Hitler, cultivate support by nurturing grievances against others. Islamists, like Hitler, scapegoat Jews for their problems and want to destroy them. Islamists, like Hitler, decree that the punishment for homosexuality is death. Hitler divided the world into Aryans and subhuman non-Aryans, while Islamists divide the world into Muslims and sub-human infidels. Nazis aimed for their Thousand-Year Reich, while Islamists aim for their eternal Caliphate. The Nazi party used terror to achieve power, and from London to Amsterdam, Bali to New York, Egypt to Turkey, Islamists are trying to do the same.

The two fascisms, one racial and one religious, one beaten and the other resurgent, are evil in both their ideology and their methodology, in their supremacism, intolerance, belief in violence and threat to democracy.

The support of Islamic fascism spans BritainÂ’s Left. The wacko Socialist Workers Party joined forces with the Muslim Association of Britain, the democracy-despising, Shariah-law-wanting group, to form the Stop the War Coalition. The former Labour MP George Galloway created the Respect Party with the support of the MAB, and won a seat in Parliament by cultivating Muslim resentment.

It's often said that once you've compared someone or something to Hitler or the Nazis, you've lost the argument. Ignoring that, let's just humour Mr Browne for a short time. Most Muslims don't want the destruction of Israel, or the death of all Jews. What both they and I want is a negotiated settlement, a complete withdrawal of the IDF from the West Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Call this the two state solution or whatever you like. Palestine is, and always be an issue for Muslims until this is sorted. Also recognise he doesn't call fundamentalists Islamist extremists, he tars all Muslims as Islamists. The first problem with this disturbing theory is that there are no Islamic fundamentalist regimes which govern a major country. You can argue about Iran and Saudi Arabia all you like, but they are not governed by al-Qaida. They don't call for the destruction of the West or for a caliphate, whether Iran calls the United States the great Satan or not. Hitler gained power in 1933 in a country that had been humiliated with defeat in the first world war, had its back broken by the Treaty of Versailles, and had suffered two major financial meltdowns. The ground was fertile for extremism. None of that is here today. Let's not dwell on the full number of deaths attributed to the Nazis, but just on a generally accepted figure of those who died in the Holocaust. 6 million Jews were tortured, starved and finally gassed during the second world war, mostly during 1941-45, not to mention the repression before then. The highest figure Islamic terrorism has got, if you want to call it that, was slightly below 3,000 on September the 11th. Let's also forget about the deaths of 500,000 through sanctions in Iraq, about how Israel was founded on terrorism, and how up to a million may have died since the war on Iraq.

Anthony Browne mentions the case of the girl who won the right to wear the jilbab to school. I wasn't a supporter of that decision, but I'm also not a supporter of school uniforms, which was what she was claiming was unfair. The fact that she wanted to wear a jilbab was just part of the story, again distorted by Browne. The Guardian in fact did not comment on the case in an editorial, but it did print a number of letters, none of which were fully complimentary or supported the decision.

Islamic fundamentalism is not a threat to democracy. Only a tiny microcosm of men and women support the idea of a caliphate or even sharia law. What is a threat to democracy is those who are using the attacks by those who Anthony Browne calls Islamic fascists to remove our fundamental freedoms, to lock us away without charge and to ship people out to countries where torture is common-place, to name just a few. We're not the useful idiots. The attackers of freedom, both in the shape of the right and fundamentalists, religious or not, are the ones who should be in the dock.

Share |

Tuesday, August 02, 2005 

Bad law, bad governing, bad economics.

Until recently there was a loophole in British drug law that allowed magic mushrooms (various species, active ingredient is psilocybin) to be sold legally, as long as they were not dried and completely fresh. Drying them or otherwise was considered to be 'preparing' them, making them illegal. For around 2 years this was allowed to carry on, with few raids on market stalls and shops which had decided to sell them. Then the government decided to close the loophole. This is sad news, mainly because magic mushrooms are much milder than LSD, to which it is similar, and that it is mostly harmless. There are worries about the possibilities of them bringing on mental health problems, but this is more likely to be depression than the worries over cannabis and schizophrenia. It's now also been discovered the sufferers of cluster headaches seem to have a found an almost miracle cure for their affliction:

Richard Ayliffe, 39, a chronic sufferer from Dudley in the West Midlands, says he has tried conventional treatments but the only thing to have brought him relief is magic mushrooms. Without them he says he would not be able to hold down a job.

"People are quite sympathetic at first but once you've let them down for the third time sympathy turns to exasperation," he says. "Magic mushrooms have enabled me to lead a normal life."

Like other members of ClusterBusters - an online forum where cluster headache sufferers swap notes and discuss alternative treatments - Ayliffe claims that taking magic mushrooms not only interrupts his cycle of headaches, but buys him longer remission periods between attacks. Some sufferers claim that since taking mushrooms they have been pain-free for up to two years.

And, because an attack can come at any time many members stockpiled mushrooms ahead of the government's ban this month.

Last week one member of the group, a 41-year-old father of two who asked to be identified only as Lee, admitted he had already taken one dose in contravention of the ban.

Under the Drugs Act 2005 possession of magic mushrooms is a class A offence punishable by a seven-year prison sentence. Previously, only psilocybin and other preparations of mushrooms, but not the fresh product itself, were controlled.

"The way I see it, either I break the law or forgo the most effective treatment I have found in nearly six years," says Lee.

Since he began taking mushrooms a year ago, he says the intensity of his headaches has shrunk by a third and the remissions between attacks have lengthened to 40 days.

"It's absolutely incredible," he says. "I can't tell you how much magic mushrooms have changed my life."

Similar to how those with MS and other painful illnesses have found that smoking cannabis helps with the pain, it seems that magic mushrooms now also has followers other than those interested in getting wasted and seeing colours. Other reports have been made of mothers in their 30s taking them at parties, due to the very limited side effects and non-addictive qualities. Why prosecute people over a drug that is even less dangerous than cannabis, especially when cannabis is now supposedly not an arrestable offence if you are found with a small amount in your possession? Even worse, mushrooms are in Class A, along with heroin, crack and ecstasy. At times all this government seems to care about is the economy. In outlawing mushrooms, they've just sent an industry which wasn't hiding back underground, along with all the connotations and criminal practices that brings with it. I would say it was a case of the government running scared of a tabloid backlash, but I think it's more just down to pure ignorance that mushrooms have been outlawed. For a government that has tried to promote equality and bring down poverty (or so it says), successful or not, this seems ludicrous.

Share |


Some things never change.

It's good to know that even though there's supposedly a huge terrorist threat to the country right now, with police being deployed to every major underground and railway station in London, there was still a few around to arrest some peaceful protestors for daring to exercise their rights:

Five anti-war activists demonstrating against a new ban on unauthorised protests in the vicinity of parliament were arrested yesterday as the police moved to uphold the controversial new law.

The ban on spontaneous protests within half-a-mile of Westminster which have not been cleared by police came into force at midnight on Sunday.

No protest will be lawful unless prior police approval has been sought in writing and granted at least 24 hours before the start of the demonstration. One of those present at yesterday's demonstration was Lauren Booth, the sister of Cherie Blair.

"This is all about silencing critics of the war in Iraq and ID cards and denying people the right to free speech," she said. "If you heard on television that someone in another country was banned from gathering near a government building to stage a legitimate protest you would probably think thank goodness that kind of thing doesn't happen in this country," she said.

Police initially tried to act in a low-key way to prevent the largely symbolic protest. But, faced with the possibility that the new law would be shown to be unenforceable on its first day, they eventually moved in against a group of about 50 people wearing black gags to symbolise the "infringement" of their right to protest. The arrests occurred as Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North, was speaking to the gathering.

The police took photographs of many of the protesters and handed out leaflets warning they were involved in an unauthorised protest.

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition and one of the protest organisers, said the new law meant police could now decide who was allowed to demonstrate, which was "totally unacceptable".

The Home Office says that the new laws simply put static protests on the same footing as processions, for which police also need to be notified.

It's reassuring to know that the police are there to protect us from such extremists.

Share |


CIA and America's approach to torture: Do it elsewhere.

There's been allegations for a while from various sources that the US has been effectively off-shoring suspected terrorists to countries where torture is commonplace. Looks the Guardian has finally found something conclusive:

A former London schoolboy accused of being a dedicated al-Qaida terrorist has given the first full account of the interrogation and alleged torture endured by so-called ghost detainees held at secret prisons around the world.

For two and a half years US authorities moved Benyam Mohammed around a series of prisons in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, before he was sent to Guantánamo Bay in September last year.

Mohammed, 26, who grew up in Notting Hill in west London, is alleged to be a key figure in terrorist plots intended to cause far greater loss of life than the suicide bombers of 7/7. One allegation, which he denies, is of planning to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a US city; another is that he and an accomplice planned to collapse a number of apartment blocks by renting ground-floor flats to seal, fill with gas from cooking appliances, and blow up with timed detonators.

In an statement given to his newly appointed lawyer, Mohammed has given an account of how he was tortured for more than two years after being questioned by US and British officials who he believes were from the FBI and MI6. As well as being beaten and subjected to loud music for long periods, he claims his genitals were sliced with scalpels.

He alleges that in Morocco he was shown photos of people he knew from a west London mosque, and was asked about information he was told was supplied by MI5. One interrogator, he says, was a woman who said she was Canadian.

Drawing on his notes, Mohammed's lawyer has compiled a 28-page diary of his torture. This has been declassified by the Pentagon, and extracts are published in the Guardian today.

Recruits to some groups connected to al-Qaida are thought to be instructed to make allegations of torture after capture, and most of Mohammed's claims cannot be independently verified. But his description of a prison near Rabat closely resembles the Temara torture centre identified in a report by the US-based Human Rights Watch last October.

Furthermore, this newspaper has obtained flight records showing executive jets operated by the CIA flew in and out of Morocco on July 22 2002 and January 22 2004, the dates he says he was taken to and from the country.

If true, his account adds weight to concerns that the US authorities are torturing by proxy. It also highlights the dilemma of British authorities when they seek information from detainees overseas who they know, or suspect, are tortured.

MI6 is already using information or "intelligence", as they like to call it from torture victims in countries such as Uzbekiztan, as exposed by Craig Murray. The appeal court has already ruled that evidence extracted under torture is a-ok, as long as us Brits didn't do the torturing.

Furthermore, it's worth remembering that the dirty bomb scenario is a complete red-herring. BBC's Horizon conducted some research that the government and fearmongers would rather you didn't know about:

Horizon publishes the results of specially commissioned research, modelling two possible dirty bomb scenarios: attacks on either London or Washington DC. The main conclusion is that the health risks from a dirty bomb explosion are localised to people who are close to the incident or are in contact with the contamination. Although the modelled attack scenarios could have wide-ranging economic repercussions, the majority of the population of either capital city would have only a negligible increase in their risk of developing cancer.

In other words, they're better off using their bodies as explosive devices, as shown recently, and constantly in Iraq.

Whether this man is a terrorist or planning attacks is beside the point. The US is too cowardly to even torture suspects itself. The horrendous images of Abu Ghraib will forever haunt the Bush administration, and Guantanamo Bay is a scar on the conscience of the American people, or as described by Amnesty International, a modern day gulag.
Torturing and inducing fear in suspects is what groups such as al-Qaida do. How have we sunk so low that we are carrying out the same things they do, supposedly to maintain our freedom? We made it through the second world war without torturing prisoners of war. What's different now?

Share |


George Monbiot.

I've been a fan of George Monbiot's journalism for a long time. His book Captive State has shown how corrupt and mendacious New Labour is, especially with its private finance initative and constant cosying up to the business lobby.
Here though is one of his finest pieces in a long time:,5673,1540683,00.html

It deserves to be very widely read, whether you agree or not.

Share |

Monday, August 01, 2005 

You reap what you sow.

Uzbekistan kicks US out of military base:

Uzbekistan has given the US six months to close its military base there, in its first move to sever relations with its former sponsor.

The air base near the southern town of Khanabad, known as K2, was opened weeks after the September 11 attacks to provide vital logistical support for Operation Enduring Freedom in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Analysts have said that Uzbekistan agreed to the base, the first Pentagon presence in what is a former Soviet stronghold of central Asia, because of a large US aid package and Washington's silence about the country's appalling human rights record.

The US presence in Uzbekistan has been under intense moral scrutiny after the massacre by Uzbek troops of hundreds of civilians in the southern city of Andijan in May.

The White House was at first muted in its criticism of the massacre, but the state department has grown increasingly vocal in condemning the attack and calling for an independent investigation.

The United States still hasn't realised what it's doing in the former Soviet republics. While Bush paints America as the giver and bringer of democracy to the Middle East and elsewhere, it's ignoring the tyrants that it's propping up for small favours like using air bases. Miniscule amounts of aid are given, then when an outrage like a massacre happens and the US has to say something so that it doesn't look incredibly hypocritical, the country realises it's better off in the hands of the see no evil hear no evil of the East, mainly China (Russia also has a similar if not entirely the same approach). Robert Mugabe has already seen the effectiveness of this. It's better to be eat from the same plate from those similar to yourself than to get crumbs from the plate of those who demand change, however small.

Share |


Bush bypasses Congress and appoints John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

Who didn't see this one coming:

The US president, George Bush, today bypassed the senate and installed the controversial neo-conservative John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

Mr Bush took advantage of his power to fill vacancies without senate approval while Congress is in recess. Under the constitution, Mr Bolton's recess appointment during the senators' August break will last until the next session of Congress, which begins in January 2007.

"He will provide clear US leadership for reform," Mr Bush said. "He will insist on results. He believes in the goals of the UN, in peace and human rights."

Additionally, from the BBC:

Mr Bush said Democrats had forced him to bypass Congress by using "shameful delaying tactics" to prevent a vote.

"This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about UN reform," Mr Bush said.

There's just a few questionable remarks there. John Bolton and the US only believe in the United Nations when it is willing to do its bidding, as shown by the showdown over Iraq in 2003, ending when the "coalition of the willing", or USuk, started bombing regardless of a second resolution which would have authorised force. The US has vetoed dozens of resolutions over the years condemning the Israelis for their violations of international law. Mr Bolton is such a believer in peace that he was one of the members of the Project for a New American Century, which advocates American power, I mean leadership worldwide, culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bolton has also been one of the most bellicose on Iran, advocating war at every opportunity over the nuclear dispute.

The Democrats did not use shameful delaying tactics. They were holding investigations into Bolton's distinguished career in bullying his staff into his world view and annoying and challenging his colleagues.

There is no war, Mr Bush. You said the war in Iraq was over in May 2003. Or do you regret that now? I doubt it, seeing as when asked if you regretted anything of your years of being President, you couldn't remember anything.

What I do agree on is that the United Nations needs vital reform. It needs to be reformed so it can resist attempts by nations such as America to use it to declare war on countries like Iraq which pose no threat whatsoever to anyone, except its own citizens, which is a separate issue. It needs to reformed so that when it refuses to do the above, it isn't dismissed as "irrelevant", or as living in the past. The security council does need more permanent members, such as Brazil, India, Nigeria or South Africa. The veto should be entirely stripped. The human rights council does need urgently reforming so that human rights offenders cannot lead it and attack free nations. John Bolton won't achieve this now even if he wanted to, and if it is achieved, it'll be down to Kofi Annan more than anyone, the same person who Republicans are still baying for the blood of for daring to call the war in Iraq illegal. John Bolton was the wrong choice then, and he's a even more disgraceful but predictable choice now.

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates