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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005 

Iraqi sandstorm delays constitution talks.

Apparently the worst to hit Baghdad since the USuk invasion.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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