Saturday, November 19, 2005 

Katrina 'sent by god to punish gays'.

It's the sort of comment you'd expect to be uttered by a bigoted Baptist southern minister. Proving the DUP is full of some of the most intolerant and deluded people on the face of the planet, Maurice Mills broadcast the following:

A Democratic Unionist councillor who said hurricane Katrina was sent to the US by God to punish the New Orleans gay community yesterday stood by his views despite calls for his resignation.

Maurice Mills, twice mayor of Ballymena, said New Orleans was about to host an annual gay pride festival when God intervened through Katrina.

It was a warning to nations "where such wickedness is increasingly promoted and practised". Northern Ireland gay rights campaigners said he should be sacked. But he said: "This is me as an individual taking a stand for God."

This is the same "Democratic" Unionist Party that tried to ban a gay pride parade in Northern Ireland on the grounds that it was offensive to the local population. I'd expect that the orange order marches that go through Northern Ireland every year are offensive to Catholics, but you can imagine the outcry if they were banned. As a believer in free speech, Maurice Mills is entitled to broadcast his moronic opinion to the world. His constituents should vote him out at the next election instead.

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Iraq - at least 130 civilians killed this week.

Add to that total 2 South African security guards, and at least 6 Iraqi police. I think it's shameful the way that the suicide bombings in Iraq are constantly slipping down the news agenda; we helped to create this situation, and if the bombings took place in a western country, they would be worldwide news with coverage for days.

Instead we have got used to the horrific scenes of pools of blood on concrete, of burned out cars, severed limbs and the harrowing scene of relatives mourning their dead in public. In a week that the US admitted using a weapon which burns the skin to the bone in a civilian area, isn't it time that the politicians faced up to the now horrific situation and stopped with the posturing that things are better than they were under Saddam?

(Sources for deaths:

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Friday, November 18, 2005 

UN stands up to US over Guantanamo bay.

Well, by stand up I mean they've refused an invitation because the US wouldn't allow them to talk the detainees on their own. In other words, a lose-lose situation.

The UN has formally rejected a US invitation to visit the Guantanamo prison camp, saying it cannot accept the restrictions imposed by Washington.

UN human rights experts said the US had refused to grant them the right to speak to detainees in private.

UN senior official Manfred Nowak said private interviews were a "totally non-negotiable pre-condition" for conducting the visit.

Some 500 terror suspects are being held at the US military camp.

Mr Nowak, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, told the BBC his team would accept nothing less than unfettered access.

"If you want to hear from a detainee or know from a detainee whether he or she has been subjected to torture or ill treatment then you must be allowed to speak to this person in private," he said.

"In front of prison guards they would never tell you the truth because of being afraid of reprisal.

"There are certain conditions which we feel are non-negotiable and unannounced visit to places of detention and private interviews with detainees is one of those totally non-negotiable pre-conditions."

Only the International Committee of the Red Cross has been given access to the prisoners. It reports its findings only to the detaining authorities.

Human rights campaigners have expressed growing concern about the treatment of the inmates at Guantanamo, a number of whom are on hunger strike.

Calls for it to be opened to human rights monitors increased this year, as more allegations surfaced of abuse at the prison camp.

UN officials have been trying to visit the camp since it opened in January 2002.

Last month, the Pentagon said the UN monitors would be allowed to visit the camp on 6 December.

Pentagon spokesman Lieut Col Brian Maker told the BBC the invitation to the UN team was intended to allay fears that detainees were being mistreated.

The Pentagon spokesman's contention that the invitation was to show that detainees were not being mistreated is nonsense on one simple matter: those who are on hunger strike in protest at the conditions in the camp are being force-fed, with the result that the prisoners are coughing up blood thanks to the ways they are having feeding tubes shoved down their noses.

Even more alarming is an article by Victoria Brittain, which contends that many of the detainees are innocents. The US has not yet confirmed whether it has released the two children it was detaining at Guantanamo, in breach of nearly every international war protocol you can name. It's also worth remembering that the US and Somalia are the only two countries not to sign the UN convention on the rights of the child, Somalia's excuse being that it lacks a central government. The US declined to sign it because some states execute children aged 16 and 17 for crimes which carry the death penalty.

Victoria Brittain ends her article by saying that history will judge the current administration harshly. Francis Fukuyama's statement that the end of the Soviet Union brought about the end of history was incorrect. The problem with both Tony Blair and the Bush administration is that they haven't and don't understand history. By the time the contemporary becomes history, who's to say it might have been abolished altogether?

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Thursday, November 17, 2005 

Pinochet says God will forgive him.

Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, has declared that God will pardon him for human rights abuses committed during his 17-year rule, according to newly released court documents.

Asked by Chilean judge Victor Montiglio about the killing of 3,000 Chilean civilians during the military government, Mr Pinochet, 89, said: "I suffer for these losses, but God does the deeds; he will pardon me if I exceeded in some, which I don't think."

Extracts of court documents, released to human rights lawyers on Monday, show Mr Pinochet to be coherent and precise in his answers. When questioned about his decision to take power in the coup of September 11, 1973, against then-president Salvador Allende, Mr Pinochet said: "Everything that I did, all that I carried out, all the problems I had, I dedicate to God, all this I dedicate to Chile because this permitted that the country was not communist and arose as it is today."

It is being interpreted by Pinochet critics as proof of his mental acuity. Manuel Cabieses, editor of Punto Final, a Santiago weekly newspaper, said: "This shows what we all know, he is an old fox and that he can find the exact words to justify what he did."

Mr Pinochet provided a convoluted and contradictory denial when Judge Montiglio asked about the military chain of command. "I don't remember, but it is not true," said Mr Pinochet, when asked whether as Chilean president he was the director of the bloody intelligence agency known as the Dina.

Mr Pinochet's interrogation follows court decisions that again open the possibility that he is mentally fit to stand trial. The current investigations focus on alleged money laundering and responsibility for 15 deaths in Operation Colombo, a 1975 massacre of opponents of the military regime.

It makes you wonder what Henry Kissinger thinks about God. Does he think that God will forgive him for his part in that other September the 11th, the one which brought Pinochet to power? Or does he think that God will agree with his now infamous quote?

"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."

It's probably what Tony Blair thinks about those who voted against 90-day detention without trial.

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Jean Charles de Menezes: shot with 'dum dum' bullets.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse:

The Brazilian man shot dead by police in the mistaken belief that he was a suicide bomber was killed with a type of bullet banned in warfare under international convention, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

The firing of hollow point ammunition into the head of Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, is believed to be the first use of the bullets by British police.

It will re-ignite controversy around the shooting, at Stockwell Underground station, south London, on July 22.

Modern hollow point bullets are descendants of the expanding "dum dum" ammunition created by the British in an arsenal of the same name near Calcutta, in India, at the end of the 19th century and outlawed under the Hague Declaration of 1899.

The bullets, which expand and splinter on impact, were available to officers taking part in Operation Kratos, the national police drive against suspected suicide bombers which has been described as a "shoot to kill" policy.

Their issue was sanctioned after research suggested that they were an effective close-quarters ammunition for use against someone about to trigger a suicide bomb.

It is believed the decision was influenced by the tactics used by air marshals on passenger jets - where such bullets are designed to splinter in the body and not burst the fuselage. They have been assessed as posing less risk to people around the suicide bomber than conventional bullets but the effect on victims is devastating.

Like the overall Kratos policy, the decision to make dum dum-style bullets available was taken in secret. However, it is understood that the Home Office became aware three years ago that police were considering their use.

Negotiations on possible national guidance are understood to have been inconclusive and the choice of ammunition appears to be at the discretion of police chiefs, not the Home Secretary.

There is no legal prohibition on police use of such ammunition. The Home Office confirmed last night that "chief officers may use whatever ammunition they consider appropriate to meet their operational needs".

It is understood from security sources that hollow point bullets are still available as an option to police firearms teams in Kratos-type cases.

Coming the day after Sir Ian Blair claimed that he wanted a national debate on the police and their influence and power in society in a televised lecture, this seems just slightly embarrassing. He claimed that the public should decide measures like the Kratos shoot-to-kill policy, but neglected to mention that the police had done so with little consultation with the government. It now also appears that some officers decided to use bullets which shatter within the body - meaning that if they ever actually shot a terrorist and he/she survived, let alone another innocent like Jean Charles, doctors would be unable to remove all the fragments from their body and they would likely be in pain the rest of their lives - without bothering to consult the Home Office over it, who then discovered and did nothing about it.

It then brings the question to why they felt the need to put 7 of these bullets into his head. What exactly was left of his head following the barrage? I guess the orders must be to if possible utterly destroy the brain - stopping them from activating any explosives - but Jean Charles had already been stopped and restrained. An over eager officer, a show of force on a sloppily wrongly identified man to show the police were up to the task, a tragic mistake and failure of communication or a justified reaction to a perceived threat, followed by an attempted cover-up and planting of witnesses, with the head of Met lying to a national newspaper, or a bad mistake compounded by wrong information allowed to be printed in the media? I think I know what explanation I'm more likely to believe.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005 

Two sides of Israel.

On the day when an agreement was finally reached over the border crossings into the Gaza strip, an Israeli military court gave carte blanche to the IDF to murder Palestinian children, by acquitting an army officer who shot a 13 year old girl 17 times.

Many Palestinian children have been killed since the break-out of the second intifada, but this case has become well-known thanks to soldiers under the officer's command who want to the press, themselves horrified at his actions. Iman al-Hams seemingly accidentally crossed into a security zone on her way to school. Fearing that her bag may hold a bomb, they fired first near her, causing her to drop her bag and run. The soldiers then shot her bag, confirming that it had no explosives. Most would now assume that the girl had been confused, maybe even dared into entering the security area, and let her go. The military themselves tried to justify what happened next by saying that she may have been trying to lure the soldiers out, but this is discounted when you consider that it was "Captain R" himself that led out some of the troops and then shot the girl. Believing she was dead, he walked up to her body and emptied his entire magazine into the girl's body, 3 of the bullets entering her head, according to the doctor at Rafah hospital.

Despite all this evidence available to the court, he was pronounced not guilty on minor charges. An original investigation found that he had "not acted unethically". In doing so, they are seen to agree with Capt R that anyone that's "mobile" in a security zone, even if it is a three-year-old, has to be killed. At no time were the soldiers threatened. They were stationed in a watchtower, and the girl was 100 yards away from it when she was shot at. One of the soldiers had radioed a colleague at an operations room and described Iman as a "little girl" who was "scared to death". The Israelis have condoned the actions of any soldier that feels like shooting a Palestinian child that accidentally or otherwise enters an area under Israeli control.
They don't even need to be throwing stones at tanks any more for it to be justified.

Away from the cold-blooded judgement of the military court, a deal was signed that does breathe hope into the currently moribund peace process. Gaza has been a prison since the evacuation of the settlers, with all the border crossings shut and all residents unable to leave. This was even worse than the situation which carried on for many years where Palestinians had to request permits to leave Gaza that often never arrived or were refused for the slightest reason.

The deal itself, negotiated with the help of Condoleezza Tanker, isn't in entirely revolutionary but it is a start. The main change is that the EU will oversee the Rafah border crossing, which is likely to make movement through there much easier for all concerned. Israel will though continue to have control of entry from Gaza into Israel, and will no doubt operate the same policy of shutting it off for hours or even days at a time. They also will monitor the crossing from Egypt into Gaza, so that they can stop weapons smuggling. The other main change was that a sea port will finally be built, although Gaza airport will remain closed. It would take a long time to get it up and running anyway, after Israeli bulldozers ripped up the runway a while ago.

The most important part of getting Gaza back up and running though is the transport of goods grown there. Following the evacuation of the settlers, Palestinian farmers have more land which they can work with, which will help to boost the economy which is an a disastrous shape, again thanks to Israel. Under the plan 150 trucks of goods can leave a day, and they hope this will rise to 400 a day once new scanning equipment has been installed. Hopefully this will also help stop produce grown in the occupied territories being marked as Israeli.

What this agreement also shows is that negotiation can work. Ariel Sharon has said that there is no partner for peace at the moment with the Palestinians, when the reality is that Sharon is only interested in emasculating the West Bank and defining the new barrier as the de facto borders of a Palestinian state, if one is ever to be declared. That this will never work doesn't matter to him. He will no doubt go down in history as the first man to broke "real peace". Finally though he is being challenged by the Israeli left, with Amir Peretz surprisingly winning the election for new Labour party leader. He has declared that if he wins the election he will immediately begin new negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. With Arafat gone, and the myth around him of being a terrorist who would not negotiate gone with him, there is a real chance that something may well finally be about to change. Don't hold your breath, but this may mark the start of the real hope of peace in Israel.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005 

Star's fundamentalism over Barbie.

The Daily Star, a tabloid newspaper which makes the Sun look positively upmarket today leads with a great piece of smear on Muslims everywhere. The Star has been running a campaign against "political correctness", such as Christmas lights being banned because they might offend people of other faiths and piggy banks being removed from offices and banks because they might offend Muslims who find pigs unclean. Despite the fact the majority of such stories are complete bullshit, it doesn't stop them from being printed.

So, today's front page isn't much of a surprise. It states that a Barbie wearing a burqa (traditional Islamic dress) has become a major hit in the Middle East. Nothing wrong with reporting that. Except that the Star does it in the most bating way it possibly can. It says that she puts the fun in fundamentalism, implying that all women who dare to wear traditional dress or to express themselves through their religion are extremists waiting to explode on our buses. As you can probably see, the Star prefers women to be wear something much different or rather, as little as possible. It boasts it has a "page 3 girl every day". A quick flip through the paper, and you'll discover numerous pairs of bare breasts, celebrity fixation that makes Heat magazine look like a Will Self book, and a general contempt for ordinary news values.

Still, this is from the stable of Richard "Dirty" Desmond, who last year while he was thought to be close to buying the Telegraph strutted round the office sieg heiling and singing Deutschland Uber Alles while having a meeting with Telegraph execs. His reasons for doing so were because a German company was also in negotiations with the Telegraph. Neither ended up buying it. Desmond's other claim to fame is his huge porn publishing empire, which is how he made his fortune. While he sold of some of his mags last year, such as Asian Babes and Mega Boobs, he continues to own the Fantasy Channel which shows programmes of the Razzle nature of eroticism. Still who cares that a pornographer was able to buy one of the most venerable old British newspapers, the Express. It's the news values that matter, and as we can see from the Daily Star, they surely were right to let him buy them.

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Afghanistan, Iraq, CIA flights, white phosphorous, napalm, where does it all end?

Numerous stories coming out today concerned with military endevaours in various fields. The main one appears to be of how the US is abandoning Afghanistan and letting us here in the coalition of the doing the dirty work follow up:

Britain is attempting to build a coalition to pursue counter-insurgency combat operations against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan after the withdrawal by the Bush administration of 4,000 US troops early next year.

Talks with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several other countries are being held before a Nato meeting in Brussels on December 7. They follow the refusal of European allies, such as France and Germany, to allow their troops to become involved in counter-insurgency.

The discussions are among preparations for the deployment of 2,000 crack British troops backed by Apache attack helicopters to lawless Helmand province at the head of an expanded, British-led Nato force next spring. An additional 2,000 British troops are expected to be sent to Afghanistan next year bringing the total number to somewhere around 4,800. The British mission in the south represents a significant escalation of its overall involvement in Afghanistan. Military sources said it was potentially more hazardous - and could last longer - than Britain's postwar involvement in Iraq.

"The debate is not whether, but to what extent these troops will get into counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics," a military source said. "We are not talking war fighting. But there is potential for armed conflict in some areas. The reality is that there are warlords, drug traffickers, al-Qaida, al-Qaida wannabes and Taliban."

An officer said: "It could take longer to crack than Iraq. It could take 10 years."

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since the 2001 US-led invasion. Suicide bombers killed a German peacekeeper in Kabul yesterday. A British soldier died recently in a gun battle in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Mainly this is down to the public in America forgetting that there even was a war before the one in Iraq. I mean, Afghanistan is democratic, women are free and children can fly kites now right? That's all the matters really. The main problem which the west has with Afghanistan now is that they have gone back to their old ways of growing opium instead of crops. While the Taliban decimated the poppy crop through brutality, attempts by the British led counter-narcotics team have mainly failed. It hasn't been helped that America doesn't really care about the massive opium crop. It doesn't reach their streets, as it instead floods the pavements of Europe. A recent study suggested that just one kilo of heroin leads to 20 additional crimes. While America focuses on its "war on drugs" on Latin America and continues with its attempts to eradicate the coca crop in Columbia, Afghanistan's heroin problems are ignored. Even this focus ignores the underlying problems of Afghanistan, the warlords, the continuing instability and that the country has been through at least 25 years of turmoil. It also reflects on America's reluctance to face up to its funding of the mujahadein fighting the Soviet occupation, which led to the forming of al-Qaida. Instead of finishing off what they started, they're leaving it to the lackeys and minor partners in the war on terror to continue fighting what may become a perpetual battle.

More American arrogance is exposed with the revelation that Spanish officials have uncovered more secret flights allegedly made by the CIA transporting terror suspects to countries which turn a blind eye or participate in torture. The CIA seems to consider some individuals such a threat to either the security of the world or to the "new world order" that it has abducted people without bothering to inform the countries they have citizenship with. This has now happened in both Italy and Germany, where in the former a judge has called for extradition of alleged CIA agents for kidnap. Don't expect anything to happen or for the flights to legal black holes to end shortly. The Bush administration continues to fight attempts by the senate to make the mistreatment of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay illegal, and is likely to win, while those incarcerated there have lost their right to appeal against their detention, as they are "enemy combatants".

While America ignores the right to imprisonment without trial and the right to legal advice in their little part of Cuba, it seems to be doing the same in Iraq. Figures received by the Liberal Democrats show that over 35,000 Iraqis have been detained since the invasion in March 2003, and of the 1,300 of that number who have been charged with any offence, only half have been convicted. Even more worrying, or not, if you're being cynical and have the feeling that the US intends to stay Iraq for a lot longer than they claim, is that the system of detentions may be fuelling the insurgency, with the amount of attacks doubling over the time that the number of detainees has doubled. Nothing like being humiliated by a foreign occupier to make a native react against a "liberation."

And last but certainly not least, George Monbiot crystallises a lot of blog activity and research into the allegations that the Americans have used both white phosphorous and napalm as offensive weapons in Iraq. As usual, the bottom half of the coalition of the willing is lied to, and made to look foolish when it turns out they have been, in this case the new Blair loyalist Ann Clywd. Ann became a minor celebrity in the Labour party ranks before the war, as she was one of the few who had condemned Saddam's attack on Halabaja in parliament at the time. She was one of the major backers of regime change, and has since become the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party. She also has a high entertainment value, as she is regularly asked onto Newsnight and seems to be pathologically convinced that Iraq is now a haven of sweetness and light where everyone is safe and Sunni and Shia tuck each other up in bed and tell each other bed time stories. Her claims that Iraq is safer, that democracy is flourishing and that less people are dying are laughable to anyone who often reads the depressing reality of Iraq as conveyed by the likes of Juan Cole.

As George Monbiot concludes, Saddam Hussein faces trial accused of mass murder, torture, false imprisonment and the use of chemical weapons. It's incredibly sad to realise that the liberators of Iraq have done all four of those things in a much shorter time frame than Saddam ever managed.

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Monday, November 14, 2005 

Greenpeace protest by dumping coal outside Downing Street.

In an otherwise rather slow news day (apart from the highly dubious parading of the Jordanian suicide bomber's wife) Greenpeace took a rather direct approach to criticising Blair's failures to cut by dumping coal at three of the entrances to Downing Street.

While Greenpeace's actions were a rather effective publicity stunt, underneath trouble seems to lurking under Britain's previously laudable climate change policies. Blair himself seemed to cast doubt on the idea of cutting emissions in favour of the environment when he said: "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge". Those who agree with that statement are those who want our children to inherit a dying planet. The west has got so used to the un sustainability of neo-liberal economics, with constantly rising profits and growth that it cannot see the reality of a planet which is not expendable. We need to move towards true cost economics, examining the damage we are doing and adjusting our GDP appropriately. Such a radical move is not being examined by anyone outside a small left wing movement, sadly.

Instead, we've got a fantastic idea from a leaked paper in today's Grauniad, with plans to clampdown further on the 70 MPH speed limit on the motorways:

Existing policies set out in 2000 to cut carbon dioxide emissions are falling well short, it adds. "We need to do about 75% more in around half the time."

The review lists 58 possible measures to save an extra 11m-14m tons of carbon pollution each year, which it calls the government's "carbon gap". One of the options, a new obligation to mix renewable biofuels into petrol for vehicles, was announced last week. Stricter enforcement of the 70 mph limit, the document says, would save 890,000 tons of carbon a year - more than the biofuels obligation and many other listed measures put together.

As if we don't have enough car people moaning about the stealth tax of speed cameras, you can imagine the virtual implosion of anger which will erupt from their already boiling brains. Still, what else is the answer? If the government says businesses should do more, the CBI jumps up and down like a petulant child, saying it is already being squeezed and squeezed despite Britain enjoying the most permissive business environment ever. If the government is serious about such a plan, it needs to sort out the railways and establish a true national public transport system. The reversal of its stubborn policy to keep the catastrophic privatisation of the railways going would be a great start. Too bad it'll never happen.

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Moss dross: Hypocrisy of the Mirror.

Here's today's Mirror banner boost, saying that Kate Moss has been warned that a "psychotic" stalker obsessed with her is on the loose. No doubt troubling news for a model who has already had enough problems this year.

Then again, there's another obsessed sex stalker that is on the loose. This stalker exposed her snorting cocaine, last Sunday printed her on the front page in lingerie, and then last Monday published topless paparrazi photos of her while she stayed in Ibiza. This obsessed sex stalker's identity? The Mirror group of newspapers.

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