Saturday, January 21, 2006 

Jean Charles de Menezes: Will we actually even get the report?

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has finished its report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and has sent it to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will consider whether charges are to be brought into what happened on the morning of July the 22nd 2005. The report has been additionally sent to the Met, and to the Home Secretary Charles Clarke. A copy has not been sent to the de Menezes family, I would guess out of pure fear on the police and politicians behalf that they would either leak it or "misinterpret" it.

As it is, we do not know how damning or lenient the report is, whether it lays the blame on the shoot-to-kill policy itself, the poor communication between the officers on that morning or on other factors. We don't know whether it mentions the lies which the media reported as truth in the following few hours and days, and whether the supposed witnesses were actually either members of the Met or paid off by them for their incredibly wrong and misleading information. We don't know whether it was decided on a split-second identification that he should be killed because he fit the description, as an offering to the tabloids and government that the Met were actually doing something. We don't know whether Sir Ian Blair either lied to the News of the World when he said he didn't know that an innocent man had been killed for over 24 hours after the shooting, or whether it was down to incompetence in his organisation, or even that he was being kept out the loop.

Sir Ian Blair's role after the shooting is however additionally being investigated in another inquiry by the IPCC. A senior source close to the Met told the Grauniad that that investigation could be even more damaging than the one into the de Menezes shooting.

The real cause for concern is that we may never even get to see the report, or at least not possibly for years. The CPS is likely to take months to assess whether any police officers will be prosecuted, and even then it is unlikely to be made public for reasons of contempt of court. Charles Clarke has said he would like to see it made public, but it is unlikely until all the proceedings are complete. In other words: years away, if we're lucky. As it is, we're left with the same questions we've been mulling over since the shooting. Why was Jean Charles not stopped before he entered the tube station, or even the bus he boarded? Was he at any point told to stop? Why when he was already being restrained was he then shot 7 times in the head and once in the shoulder, and with 11 bullets in total being fired? To quote the Guardian's source, it "was a complete and utter fuck-up", but was it a sinister fuck-up or one that was down to human error?

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Friday, January 20, 2006 

Straw's statement: same nonsense.

Straw's statement on rendition has added absolutely nothing, but has left him open to the same questions as before. The memo still shows that Straw lied to the Foreign Affairs committee, when he already knew about requests by the Clinton government to use UK airspace for rendition in 1998.

"We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territory since 11 September 2001," said Mr Straw.

"We have found no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK or overseas territory since 1997 where there were substantial grounds to believe there was a real risk of torture."

"We will grant permission only if we are satisfied that the rendition would accord with UK law and our international obligations, and how we understand our obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture."

He added: "We are also clear that the US would not render a detainee through UK territory or airspace (including overseas territory) without our permission."

The memo also makes clear that the US has a lower threshold on what they believe is torture (cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment is fine!), so technically if the UK received any request to comply with a rendition, it should be refused.

But all this is academic. Straw and the government still deny that they have any knowledge of CIA flights which have landed at airports across the country. A report issued by the Scottish National Party shows almost undeniably that airplanes associated and known to have been involved in rendition have landed at Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. It also names both front and real companies set up by the CIA to help with the rendition process. The plane numbers correspond with those previously published by the Guardian (see here and here). If they don't know about these flights, why don't they? Do the security services know, and if they do, why haven't they informed the government that the law is being broken by the CIA? If they don't, why don't they? These questions have so far failed to be answered by the government, who have pleaded ignorance but at the same time have issued internal memos saying that the debate should be moved on. Straw speaks of conspiracy theories, but the government's insistence that it knows nothing but at the same time is desperate to move on the debate smacks of its desperation.

At the very least, we need to have an inquiry into what flights have entered the UK that have been shown to be associated with so-called "extraordinary rendition". It is not good enough for the government to say it has no knowledge and therefore it has nothing to have an inquiry into. These airports must have records of the flights requesting permission to land, or at the very least contact with the control tower. The United States did not request permission to abduct those citizens it felt were worth interrogating from their respective countries, so why would they seek permission from the countries they may just be entering to refuel? This does not mean that the government does not have knowledge of what was going on; it may simply have been turning a blind eye. This is exactly why an inquiry is now needed, if only to restore confidence that this country is not complicit in torture which breaks UN conventions and shows the world that we are no better than those we are supposedly at war against.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Jack Straw lied to the Foreign Affairs committee over "extraordinary rendition".

Late last year Obsolete accused Jack Straw of lying. Now we have the complete evidence that proves he lied when giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs committee on the 13th of December.

The evidence comes from the leaked memo written by Irfan Siddiq, a private secretary at the foreign office, in response to a request from Downing Street for a briefing document ahead of Blair's appearance in the commons to answer questions about British involvement in the practice of "extraordinary rendition", or kidnapping, to give it a jargonless name. The memo in full can be downloaded from the New Statesman website which it was leaked to here. I've also mirrored it in case the Statesman takes it down at some point.

While the entire memo is explosive and worth reading and comparing with government statements, the most important piece is contained in the 17th point:

Pretty straight forward then. No longer could the government reasonably deny that
they had no such requests from the US to help them with their practice of kidnapping terrorist suspects. So what then, other than a bare-faced lie, is this porker which Jack Straw told to the Foreign Affairs committee 6 days after this memo had been written?

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

A full transcript of the committee evidence on rendition is available here.

It would seem that the government has been telling the truth that it is not aware of the US using UK territory for the purposes of rendition. But this is what is called plausible deniability. The UK government has been operating a policy of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". The memo also makes clear that many government departments were frantically searching to see if they had been made aware by the US of what they have been carrying out. It also states that such practices are almost certainly illegal. The "smoking gun" though is the document's attempts to spin the whole debate and focus on moving it onto the realm from which not many people will be able to criticise it: saving innocents from being attacked by terrorists, and accepting Condi Rice's word that the US does not practice torture. The memo itself then undermines her statement, as it makes clear though that the US does not consider "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" torture, so in other words, "torture-lite" is A-OK anywhere in the world.

Both Blair and Straw have a lot of explaining to do. What is now clear is that Jack Straw definitely lied to the Foreign Affairs committee. Deliberately misleading the House of Commons is a serious offence, and if he does not consider this a resigning issue, then he should be investigated by the speaker of the house, who should decide what penalty he should face.

Thanks to BlairWatch, the New Statesman and Guardian for the sources for this piece.

Update: Straw is to give a written statement to the commons on this. Unfortunately, the memo has come out on the same day as Ruth Kelly's statement on sex offenders working in schools, the decision to keep cannabis in drug classification c, and a new audio tape from bin Laden. As such, it has been thrust down the news agenda. What parliament and the so-called opposition must do is tell Straw to stick his written statement and at least give a statement with questions allowed in the house, if not announce a full inquiry. Whether that happens or not should be a useful measure to how far Cameron's "new" Conservatives and the leaderless Lib Dems are willing to challenge this government's obfuscations and downright lies. Thanks to Curious Hamster.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

More on ID cards: Poor old Blair just can't get a break.

Now he's even got his mirror image attacking him over the scheme. Granted, David Davis had enough intelligence to originally oppose the highly-illiberal, huge costing and unnecessary pieces of plastic, but it must hurt to be attacked by someone who's so clearly in love with nearly everything about you:

Plans to introduce identity cards risk ending up as a "monument to the failure of big government", Conservative leader David Cameron has warned.

His comments, during prime minister's questions, follow a report which estimates they will cost £14.5bn.

The prime minister said they were needed to fight identity fraud and illegal immigration.

Mr Cameron asked: "With rising deficits in the NHS, huge costs of pension reform and tighter pressures on public spending, how can you claim that spending at least £600m a year on your ID cards scheme is a good use of public money?"

Identity cards are already known to be hopeless in tackling illegal immigration, as has been shown in Spain. As for identity fraud, once the cards are forged, and they will be, it will be even more difficult for those who find themselves victims to put things right. Still, at least Blair is no longer pretending that they will prevent terrorism.

It doesn't stop with Cameron. More bad news for the government as yet another report savages the government's plans and points out that those bidding to run the IT scheme behind the cards have been involved in previous fiascoes:

Corporate Watch, a Quaker-funded research group in Oxford, says that some of the companies now being consulted by the government about possible involvement "have previously overseen disasters in public sector IT work". They included the US giant EDS, BT Global Services and PA Consulting. "While companies involved in these projects must take some of the blame it would be a mistake to ignore the role of poor planning and mismanagement by government departments," the group's report states.

It blames huge, over-complex schemes that fail to deliver promised benefits. Acknowledging months of controversy over the civil liberty and cost implications of the scheme, due to start in 2008, Corporate Watch says "relatively little attention seems to have been paid to the significant practical problems of implementing ID cards and the National Identity Register", which will eventually hold data on all 60 million UK biometric identities.

Ministers are adamant that their critics have mixed motives, including a gut hostility to ID cards, which they say are inevitable in an era of identity fraud, global crime and terrorism - not least because biometric passports will be introduced this year.

In other words, ministers are tarring the opposition with the same brush: the same people who are always against everything. It's the same tactic they used when trying to push through the 90-days legislation, and when trying to get support for the Iraq war. The reality is that the government has failed to explain how they will help in the fight against all three of those things mentioned in the report, and their case isn't helped when the former head of MI5 says they would be useless in the fight against terrorism. Again, they return to the false argument that because biometric passports are being introduced ID cards also should be - despite the EU leaving the decision to individual nation states. As the Guardian leader points out, the government has to make its case that they are needed on the grounds of necessity and practicality; and neither case has been made.

This government has shown time and again that civil liberties are not there to be respected, but to be tampered with and restricted, and ID cards will do exactly that. That's why they are so desperate to pass them onto the statute book. Expect before long to hear Blair arguing that the police say that they are needed as justification.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006 

ID Cards: This government just doesn't know when to quit.

Once again, the plan for identity cards and for a furthering of the database behind it has been mauled by its opponents. Once again, the government is back up on its feet swinging blindly before it gets knocked back to the canvas again.

The proposals for identity cards had been originally intended to be rushed through as quickly as possible. Thanks to a strong and growing opposition, they have been repeatedly delayed so far. The latest setback to the government's plans has been in the House of Lords, where peers voted to demand that ministers reveal the full estimate of the cost of the entire scheme. They also insisted that cards should not become compulsory through the backdoor, and that only details of external physical characteristics should be held on the database, not internal characteristics, i.e. DNA structures.

The whole scheme itself is full of holes. Ministers have tried to defend it on numerous grounds since it was first muted by dear old Dave Blunkett, and has since been supported by Blair as part of his respect agenda. First they said it was vital in the war against terror, until it was pointed out that the Spanish bombers had ID cards and that it didn't stop the Madrid attacks. Clarke was also forced to admit they would not have stopped the London attacks. To add insult to injury, Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 said they would not make the country safer and that the possibility of forgery could make the completely useless. Ministers then resulted to in effect blaming the EU, saying that biometric passports were to be made compulsory so that the public may as well get 2 for the price of 1. This then fell apart when it was revealed that it was up to individual states to make their own decisions on the matter. Another fallback to defend the scheme was that it would help stop "bogus" asylum seekers. One problem: asylum seekers in the country already have ID cards, issued by the government in previous reforms of the system. Introducing them for the general population would actually likely confuse the issue. And then finally, there are the problems of cost. The government maintains that cards will only cost £93, and that those on lower income will pay lower. Then the London School of Economics issued their report claiming the scheme could cost up to £19bn (that's £7bn more than the annual cost of Incapacity Benefit, fact fans) and that to cover the cost the cards could well cost up to £300. The government rejects these figures, but refuses to release their full estimates and costing because if the IT firms knew how big the budget was, none would bid any less. Of course, it may also be because the government knows who it's handing the scheme to and doesn't want any upstarts to underbid them.

This is without even commenting on the civil liberties implications, the huge database behind the cards which will likely be maintained privately with the possibility of leaks of information, and the horrible thought of returning to the war years with police demanding to see "your papers". Perhaps the best criticism though came from Lord Philips, who quoted a Labour politician who attacked the then Tory plans for ID cards by saying the money should be used on more police instead. That Labour politician? Tony Blair.

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Monday, January 16, 2006 

Death by drone.

The bombing of 3 houses on the edge of a Pakistani village in the north west frontier of the country was, by definition, a terrorist attack. It occurred in a sovereign state, at a time of peace and was directed against civilians. There was no warning. There was no provocation. So why has the moral outrage against this attack only been voiced in Pakistan and the middle east? Because it was an attack by a CIA drone.

The justification given, mainly actually by the media as the White House has been almost silent on the matter, was that Ayman al-Zawahiri was at the house at the time. As the apparent second in command of al-Qaida, and also the "brains" behind the operation, he has a 14 million pound bounty on his head. It just so happens to turn out that the intelligence was either dead wrong, or wrong enough in timing for Zawahiri not to be at the house at the time. As a result, 18 people died, including women and children, with conflicting reports about whether there were "militants" killed as well.

Can you imagine the reaction a similar attack by Iran on Israel would cause? Say for instance that Iran decided to assassinate a far-right Jewish settler leader, and actually missed him and killed 18 innocent Israelis. What would the reaction be? You would expect that at the very least Israel would plot revenge, even if it did not carry it out. There would be worldwide condemnation, and in the current climate would almost certainly push the security council into placing sanctions on the regime. In fact, we have an even closer example than Iran or Israel. The UN is still currently conducting its report into the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, with Syria as the accused. Sanctions are a possibility if it rules that Syria did carry out the assassination.

Of course, there is no chance that sanctions or anything that would damage America will happen as a result of this incident. After all, it was directed against one of the leaders of a suicidal-cult which wants to destroy America and freedom worldwide. But what was stopping the Americans from informing Pakistan of its intentions? The security services obviously knew. Why did the Americans not quickly summon special forces to be dropped and surround the village, instead of just bombing it better? If he was actually there they could have seized their prize alive. Instead, they now have 18 dead bodies, and a whole country rightfully angered by the actions of what America would call a rogue state.

Rather than apologise for what has happened, at least one American poltician did nothing of the sort. John McCain, a possible presidental candidate for 2008 and thought of as a more "liberal" Republican, said this:

"We have to go where these people are, and we have to take them out,"


"I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."

He can't for one good reason. He knows full well it will happen again, as it has happened before. The US started the Iraq war by trying to kill Saddam Hussein. It failed that time, also. Before that CIA predator drones have been used to kill supposed militants travelling through Afghanistan.

Still, maybe this will give Tony Blair some ideas for his respect agenda. Perhaps he should give police the option of using the ultimate in "summary justice" - launching a hellfire missile at teenagers daring to congregate outside the shops in the evening.

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