Friday, February 03, 2006 

It's just another memo.

And so to the issue that has been somewhat swept under the rug due to the sinking of the ship carrying 1400 passengers and the protests over the Danish cartoons. Phillipe Sands has managed to obtain another confidential memo which details the minutes of a two-hour meeting between Bush and Blair. It finally dispels any lingering claim that ministers could make the Blair was not set on war before they tried to gain a second UN resolution. It also again raises questions over whether the Attorney General was told to change his legal advice about the war.

Tony Blair told President George Bush that he was "solidly" behind US plans to invade Iraq before he sought advice about the invasion's legality and despite the absence of a second UN resolution, according to a new account of the build-up to the war published today.

A memo of a two-hour meeting between the two leaders at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.

"The diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning", the president told Mr Blair. The prime minister is said to have raised no objection. He is quoted as saying he was "solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".

The memo seen by Prof Sands reveals:

· Mr Bush told Mr Blair that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours". Mr Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]".

· Mr Bush even expressed the hope that a defector would be extracted from Iraq and give a "public presentation about Saddam's WMD". He is also said to have referred Mr Blair to a "small possibility" that Saddam would be "assassinated".

· Mr Blair told the US president that a second UN resolution would be an "insurance policy", providing "international cover, including with the Arabs" if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq.

· Mr Bush told the prime minister that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups". Mr Blair did not demur, according to the book.

It's somewhat ironic that a time when the US and UK were accusing Iraq of numerous deceptions that they themselves were so desperate for a smoking gun that Bush apparently suggested trying to draw Iraq into attacking a US plane disguised as a UN one. That itself would have been a breach of international law. Is there no end to Bush's apparent urge to do devious things? It makes his apparent urge to bomb Al-Jazeera look good by comparison.

Blair had long made his mind up to support the US whatever happened, and the twisting of intelligence, the half-hearted attempts to get a second resolution and his apparent sitting on Lord Goldsmith to change his advice that war would be illegal without one all show his mendacity on this issue. He constantly said that Saddam could remain in control if he disarmed, when he already knew that there was no way that the Ba'athist regime would be allowed to stay in power. The book by Sands also shows that nearly everyone apart from Blair and Alastair Campbell were unsure about the war - Jack Straw had concerns, as did Jeremy Greenstock. 3 ministers eventually resigned, and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a deputy legal advisor at the Foreign Office maintains that the Attorney General had the same view as her - that the war was illegal.

But does any of this really matter now? Even if it didn't, Iraq is now in a huge mess. Some journalists are even saying that the situation is getting even worse, if that's possible. As Blair continues to search for his legacy and more and more revelations come out about the war, the more he is implicated in being devious, if not lying (which is hard to conclusively prove), the worse the picture of him becomes. The sad reality for a man who was once seen as the brightest and most inclusive of his generation is that he has no one to blame but himself.

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Freedom of speech: just how far does it go?

That the acquittal of Nick Griffin came on the same day as the furore over the cartoons of Muhammad reached fever pitch is something of a coincedence, but not necessarily a bad one. Both issues raise the question of how far free speech can and should be taken.

To begin with, Nick Griffin is a racist and a vile one at that. He and his organisation prey upon the weak and naive, using propaganda to recruit those who do not know any better. His claims that Islam is a "wicked and vicious faith" is a crude generalisation that can equally apply to certain parts of any major religion. The southern fundamentalist Baptists in American spring to mind, with their intolerance of homosexuality. How about the extremist Jews who populate the settlements of the West Bank and wish to drive the Arabs out? The chauvinist parties of India have similar low feelings for the Muslims that remain there. His remarks about a local situation that was handled, which involved the apparent grooming of teenage girls was used as a slur against every muslim man in the country. He described asylum seekers, those fleeing persecution and looking for safety as "cockroaches". His completely ridiculous claims that the government puts "their" people above "our" people is a typical polarising tactic used by racists, the us and them syndrome. Yet while I hate his remarks, nothing of which he said should, or did, have breached the law. He did not call for anyone to be attacked or murdered. His remarks were however for the consumption of those who were potential recruits to his cause - of whipping up hysteria and putting one person against another on the basis of their ethnicity or colour of their skin. He should be condemned in the strictest terms, and all his arguments should be deconstructed and showed to be shams - which is what they are. He should not be in prison or banned from public speaking for what he did.

Which brings us to the badly drawn and not generally very good cartoons which were originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The main outrage felt by some in the Middle East and in Muslim communities is not only that the prophet Muhammad is not meant to have images made of him (those that exist only generally show his body, his face is usually blank, although a letter in the Grauniad claims that only the Wahhabis and Sunnis generally forbid such images, while the Shia and Sufi are more relaxed about it, which may be why there doesn't seem to have been much protest from and inside Iran.) but also that one of them features a bomb in his turban. The spectre of outrage now seems to reaching levels of anger last seen at the height of the Satanic Verses controversy, but many do also seem to be try to pour water onto the fire, such as the Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has condemned the cartoons but also the militants that have helped give Islam such a bad image.

Jack Straw, probably realising he has a substantial Muslim population in his constituency as well as just speaking as Foreign Secretary, has condemned the newspapers that have republished the cartoons. While they have obviously be acting in solidarity, and the images are now freely available on the internet, it still wasn't really warranted and enflames the situation. It makes those from the outside world think that Europe as a whole has a problem, and no doubt extremists on both sides will be delighted with what has happened.

Free speech as a whole should be an absolute. The day that it becomes a crime to cause offence to someone for whatever reason will be the day that I go jump in the river. Despite their passionate beliefs, do those protesting about the way Muhammad has been pictured really think that he would have cared or that he could stand up to such criticism? It's very similar to those Christians who campaigned against Jerry Springer the Opera - if God existed he would no doubt just view the whole thing as being extremely stupid and quite possibly a bit of fun. If someone with so much power cannot handle being made fun of, why should those who worship him do so, or resort to defending his honour so fiercely when they don't know what his actual view is? It's also worth considering the disgraceful anti-semitism which appears in many state-run Arab newspapers, and even in some school textbooks. Denmark also has to face up to the fact one of the parties of government is virulently anti-immigrant, and that its society has become segregated. It is far from blameless in this issue.

Anti-fascists and liberals are therefore stuck in a quandary. Doubtless we disapprove of the cartoons that are caricatures of only the most extreme members of society. We should respect that Muslims feel that the drawings are threatening, and insult their prophet. However, that doesn't mean that we should apologise or give in to such censorship. What we should be doing is trying to defuse the situation - pointing to human solidarity against those on both sides who wish to harm the majority. Unless we can get past religions and ethnicity, mutual hatred and fear, then we are doomed to repeat the injustices of empire and the brutality of fascism over and over again.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006 

Shell's huge profits 'bit disappointing',

That Royal Dutch Shell's profits ($22.94bn (£13.12bn)) are disgusting goes without saying. That they should be hit by even higher windfall taxes should be a given. Nevermind that though, let's hear what Jaap Barendregt of FBS Bankiers has to say:

"Things are as expected, but the result in itself is a bit disappointing."

Yes, that's right. £1.5 million an hour isn't enough for these bankers and companies. Is reality ever scheduled to hit some of these people? Maybe it will when they start hitting the floor again, 1930s US depression style. Perhaps then they'll start to think about the immense wealth gap, of the inherent poverty suffered by billions and the damage the current economic orthodoxy is causing. Till then though, let's just keep profits building and building and ignore everything else.

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The Sun seems to have got very excited over same-sex relationships all of a sudden. First two page-3 girls became lovers (along with hot and steamy tales of them having sex) then they "expose" Simon Hughes for being bi-sexual, and now they've discovered that a lesbian couple in the army have "wed" i.e. gone for a civil partnership.

Despite the fact that the Sun is only a month late (when the fact that gay couples could get their relationship recognised by the law was actually news) its "news" story about the happy couple is very much different to the sneering and homophobia-tinged articles about Simon Hughes - limp dems, biting pillows, hanging around toilets, etc.

Could it possibly be that the Sun only approves of homosexuality when it's conducted by gorgeous pouting women, providing ample fantasies for its male readership? No, that would just be silly.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006 

Front page-watch: Moss dross and reverse ferrets.

And it's another day of ridiculous overblown and hypocritical front pages from the Street of Shame.

The Express was one of the most gung-ho about the war and after its swift conclusion said that Blair had been absolutely right. How times change. While the Mail was more sniffy about the whole adventure, it didn't withhold its support either, especially seeing as the Tories were just as enthusiastic (in some cases more so) than Labour in bombing Iraq better. Nevermind though, four inquiries and a hundred deaths later and the middle-class tabloids finally get it. Congratulations on being three years too late.

On to slightly more tabloid lines (geddit?!?!??!?!) with yet another return to the drudgery of Kate Moss, who's finally returned to the country to be questioned by police about using a class a substance. It's obviously big news, and hasn't been covered to death over the last six months.

They also both cover the 100 dead in Iraq, in different ways. The Mirror was very much against the war under the previous editorship of Piers "Morgan" Moron and still is, while the Sun along with every other Murdoch owned newspaper supported the war. So, to the Sun the 100 are of course, heroes. I wonder if Rebekah Wade and Murdoch himself think the same of all the innocent Iraqis killed as a result of our actions?

Honourable mention in the Moss dross stakes also goes to the Grauniad, which has a small piece on the front page about it. I wished instead of her shooting up that someone would shoot her up.

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Humiliating defeat for government over "religious hatred" - bring on ID cards!

When a government gets defeated when it has a majority, it somewhat reaffirms your belief that democracy and free speech actually still do exist. Many were delighted when the government was humiliated on its outrageous attempts to introduce up to 90-day detention for "terrorist suspects", but yesterday's defeat was even more worth savouring.

The bill was meant to outlaw "incitement to religious hatred". Labour has tried repeatedly to get the bill through parliament, and each time has been rebuffed, mainly because of the chilling effects in its unaltered form it would have had on freedom of speech and expression. What some have suspected is that Labour pushed it so hard this time, and indeed, put it in its manifesto purely so that it could win back support that it lost from Britain's Muslim communities - who aren't currently protected under the race laws which prohibit hatred against Jews and Sikhs. The problem with the legislation - and this is where it gets down into the dullness of the English language, is that as often with this government, it was drafted far too broadly. While I felt the law was not needed in the first place, as other similar pieces of legislation in Australia for instance, have only led to different churches and religions filing complaints against one another, with few other prosecutions. The other obvious matter is that you can choose your religion, and that freedom of speech relies on being able to make fun of others and criticise them. You can't choose the colour you are when you're born, but you sure can decide to disown the religion you might have be born into. That is the vital difference.

The bill had been altered in the Lords in many ways, and the government compromised on some, but refused to agree with the changes made to the two most vital parts. The bill as the government wanted it would have made "a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour" towards a religion a criminal. As above, once we lose the freedom to be abusive and insulting, we may as well shut the Houses of Parliament, as Prime Minister's Questions would have to be stopped. The Lords therefore removed "abusive and insulting", but the government reinserted it and was defeated. The other issue was that if a threat was made against a religious group, it had to be intentional. Under the bill someone could be prosecuted for being "reckless", as in being silly and not serious. Again, the Lords amended the bill to make sure that someone could only be prosecuted if they were intendedly threatening. The government refused, and was defeated.

The moral of the story would be simple, if it wasn't for the government's apparent incompetence. The second division of voting was only lost by one vote, and the Dear Leader himself decided not to bother to use his, meaning that he could have swayed the balance. The first was lost by ten votes - but only 27 Labour MPs rebelled against a three line whip to join the Tory and Lib Dem opposition (Gorgeous George Galloway voted with the government, probably because of the ethnic diversity of his constituency) while 24 Labour MPs didn't vote; mainly because there were in Scotland campaigning for an upcoming by-election. In other words, the whips got it completely wrong.

That the government only lost on a bill which would have had such an effect on free speech by chance is bad enough, but it's deflected from the real issue. The government was dead wrong, and once again we had to rely on the unelected Lords and the Tories who were more opposed on political grounds than for concern for civil liberties. Still, it's a defeat, and on a bad bill. Hopefully this will galvanise opposition to ID cards, and if the government doesn't significantly compromise - on education.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006 

Sun-watch: homophobia and Huntley's mother.

The Sun isn't homophobic, oh no, remember, two of its best friends are lesbians. They just happen to be Page 3 girls.

Gay MP hangs around loos

GAY MP Simon Hughes has his name on a plaque at public toilets he opened in his constituency.

He performed the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at the lavs in Elephant and Castle, South London.

Bachelor Hughes, 54, — who revealed he was gay this week — was honoured with the polished plaque on the loos in July 1994.

The “facilities” are even painted in Lib-Dem yellow.

In no way is the Sun insinuating that gay men all hang around toilets, aka 'cottaging'. Neither are they calling Lib Dems gay, no, that would be a step too far. Of course, this is a breaking news story, as it happened in, err, 1994.

Never mind that though, there's also another news story in the Sun which it obviously has nothing to do with:

That the Sun refer to Ian Huntley as "evil" on their website, that they in conjunction with all the other tabloids have vilified Maxine Carr and printed blatant falsehoods about her, has nothing to do with the fact that Huntley's mother, unfortunate enough only to give birth to him, is seemingly being stalked and has had all her windows smashed by some idiot. No, in no way is our tabloid media partly to blame for this.
Perhaps I should leave the commenting to Lucy Daw (probably a Sun employee), who was kind enough to leave the following on the Sun's website:

Yes it's a shame that she bred such evil - no mother wants that.

However does this not prove that these people should not be given these "new identities" at huge cost to the taxpayer in case they get a bit "roughed up"?

They should be shipped to an island far away, and left to fend for themselves along with all the evil and sadistic criminals in Great Britain.

Only then may they have some slight understanding of the pain and suffering that the loved ones of those murdered and tortured experience.

The fact that she still visits her son turns my stomach.

Lucy Daw

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A century of deaths.

The media has been somewhat morbidly building up to it, but it still doesn't take away from the anger that should be directed at this government. The number of deaths of British soldiers in Iraq today reached 100.

That the soldiers are still there, in a area in which is only being destabilised because of our presence is unforgivable. The British soldiers, based in Basra and around Umm Qasr long since stopped being of any worth to the Iraqis on the ground. Instead their failures have increased the danger to the citizens. Basra has become a more intolerant place, and Shia militias now seem to be in charge, having also infiltrated the police. We should have left when we destroyed the Iraqi prison where two British SAS soldiers were held because of their suspicious behaviour. Instead we stayed behind and became even more detested. Why are we still there? A spokesman is now left to inexplicably explaining that our presence will be required for as long as necessary because since we arrived there have been three democratic elections.

Perhaps though we should contrast the remarks of "Dr" John Reid, the most despicable member of the cabinet, with those of Reg Keys, who lost his son in Iraq and who stood against Blair at the general election:

"The morale among our troops is fantastic," he said.

"I only wish some of the commentators at home had the same moral courage and morale."

Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was one of six military policemen killed in an ambush in Iraq more than two years ago, said the milestone figure was "absolutely dreadful".

"We have had 100 chances to learn our lesson. It just goes on and on," he said.

"These deaths were 100% preventable. These lads are dying for a falsehood. Their oath of allegiance has been betrayed. This was not what they went to war for. They are not the world's police."

Does Reg Keys not have moral courage, whatever that is, Dr Reid? How is that nearly three years on you are still defending an illegitimate war which has killed thousands of innocent Iraqis, over 2000 American troops and now 100 British servicemen? There were no weapons of mass destruction. Sure, we've freed the Iraqis from a murderous and wicked dictatorship, but in the process we've helped turn Baghdad into the most dangerous place on the face of the planet. Electricity supply is worse than before the war. Sewage runs in the streets. Oil production, which I'm sure is more important to you than me, has dropped below pre-war levels due to both lack of workers, privatisation threats and sabotage. At the moment it still doesn't look the situation is going to get any better soon. As for the morale of the troops, if they're so pleased and content, why is that they wish to set up a 'trade' federation?

Now as well as keeping troops in Iraq, you're sending more troops back into Afghanistan, the true forgotten war. This is due to the fact that the US has lost any interest it once had, as it can just use drones to assassinate anyone it feels like instead of using men who might die in the process. With the US not really affected by the opium economy, as the heroin reaches our streets and not theirs, it's left to us to go in and clear up yet another mess, just as the situation is getting even more deadly as the Taliban seem to have managed to regroup, and having learned from the insurgency in Iraq, are adopting the same suicidal tactics. Why have you shown such little interest in the welfare of the troops and their families, apart from platitudes commenting on their morale? You only bothered to visit those who have been injured to make yourself look slightly better before announcing a new mission on which more troops will die needlessly.

Geoff Hoon was a piss-poor defence minister, but even he seems talented compared to "Dr" Reid, who only knows how to do one thing: insult people and shout at them. Why can this government not face up to its biggest mistakes? Actually, I know the answer to that one; if it had, it would have been booted out of power at the last election. How strange that it was a Labour government which took us into an illegal war and yet it managed to survive. If it had been the Tories, Labour would have never stopped attacking them and would have hounded them out. The situation is same in America. If it had been the Democrats, the Republicans would have annihilated them in the 2004 election. Instead it has been the opposite. Politics may be changing, but war certainly doesn't, and nothing this government says is going to bring back those who have died needlessly in our foreign adventures.

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Monday, January 30, 2006 

Front page-watch: Yesterday's news, today.

All today's tabloids (except for the Moron) seem to be reporting old news or on yesterday's heroes.

So let's start with the Daily Star aka the OFFICIAL BIG BROTHER PAPER (today only 30p!), which has the amazing exclusive that Celebrity Big Brother winner Chantelle has declared that fellow housemate Preston is the one for her and they're going to stay together. Thank goodness for knowing that you're in love with someone only after three weeks. I'm sure that their careers (Chantelle will doubtless spend the rest of her days of fame (approx 20) getting her tits out as she already has done, Preston on the other hand will probably make some money out of people who buy the Ordinary Boys album, only for them to discover how terrible it is and then hate him for it) will last just as long as their "love".

Moving on to the Diana Express, as it's a Monday we're treated to yet another non-news story about Diana. At least where Diana is she doesn't have to suffer like the rest of the living population in seeing the Express yet again report about a dead woman most normal people never cared about in the first place.

The Daily Mail reports in its usual hysterical style about possible proposals on euthanasia. Unfortunately it doesn't actually provide a space to tick, so even though I lost the will to live when I saw the front page I can't end my life in a humane fashion.

Finally then to the Sun, and to the meeting which we've all been dying to happen. Yes, it's between Michael Barrymore and the father of the man who died in his swimming pool. While he forgives Barrymore, the Sun and the rest of the tabloids certainly haven't. They've spent the couple of years since he fled the country accusing him of everything under the Sun (geddit?!?!?!?). Still, when it comes to an opportunity to get a front page that is bound to shift papers, you jump at the chance, right, hypocrisy or not? However the whole thing seems a publicity stunt, for all parties concerned. The private prosecution by Tony Bennett has not been withdrawn, and he said nothing in the Sun will stop him from pursuing it. You can smell the whiff of Max Clifford around this from a mile off.

Congratulations to all the newspapers featured! (Apologies about the unusual image sizes, one of the blogger servers seems to be refusing to work tonight.)

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de Menezes: The 'complete and utter fuck-up' gets even more sinister.

Extraordinary allegations that Special Branch officers deliberately falsified vital evidence to hide mistakes which led to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes at a south London Underground station were made last night.

According to claims in the News of the World, police altered the contents of a logbook, which detailed the Brazilian electrician's final movements, in a bid to cover up their blunders.

Specific words were understood to have been changed to cover up the fact that surveillance officers had wrongly identified Mr de Menezes as terror suspect Hussein Osman.

Alterations were hastily made to amend the wording of the official log once the shocking truth emerged that the dead man was not, in fact, the extremist wanted in connection with the failed 21 July Tube bombings.

This was in a bid to pass the blame for the shooting on to the firearms officers who actually shot the electrician and on to senior officers at Scotland Yard who were in charge of the operation.

These revelations are reportedly contained in the report of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

However, sources quoted by the News of the World allege that the IPCC report reveals that the log was altered from "it was Osman" to read instead "and it was not Osman".

The alteration should have been signed but was not. This was regarded as a clumsy error by the IPCC investigators. Their report says: "This looks like an attempt to try to distance Special Branch from the decision [to shoot de Menezes].

Bit by bit, the truth is coming out. With this leak, hopefully it won't be too long before the whole report is obtained by a newspaper so we can read its conclusions in full. This revelation however is damning: Special Branch wrongly identified de Menezes as the suspect they were meant to be monitoring, then an officer or officers changed the log once the mistake had been noticed. This still doesn't discount the theory that de Menezes was shot to show that the police were brutally cracking down, and to prove to the tabloids and to the government that they were doing something about the apparent security threat. Why else would they let a man they regarded as a suicide bomber get on a bus, then get off and get back on without apprehending him? Why did they let him enter a tube station when only the day before this man apparently tried to blow himself up on a tube train/bus? The whole operation was an absolute shambles. When they realised their horrible mistake, they either planted witnesses which lied to the media, or paid them off.

Which brings us, once again, to Sir Ian Blair. The above does somewhat clear him of being involved in what now appears to be a cover-up, and a source has told the Guardian that the IPCC does not believe there was a cover-up instigated from up high. That seems increasingly unlikely, as it appears it was the lower-level officers themselves that did, and didn't bother informing the Met's chief. The highest ranking officer involved could therefore be Cressida Dick, who was in charge of the whole operation. However, "Sir" Ian Blair is by no means out of the dock yet. His explanation, given to the Guardian, that the Met was "transfixed" on finding the four failed suicide bombers stopped them from correcting the lies told to the media is bullshit:

"Clearly the Met could have taken the decision on the Saturday when we recognised that we had killed an innocent man, we could have put the record straight," Sir Ian said in one of a series of interviews with the Guardian during his first year as commissioner. "In a terrible way, the Met was transfixed on other things. It was transfixed on: where are these bombers? And therefore, in a dreadful way, we did not see the significance of that."

Yet the Met was able to announce that it had made a terrible mistake on the Saturday. It would have obviously have known then that de Menezes neither had a bomb belt, nor was he wearing a heavy jacket. It can be excused knowing that it was an actually an officer jumping the barrier and not de Menezes, but for not correcting the first two mistakes at the same time is inexcusable, fixated on catching the suicide bombs suspects or not. It would have taken exactly a minute extra. When apologising for making a terrible mistake which cost a life and correcting misinformation which would have taken a minute extra is stopped by a fixation that other officers were handling, something is badly wrong.

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