Saturday, February 25, 2006 

Livingstone suspended: Knowing when to say sorry.

From the very beginning of this storm in a teacup, Ken Livingstone could have defused the whole situation just by simply saying sorry to the reporter he offended. He didn't need to apologise to the newspaper itself, or its parent company, just the reporter. Instead he chose to take the matter up against the newspaper itself, and that is half the reason why he is now faced with being suspended from his job as London mayor for a month.

One thing that seems to have been completely forgotten by all parties is that Ken Livingstone was emerging from a party for one of his friends, celebrating 20 years since Chris Smith had been "out of the closet" as the first openly gay MP. Ken was most likely the worst for wear if not entirely drunk. Emerging as he did to find himself accosted by a journalist, he was obviously not very pleased, and the drink set him off on a rant as soon it emerged that Oliver Finegold worked for the London Evening Standard, a paper that was opposed to him to start with and then downright hostile. No one seems to have acknowledged that we all say stupid things and do stupid things when we're drunk, things we don't mean or things that might be unnecessarily hurtful in the heat of the moment. This is what happened.

It should also be noted that Ken himself was not reported to the Adjucation Panel by the London Evening Standard or the journalist, Oliver Finegold, but rather by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation that continues to scream anti-semitism whenever Zionism is criticisied and which also had to pay costs to a Palestinian charity it accused of funding terrorists. It and the London Jewish Forum still don't seem satisfied by the decision of the board however, and said the following:

Adrian Cohen, said: "It should never have reached this point when a simple apology could have avoided all the pain caused to so many Jewish Londoners who have been affected by the Holocaust."

The chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jon Benjamin, said they still require an apology from Mr Livingstone but added: "There is no suggestion that the mayor has shown any contrition or understanding of the hurt he has caused."

Pain, hurt? Let's take a look at what Ken actually said:

Oliver Finegold: "Mr Livingstone, Evening Standard. How did it ..."

Ken Livingstone: "Oh, how awful for you."

Finegold: "How did tonight go?"

Livingstone: "Have you thought of having treatment?"

Finegold: "How did tonight go?"

Livingstone: "Have you thought of having treatment?"

Finegold: "Was it a good party? What does it mean for you?"

Livingstone: "What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?"

Finegold: "No, I'm Jewish. I wasn't a German war criminal."

Livingstone: "Ah ... right."

Finegold: "I'm actually quite offended by that. So, how did tonight go?"

Livingstone: "Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard. You're just doing it 'cause you're paid to, aren't you?"

Finegold: "Great. I've you on record for that. So how did tonight go?"

I don't see how what Ken said to Finegold, which was clearly a personal attack influenced by drink and annoyance at the press not leaving him alone even at a private party caused hurt or pain to the Jewish community in London. While as both the London Jewish Forum and Board of Deputies of British Jews are right in saying that a simple apology would have defused the whole thing, nothing which Ken said was directed against the Jewish community as a whole. He wasn't, as David Irving repeatedly did, denying the holocaust. He didn't say make a stereotypical or generalised statement about Jews as a whole. It was comments directed at a journalist, and him only. It's worth noting that the Board of Deputies of British Jews were very unhappy about Ken inviting Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who defended suicide bombings in Israel as being legitimate as they were targeting an occupying power, while condemning them elsewhere. Ken is a fierce pro-Palestinian figure, and the Board of Deputies leaps on anyone who so much as speaks out against the militarist policies of Israel. In short, they had other reasons to complain about him.

Which brings us to the decision by the Adjudication Panel themselves. It's been said that the panel could be spending its time better elsewhere, and is used to hearing of more serious offenders - as anyone reading Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column will be able to tell you. The panel was therefore ruling on whether Livingstone had brought his office into disrepute by making comments which were neither illegal, nor sweeping but directed at a journalist who himself did not make the complaint. They decided he had, and that he had also acted in a "unnecessarily insensitive way". No one could disagree with that - but you can certainly disagree with their sentence; banned from office for a month and landed with £80,000 costs.

That it took a year for the matter to come before the panel was bad enough. Then that they ignored the recommendations of the Standards Council, which had stated he should only be giving a reprimand and a dressing down was adding insult to injury. It's rather a sad state of affairs that a quango can suspend London's chief elected representative, something which has been rightly noted should only be available to his peers in the London Assembly, or to the electorate. Nicky Gavron, the deputy who will take over during Ken's suspension, if it is not annulled by the courts, is entirely right to say the issue was blown out of all proportion. While Ken should have said sorry and apologised for behaviour influenced by drink from the beginning, he has been attacked by those opposed to him and his political views for a moment of weakness. When a prime minister can go to war on a tissue of misinformation and turn a country that, while it was suffering was peaceful into a powder keg and not be reprimanded by the Commons or the electorate, the London mayor finds himself removed from office for saying something stupid which he no doubt regrets but for which he refuses to apologise to a newspaper he hates about it. Welcome to Britain.

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Friday, February 24, 2006 

A dangerous imbalance.

Ministers should make "loud and public" the government's objections to Guantánamo Bay rather than discuss the detention camp with the US behind the scenes, the Commons foreign affairs committee said yesterday.

The MPs also said ministers had not told them the truth about what the government knew about the CIA's extraordinary rendition flights. They felt their questions on the issue had not been taken seriously.

The use of the camp in Cuba as a "detention centre outside all legal regimes diminishes the USA's moral authority and is a hindrance to the effective pursuit of the war against terrorism", the committee said in its 2005 human rights report.

Not told them the truth? Jack Straw and Tony Blair have repeatedly lied about rendition flights, whether to protect the so-called "special relationship" or their embarrassment at not being informed by the security services that such flights were taking place. The former is more likely, but on the day that the security services finally agreed to pay compensation to servicemen on which mind control experiments with LSD were conducted in the 50s, who knows?

The committee may as well piss in the wind as ask Blair to publicly condemn Guantanamo Bay, who has never to my knowledge made any loud criticisms of US foreign policy, even that which New Labour nearly disagrees with. This government still refuses to repatriate British residents from the camp, instead leaving them to rot and face at least "torture-lite" courtesy of the US military. If you also feel like being sick, you can read Jack Straw's defense of Guantanamo Bay on the Today programme. Here's a small extract:

Well, look, I'd like to see the situation different, I wish September the 11th had never happened. i'm quite clear, I'm absolutely clear that the US has no intention of maintaining a Gulag in Guantanamo Bay. They want to see the situation resolved, and they would like it other than it is.
However, that's the situation they have, and let me also say that the, as I understand it, the International Committee of the Red Cross has continued to visit Guantanamo Way, Bay. I think that it is, in addition the case that conditions were not satisfactory whan Guantanamo Bay was first established as a camp, conditions have significantly improved since then. And as I say, a large number of people have been released or taken to trial. the problem is what to do with those who are left, and that as John Reid has said is a matter which the US administration are going to have to make their own decisions on and frankly, I'm not going to second guess decisions which they make.

And finally, here's Amnesty International's thoughts on the current position of the UK's anti-terrorist legislation and security policy:
" There is now a dangerous imbalance between draconian actions the UK is taking in the name of security and its obligation to protect human rights. These measures tarnish the UK's image and its ability to promote human rights abroad."

The whole report is here.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006 

The destruction of everything is the beginning of something new.

Yesterday's attack on the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra was an attack not just on Shia Islam, but all of Islam. Most likely carried out by Wahabbis, probably the so-called al-Qaida in Iraq, it was the equivalent of pouring petrol onto a bonfire. Sectarian tensions in Iraq have been festering for years, with the Shia overcoming their suppression under Saddam to come out on top in the elections carried out under occupation. While the majority of the insurgency is carried out by disenfranchised Sunnis and ex-Baathists, there is also a significant minority of jihadists out to martyr themselves. It is likely the latter which carried out the attack, not Sunnis. Those who claim to be acting in the name of Islam should now be exposed for their almost unbelievable act of vandalism.

From an aesthetic point of view, the destruction of the mosque is horrifying. While we can admire the architecture of many of the churches in west, there are very few which you could describe as beautiful. The Al-Askari mosque was undoubtedly a thing of beauty, and also of hope for many. For it to be destroyed by terrorists whose wish is to provoke a civil war is a crime against every person in Iraq.

While Moqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have both called for calm and peaceful demonstration, both have ulterior motives with al-Sadr's militia most likely to blame for many of the revenge attacks which have already taken place. al-Sistani has also mentioned that he will gather and use a militia to protect holy sites if the government cannot do it. The last thing that Iraq needs is more militias, but such a move by Sistani would reinforce his power which has been ebbing slightly to the upstart and more radical al-Sadr.

Looking at the situation from the west, the most sad thing about this is that it will likely result in British and American troops having to stay even longer in a country which is turning increasingly more hostile to them as the days pass. While now is not the time to blame the US and UK for invading and causing the whole mess, that we broke a land that was mostly secular and turned it into a country where it seems sectarian warfare is moments away from breaking must rank up there with some of the biggest mistakes and tragedies of our time. What now needs to be done is for the religious leaders on both sides to come together and stop the revenge from spiraling out of control. If they don't, Iraq could become the equivalent of Somalia.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006 

Prince Charles: About as much of a dissident as a sausage sandwich is.

There was absolutely nothing surprising that came out of yesterday's hearing of Prince Charles vs Associated Newspapers. Prince Charles thinks of himself as a "political dissident", which is a rather pretentious and egotistical way for someone who also spends his time talking to plants to imagine themselves. We've also known for a long time that he writes plenty of letters both to the government and to other organisations. I can't understand why people are getting upset or are surprised by this; he's not the head the state like the Queen is, nor should he have to seek permission from his mummy like some seem to have suggested to make his views known. He's more than 50 years old for crying out loud.

In the hubbub over Charles's political views, the reality of the situation has been ignored. The Mail on Sunday published items from the man's private diary without permission, when asked by Charles's advisers at Clarence House not to. The contents of the diary, that Charles didn't much like the Chinese and felt they were bunch of dinosaurs wasn't exactly explosive or reveal anything new. Indeed, as other coverage of the hearing has made clear, Charles himself made sure that his snub to the Chinese president when he visited the UK was made public, and he was said to be "delighted" with the coverage. In other words, none of the contents of this diary were not already in the public domain. Charles has applied under the law to stop the Mail on Sunday from printing any more of his private thoughts. He is entirely right to. While Associated Newspapers pretends to be defending the public interest, all it is really doing is attempting to increase the sales of its turgid newspapers and make even larger profits. Just as if a newspaper decided to print my posts on here verbatim I would expect to be paid for it or at the very least given credit for what I had written, (by coincedence, the Mail on Sunday took the entirety of one blogger's posts and printed it without any credit being given to the writer or paying him for his effort) so does Prince Charles have the right not to have his thoughts published for public consumption.

As much as I hate the royal family and wish for the monarchy to be abolished, in this case the Mail on Sunday is being entirely hypocritical and deceitful about its true motives. The judge should rule in Charles's favour.

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Jack Straw continues to lie through his teeth over rendition.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today again denied the government had any knowledge of CIA "extraordinary rendition" flights, after it was revealed last night that the suspected planes involved had flown through UK airspace around 200 times in the past five years.

The row over possible British government collusion in the controversial US practice re-erupted last night after Channel Four news revealed new figures from the National Air Traffic Service relating to the aircraft thought to be involved.

Questioned about the figures today, Mr Straw insisted Britain had no knowledge of any such flights. And he said he had no reason to believe they were taking place without the government's knowledge.

Speaking at the Foreign Office, Mr Straw said: "We know of no occasion where there has been a rendition through UK territory, or indeed over UK territory, nor do we have any reason to believe that such flights have taken place without our knowledge."

Really Jack? Have we already forgotten about the leaked memo to the New Statesman?

How can a government minister continue to deny that any flights have gone through British territory when there have now been investigations by the Guardian, Scottish National Party, Channel 4 News and the EU which have all shown that both CIA-chartered jets and planes with numbers known to be involved in rendition have flown through UK airspace?

Then of course there's the standard response that ministers and government departments give to those who wish to find out unhelpful information that such information can only be provided at "disproportionate cost".

Now the Liberal Democrats are pressing for the parliamentary watchdog, the parliamentary ombudsman, to force government ministers to give more details about the flights.

That threat comes after the acting Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, was told that a written question to the armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, requesting to know how many times planes had used UK military bases en route to or from countries suspected of using torture had been rejected, because "the information is not recorded centrally and could be provided only at a disproportionate cost".

In other words, the military, air traffic control and the security services know full well that rendition flights have used UK airspace and most likely have refueled here, whether the government was aware at the time or not It certainly is now, and has been for a long time, which makes Straw's denials completely disingenuous. What now needs to be revealed is whether the security services are complicit in rendition, or if they are not, why they don't seemingly know about what was happening. The latter seems highly unlikely, as the most of the western intelligence agencies are now pooling their information. Whatever the case is, Jack Straw has continously lied, as has Tony Blair. If any further proof was needed that both should resign immediately, then we now have it.

You can see previous posts on rendition on Obsolete here.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Torygraph-watch: Unmarried couples panic!

Being resistant to almost any change, the frontpage shock headline on the Telegraph isn't much of a surprise. Also being a headline, it doesn't of course go into any of the actual details, but is designed purely to outrage the majors and disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Rather than all these children being born to that scourge of the tax-payer and handy tabloid hate target, the single mother, they're actually more likely to be born to cohabiting couples who haven't took the step to getting married.

Still, let's not get the facts get in the way of a good headline. It's a shame that the Telegraph is being taken in the direction of front-page editoralising of the type used by the Mail and Express by the Barclay brothers, as even when under the to the right of Attila the Hun Conrad Black it was imparital in its news and ultra-right in its comment. If you are going to front-page editoralise, at least do it the way of the Independent.

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Monday, February 20, 2006 

Free David Irving.

As much as I dislike David Irving, there is no way that he deserves three years in jail for denying the holocaust in remarks that he made 17 years ago. Even in Austria, a country annexed by the Nazis, we should treat such talk as Irving's as naive and idiotic, and which should be challenged. Irving now admits that the holocaust happened and that millions of Jews died. Whether he really means it or not is not relevant.

There are no laws (yet) against being a moron, and that is how he should be treated. He should be released from jail immediately.

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"Dr" John Reid: An insult to intelligence.

Whenever New Labour is in trouble, Blair calls on his most pugnacious and hard-nosed cabinet member. Say hello to "Dr" John Reid, Labour's useful idiot.

The defence secretary, John Reid, today warned the media and legal professions not to undermine the morale of the armed forces, in the wake of the row over footage of British soldiers allegedly beating unarmed Iraqis.

In a combative speech Dr Reid said soldiers were now operating under an "uneven playing field of scrutiny", with actions liable to be caught on "one mobile phone" on one hand, and a perception there was a "legal culture" back home ready to sue them.

Right, it's the media and the legal professions who are undermining the morale of the army. Keep reminding yourself that this isn't the army which had serious misgivings about the war in the first place and demanded that the Attorney General give his opinion that the war was legal. He did, after Blair made him. This same army which is being undermined by the media is the same army in which thousands of soldiers have had to buy their own equipment and body armour because the army's is either crap or they don't even have any. This is the same army which is being amalgamated into bigger regiments by the defence secretary ("Dr" John Reid) to the great opposition of current servicemen and past soldiers. This is the same army which is now being deployed in huge numbers back to Afghanistan because the Americans no longer want anything to do with the place, and because the troops need to back home in time for the mid-term elections. This is the same army which is increasingly facing more threats in the south of Iraq as a result of the US/UK invasion, local anger and threats from jihadists. "Dr" John Reid wants you to forget all that, what is causing the real drop in morale in the army is the media and a tiny number of lawyers who have only acted when men have either been unlawfully killed (of which only 3 cases have been brought) and when prisoners have been abused (simulated sodomy photographs, beatings.)

One mobile phone on one hand? Maybe so, but that mobile phone was taking pictures of prisoners being beaten with a commentary laughing about it and egging on those who were doing the beating. This was recorded by Iraqis, this was recorded by a UK soldier himself. Yes, they were facing rioters at the time. This still doesn't excuse the beating they gave to their captives, in the same way that a police officer over here who beats up someone who had broken a law, repeatedly kicking them or otherwise would be excused. Yes, the footage may have been oversold and hyped, mainly thanks to the fact it appeared in a Murdoch rag which needs to exaggerate all of its stories. The soldiers still need to at least apologise. It's also been reported that some of the rioters are now facing attempted murder charges.

Dr Reid said terrorists were now using the media in attempt to undermine national morale, in remarks immediately backed up by Downing Street.

Mr Blair's official spokesman told reporters: "We need to be aware that the terrorists we are up against do use the media to manipulate public opinion, not just in Iraq but also in this country.

"It is quite right and proper for John Reid to paint in that whole picture."

As billed in advance, Dr Reid called on the media to view any allegations of abuse in the context of 1,000s of unreported acts of "lives enhanced and good done by our forces", and called on the press to be "a little slower to condemn and a lot quicker to understand".

Going on to say many of the problems of perception of the armed services came from ignorance - pointing out that it was now 45 years since the last conscripted soldier left the forces - Dr Reid cautioned both the press and the legal profession.

Turning to lawyers, Dr Reid said that soldiers "have been left confused and unsettled by the perception that human rights lawyers and international bodies such as the international criminal court are waiting in the wings to step in and act against them".

"And they believe that there has been an exponential growth in the numbers of lawyers actively looking for cases to bring against British troops by promising potential clients significant compensation payments."

He adds; "The legal profession can't always grasp the significance [soldiers' fears] because they have no experience of being in those situations."

In the same speech, Dr Reid referred, obliquely, to the ongoing row over the mobile phone footage of British troops apparently beating Iraqis.

Today it was reported that two Iraqis will be charged with attempted murder in relation to the riots which precipitated the attacks at al Amarah in 2004. The claim came in the Daily Mirror, but a spokeswoman for the ministry of defence said it was a matter for the local Iraqi police.

Dr Reid told an audience of students and defence experts that "one observer, with one videophone, or today even one mobile phone, standing in one square metre of a vast and hugely complex theatre of operations can convey an oversimplified and sometimes misleading picture with an impact that is incalculable."

"Real time media scrutiny of war, on a scale and a level of intrusiveness inconceivable only a few decades ago."

He develops that argument to say that al-Qaida "sees the free western media as a virtual battleground in itself - where the swaying of public opinion away from support for our campaigns, can be the path to a swift victory, a quick way of undermining our public morale."

"The terrorists have become adept at using the media to their ends. It is the media's responsibility to ensure that in reporting the facts, which it can and must do, it does not fall victim to this campaign."

Dr Reid concluded that it was the "very exceptional nature of the offences which make them headlines. But wouldn't it be nice, wouldn't it be fair, if the contribution of the 100,000 good and brave acts and beliefs were given equal prominence to the offences of the few."

In an unscripted remark, Dr Reid even suggested that if Lord Haw Haw, the Irish propagandist for the Nazis, were alive today, he would be given a weekly column in the newspapers.

Dr Reid's speech was given full endorsement by Number 10. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "John Reid is in no way saying that we should condone or that we do condone abuse."

"Equally, however, what he is saying is that we should keep those cases in perspective. The fact is that in Iraq there are five allegations of abuse. That is five cases too many, but given the number of troops, that is the perspective it should be seen in."

Which terrorists are using the media? Where? Please show me where terrorists have written in the western media advocating September the 11th type attacks. The only places they have has been in small quotes from speeches given, usually to show how outrageous their rhetoric is. The perception that human rights lawyers are ready to step in is exactly that - a perception. They have only stepped in where it has been felt necessary - and the government in those cases has usually sanctioned those investigations. It was the government that authorised the trial against a number of soldiers on trumped up charges with the Iraqi witnesses and accusers out to get the compensation. al-Qaida doesn't need to use the western media when our soldiers and governments either abuse those who they are meant to have liberated or drop bombs on villages where they think there's a possibility there might be a terrorist. We do all their work for them. No one is denying that our soldiers have done on the whole a magnificent job in difficult circumstances in Iraq. The point is that should never have been there in the first place, nor should they be there any longer. All the justifications for remaining there have now run out. "Dr" John Reid's speech is just a smokescreen for keeping the troops there even longer, at the same time preaching "our" propaganda against "theirs".

Then of course we have the favourite comparison and historical illusion of all those who want to see this so-called war in wider terms. Apparently Lord Haw Haw, the Nazis Irish propagandist would now have a job as a columnist on a newspaper. He doesn't mention which newspaper he thinks he'd have a job on, although I think we can probably guess. Instead what the government really wants is no criticism of their foreign policy at all. They want all the media to cheer on our boys in the way the Sun does, unrelentingly and against every single "foe" which might be out there. That the media is resisting government pressure and continues to report "unhelpful" stories should be celebrated. It's what's called a free press, and this New Labour government seems to be increasingly at odds with it.

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