Saturday, July 29, 2006 

Oh, what a lovely war!

31 Lebanese are laid to rest in a mass grave in Tyre; an environmental disaster is now also taking hold across Lebanon, as an estimated 15,000 tons of oil from the bombed Jiyeh power station is washed ashore.

Despite being hyped up by Downing Street, yesterday's talks between George Bush and Tony Blair were yet another miserable failure. If Blair did tell Bush that a ceasefire was urgently needed, then neither of them showed it at yesterday's joint press conference. Instead, it was all too depressingly familiar.

Mr Blair said events such as the conflict in Lebanon underscored the "simple choice" faced by Iran and Syria. "They can either come in and participate as proper and responsible members of the international community, or they will face the risk of increasing confrontation," he said.

Quite right. Except that, err, Iran and Syria were purposefully not invited to the talks in Rome on Thursday, and have been shut out of all discussions about the conflict. There are no signs that diplomatic contact has even been attempted to be made with Syria. Iran and Syria are therefore damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Mr. Bush said that, despite the bloodshed in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, democracy is taking root in the region and will flower “unless we lose our nerve.”

Indeed. Iraq gets ever closer to civil war with each passing day, the democratically elected government of the Palestinian occupied territories is boycotted and as a result cannot pay the workers of the Palestinian authority, while Israel arrests numerous members of that government without a word of criticism from those who are determined to make sure that democracy takes root. Instead of urging Israel to act proportionally, or even, god forbid, call a ceasefire, the US and Britain continue to give carte blanche for even more civilian casualties and the almost wholesale destruction of Lebanon, driving ever more of the remaining population in southern Lebanon into the arms of Hizbullah. Rather than supporting the democratically elected government which gained power in the aftermath of the "cedar revolution", they'd rather see Israel destroy a militia and most of the country in the process, just in case they have to attack Iran at some point in the future.

The whole of the meeting of the two minds can be summed up more succinctly using Bush's words of two weeks ago:

You see, the ... thing is what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over

That's about as far as the analysis of the current situation goes, and even that is full of doublespeak. They have no intention of talking to Syria, let alone getting them to stop Hizbullah from doing this "shit".

In the meantime, while we wait for what looks to be another false dawn of hope at the UN security council on Monday, Israeli spokesmen continue to lie through their teeth. They're now rejecting calls from the UN for a 3 day truce so that humanitarian aid can be delivered because
"Israel has opened humanitarian corridors to and from Lebanon." That would be the same corridors that are repeatedly coming under attack from Israel shelling and bombing raids, as evidenced by Robert Fisk and Fergal Keane (Click on the "refugee convoy comes under fire" link in the box on the right).

The motto of the Israelis seems to be, if in doubt, blame Hizbullah. They've blamed the high civilian casualty rates on Hizbullah rockets and arm caches being located right next to houses or even inside them, while there has been absolutely no evidence whatsoever to substantiate this.
In fact, Salon has even reported that this is a complete and utter lie. Israel is now saying it's Hizbullah's fault that aid isn't getting through, yet another falsehood, as confirmed by both the UN and Observer journalists. That Israeli jets are seemingly willing to pound almost anything that moves has nothing to do with it. After all, the Israeli justice minister spelled it out only a couple of days ago: all those still in southern Lebanon are terrorists, and no one should shed any tears if they're targeted, aid convoys, refugees or otherwise.

As the Guardian leader notes, the situation is getting worse, not better. It's also entirely correct in highlighting that yesterday's talks were a charade. Even if the Foreign Office disagrees with the policy adopted by Downing Street, there's nothing they can do to persuade Blair to change his mind. He's already decided to support America's decision to let Israel do whatever the hell it likes until it feels that Hizbullah has taken enough of a battering. All the talk so far has been just that: talk to make it look as if they, and as a result, we, are genuinely concerned. Neither Bush or Blair has uttered one word in condemnation of the Israeli reaction; the nearest Blair has come is admitting that the conflict has been a "complete tragedy". Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, is rightly furious, and recognises just how badly this is going down not just with British Muslims, but with most of the population.

What we're left seeing is the real agenda of Blair. The mission to the White House yesterday was purely an afterthought:
today he speaks at a News International bash, surrounded by acolytes and other political spent forces. While the Sun screams about a terrorist war on Israelis, you have to wonder whether Blair believes exactly the same thing. He's done nothing to suggest otherwise. A foreign and home policy set by servility to both Murdoch and Bush? Stranger things have happened.

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Friday, July 28, 2006 

Daily Star/Sky-watch: To shock or not to shock?

Today's Daily Star announces on its front page that it has snatched/been sold pictures of Kate Lawler (she was in Big Brother) in "crazed obscene romps in nightclub", while the photograph of said gorgeous pouting Lawler shows her putting a brown substance (Mark Oaten denies all involvement) into her mouth. Incredible news, you're probably thinking, but who gives a shit?

Well, it seems that Sky News does. On their daily front page review, it says the following of the Daily Star:
The Star carries a picture of former Big Brother contestant Kate Lawler and promises more "shocking" shots of Kate in "crazed obscene romps". But if you buy the paper beware: the pictures aren't that shocking.

This public service message wouldn't have anything to do with Sky News sharing the same proprietor (R. Murdoch) as the Sun, would it? The Sun also fights for the same downmarket demographic as the Star, although the Scum does at least attempt to feature some news, whether plagued with its right wing bias or not.

You might also remember some recent shocking photographs that were featured in the Sun, or in this case, not quite featured. The Sun somehow came to the conclusion that there was "WORLDWIDE OUTRAGE" over the photograph of Princess Diana being helped to breathe as she lay in the crashed Mercedes. According to their sources, Wills and Harry were "sickened and appalled". All this was happening on the same day as dozens of Lebanese citizens were being killed by Israeli airstrikes across the country, but strangely that wasn't felt to be a "WORLDWIDE OUTRAGE". Probably because the Sun were more concerned with convincing its readers that what was actually happening was a "terrorist war on Israelis".

Cast your mind back a bit further, and you might recall the "shocking", "depraved" and "revolting" pictures of Heather Mills which they printed on a number of consecutive days. Like Sky says of the Star's shocking snaps, the supposed "hard core porn" shoot Mills' was involved in wasn't up to much either, but that didn't stop them splashing numerous amounts of them all over the paper and website, despite the Scum screaming that many were "too explicit to print".

Mr Pot, are you acquainted with Mr Kettle?

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Adding insult to injury.

You sometimes have to wonder whether the Met realises just how obnoxious its actions actually are, as their ignorance seems to know no bounds. Following on from the CPS decision to only prosecute the force on health and safety grounds over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, they've publicly announced that the two firearms officers involved his death are back on "full operational duties". Whether this means they'll rejoin their colleagues in CO19 and potentially be called as a rapid response armed unit, we're not told.

This shouldn't necessarily cause a problem or be potentially offensive to Jean Charles's family. Yet the decision comes before the Met has concluded whether they should face any disciplinary action and not even a week after the Grauniad revealed that the two officers had lied to the IPCC, in another leak from the otherwise currently indisposed report. It therefore comes across as a snub, not only to those who remembered de Menezes's life last Saturday, but also to the IPCC and CPS for daring to suggest that the Met has a case to answer.

"Sir" Ian Blair fully illustrated the contempt with which the Met is treating the various investigations on what happened and went wrong on the 22nd of July last year yesterday. He said:
"This goes right to the heart of the policing mission, mandate, the nature of risk-taking and the nature of assessing risks beforehand. I am not sure that was the design of the legislators in 1974 and it will be a matter that the courts will have to decide because the implications for everyday policing will be very significant."

Blair is right on one thing: the decision to prosecute on health and safety grounds is a horrible fudge which serves little purpose and helps absolutely no one. Even so, Blair's whine about the nature of risk-taking is pretty rich. From what we know so far, it was numerous errors on the behalf on nearly all those involved in the operation on the 22nd that led to an innocent man being shot. He wasn't properly identified; he was allowed to get on and off a bus without being stopped; the firearms squad only reached Stockwell tube after Jean Charles had entered the station; Cressida Dick, the woman in charge, was hopelessly vague in her orders: she claims she only wanted the officers to stop and arrest de Menezes; the officers took her "stop him" and possibly added "at all costs" to mean to shoot him dead; and even then he had been tackled and would have been unable to trigger any explosives when he was shot repeatedly in the head. Adding insult to injury, officer/s later tried to change the log to make it look as if they had concluded he wasn't one of the suspects, smeared de Menezes repeatedly and Blair himself tried to stop the investigation from starting straight away, possibly destroying evidence and hampering efforts to establish what went wrong from the very beginning. It wasn't de Menezes that put himself at risk; it was incompetent, panicked policing that did.

Thankfully, not everyone involved with the Met has been so dismissive and resistant to the possibility that things went horribly wrong. Richard Barnes, a member of the Metropolitian Police Authority was yesterday both outspoken and eloquent:

"Is there no one within [the Met] with the moral fibre and sense of personal obligation to recognise that Jean Charles's fate was sealed by systemic failure?" he asked. "The power to exercise ultimate force carries with it the responsibility to ensure all other possible alternatives are exhausted, even in such a fast-moving, fluid situation. Those obligations were not fulfilled at Stockwell, and Jean Charles paid the ultimate price for that failure."

He added: "I find it repugnant, and an affront to common decency, that the establishment can get it so wrong and then close ranks to protect its members from accepting and exercising the obligations of office. It is simply not enough to accept the glittering prizes, whilst ignoring the failures. Where is the man of personal stature and integrity amongst them?"

Mr Barnes, who is the Tory policing spokesman in London, said the shooting was followed by "various leaks that intended to besmirch his [Mr Menezes'] character. The source of this information is questionable, but it most probably came from those in authority. An innocent man was shot dead, and it was thought appropriate to traduce his character."

Could anyone have put it any better? At the moment, instead of reading the report that would tell us just how badly the operation went and how things could be improved in lieu of a similar situation, we're instead told with no apparent humility that the officers who shot dead an innocent man are returning to work, doubtless unlikely to face any further action against them. I don't doubt that they themselves have most likely suffered, having to deal with the fact that they shot a man dead who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the decision seems to be rubbing Jean Charles's relatives face in it. In a week in which it's been revealed that the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence was affected by corruption as well institutional racism and incompetence, you'd think that they give a bit more thought into their public relations exercises. That seems as much of a pipe dream as ever.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006 

Bombs over Gretna, caravans in Rome.

The aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the southern port city of Tyre; blood on the pavement in Haifa.

Margaret Beckett wasn't always New Labour to the core. In 1981 she supported Tony Benn in his fight for the Labour deputy leadership against Denis Healey. Even in 2002 she apparently had reservations about war with Iraq, but was promptly reassured, most likely by the dodgy intelligence which convinced so many other MPs.

Fast forward 4 years, and Beckett finds herself as foreign secretary after a disastrous period as head of Defra where this year she managed to comprehensively cock-up the EU subsidy payments to farmers in England, in many cases leaving them penniless. Her first 2 months as Jack Straw's successor have not been full of defining moments, except for her pathetic performance on the Today programme last week. Attending the Rome discussions yesterday, she performed what has become the UK's bone-headed and predictable attitude and role in foreign affairs: supporting the Americans come what may. According to Beckett, "even if you could get a ceasefire half an hour ago, you would probably be back in hostilities in a few days", which sums up exactly how optimistic and tough the UK and US have been in forcing Israel and Hizbullah to stop their deadly exchanges.

It's in this light that we should examine what seems like fake outrage over the use of Prestwick airport in Scotland to transport laser guided missiles to Israel. The United States apparently didn't seem to think it worth telling the airport what they were carrying until they more or less got there, leaving the officials on the ground with no choice but to wave them through. We're told by a spokesman that Beckett has risen the issue with Condoleezza Rice (she had an oil tanker named after her, don't you know?), and she herself has said that she may make a formal protest.

All of which is fair enough. There's not much more that Beckett could probably do, seeing as it's already happened, apart from making sure that the US isn't allowed to do the same thing again (which err, seems to be exactly what they are going do). What seems so out of kilter with Beckett's words is what happened at yesterday's diplomatic talks in Rome. According to the Guardian report, Rice was isolated in being the only one who didn't want the conference to end with a strongly-worded appeal to both Israel and Hizbullah to declare an immediate unconditional truce. Well, apart from, of course, Margaret Beckett.

Israel has quite reasonably taken this fudge to mean that it's been given carte blanche to do whatever the hell it likes. Israeli justice minister (irony strikes again) Haim Ramon also said that Israel has now given those in south Lebanon not connected to Hizbullah more than enough time to get out - so anyone there now is a "terrorist". By Ramon's logic, the 4 UN peacekeepers who were killed in an apparent deliberate attack were actually Hizbullah militants who by staying in the area were asking for it. Even more logically, as Israel now seems to consider anyone there a terrorist, it's probably a good idea to take out independent monitors who might make accusations of war crimes. After all, armies have to make as much effort as possible not to kill civilians, whether there are fighters in the area or not. With the UN and Lebanese army being bombed, there's less chance of Israel's moral military having to fend off charges of crimes against humanity.

Ramon's belligerence also rams home the comments of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who made what even the heartless Condoleezza Rice called an "impassioned plea" at the Rome summit. He asked whether "an Israeli teardrop was worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood". It seems quite so. Those who are still fleeing the fighting have often had to go on foot - the roads being made impassible by Israeli bombing, bridges broken in two and vehicles blown apart by the very same laser-guided missiles that went through Prestwick airport. Those who have stayed behind, unable to take elderly loved ones with them, will now seemingly be dismissed as terrorists and killers for doing so.

The situation then is thus: Beckett is deeply concerned about the United States not informing the UK that it's moving weapons of mass destruction through our territory destined for use in Lebanon, yet she won't call for the immediate ceasefire which would mean that those weapons wouldn't be used to possibly kill innocent civilians. Such mendacity shows the UK's policy over Israel-Lebanon for what it is; complete murderous folly. The apparent lack of permission to use Prestwick should also re-open questions about whether the CIA bothered to ask permission to refuel jets linked to extraordinary rendition there. Figures compiled by the Guardian show that Prestwick was one of the airports most used by jets linked to rendition flights. On that respect, we're similarly told that if the US had wanted to render suspected terrorists through our airspace to countries where they could held illegally and tortured, they'd have asked permission. The missiles to Israel seem to give the lie to that argument.

Meanwhile, everyone's second favourite terrorist nutjob has been calling for Muslims worldwide to become "martyrs in the war against the Zionists and the Crusaders." Expect the left to use this as evidence that Israel's actions are provoking extremism, while the right will say that this proves that Israel's response against Hizbullah is part of the global war on terror. The first position holds more water than the second, but it's still giving more credit to the ranting lunatics of al-Qaida than their clash of civilisations creed deserves. What it really shows is the failure of the international community. We've been so weakened by the war in Iraq that all we can do is mutter apologies to the slaughtered Lebanese and Israeli citizens, while doing nothing to stop the bombing on both sides, as extremists call for yet more blood to be spilt. At the same time, we refuse to involve the two nations (Syria and Iran) that can help stop it. Our policy is not only spineless, it's also condemning the Middle East to yet more decades of turmoil.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 

It continues.

Israeli soldiers with bodies of Hizbullah fighters in bags; the body of one of the UN force killed in the Israeli airstrike on their outpost being loaded into a vehicle.

2 weeks in to the Lebanon-Hizbullah-Israel crisis, the terrified citizens who fled to Tyre in the south of Lebanon are finally receiving some trucks of aid after an apparent understanding was reached with the Israelis to give the convoy safe passage.

4 members of the UN interim Unifil force encountered the other face of the IDF. After suffering 6 hours of bombardment by Israeli forces, with up to 10 phone calls being made to military commanders begging for them to stop, a missile scored a direct hit on the post, killing all of those inside at the time. Ehud Olmert is convinced that it was a terrible mistake, and has told Kofi Annan so. For Harry's Place, it's simply a mistake that happens at war time, while updates from the original post suggest that the UN deserved it because one photograph evidences a Hizbullah flag almost opposite from a UN one. They don't go into how the IDF still managed to blow the outpost up despite the UN making frantic phone calls asking them to stop, but that might make posters such as Gene and Brownie think twice about the devastation being visited on the Lebanese nation as a whole, which they virulently support as self-defence.

It does then make you wonder whether the IDF is visiting revenge on the UN force because of the outspokeness of Annan and Egeland in calling for an immediate ceasefire and denouncing the collective punishment being visited on Lebanon from a great height. After all, the evidence continues to stack up that Israel has deliberately targeted civilians and civilian areas. One report, coming from Israeli Army radio said that orders had been given to blast ten buildings in southern Beirut for every katyusha rocket fired at Haifa. Add this to those blown-up who were obeying Israel's orders to flee the far south, the attacked Red Cross ambulances, the destroyed factories, the blown apart airport, power stations and targeted church, and the claims that the IDF is the world's most moral military look increasingly hollow.

Things are no better in northern Israel, still coming under fire from barrages of Hizbullah rockets. A 15-year-old girl was killed yesterday, while others were injured. That Hizbullah can still launch its missiles two weeks on either shows that they were thoroughly underestimated by the Israelis, or that the IDF has been attacking places where there are no Hizbullah militants, letting them continue to fire their deadly weaponry with impunity. Nasrallah, Hizbullah's leader has today warned that missiles will soon be fired further than Haifa, increasing worries that Hizbullah still has Fajr-3 Iranian made missiles which it has not yet used.

In Gaza, where the Israeli incursion following the kidnap of Corporal Shalit has been quickly forgotten in the carnage visited on Lebanon, 10 Palestinans including a three-year-old girl were killed in a air strike. This comes despite apparent plans for a ceasefire and exchange of prisoners in an agreement brokered by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The Qassam rocket attacks on Israel had dropped off in recent days accordingly, with only 3 being fired yesterday. None of them caused any injuries, or likely any damage. The Israeli attack therefore shows just what they think of iniatives by Abbas to broker a peace settlement, and is mirror of what has happened in the past. Ceasefires by Palestinian groups have been ignored while Israeli has carried on with its targeted assassinations and border closures, leaving the Palestinians with nothing in return for their gestures.

Everyone agrees that this cannot go on, yet the diplomatic discussions in Rome are nothing more than a talking shop which the United States is in complete control of. The US refuses to even talk to Syria or Iran, saying they have to act first, which is ridiculous considering the influence they have over Hizbullah and in the region as a whole. The lasting permanent ceasefire the US say it wants cannot be delivered without their involvement. Israel is of course above even attending such discussions, tied up as it is in destroying an entire country little by little. As Jonathan Freedland points out, it has been the failed diplomacy and wars of the States that have led to this situation in the first place. The failure to be tough on Israel over Palestine means that the whole region is paying the price. Sadly, there's nothing to suggest that this is going to change. Instead, the bodies will continue to pile up, while everyone continues to wring their hands.

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Things go from bad to worse for Mr Mahmood.

A day after three men walked free from court, cleared of attempting to buy the fictional chemical substance "red mercury" for terrorist purposes, Mazher Mahmood is facing yet another crisis. Florim Gashi, the man paid £10,000 for informing Mahmood of the "plot" to kidnap Victoria Beckham and her children has turned supergrass.

In a request for an appeal against a failed libel claim against the News of the Screws over the kidnap plot that never was, Gashi has given evidence against Mahmood. Apparently seeing the error of his ways, and feeling guilty, especially after meeting with the MediaGrauniad blogger Roy Greenslade, he told the two court of appeal judges that the kidnap plot was a "put-up job" in which our friend Mr Mahmood was complicit. According to the MediaGrauniad report, Gashi also apparently gave evidence against the Screws and Mahmood in the "red mercury" case.

All of which has to make you wonder whether Gashi was cut loose by the Screws after he was deported from Britain last year. While his story that he has seen the light may well be true, it's equally possible he tried blackmailing the Screws out of more money by threatening to go public. News International is not one to given in to such a scheme, and most likely called Gashi's bluff.

The court judges themselves are not optimistic that Gashi's evidence will be accepted by a jury; after all, he lied to the police. Nevertheless, it's another set-back for Mahmood, a man who only believes in press freedom when it earns him and his bosses money. The full unmasking of the fake sheikh and his gutter entrapment journalism are a step nearer.

Update: Surprise, surprise, there's no mention in the Sun today of yesterday's verdict involving Mr Mahmood and his imagination, although the Times does cover it.

Oh, and there's this:
On March 15 we published an article about a postman Jason Johnson who has difficulty reading numbers.

We have been asked to point out, and accept, that Mr Johnson, of Blackheath, South East London, has no difficulties performing his job and we were wrong to highlight his disability.

The Sun apologises to him for the distress our article caused.


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Tuesday, July 25, 2006 

Book review: Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray.

Craig Murray's memoir of his time in Uzbekistan is one of those books that ought to be required reading for anyone who supports the "war on terror" as it is being fought at the moment. David Cameron's shadow cabinet, now increasingly likely to form the next government, could learn a lot too.

Opening with Murray's account of attending the trial of Uzbek "dissidents", you instantly discover just what sort of a country Uzbekistan is. While the United States and British government during Murray's time in Tashkent praised President Karimov's liberalisation, both of the economy and on human rights issues, the reality is laid bare page after page. Murray's description of the trial is remarkable for its similarities to K's nightmare first appearance before the court in Kafka's The Trial. The judge makes jokes which he and his officials laugh at heartily, while ignoring the defenses case that is being put to him. This itself is just a taster of what it is to come in the rest of Murray's tale: the behaviour of Simon Butt, Murray's Head of Department is a reflection of the justice system. He ignores and is angered by Murray's attempts to show the despotic nature of Karimov's regime, instead only listening to the positive spin that the Uzbeks and Americans put on things. Butt is in that respect, New Labour to the core.

Murray quickly established himself in Tashkent, both as a principled man who would listen to anyone who came to him with tales of human rights abuses, but also as a great friend to the British business community, the few of which were/are located there. On arrival, he visited each - something which the previous ambassador had not bothered to do in his entire time there. The so-called liberalisation of the economy was not only not happening, the country was in fact going backwards. The borders were closed; bazaars had been shut down; projects which were meant to being set up were either mothballed or not even getting off the ground; and on a visit to Ferghana university he finds there are no students; they were all out in the fields, forced into picking the cotton crop. The economy depends on the crop, with sixty percent of the population serving as a tied labour force. As such, the workers are slaves - paid too little to be able to leave. In Soviet times 70% of the crop was harvested by machine; now it is 90% picked by hand.

The fact that the country was better off in Soviet times is another recurring theme. Murray himself argues with an Uzbek girl about this, only for him to discover that he's badly in the wrong. The universal literacy which the Soviet system had provided was collapsing, while the welfare state institutions had already done so. Rather than pursuing communism, the country is now in the way Russia appears to be heading towards: ruthless nationalism, crackdowns on any dissent, no freedom of religion, banning of NGOs and all are being carried out under the banner of protecting the country from Islamic extremists, as part of the worldwide "war on terror".

Murray was expected by the Foreign Office to be just another yes man who questioned nothing and abided by the New Labour line of supporting America in whatever circumstances arose. If the Americans think Uzbekistan is OK, then so must Britain. It was Murray's disquiet and refusal to accept this that resulted in the now notorious charges being brought against him. Starting with his speech at Freedom House, only cleared at the last minute by the Foreign Office, his outspoken attacks on the human rights situation led to him slowly but inexorably being discommunicated, with his telegrams and emails back to Britain being ignored. Simon Butt described his telegrams as having an "emotional style", as if you can somehow report on men being raped with glass bottles with a stoical aloofness from the horror which is being perpetuated around you.

Throughout the book, Murray describes the true nature of the Uzbek security services and police, our former allies in the war on terror who provided us with "intelligence" which the government has no qualms about using or relying on. Male or female, nearly everyone who is arrested is raped. Torture is endemic - whether it involves the arrested being put in TB wards in order to catch the disease, the use of gas masks which are then blocked off to suffocate the victim without the normal telltale signs, or even and most notoriously, being boiled alive, all was carried out with no criticism from London or Washington.

Finally, Murray, about to go off on holiday but visiting London for the day is told that his staff have been suspended pending investigations. He himself was also under investigation over numerous allegations, involving issuing visas for girlfriends, turning up for work late and drunk, and various other trumped up misdemeanors, all off which apart from a couple he is eventually cleared of, neither of which should have been disciplinary issues in the first place. Eventually allowed to return to Tashkent, despite suffering a mental breakdown, his career is only ended after he wrote a telegram damning the intelligence which the West received from Uzbekistan through torture. After the leaking of the telegram to the Financial Times and interviews in the Guardian and on the Today programme, Murray was suspended and eventually given a severance package.

So far then, so grim and so political. Yet the book is enlivened throughout by Murray's nature. While for Max Hastings, reviewing the book in the Sunday Times, this trivalises the serious subject matter, Murray's almost laddishness actually tells you far more about the man than his passion for freedom and human rights does. While there's no doubting that his relationships with Uzbek girls and visits to nightclubs and "strip bars", if they can be called that, resulted in the breakdown of his marriage, Murray is the first to admit that he behaved badly. In the circumstances however, ignored by his superiors and accused of bringing the embassy into disrepute, he took solace in what he liked best, like anyone else would. His behaviour is wholly understandable, if not defendable. Most of all, it shows him as a normal human being, something which cannot be said about the New Labour people who tried to bring him down. His indiscretions also pale into insignificance when compared to the womanising and sleaze of John Prescott, David Blunkett and Boris Johnson.

While Murray's book arrives too late for those of us who sadly voted for Labour with a heavy heart last year, it's the kind of angry shout against the futility of Western policy that is so badly and desperately needed. The end result of the West's appeasement of Karimov was the Andijan massacre, which earned the Uzbeks the mild rebuke that was the excuse for Karimov to return into the welcoming arms of Vladimir Putin. Kicked out of the airbase they had used to bomb Afghanistan, the whole experience should of told the Bush administration just how counter-productive their current strategy is. On the contrary, it continues to regard Middle East dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt as best friends, while snubbing its nose at the democratically elected Hamas and Lebanese governments, letting Israel reduce Gaza and Lebanon to rubble. Most shocking off all, a so-called Labour government has stood by and supported the US to the hilt. As Murray writes, something about September the 11th changed the psyche of those who beforehand had been promoting an ethical foreign policy, allowing them to justify the use of torture, the lies surrounding the war in Iraq, and the attacks on civil liberties in this country.

Murray doesn't want to be referred to or thought of as a hero. John Pilger however manages to come up with a fitting description without using the h word, printed as it is on the front cover: a man of the highest principle. How true, and how typical of this Labour government, that it conspired to remove an ambassador who told them what they didn't want to hear. Tony Blair came to office promising to be purer than pure. Next time the government suggests that it has nothing to do with extraordinary rendition, or that it abhors torture, throw Murder in Samarkand at them.

(There's an excellent interview and further review on Lenin's Tomb. Obsolete also hosts the documents that Murray was ordered to remove from his website, here.)

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"Dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt."

Oh dear. Poor Mazher Mahmood, the notoriously private "fake sheikh" who objects to having his photograph being published but is more than happy to ruin the lives of entirely innocent people to help the sales of the News of the Screws, is once again left looking like a liar and fantasist of the highest order.

In surprisingly similar circumstances to the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot which never was, the trial of three men accused by the News of the Screws of attempting to buy "red mercury" for terrorist purposes has ended with all of them being found not guilty. Mahmood was told of the "plot" by someone known only as "Mr B" - which echoes what happened in the case of the Beckham kidnap plot, as then Mahmood was informed of the plan by a man called Florim Ghasi - who was paid £10,000 for his trouble, which when revealed led to the collapse of the trial. You have to wonder whether Mr B was also given a large cheque for his helpful assistance to Mr Mahmood.

The acquittal again raises questions about the police's relationship with the News of the Screws, as well as the seeming acquiescence of the Crown Prosecution Service in once again allowing itself to be humiliated for the purposes of enriching a certain R Murdoch. Their healthy relationship with the Screws is something that out to be examined by parliament - Rebekah Wade herself admitted that police officers had in the past been paid for information.

The whole trial was based around the mythical substance red mercury - most recently used as a plot device in an episode of the BBC series Spooks, where a chemistry professor at a university offered to sell some to a student from a terrorist organisation in order to entrap them in the process. Any self-respecting jihadi would know that red mercury is complete and utter bollocks - there's plenty of recipes out there on the internet for bomb-making without searching for a made-up chemical substance that could be used in a dirty bomb - a scenario that has been hyped out of all proportion (a BBC Horizon programme showed how ineffective such a bomb would be).

One of the defendants claimed in the case that he was interested in a liquid called red mercury that could be used wash discoloured money, which is a bit daft as any fule knows that you can clean dirty coins using either vinegar or coke. This is doubtless why it took the jury 30 hours of deliberations before they reached their not guilty verdict. Nevertheless, none of the evidence used against them, including Mahmood's own testimony suggested that they had been anything other than pawns in the News of the Screws' and Mahmood's game.

Unlike in the case of Mahmood versus Galloway, the defence lawyers were uncowed and vociferous in their condemnation of both Mahmood and the journalism of the Screws. Jeremy Dein QC said:
the "sensationalised" story was solely about bringing the paper "commercial gain" and "personal kudos". And he accused Mahmood of being a "manipulative" person who "exploited others".

"He [Mahmood] is certainly charismatic and highly intelligent but we submit he is dangerously deceitful, ruthless, exploitative and corrupt.

"[He has] an egotistical obsession with extracting front page terror stories on the streets of Britain."

He added that the substituted headline should have been: "Anti-terrorist caught up in Mazza plot to clinch terror glory".

Mr Dein said that his client was a "fierce opponent of terrorism".

Earlier in the case, Stephen Solley QC had accused the Screws and Mahmood of engaging in "backdoor vigilantism" - forcing the police into investigating alleged crimes through their hyperbolic and sensational reporting. So damaging were the accusations leveled against the Screws and Mahmood that the judge at the end of the case tried desperately to infer that the case was not about the abhorrent, arrogant journalism which the Screws indulges in, but rather about the suspects non-existent plot. The failure of the prosecution however shows that is exactly what the Screws and Mahmood do: they build celebrities up, then they knock them down. In the case of the Victoria Beckham kidnap plot and today's not guilty verdicts, it shows how incredibly careful you have to be: the slightest fantasy about kidnapping a famous person or trying to gain a mythical substance can lead to you being in the dock.

Where does all this leave Mr Mahmood? As can be expected, he's still be robustly defended by his employers:
A spokeswoman for the News of the World said the paper was "disappointed" with the outcome of the trial but was "entirely satisfied" that the investigation was conducted with "wholly proper" methods and in close liaison with the police.

"Our story resulted from a thorough and legitimate investigation by Mazher Mahmood, one of the paper's most senior and experienced reporters, whose exposes have led to over 200 convictions," she said.

The most hilarious thing about this is how Mahmood's "investigations" seem to be leading to more and more convictions without any publicity being given to them. Back in April the Screws claimed that he had been responsible for 130 criminals being prosecuted and found guilty. 3 months later and this has jumped by 70.

Mamhood and his journalism are then again back in the dock. Despite having his life being threatened by bloggers who dared to publish old photographs of him, he shows no sign of stopping being corrupt, ruthless and arrogant, as evidenced by his recent escapade of kidnapping "illegal immigrants" and transporting them to a detention centre where those being kept there had been on hunger strike over the conditions. Mahmood thus lives up to the very worst stereotype of a tabloid journalist; no morals, no conscience and no ethics. He's also more than willing to go along with politically motivated stunts to discredit anti-war MPs; his attempts to show George Galloway as being corrupt led to him being unmasked, an investigation which the Screws never published, mainly because it was so ham-fisted and anti-semitic in its tone. Jeremy Corbyn, another left wing anti-Iraq war MP was to be the next target.

Doubtless, Mahmood will soon return to being the Screws' star reporter. He'll still probably expose more minor celebrities for being hypocrites, or entrap some into buying drugs which he himself bought for them. The only action then is to write to the NotW and tell them what you think about how they have persecuted innocent people for sales purposes, while still claiming to be representing the public at large in their endless campaign for "Sarah's law". is the address. Alternatively you can write to Mahmood himself, or even phone his desk. His phone number is 020 7782 4402 or you can email him at He'll no doubt be happy to discuss his principled, caring and public-spirited journalism with you.

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Monday, July 24, 2006 

Blair, Israel, Lebanon and political bankruptcy.

A man cradles a Lebanese child injured in an Israeli airstrike on a car.
12 days after the crisis engulfing Lebanon and Israel began, the Dear Leader has finally decided that it's time to get tough on both sides. Spurred into action by both Kim Howell's howl on Saturday, and Condoleeza Rice's arrival in Beirut today, he called the destruction of a large part of Lebanon a "catastrophe", going on to say, "I don't want the killing to go on. I want the killing to stop. Now. It's got to stop on both sides and it's not going to stop on both sides without a plan to make it stop."

How very different from just 3 days ago, when his spokesman said that a call for a ceasefire would only "make people feel good for a few hours". It's also a marked change from just 24 hours ago, when Kim Howells was notably less critical of Israel than he had been on Saturday, when he accused the Israelis of going after the entire Lebanese nation. It appears that the odious Margaret Beckett, who felt it wasn't helpful to be critical of Israel in almost any way, had phoned him and informed him that Downing Street was not best pleased.

Even now though, Blair has still not been directly critical of Israel in any way, shape or form. At the same time, the evidence that the IDF is targeting almost anything that moves is mounting. Those who were heeding Israel's warning to flee have been cut apart by air strikes. Red Cross ambulances have been fired at (Click on the Red Cross medics attacked in Lebanon link in the box on the right.) The United Nations presence was hit last week. The Lebanese army, which has had nothing whatsoever to do with Hizbullah, has been struck. All of this is being excused, firstly by the Israelis who maintain that motorbikes, minibuses and trucks can be used to transport the dreaded katayusha rockets, hence they are legitimate targets, whether they're doing so or not. Then there is the apologia of the likes of Alan Dershowitz, who seems to think that some civilians are more guilty than others. Others still, such as some reputed members of the Lebanese forces, appear to think that Hizbullah is moving around their rocket launchers so that the Israelis strike factories or civilian areas. It's strange that no media seem to be reporting this.

As is usual, Harry's Place, the supposed home of the internationalist, interventionist, "sensible" left, is ranting about "stoppers". They refer to the Stop the War march on Saturday in London as being pro-fascist, as many declared their solidarity with Hizbullah. Obsolete wasn't in attendance as it had to work, but otherwise would have been there, and it has to be admitted that declaring support for Hizbullah makes me very uncomfortable and uncertain indeed. While claims that Hizbullah is both fascist and terrorist are neither here nor there at the moment, why would any self-respecting left winger support an armed militia that is murdering innocent civilians, "resistance" or not? What Israel is doing amounts to state terrorism. What Hizbullah is doing amounts, as Juan Cole puts it, to war crimes. Supporting Hizbullah because they might make the Israelis think twice before they do such a thing again is not only harebrained, but smacks of the infantile gesture politics (not that there's anything wrong with them on occasion) of yesteryear which we have to leave behind to be taken seriously. That does not mean abandoning our values, our morals or our outrage. What it does mean is not supporting one bunch of killers over another. The principle of my enemy's enemy is my friend is a sign of political bankruptcy.

In the same way, we should be stepping up pressure on Tony Blair to actually put into action what he says. He needs to criticise Israel, forcefully and fully for the amount of innocent civilians they have killed purely as revenge. He rightfully recognises that what is at the epicentre of this whole debacle is the Israel-Palestine conflict. The two-state solution cannot come soon enough. Hence he needs to demand that Israel negotiate with Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas immediately. The disengagement plan Ehud Olmert was elected on is dead, destroyed by his own recklessness in the original attack on Gaza following the abduction of Corporal Shalit. It would never have worked anyway. Blair has made the right first steps in recognising that there needs to be a ceasefire. Next he has to realise that Britain has been left weakened internationally by its unprincipled and unquestioning lust for American power. Pulling back is still possible, even at this late stage.

Blair and the whole Foreign Office also have to understand that our silence over the last 12 days has helped Israel get away, literally, with murder. They have just as much blood on their hands as the IDF, Olmert, Peretz and Nasrallah. An early call could have saved lives. If Blair had an ounce of humanity left in him, he'd lose some sleep. Instead, he'll probably be as dead to the world tonight as those further down this page. The only difference being he'll wake up in the morning.

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