Saturday, August 18, 2007 

W.F Deedes 1913-2007.

Shome mishtake shurely? I was meant to be immortal!

Elsewhere, Harry Haddock sticks the boot in to Peter Fahy. Then gouges his eyes out.

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Friday, August 17, 2007 

A less than glorious Tory inheritance.

In a way, it's almost encouraging to see the Tories finally producing something resembling a policy, or at least one that the press and people in general will be able to latch onto. It's too bad that rather than supposedly moving on, Cameron is still just as obsessed as his predecessors at bribing the middle classes, rather than improving the lot of the majority.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised. Despite Cameron declaring himself a liberal conservative, desperate to consign the image of the nasty party to history, he's made the strange decision of ordering two of the most important policy reviews of his premiership to be conducted by yesterday's men. First we had Iain Duncan Smith, the disastrous former leader with his recommendations on how to mend Britain's "broken society". His solutions were all too familiar: get the single mother back into work as soon as possible, regardless of the effect on her own family, offer tax breaks to married couples and clamp down ever harder on those noxious illegal substances. Today we're treated to John Redwood's report, titled "Freeing Britain to compete", and it follows more or less the same lines; while its length doesn't quite touch Duncan Smith's 6 volumes, it still fills up 211 pages.

The attention grabbing recommendations then come as little more than a damp squib. For years we've witnessed the Daily Express and Mail complaining about the inequity of inheritance tax, nicknamed the "death" tax. In recent years they have started to have something more of a point: with the housing market getting more and more out of control, ever more estates have started to fall under the £300,000 threshold, which itself was raised recently. This though has never been an argument for the complete abolition of the tax, it's been one for redirecting it once again at those it was meant to fall upon: the ultra-rich and the handing down of the vast amounts of cash and property which their children have often done very little to either earn or deserve. While Labour is meant to be raising the threshold within the next year to £350,000 and according to official figures it still only touches 6% of estates, the best way to counteract the calls for complete abolition is to raise it to at the very least £500,000 and maybe to even £750,000. While this may encourage even more of those it's likely to hit to evade it, this would still lift the grievance held by some in middle England, and make it harder for journalists with their own well-off parents to make their readers' feel sorry for the awful plight, one of the main factors behind the calls for its end.

The other pledge aimed directly at the middle classes is the proposed raising of the 40% higher rate of income tax, which currently kicks in at £34,600. There again might be a case for raising it slightly, but it's worth remembering that the average yearly wage remains mostly static at around £22,000. This is why the case for a higher top rate of tax for those earning £100,000 a year or more has always been so persuasive, some would say easy to support, but there is of course nothing in this report at all suggesting that the ultra-rich are getting away with it, with the poor paying disproportionately more in tax those at the very top of society. Indeed, the report also recommends that those hard-done by large businesses getting an even further cut in corporation tax, already announced by Brown to be cut from 30p to 28p, with Redwood suggesting a 25p rate.

Perhaps the report's main prerogative is set out in the "Our vision" section, one full of holes apart from its typically Tory rhetoric :

A more enterprising Britain will be a more caring Britain: as incomes rise, so tax revenues rise and charitable giving flourishes.

But this is a fallacy based on the trickle down theory: in the last 20 years we've seen the rich get richer while the poor have remained poor. Rather than Britain becoming more caring in that time, we've almost certainly seen it become crueler, and you don't have to just point to the rise in deception and unethical behaviour in popular culture to reach that conclusion. Besides, should we really take advice from a committee that comes up with such laughable solutions to the problems of the rail network, when it was the Conservatives themselves that brought it to its knees through privatisation? Maybe we really did need that reminder from the BBC of one of John Redwood's previous most notable achievements.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007 

Moving on up.

It comes round every year, as predictable, regular and tedious as Big Brother. It features the same fresh-faced young things, joyful and excited at first, only to later sink into the black pit of misery of realising that your care-free days are almost over. It could only be the perennial argument about whether A-Levels, GCSEs, SATs, etc are getting easier.

It's also something of a schizophrenic argument. While we worry that A-Levels are getting too easy, we also find ourselves questioning whether our 14-year-olds are thick; with a third still failing to reach level 5 in English, Maths and Science. They can't both be right, can they?

Well, no. Neither exam is getting easier, and the reasons for the fast increasing number of A grades collected by 18-year-olds and the failure of 14-year-olds to get to the right key stage level are in fact highly similar.

Firstly, the reason for the increasing amount of awarded top grades at A-Level is mainly down to phenomenon of teaching to the test. Out the window has gone any real attempt at look at the background to the subject in question, or anything else that doesn't actually feature in the exam, and in has came the constant repetition of the "key facts", and the writings of essays around topics and subjects which have previously come up. This is all very well for getting the certificate stating how brilliant you are, but it takes all the joy out of learning, and makes for quick forgetting of everything you thought had been drilled into your brain. The private and grammar schools have got especially good at doing this, hence their hegemony over the A grades their pupils have.

Secondly, by the time most teenagers reach the sixth form, those who have lost interest in learning or who are doing more vocational rather than academic subjects have moved on, leaving behind the more aspirational who actually do want to achieve something. This is why the plans by Alan Johnson to extend the compulsory leaving age to 18 are so wrongheaded: while it may have good intentions, it's unlikely to improve results and may even have an effect on bringing them down. This is also partly the reason why the SATs results still look comparatively poor: the teaching to the test has yet to have been perfected for them yet, and there are far more of those who are disruptive and or simply disinterested to care. This is not to blame them, or suggest they're a lost cause, rather that the system of testing and targets has comprehensively failed.

This is where Tomlinson's report into the reform of the 14-19 system should have came in. It would have brought together the opportunity to take both the vocational and academic route, rather than having to done one or the other as is more or less the case now. It would have also have vastly cut down the numbers of exams, helping to reduce stress while if anything increasing the knowledge that universities and employers would have had about those requesting places or jobs. Labour, naturally, rejected it.

Teenagers then aren't getting dafter or smarter, they're both taking and losing an respective advantage at the same time.

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Scum-watch: Another day, another bash at the BBC.

The old cliched saying is that those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. The Sun, no matter how many smashed panes it has, just can't help itself.

THE BBC can’t even get its apologies right.

It admits it was wrong to screen old footage of John Redwood singing the Welsh anthem.

But it uses weasel words to deny political bias, brushing aside its crass conduct as “wrong in retrospect”.

That won’t wash. News is not satire and this wasn’t a silly mistake. It was arrogant — and biased — journalism.

This is based on BBC director of news Helen Boaden's blog post where she apologised for the use of a clip of John Redwood failing to remember the words to the Welsh anthem, which took up approximately 5 seconds of the beginning of the report. As Steffan pointed out, it's been such a while since we were treated to glimpses of the Vulcan on our screens, it's quite easy to imagine that non-politicos would have long forgotten who he was. It wasn't the best clip to have chosen, it could indeed prompt accusations of bias, but only from those who recognised the clip, and the BBC has now apologised. Case closed.

One has to wonder if the fact that the rest of Boaden's post, where she sets out exactly how the BBC did examine Redwood's proposals, which incidentally the Sun doesn't even bother to mention, might have something to do with its non-acceptance of the apology. While some might think that the Labour reaction was too prominent in some of the bulletins, it was the BBC trying to put impartiality into a story where all they more or less knew was that some of Redwood's ideas had been leaked and discussed. With news being hard to come by, what do the Tories expect the BBC to do in the circumstances? Present them exactly as the party would want? Not report what Labour said about them? Not report his proposals at all until they're released in full?

The BBC can in fact be its own worst enemy. A quick read of the comments following Boaden's post shows them overwhelmingly filled with those highly critical of the corporation. If the BBC were so biased, unaccountable and Stalinist, would it even allow them raise their concerns? It's a similar situation at times over at Comment is Free: huge amounts of criticism, which on other places such as the Sun, Mail or even the Times or the Telegraph would soon be removed. The more accountable you attempt to be, the more vitriol you usually get chucked at you.

Speaking of the use of weasel words in apologies, it's hard not to be reminded of the Sun's own feeble non-apology on the non-existent Muslim yobs in Windsor:

Barrack attack correction

Following our report ‘Hounded out’ about a soldier's home in Datchet, Berks, being vandalised by Muslims, we have been asked to point out no threatening calls were logged at Combermere Barracks from Muslims and police have been unable to establish if any faith or religious group was responsible for the incident.

We are happy to make this clear.

Their story wasn't wrong then, it was simply "inaccurate". No apology for such a misleading, inflammatory report, just the weakest possible correction it could make.

The Scum continues:

The Beeb has developed a built-in sneer towards those it disdains.

That includes all Tories except pro-EU fanatics like Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine — to whom it fawns — and virtually everyone in the American administration.

How completely unlike the Sun! During the Labour deputy leadership contest, the paper tried its best to smear all of the candidates as "left-wing dinosaurs", even that noted socialist Hazel Blears, and it quoted George Osbourne as saying:

“Labour is retreating into its left-wing comfort zone. We are seeing Labour lurch to the left and abandon the centre ground.”

Perfectly OK when the Tories do it, beyond the pale when the BBC does something similar.

Such accusations are in any case errant nonsense: Question Time especially often features the rants of Peter Hitchens on the EU, while members of Open Europe, which wants a referendum on the the EU reform treaty have popped out across the BBC's news bulletins, both on BBC1 and on Newsnight. The American administration, or at least ex-members of it have also found themselves being given increasing leverage on Newsnight, with John Bolton featuring almost once a week if not more.

The BBC is supposed to be an impartial public service broadcaster. There is no room in its news coverage for infantile student posturing.

Quite. After all, that's the Sun's job.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007 

A sickening wave of revenge.

(This post contains links to videos which contain disturbing and graphic violence. While the post itself is work safe, the links are not.)

Some reporters have apparently been confused as to why the Kurdish Yezidi sect was chosen as the target for some of the most brutal, if not the worst suicide attacks to have hit Iraq since the invasion. The slightest amount of research would quickly turn up just why at least two groups of Salafi takfirists had promised revenge against the members of the sect. Indeed, it's a story that can be told through videos posted on the internet, all of them providing a chilling view of today's Iraq, four years on from the invasion.

While the Yezidis living in the Kurdish north are felt to be "devil worshippers" by some of the Muslims living in Iraq, their separation and distance from the nearest city of Mosul has mainly meant that they've been left well alone, at least until now. Some reports have mentioned that they were supportive of the Iraq war, and while that may be true, there's nothing to suggest this was why they were targeted, nor that they were non-Islamic. Yesterday's attack was undoubtedly the end result of a horrific honour killing which took place in the town of Bashika in April.

Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old Yezidi, had made the mistake of daring to fall in love with a Sunni Muslim. The reports on her death and why she was murdered are understandably confused and contradictory; some say she was to be married to him, others that she had converted to Islam, others simply that she had in fact been absent from her home for one night. Also confused is whether she was tricked into returning to the town, or whether she was given refuge by a Yezidi tribal leader only for the mob to capture her and drive her out into the town. What is certain is that she was murdered in broad daylight by a large group of men, stoned to death, while security forces stood by and did nothing to help her. Some sources allege that they in fact delivered her to the mob. The killing was recorded by a number of the men on mobile phones, and subsequently posted on the internet.

Unsurprisingly, the video quickly spread, and came to the attention of both Ansar al-Sunnah and the Islamic State of Iraq, both of which promised revenge in communiques to the usual jihadist forums. ISI went one step further, proclaiming her as a martyr, in a post I saw on a site which is now offline.

The inevitable first part of the revenge took place on the 23rd of April, when fighters from the ISI hijacked a bus carrying workers in Mosul, checked the ID cards of those on it, ordered the Christians and Muslims off and then drove the 23 Yezidis on board to the eastern part of the city. Once there, they were ordered to lay on their fronts against a wall. The men were then all sprayed with bullets, presumably with AK-47s from a distance, before 3 of the gunmen move in and fire further barrages into the bodies from a few feet away. The video of the massacre was subsequently distributed by the Mosul section of the ISI's media branch, not the al-Furqan section which usually produces the rest of the group's propaganda from elsewhere in Iraq.

Yesterday's attack is almost certainly also the work of the Islamic State. While Ansar al-Sunnah is one of the other insurgent groups to have carried out suicide bombings in Iraq, the attack carries all the hallmarks of an al-Qaida in Iraq operation, the multiple bombings, the use of trucks and the soft, defenceless target. It won't be a surprise if a video of the "operation" subsequently turns up online, continuing the cycle of depravity likely to shock even the most hardened, cynical and desensitised of the watchers of the jihadist media available on the web.


Screengrabs from the video.

The methods of the insurgents in Iraq appear to have influenced fascists in Russia. A group calling itself the "National Socialist Party of Russia" had a video distributed, initally on LiveJournal among Russian far-right nationalists, which shows the beheading of one man and the shooting dead of another. The video claims that they're "colonists" from Dagestan and Tajikistan. A statement sent to a Chechen news agency, purportedly from the group, called for the expulsion from Russian territory of all Asians and people from the Caucasus, the independence of Chechnya and the resignation of President Vladimir Putin. A man has since come forward and admitted to helping to distribute the recording.

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The kids aren't alright.

Death, outraged reaction, draconian solution suggested, draconian solution rejected/forgotten, cycle repeats. It's all too familiar, too rehearsed, too tedious. Add in the factor that it's the silly season and the whole thing is taken up another couple of notches, resulting in editorials claiming that every street is full to the brim with drunken teenagers while the police are handcuffed to their desks filling in paperwork. It's beyond silly and inaccurate, it's exacerbating the already out of control stereotype that the youth of today spend all their time drinking cheap strong booze while smashing up the local playground equipment, and it does absolutely nothing to even begin to sort out the existing problem that there actually is.

Peter Fahy's suggestions on what has to be done to tackle the "yob culture" and youth binge drinking are discriminatory, downright daft and completely wrongheaded. The tragic death of Garry Newlove, the inquiry into which Fahy is meant to be heading, which occurred when he tackled a group of teenagers alleged to have vandalised a small digger he had hired, has not been linked in any way to whether the group had been drinking or not, but that doesn't seem to have gotten in the way of Fahy's arguments on what must be done.

How raising the legal age to purchasing alcohol to 21 will help such avoidable and pointless deaths from happening is not explained, most likely because it will most likely only make the existing situation worse. Nearly all supermarkets and off-licences, which are currently erroneously getting it in the neck for selling to those who are underage, have almost all instituted schemes across the board which require staff to request ID from anyone who looks under 21 before selling them any age restricted product. This already means that those above the legal age but unfortunately don't look it are required to carry around ID lest they decided they'd like to buy a beer. The same is true in pubs and clubs; there may be the odd store which doesn't care, but the fines are now so heavy and strict that it isn't worth the risk. This points towards the fact the most alcohol is being bought by adults, either at the request of teenagers who congregate outside shops and ask them to buy it for them, or by their parents, who either don't care or have it stolen from under their noses. Raising the price of alcohol will also only do so much: it completely ignores why both children and adults are increasingly turning to mass booze binges, while penalising them for wanting to escape from their own humdrum lives for a few hours.

Banning public drinking might remove the odd clusters of youths that do in some places get together, drink and start getting rowdy and harassing people, but again it will only take the problem off the streets, making it more likely that the same will just occur either in private houses or in other places not considered "public". It takes it out of public sight without changing the practice itself. That's all well and good for the police, who aren't called out to deal with it, and for the residents of places where groups have previously suffered, but it just moves it on to somewhere else.

The lessons that the Unicef report on wellbeing ought to have taught have similarly been completely forgotten. It showed that the relationships that are vital in cultivating happiness are just not there - whether it's with their own peers, or with their "elders" themselves, who are by turns either disconnected from their children and young adults, or as the case seems to be with those outside of a family circle, completely uninterested or even hostile towards other children. This is down not to a broken society, as the Tories claim, but to an erosion of empathy, the cult of the self and the mantra of false individualism. When such relationships are missing or stilted, it's little surprise that the things that do bring people together - booze, drugs and sex - are all being increasingly abused by those younger and younger.

What's needed is a complete reapprasial of what it means to both be a child and a teenager in Britain today. Rather than it all being the fault of political correctness and a failure to intervene as the tabloids preach, we've become so scared of our children because of how beastly and violent they're meant to be that we've forgotten that they are us - just even more confused, apprehensive and frightened than we are. Cameron was mocked for suggesting that teenagers needed a lot more love, dubbed by the press and Labour as "hug a hoodie", but he more or less had it right. Despite all the obstacles, we need to both talk and listen. At the moment, the Victorian cliche of being seen and not heard is half right - we see them all too often, but we ignore them.

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Legal challenge to refusal to hold an independent inquiry into 7/7.

It's great to see that rather than giving up, getting disillusioned and waiting for the next tragedy to unfold, the families of those who were murdered on 7/7, along with a number of survivors, have informed the Home Office of their intention to take legal action in order to force the government into setting up an independent inquiry into just what was known of the bombers prior to the events of that fateful day.

Rachel rightly points out just how inadequate the "investigation" by the Intelligence and Security Committee was, a parliamentary group which takes everything it's told by the security services at face value, even when it becomes obvious that they've lied to them on numerous previous occasions. Even when supplied with prima facie evidence of the wrongdoing of those they're meant to be monitoring, the committee likes to shift the goalposts, as showed by their report into extraordinary rendition, which cleared MI5/6 of any involvement in the conspiracy after it decided to change the definition of just what exactly constitutes ER.

The other thing worth mentioning is that the legal challenge, if it goes ahead, will be using the provisions under article 2 of the human rights act which provide for an inquiry into the death of someone if the right to life is ruled to have been breached. It would be nice if the tabloids which have demonised the act now reported that far from being a terrorists' charter, the act also provides the right for those murdered by them to find out whether the state failed to adequately protect those killed. I'm not holding my breath.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007 

Now is not the time for liberal thought.

Are these the end times? The tabloids, infected with silly season pessimism, seem to think so. COULD BRITAIN BE HEADING FOR A NEW GREAT DEPRESSION? screams the Express. BRITAIN'S GONE MAD yells the Sun, followed up by an editorial which takes the decision by the Thames Valley police to train two 16-year-olds as community support officers to mean that the policy is not only supported by Downing Street, but that the streets are soon to be full of spotty urchins tackling the misbehaviour of other spotty urchins. Battle Royale here we come.

(Not to mention yet another BBC bashing editorial which follows it, claiming that they'd brought out a clip of Redwood failing to sing the Welsh national anthem to mock him. Perhaps they'd like to point out which bulletins that was on, as I watched the news on BBC1 on Sunday at around 6 and then again at 10, both of which had reports on Redwood's bureaucracy cutting proposals and neither featured it (Update: see comments for clarification, apparently it was featured for a whole 5 seconds at the beginning of the report). It also again claims that the BBC's "own watchdogs" had described it as "institutionally biased" when they have done no such thing. The Sunday Times said the "safeguarding impartiality report in the 21st century" was going to come to that conclusion; the phrase, predictably, doesn't feature anywhere in it. The less said about Redwood's actual plans and the Sun's claim he's one of the few to get it the better.)

It isn't that there aren't plenty of things to depressed about. While the tabloids preach doom and gloom on a daily basis about violent crime, yobs and moronic parents with too much money getting their fat, spoilt little princes and princesses' school uniforms lined with Kevlar in case they get stabbed, the great depression which is our meaningless, work-filled and selfish lives continue. As the middle classes go off on their holidays to spread their own omnipresent misery to the inhabitants of countries unlucky enough to be tourist destinations, those worrying that this unstoppable orthodoxy of ever increasing consumption and growth is unsustainable are finding that this brilliant democracy of ours suddenly starts losing its sheen when you so much as attempt to raise awareness by camping near an airport.

Even by the surreal standards of journalism during the month of August, last night's Newsnight discussion between George Monbiot and the Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, with Mahmood demanding that Monbiot condemn anyone who decides to climb on the fence at Heathrow was indicative of the madness that seems to descend when the lack of news combines itself with the authoritarian, repressive and draconian excesses of both this government and the businesses that have done so very well out of Labour's crackdown on civil liberties. Would a company before the rise of New Labour really have had the guts to go to the high court and request such a wide-ranging and badly-drafted injunction as that one BAA did to try to stop legitimate protest from taking place in the vicinity of Heathrow? While the judge stood her ground and cut it down to naming just one small group and three individuals, it set the tone for the whole reporting saga, with the press swiftly switching sides from supporting the rights of National Trust and RSPB members to be able to go to the airport if they so wished to scaremongering wildly about just what the less savory, younger and scruffy direct action types might do.

It was almost as if BAA had been taking lessons from Tony Blair's government: not only was the spin that they hadn't been trying to ban up to 5 million people so patently see through that the spokesman might as well have been a ghost, but the raising of the spectre of the terrorist threat was the most ridiculously insulting and absurd argument against protesters doing anything other than standing in a field while being surrounded by the police since Frank Field implied that the police can't handle both the cash for honours inquiry and the security of the nation at the same time. Even if some of the more radical members did decide to get onto the runway, despite the 1800 police which the Met have decided are necessary to secure a site which at the moment has less than 500 hundred actual campers on it (according to the Grauniad, journalists themselves currently outnumber protesters by about 2 to 1), just how are they going to hide the weaponry necessary to bring down an aircraft? As the black maskers scale or cut the fence, someone carrying a rocket launcher in a holdall just might look slightly out of place, and anyway, they don't make bongs
that big.

For those of us lucky enough to be dismissed as the "civil liberties brigade", it's good to know that some of our utmost opponents would in fact like the Human Rights Act to be extended ever so slightly further. According to Mike Ambrose, if environmental campaigners attempt to force their views on those who want to travel, they'll be acting against the principles of civilised society, and their actions could prove to be an abuse of the democratic right to protest. Never mind that BAA attempted to stop any protest whatsoever: there needs to be a new human right, and it's the right to go on holiday. Not that Ambrose and his ilk of obscurantists even needed to say anything; they could have instead relied on the Evening Standard to print smears and embellishments to rival anything the Scum could have come up with, claiming that protesters were planning to leave "hoax suspect packages" in order to cause disruption. The Sun gleefully picked up the same ball and ran with it this morning. The police themselves have been making mass use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act, previously used to keep Walter Wolfgang from re-entering the Labour conference and to harass absolutely everyone other those likely to even have the slightest involvement in terrorism, and also have taken to taking photographs and recording everyone that so much as goes near the camp, all just for their own records, obviously.

Systematically but slowly, the right to protest, to express the slightest criticism of almost any business within the vicinity of their premises and to actually act like an individual rather than indulge in "individualism" is being eroded, mocked and criminalised. It's little wonder the young themselves, at least according to the gutter press, are becoming more violent, angry, insolent and feckless. They're the children of the baby boomers after all, who enjoyed all the trappings of the welfare state, free higher education and ideological struggles of the 60s and 70s only to rip all of those things up when they themselves gained power. Selfishness and greed inevitably begats the same, and only now do they not like the results.


This pretty much sums it all up.

I'll seriously disrupt the nose of anyone who get's (sic) in the way of my family holiday this year.

- Mark, Welwyn, Hertfordshire

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Monday, August 13, 2007 

Scum-watch: Calling for the continuation of systematic injustice.

Just how does one become a Sun journalist? Is it nature or nuture? Were they too once idealistic young men and women who dreamed of becoming investigative hacks, exposing the corrupt, the injustices, the lies and scandalous behaviour of the most powerful in our society? Did they imagine that one day they'd be called a cunt by a flame-haired editor because they hadn't got the latest scoop on the relationship drama between a crack-head and sometime model? Do they believe the bile they have to write up, or is it purely out of the love of the pay cheque?

Why am I asking these daft rhetorical questions? Well, here's one more for good measure: just how do some of them sleep at night? Andrew Porter today delivers an abject lesson in how to write an almost typical tabloid scare story:

FIVE men set to be returned to Britain from Guantanamo Bay will cost a staggering £7.5million a year to monitor, security sources revealed last night.

First thing to note is that this comes from a "security" source. Seeing as their job involves lying to everyone around them, regardless of the reason for doing so, anything they say and most especially provide to a Sun hack has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Is it really true that monitoring one man for a year will cost £1.5 million? Are the other former Guantanamo detainees under such surveillance? Almost certainly not - not only have none of them been charged with any crime upon repatriation, some of whom had almost identical or more serious allegations made against them, but apart from Moazzam Begg and the "Tipton Three" they've completely dropped off the radar, apparently no threat to anyone.

Let's not pretend that these men are necessarily completely innocent of some of what might be alleged against them. One of the "Tipton Three" has since confessed that he entered Afghanistan and did spend time at a training camp, where he learned how to use an AK-47, somewhat different to the rosy account in the Road to Guantanamo, where their reasons for visiting Afghanistan were because of the err, huge naans, and little else. Even so, objectionable and criminal as that was, potential ill-treatment and the nightmare of indefinite detention without charge which they faced in Guantanamo was, as Lord Falconer previously called it, a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy."

Keeping this in mind, the Scum goes on to tell us of just what it's alleged two of the five Britons who either had indefinite leave to remain or refugee status in this country were up to:

Shaker Aamer, 38, a Saudi, is accused of being an interpreter for Osama Bin Laden. Jordanian Jamil el-Banna, 44, is alleged to have known Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was in charge of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Those two, along with three others, have been been held in Cuba since 2002.

An interpreter for bin Laden? Really? Aamer is an interesting case: according to Reprieve, he was abducted in Pakistan and sold to US authorities for $5,000, a different account to that given on Wikipedia, which contends that he was captured in Afghanistan, working for a charity which is now banned by the United Nations as a front for al-Qaida. After 5 years of keeping stum on exactly what he's meant to have done, he's now become a interpreter and translator for bin Laden, which you would have thought they just might have mentioned before now. Aamer, apparently a master terrorist, is meant to have lived with Zacarias Moussaoui, the supposed 20th 9/11 hijacker in London in the late 90s, and also have met with Richard Reid, the idiot shoe bomber. Not only that, but he's also alleged to be trained in the use of surface to air missiles and explosives.

One has to wonder if these allegations have anything to do with Aamer's reputation, both with the guards and fellow detainees at Guantanamo. Speaking English, articulate and charismatic, he became a natural leader: he negotiated an end to one of the first mass hunger strikes, in return for the guards setting up a grievance committee and agreeing to abide by the Geneva conventions. The military authorities quickly disbanded the committee, and Aamer was subsequently put in solitary confinement, of which he has now been in for 2 years. Reprieve claims that this has had a "substantial" effect on his mental health. If released, Aamer most certainly has a story to tell, and with his acknowledged communication skills he could quite easily follow in the same footsteps as Moazzam Begg.

The new allegation against al-Banna is that as well as having links with Abu Qutada, who he knew through Bisher al-Rawi, since released after it was revealed that he had helped MI5 keep tabs on him, (al-Banna was also offered the opportunity to help MI5 but declined) he also had a "long-term association" with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While al-Banna and Zarqawi shared Jordanian nationality, it's unclear just how long-term this association could have been. al-Zarqawi turned up in Afghanistan right at the end of the jihad against the Soviets, meeting the filmmaker Richard Stanley amongst others. Between 1989 and 1992, when Zarqawi was imprisoned in Jordan, he is reported to have traveled to Europe. This doesn't give much time for al-Banna to have a "long-term association" with him, as he came to Britain in 1994. Was the association prior to Zarqawi's jihadi days? Was it a "long-term association" conducted over the telephone? Or is it, as the lawyer for both men Clive Stafford Smith says, "a blatant attempt to smear [his] clients"?

The argument about Guantanamo has never been about what the men imprisoned there are accused of doing, although when we know now that vast numbers of them have been completely innocent of any actionable offence that does begin to enter into it, but about the moving of prisoners outside of any legal authority, the failure to allow any organisation other than the Red Cross to visit the detainees, and the indecent, beneath contempt treatment with which they have dealt with since the camp was first opened. Amnesty International called it the gulag of our times, which was heavily criticised by some, but while the detainees are not worked to death, most of those in the gulag at least knew how long they were meant to be there; to jail someone indefinitely is one thing, but to do it without a trial is to remove all hope entirely.

The Sun, despite having a "justice" sub-page mostly dedicated to fighting the scourge of nonces, has no such qualms about silly concerns like the right to a fair trial and habeas corpus. Its leader is titled, erroneously, "Kick 'em out":

GORDON Brown’s efforts to bring back five UK residents from Guantanamo Bay are ever more bewildering.

Tony Blair made no effort to help them and with good reason.

Yeah, because he was a hypocritical bastard who let his ministers call in effect for its closure while doing nothing to help those still there who we have a responsibility towards.

The Pentagon claims they are “extremely dangerous individuals”.

After two years in solitary confinement? After being force-fed? After losing all hope that they would ever be released, caught in limbo between two countries that have disowned them? Even if there were once dangerous, something itself very much open to question, to pretend they are now is a joke.

The Pentagon warns they are a real risk to Britain. Yet Foreign Secretary David Miliband has unaccountably bent over backwards to secure their release.

Unaccountably bent over backwards as in told the United States that they'd like it if they were returned. Considering the Americans had been making noises about wanting to close the place down, you'd expect that they'd be more than happy for them to be taken off their hands. The Guardian had also previously reported that the US had offered to repatriate them but that the Blair government had refused to accept them. Instead they've realised after making them spend 4 years or more in good old fashioned American hospitality that they might just have some uncomfortable things to say, like Bisher al-Rawi and the others before him have. Releasing prisoners to the Middle East or elsewhere is one thing, where they're unlikely to have the media chasing them: doing it in Britain is another.

To add insult to injury, taxpayers will have to shell out £7.5million a year to monitor them.

These men aren’t even British. They merely have residency status.

And you know what else? They're not even white!

So revoke it. If the Pentagon’s right, they’re the last people to give a home to.

It might be slightly glib to remind everyone, but this was the same Pentagon which told everyone that there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, something the Sun was also more than happy to believe. It lied about two prominent soldiers dying not "heroic" deaths, but in friendly fire incidents. It couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, but it sure can destroy a country if you give it a few months and a budget of hundreds of billions. The Scum really couldn't be doing much more to earn its nickname.

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