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This page has not been updated since Blair left office. I'll leave it here as a record of some of his follies. All future postings will be on my new blog, DC's Improbable Science



What are we defending?

How Bush and Blair, heralds of the endarkenment, are destroying the very values that we are supposed to be defending

This page is not anti-American, but it is (like most of my American friends) against neo-conservatives and fundamentalist 'religious' extremists who betray enlighted values, and it is against those in the UK government who have done so much to support them.
“Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture” New York Times.

Lest we Forget  

US demands war crimes immunity

BBC News, 21 May 2004
A couple of quotations.

"The US is seeking to renew the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by American peacekeepers, with a resolution before the UN Security Council."
. . .
" "Given the recent revelations... the US has picked one hell of a moment to ask for special treatment," said Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. "


Cost of the War in Iraq
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Faces of the
(US) dead


Wash. Post

At last. Bush has gone, as well as Blair

A shameful era for the USA and the UK is at an end


Where to find out more:   Useful links

DC politics RSS feed.   (Click here for hints.)

Big brother is watching? Thanks to the liberal traditions of UCL, I am allowed to say what I like here. Contrast this with what I heard recently from a friend at the University of Texas. "I am reminded in print 4 times annually that I am NOT permitted to post anything political either via my web-site nor via UT e-mail. . . . .Land of the free, eh?" (My emphasis)


Latest News

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Ex-President Carter: Blair policy “major tragedy for the world”

The Washington Post reports

Former president Jimmy Carter called President Bush's international relations "the worst in history" and also took aim at Bush's environmental policies and the administration's "quite disturbing" faith-based initiative program.

Asked by BBC Radio how he would judge Blair's support of Bush, Carter said: "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient. And I think the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world."

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Blair's Orwellian Society

The UK now has one CCTV camera for every 14 people.

UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, warned that a "climate of fear" may be created unless excessive surveillance is curbed, and said it was wrong that organisations could not be inspected without consent.

The Deputy chief constable of Hampshire, Ian Readhead said

"If it's in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner?

"And I really don't think that's the kind of country that I want to live in."

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Conscience: compare and contrast

David Keogh, civil servant, in court.

Keogh was tried under the Official Secrets Act for passing a document to an MP. The contents of the document were not revealed, but judging by its rumoured contents, it would have been embarrassing to Blair and Bush, but not dangerous to the nation.

"when he read it he felt morally obliged to get it into the public domain."

     Result of doing what he thought was right: 6 months in gaol.

Tony Blair, prime minister, in his resignation speech

“It means doing what you genuinely believe to be right.”

“Your duty is to act according to your conviction.”

"So Afghanistan and then Iraq - the latter, bitterly controversial."

"But I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right."

"I may have been wrong. That is your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

    Result of doing what he thought was right: nothing.

For me, and for a lot of others, this resignation speech was sickening. We have the documentary evidence to prove beyond doubt that Blair must have known the notorious 45 minute claim was wrong at the time he said it. We have the evidence to know beyond doubt that Blair had committed himself to war before 9/11 and long before the parliamentary vote.

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Many US soldiers approve of torture

Well, here's a surprise. A survey of US Forces by the Pentagon produced the following results (e.g. International Herald Tribune).

  • Most ( 62 percent of Marines and 53 percent of other soldiers) did NOT agree that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.
  • About a third of troops said they had insulted or cursed at civilians in their presence.
  • About 10 percent of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating civilians or damaging property when it was not necessary. Mistreatment includes hitting or kicking a civilian.
  • Forty-four percent of Marines and 41 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the life of a soldier or Marine.
  • Thirty-nine percent of Marines and 36 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to gather important information from insurgents.

And they are just the ones who are willing to write down on an official form that they approve of torture and abuse. The real numbers are likely to be even worse.

No wonder we have seen, among other horrors, the killings of 24 civilians by marines in Haditha, Iraq, the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and the slaying of her family in Mahmoudiya, and the sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib.

But what do you expect when their 'leaders' so openly advocate torture themselves?

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Virginia Tech: who is surprised?

School and university shootups are regular occurrences in the USA. There have been nineteen school shootings in the last ten years (see BBC) . When it comes to homicide, the USA is more like a third world country than part of the developed world.

Nothing could be less surprising than that it has happened again.

“Virginia imposes few restrictions on the purchase of handguns and no requirement for any kind of licensing or training. The state does limit handgun purchases


to one per month . . . ”. “ . . . no regulations and no background checks are required for purchase of weapons at a Virginia gun show.” [New York Times]. And in Virginia it is legal to carry a concealed gun.

During the year 2000, an average of nine children aged 19 or under were killed with guns, a total of 3365 deaths.  80 people per day are killed in this way.  What is totally baffling to a European reader is that so few people draw the obvious lesson. In the UK handguns are illegal.  One hand-wringing student after another appears on TV and I have yet to hear one of them state the obvious.

It should be illegal for any private individual to possess a gun. Period.

All the students seem to say is that the campus should have yet more armed police. That is civilisation? No European University has campus police, though all US universities seem to have them.

George Bush says he is "shocked and saddened". But it is the Bush 'ethic' that is at the root of the problem. Bush went on

“We hold the victims in our hearts. We lift them up in our prayers and we ask a loving God to comfort those who are suffering today.”

This is from the man who allowed a ban on automatic assault weapons to lapse. Excuse me, I feel a bit of nausea coming on.


Some of the weapons that were banned by Clinton in 1994, after yet another school massacre,
but which were allowed to become legal again in 1994, thanks to G.W. Bush. [BBC]

 

The BBC quotes

“Student Billy Bason, 18, said: "I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident." ”

No, it is not the university that has blood on its hands. It is the US people, through their legislature, who are to blame.  OK, I agree that it might have helped if the police had not treated the first two murders as a minor domestic incident, hardly worth bothering about. That itself tells you a lot.

Even two survivors of the Columbine massacre failed to draw the obvious conclusion. It is no good praying, just get rid of the guns.

Here is a helpful response from an American blog. You couldn't make it up however hard you tried.  http://www.shelleytherepublican.com/2007/04/17/virginia-tech-shooting-a-chinaman-shooting-our-kids.aspx

How can we prevent this from happen again?

  • Close down the borders. Don’t let any more towel-heads in and no more chinamen!
  • Allow students and teachers to carry weapons in school, this is the only way they can defend themselves!
  • DON’T get rid of prayer meetings for Christ Sake. If you lock Jesus out, He can’t protect you, it’s as simple as that!

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Killing of Matty Hull by US Forces “amounted to a criminal act”

Lance Corporal Matty Hull, age 25, was killed near Basra by fire from a US aircraft, in March 2003. He died from multiple injuries inside his blazing Scimitar tank when it was attacked by a US A-10 "tankbuster" aircraft. The whole incident was recorded on cockpit video, but the US denied the existence of the tape. When it eventually came to light, in 2007, that that was a lie and the tape did exist, the US refused to release it to the coroner. [BBC report]


Matty Hull

The video became public only after a copy was obtained by The Sun A defence analyst Paul Beaver said: "I can see no reason for classifying it, other than it is deeply embarrassing to the US military. He said it showed a "catalogue of errors" including pilots ignoring orange panels on vehicles - the NATO symbol for friendly forces "You have to ask were they fit for flying at that time? What sort of training do they have?" [BBC report]

Tne coroner's verdict was finally delivered in March 2007. He said

“The attack on the convoy amounted to an assault.”

“It was unlawful because there was no lawful reason for it and in that respect it was criminal. ”

“I believe that the full facts have not yet come to light,”

“I don't think this was a case of honest mistake.”

The US pilots should have flown lower to confirm identities before opening fire

No American witnesses gave evidence at the inquest and the coroner was critical of the failure of the US authorities to co-operate.

Speaking at a State Department briefing in Washington, a spokesman said: "Clearly we don't agree with the assessment. What we have here is a tragedy that occurred during a time of war.” [BBC report]

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

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Mousa murder -nobody guilty. UK allowed torture

“The lesson of these courts martial is not that modern legal codes fail to understand the nature of soldiering. It is that modern soldiers still fail to understand the nature of legality.” Editorial, Guardian, March 15th 2007

 

The killing of Baha Mousa by British soldiers happened in September 2003. As described below Mousa died in British custody after receiving 93 separate injuries during two days of relentless beatings in September 2003, after being captured by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Basra. The authorities seemed to be serious about this dreadful incident. The government tried to cover it up, but they were overruled by the High Court in December 2004, and eight people were charged.  Read the army's charge sheet here.

The charges faced by three of the men - of "inhuman treatment of persons" - were brought under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and will be tried as war crimes. They were tried by British courts martial, not at The Hague, because the UK acted voluntarily to bring the charges.

 
Baha Mousa

Major Michael Peebles and Colonel Jorge Mendonca, charged with 'negligently performing a duty', not for war crimes, were higher ranking than any brought to justice in the USA. If they were mot aware of how their men were behaving, they should have been, so the charges seemed entirely reasonable.

Now all but one of the men have been cleared. One reason was that the UK authorised the torture.

Reuters report.

“A judge said on Monday the reason he had ordered charges dropped against the most senior British officer to be tried for prisoner abuse in Iraq was because headquarters had approved some of the abuses.”

“One of the soldiers guarding Musa, Corporal Donald Payne, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial to abusing prisoners. His guilt under the 2001 law that backed the International Criminal Court made him officially Britain's first war criminal.

But all other charges against Payne, including a charge of manslaughter, were dropped on McKinnon's order, along with charges against Mendonca and three others.”

Who authorised what has, as usual, been kept secret. It seems quite clear from Judge McKinnon's comments that the British Army and/or the British government authorised acts that are contrary to the Geneva Conventions, The techniques of hooding, stress and sleep deprivation were outlawed by the Heath government. It seems they were brought back by Blair and Bush, under the revolting euphemism of "softening up for interrogation". because it was 'official' seems to have been at least part of the reason why this disgusting crime has gone largely unpunished. Just another whitewash. Not in my name. That is the Blair legacy.

“US pressed British to 'toughen up' interrogation in Iraq” A report on the trial in the Glasgow Herald (December 14th 2006).

An Army brigadier in charge of intelligence gathering in Basra said yesterday that British forces were put under pressure by the US to toughen up interrogation techniques because their current methods were ineffective.

Brigadier Ewan Duncan, director of the Intelligence Corps, also said that he believed the use of "hooding" – the placing of hessian sacks over a prisoner's head – was acceptable and at the "milder end of the spectrum" of conditioning techniques being used by the US forces, despite receiving legal advice that it could be against the Geneva Convention.

Other practices, he said, included placing detainees in stress positions and depriving them of sleep, but he said he believed these techniques were unacceptable.

BBC TV Panorama: "A good kicking" (13 Mar 2007)

“A soldier, who asked to have his identity protected, told Panorama: "What I saw in that cell wasn't interrogation. It wasn't detention. It was torture as far as I am concerned. It was brutal. It was barbaric."

Lieutenant Craig Rogers and several of his unit from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment were mentioned repeatedly in court as being involved in the beatings. But neither he nor any of his men appeared in the dock during the court martial.

Rodgers has since been promoted to captain and is in Germany training British troops for Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The trial cost £20 million, but nevertheless failed completely to penetrate the "wall of silence". Serious crimes have been covered up.

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Director of Public Prosecutions says “There is no war on terror”

It has been a recurring theme of this page that the threat to the UK has been greatly exaggerated by politicians. They have used it as an excuse to remove freedoms, civil liberties and privacy on an astonishing scale. One of the first entries on this page quoted Herman Goering (at the Nuremberg trials),

" . . . the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

Now no less a person than the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald has directly contradicted the Bush-Blair government line. See reports in Guardian and BBC News (24 January 2007).

“London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'.”

“The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.”

“I believe an abandonment of Article Six [of the European Convention on Human Rights] fair trial protections in the face of terrorism would represent an abject surrender to nihilism. It would represent defeat”

Iraqi army brutality

Meanwhile, the Bush-Blair solution continues to proceed in the way that many people predicted from the start. Channel 4 News, on the same day (24 Jan 2007) reports on the brutality meted out by the largely Shi'a Iraqi army in Baghdad. “Two journalists, embedded with the First Cavalry division, witnessed suspected insurgents being viciously beaten and abused” by the Iraqi army while US soldiers stood by, laughing and joking.
Once again we see the truth about only too much of the army; just brutal thugs.

"The journalists were then threatened and held under armed guard by the Americans, as troops attempted to seize their footage."

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Five years of lawlessness at Guantánamo

13 Jan 2007, and still not a single prisoner has been brought to trial. There is no end in sight for this blot on the face of the civilised world, despite Democrat victories.

Recently the Washington Post reported on yet more evidence of torture at Guantánamo, this time from the FBI.

Newspapers and politicians around the world (even some in Blair's government) have pressed for its closure. Nothing happens.

Nonetheless, the Bush era seems to have pushed the centre ground towards what would be called the extreme right anywhere else in the civilised world. There was a truly scary article in the Washington Post by Scott Adams, creator of the 'Dilbert' comic strip. The article ends with the chilling words.

“The burden is on torture's proponents to produce some evidence that torture makes sense as a policy. I don't rule out the possibility that it can be effective in some cases, but if it's being done in my name, I want some frigging evidence that it works.

Then we can talk about morality.”

Scott Adams seems to think the question of morality is quite secondary, a view that seemed to become quite common in the flat panic that gripped the USA after 9/11. I'll never look at Dilbert in the same light again. At least the comments that were posted about this article showed the USA in a rather better light.

One of many comments was in the Independent (9 January 2007). Here are some quotations.

“ Five years later none of these "worst of the worst" have been brought to trial. Just 10 have been formally charged while hundreds of others have been returned to their own countries and released. Meanwhile, three have committed suicide, at least 40 others have tried to do so and there are concerns about the mental health of most of the 400 or so remaining prisoners.

"It is remarkable that Guantanamo still exists five years on," said Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the British group Reprieve, which represents three dozen inmates. "But what is also remarkable is that Guantanamo has distracted attention from other secret prisons the US has. As of August last year we know there are 14,000 prisoners in US custody around the world." ”

“Campaigners believed they had achieved a breakthrough last June when the US Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration's use of military tribunals was unconstitutional. It also ruled that each of the prisoners had the right to have their cases heard in court.

But though Mr Bush said at the time he wished to close Guantanamo, just three months later he was successful in getting Congress to pass new legislation that circumvented the Supreme Court ruling and opened the way to proceed with the tribunals. It also backed the administration's decision to refuse prisoners the right to see the evidence used against them.”

The numbers that shame America
  • 1825 Number of days that Guantanamo has been open
  • 400 prisoners are currently detained at Guantanamo
  • 20 detainees arrived on 11 January 2002, the day the detention centre opened. They were hooded and shackled
  • 8 per cent of detainees accused of fighting for a terrorist group
  • 300 prisoners who have been released back to their own countries since 2002
  • 86 per cent captured by the Northern Alliance or the Pakistani authorities for US bounties
  • 70 prisoners who President Bush's administration plans to charge in military courts
  • 10 prisoners who have already been charged
  • 0 number of detainees brought to trial

You couldn't make it up if you tried.

Meanwhile Bush commits more soldiers to Iraq and Blair makes a speech about how he thinks it is a great idea for the UK to fight foreign wars. The Independent reacted as follows.

“Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who also opposed the war, said: "The Prime Minister does not seem to have learnt the lessons of Iraq. Without United Nations authority the military action was illegal and severely damaged Britain's reputation. This will be the Prime Minister's legacy."

Air Marshal Sir John Walker, former head of defence intelligence and deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said: "This is politics, not morality. The only reason Mr Blair is saying this now is because he cannot airbrush Iraq out of the news. He is talking about renewing the covenant with the armed forces because they are the ones having to bear the fallout from his mistakes." ”

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Private Eye, and Hattersley

Another great cartoon from Private Eye, on the cover of their January 2006 issue,

Another enormous miscalculation by Bush and Blair. 

As they both sink slowly into the sunset, there has been no shortage of obituary writers.

Roy Hattersley (a former Labour Home Secretary) wrote on 27 Dec 2006 of the destruction of the Al-Jamiat police station in Basra by British Army. On the morning of christnas day they reduced to rubble the headquartes of the Basra serious crimes unit.

“A witty military press officer suggested that the name related to what the 400 associated police officers did rather than what they prevented. But he did not make clear how long the British authorities have known that, among their regular activities, they crushed prisoners' hands and feet, electrocuted them and burned them with cigarettes.”

“General Muhammad al-Musawi, Basra's chief of police? He was reported to be "furious" at what he described as "an attempt to stir up trouble". Are we to continue working with this man? If he knew what was going on at al-Jamiat police station, he is too corrupt to head the Basra police force. If he did not know, he is too incompetent to hold down the job any longer.”

“The nature of the dilemma - faced by the coalition because of the boneheaded stupidity of the Washington neocons who dreamed up the invasion - is made clear by the proud boast that Basra's governor is on the side of the occupying coalition.”

“Yet only last week one of those Washington free-enterprise "thinktanks" - which usually spend their time explaining that global warming is a myth and that widening the disparities of wealth is the best way to help the poor - suggested that America could solve the Iraq crisis by sending in another 200,000 troops. Putting aside the logistical problems that such a deployment would involve, one thing has to be said in favour of the strategy. All pretence at liberation has finally been abandoned.”

“Thanks to George Bush and Tony Blair we are actors in a tragedy that seems to have no foreseeable conclusion. To pull out is to leave the people to the mercies of a hundred other serious crimes units. To remain is to intensify the hatred and bitterness of much of the law-abiding population. The worst diplomatic blunder since Suez? By comparison, Suez had a happy ending.”


Private Eye cover

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Who knows Sunni from Shia?

This is a corker! Jeff Stein is editor of CQ Homeland Security, a daily news website from Congressional Quarterly. He interviewed several senior politicians, and what he found defies belief. This was published in the New York Times (Oct 17, 2006) and featured in a talk by Brain Walden on BBC Radio 4. Try these samples.

“A few weeks ago I took the FBI's temperature again. I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau's new national-security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
"Yes, sure, it's right to know the difference," he said. "It's important to know who your targets are." So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed.”
“ All right, I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran, Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. "Iran and Hezbollah," I prompted. "Which are they?" He took a stab: "Sunni."  Wrong. ”

“Take Representative Terry Everett, Republican of Alabama, vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence. "Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?" I asked him a few weeks ago. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment. "One's in one location, another's in another location," he said. "No, to be honest with you, I don't know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something."”

“Representative Jo Ann Davis, Republican of Virginia, who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the CIA's performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. "Do I?" she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. "You know, I should." ”

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Mid-term elections 2006: are they so good?

The US mid-term elections on November 7th 2006 have been hailed as a revolution. Certainly the outcome is brilliant. Rumsfeld has gone at last and Bush has lost control of both House and (just) Senate. But the popular vote is not quite so encouraging. It is now widely accepted that Bush lied about the reasons for war (Blair too), that the war has been a disastrous failure, and that his administration has been corrupted by the vested interests of big business to an unprecendented extent. It seems to me therefore incomprehensible that nevertheless, in the senate race, 42.6% of the popular vote went to Republicans.

24,920,007 Americans voted for Bush

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Neocons turn on Bush

That's better. 4th November, 2006, three days before the mid-term elections, Bush gets a triple whammy. First he's deserted by neocons, then he (well, Rumsfeld) is denounced by the military. And then Ted Haggard, the super-rich fundamentalist loon, is caught out in "immoral acts" and fired. Haggard is a firm supporter of President George W. Bush, and is often credited with rallying evangelicals behind Bush during the 2004 election.

Vanity Fair reports some fascinating interviews with the hard right neocons who got us into this mess in the first place (see also the Guardian).

The notorious Richard Perle who has already admitted that they got the aftermath of the war wrong. Now he says he'd never have gone to war if he'd foreseen what would happen.

VANITY FAIR EXCLUSIVE: NOW THEY TELL US

Neo Culpa

“As Iraq slips further into chaos, the war's neoconservative boosters have turned sharply on the Bush administration, charging that their grand designs have been undermined by White House incompetence. In a series of exclusive interviews, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, David Frum, and others play the blame game with shocking frankness. Target No. 1: the president himself. ”

“According to Perle, who left the Defense Policy Board in 2004, this unfolding catastrophe has a central cause: devastating dysfunction within the administration of President George W. Bush. Perle says, "The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.… At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.… I don't think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty." 
  Perle goes so far as to say that, if he had his time over, he would not have advocated an invasion of Iraq: "I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No ”

To David Frum, the former White House speechwriter who co-wrote Bush's 2002 State of the Union address that accused Iraq of being part of an "axis of evil," it now looks as if defeat may be inescapable, because "the insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect them." This situation, he says, must ultimately be blamed on "failure at the center"—starting with President Bush.


Richard Perle. Vanity Fair Photo by Nigel Parry.

Kenneth Adelman, a lifelong neocon activist and Pentagon insider who served on the Defense Policy Board until 2005, wrote a famous op-ed article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing: "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." Now he says, "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

Kenneth Adelman: "The most dispiriting and awful moment of the whole administration was the day that Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to [former C.I.A. director] George Tenet, General Tommy Franks, and [Coalition Provisional Authority chief] Jerry [Paul] Bremer—three of the most incompetent people who've ever served in such key spots. ”

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Time for Rumsfeld to go

In another blow to Bush, an editorial writer said

“Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.”

But this was not in the New York Times. It was in the The Army Times, The Air Force Times, the Navy Times and the Marine Corps Times. See also, their comments after Abu Ghraib.

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650 000 dead in Iraq?

At the time of writing (Sunday 22 Oct, 2006) the Iraq Body Count counter at the top of this page gives the maximum nomber of deaths in Iraq as 49927, of which 14,000-16,000 are civilian deaths. That is quite bad enough. But the paper in The Lancet came as a shock when it suggested that the true figure was far higher. Gilbert Burnham and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore show a 95% probability that the death toll has been between 390,000 and 940,000, most of which were due to violence such as gunshots. This number was based on information on deaths gathered from 50 clusters, each of 40 households, which were randomly selected from 16 Governorates. It represents a death rate that is 58-fold higher than before 2003.

The US and UK governments were quick to dismiss this conclusion, though they have gathered no information about Iraqi deaths themselves. A commentary in Nature (J. Giles, Iraqi death toll withstands scrutiny, Nature 443, 728-729, 19 October 2006) concludes that the study, though limited to 1000 households, proovided the most accurate estimate available so far. Another analysis, in the Guardian, comes to a similar conclusion.

Meanwhile, A senior US state department official, Alberto Fernandez, has said [BBC report, 22 Oct 06] that the

US has shown "arrogance and stupidity" in Iraq.

He made the remarks, in Arabic, during an interview with Arabic television station al-Jazeera. A State Department spokeaman said "What he [Alberto Fernandez] says is that it is not an accurate quote", but the BBC Monitoring Service has confirmed that Mr Fernandez did use the words "arrogance and stupidity" in his interview.

So they got there in the end. What took them so long?

And guess what? The next day Mr Fernandez had to retract. "Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on al-Jazeera, I realised that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase: 'There has been arrogance and stupidity' by the US in Iraq," [BBC News, 23 Oct]

Oh yes?

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Which countries support torture?

In a survey done by the BBC World Service of more than 27,000 people in 25 countries, people were asked if torture was acceptable if it could provide information to save innocent lives (see also here). You can see the complete results here.

The question posed was this

Most countries have agreed to rules prohibiting torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?

  • Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives
  • Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights

The good news is that, overall, 59% were opposed to all torture. The bad news is that 29% were not. More interesting, though, are the differences between countries.

Europe did well, together with Australia and Canada. All had over 70% against torture.

Italy comes top, with the biggest vote against torture (81% ) and also the smallest vote for (14%).

The UK didn't do too badly with 72% against, but with 24% for it was the worst in Europe, and marginally behind Chile.

The USA was well down with 58% against (worse than Egypt, Chile, Poland, Turkey and Brazil) and 36% for (worse than Chile Mexico, Turkey, Egypt, Poland, Ukraine, S Korea, Brazil, and India).

Israel had the truly startling figures. Israel had one of the smallest votes against torture (48%) (only Russia, with 43% was worse), and the largest of any of the 25 countries for torture (43%). As though that were not bad enough, the numbers for Israel are split along religious lines.
A majority of Jewish respondents in Israel, 53%, favour allowing governments to use some degree of torture to obtain information from those in custody, while 39% want clear rules against it. That is the only group with a majority for torture (the next highest being Iraq with 42%). But Muslims in Israel, who represent 16% of the total number polled, are overwhelmingly against any use of torture.

For the victims of the holocaust to vote like that must be the ulltimate irony.

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General Sir Richard Dannatt contradicts Blair

Chief of the General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, has bluntly contradicted what Tony Blair has been saying for the last 3 years [BBC News]. Normally it would be a sacking offence for an unelected soldier to contradict in public the elected government, Probably he should have been sacked. But Blair did not have the nerve to do so, no doubt because he knows Dannatt was right. Instead, with mind-blowing nerve, Blair pretended that he was in total agreement.

" . . . but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in."


Photo: BBC

Like most things to do with the Iraq conflict, the situation is upside down. Normally (outside the USA of course) we are accustomed to right wing military people being held in check by elected politicians.  But in the case of Iraq it is exactly the other way round, as demonstrated repeatedly on these pages. If it were not for the consciences of military men and of military lawyers, we would not know as much of the truth as we do.  Instead of there being conflict between a hard right wing military and liberal politicians, this time it is exactly the other way round.

Andrew Gilligan, in the Evening Standard (13 Oct, 2006), puts it bluntly.

“General Sir Richard Dannatt's interview this morning drops a nuclear bomb on the Government. At a stroke, Tony Blair's own most senior soldier, personally approved by him just six weeks ago, confirms everything the Prime Minister has spent the past three years denying - that our policy in Iraq is a bloody failure, that its people want us out, and that British actions have fuelled terror across the world.”

Postscript: another left-right reversal

A former director general of the prison service, Martin Narey, reports on the behaviour of a Labour Home Secretary. It seems that David Blunkett (a Home Secretary almost as illiberal as John Reid) told the prison service to call in the army and "machine gun" inmates in order to regain control of a prison riot. Mr Narey told The Times that the way Mr Blunkett behaved during the riot convinced him that he was not up to job of being home secretary.

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Reid fights to end torture shield for terror suspects

The Sunday Times, 1st October 2006, reports on John Reid, the UK's neoconservative Home Secretary. It seems he is returning to his mission to authorise torture

“JOHN REID, the home secretary, is heading for a showdown with the judiciary over plans to strip some terror suspects of the automatic right to be protected from torture.

Reid is preparing a new anti-terror law that would sideline human rights legislation protecting suspects from torture if ministers ruled there were “overriding considerations of national security”. ”

Reid is a true man of the endarkenment. It says a lot for the present state of the Labour Party that this apology for a human being has been proposed by some as the next leader of the party.

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Bush's latest wheezes: the endarkenment continues

On Thursday November 3rd, 2005 an editorial in the New York Times started thus.

“Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture.”

This shameful betrayal of civilisation by the USA has been recorded in these pages, almost as much in disbelief as in anger. So has Blair's supine silence.

Since this page was last updated, 6 weeks ago, thing's have gone from bad to worse. Here are a few reminders, lest we forget.

Tony Blair gives his last speech to Labour Party conference.  History will remember for him for his lies before the Iraq war, and his catastrophic mistake in following US neocons. At home, his advocacy of separate religious schools, and his defence of creationist nonsense, have both been disasters. What should have been a fine premiership turned out to be one of the more shameful of recent times. Pity.

Iraq goes from bad to worse. Manfred Nowak, the UN's chief anti-torture expertsaid that torture could be worse in Iraq now than it was under Saddam Hussein. "Everyone, it seems, from the Iraqi forces to the militias to the anti-US insurgents, now routinely use torture" (John Simpson, BBC News). Well, we did tell you, 3 1/2 years ago. The US reconstruction programme has been a disaster. US companies have got rich, and Iraqis stlll live in squalor.

Bush succeeds in legalizing torture.

In June 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled that the administration did not have the authority to try terrorism suspects by military tribunal, forcing the president to seek Congressional approval. Bush. of course, did his utmost to retain the power to torture and detain without trial as he wished, but even his own party rebelled against his extremism [see BBC News, and salon.com], and Mr Bush dropped his demand that CIA interrogators be protected from prosecution by redefining the Geneva conventions [I can't believe I'm writing that]. But the deal that was struck gave Bush most of what he wanted. Bush also admitted the existence of the secret CIA prisons that were for so long denied.

The pope condemns religious violence by muslims. Funny he quite forgot to mention the crusades or the inquisition. Muslims denied that they are violent and are so insulted that they threaten to kill everyone in sight. Funny old world

Religious fanaticism continues to advance, both in muslim countries and in the christian taleban of the US south. The harm done by religion becomes more obvious every day. For a good scare try "They cry, pray to Bush and wash out the devil - welcome to Jesus Camp" (report here. and look at the ABC News report on YouTube. Pastor Becky Fischer says of the kids she indoctrinates "I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel,as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine".

US Spies state the obvious. Bush denies the obvious.

The New York Times (23 Sept 2006) reported thus.

“A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks”

The White House directly contradicted its own intelligence agencies by saying "Since the Sept. 11 attacks, America and its allies are safer, but we are not yet safe". Of course exactly the same contradiction had already been made by Tony Blair. The intelligence agencies say exactly what everyone knew anyway. Government spokesman are wheeled on to swear that black is white.

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USA News


A Great American

On Sunday, 16th March 2003, a 23-year-old American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent the Israeli army destroying homes in the Gaza Strip

You can read here some of the emails that she sent home before she died. And a reaction from the Naomi Klein in the Globe and Mail (Toronto).

" Katharine Viner has edited her writings for a new play, on an ordinary woman with an extraordinary passion". [Guardian]

John Sutherland documents some of the terrifyingly violent reactions of 'patriotic' Americans. [Guardian] One 'patriot' wrote
"Anyone who would burn an American flag deserves to be bulldozed to death!!! Hopefully the US government will aim some bulldozers at the next group of war protesters, those anti-American motherfuckers."

And now another: Tom Hurndall

A British peace activist shot in the head while observing the Israeli army in Gaza, in April 2003, has died in hospital.

Tom Hurndall, 22, was overcome by pneumonia at the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability, in south-west London.
Click here for the sad details.
The Thomas Hurndall Fund has the latest news.

Watch videos of the murder and of an interview with his mother.

A conviction at last!

Latest: after and indefatigable campaign by his parents to discover the truth, on 27 June 2005, a former Israeli soldier has been found guilty of the manslaughter of Tom Hurndall.

Ex-sergeant Taysir Hayb was convicted at a military court in Ashkelon for the shooting of Mr Hurndall in April 2003. Hayb will be sentenced at a later date.

In addition to the manslaughter verdict, Hayb was found guilty of obstruction of justice, incitement to false testimony, false testimony and improper conduct.

[Hurndall's father said] "We're concerned that there is a policy which seems to be prevalent in Gaza, amongst the Israeli soldiers and army, that they feel able to shoot civilians really without any accountability whatsoever."

Civil liberties group Human Rights Watch last week accused Israel of investigating less than 5% of hundreds of cases of Palestinians killed since 2000.

On 11 August 2005 the BBC reported that Hayb was convicted to 8 years in jail, 7 years for manslaughter and 1 year for the other charges. Amnesty International's Kate Allen said that while the person responsible for Mr Hurndall's death had been brought to justice, it was

"striking that this was almost entirely due to tireless campaigning by his family".

"The strong suspicion is that if Mr Hurndall's family had not shown utter determination to uncover the truth of their son's death, then no-one would ever have faced justice for what happened to Tom,"

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A cartoon by David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 18 March 2003


(For more brilliant cartoons, click here.)

Cartoon

Another David Horsey cartoon (26 October 2003)

Cartoon


The motives

The real motives for war are published quite openly -see the web site of New American Century , and here.

"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." Paul Wolfowitz (US Deputy Defense Secretary).

"I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing." Richard Perle


Weapons of mass destruction found! (In Texas)

For some quite unaccountable reason, the strange case of a Texas terrorist seems to have had very little publicity

Land of the Free, part 3.

The following quotation comes from a report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Secret Service confiscates anti-Bush drawings by 15-year-old at Prosser High

By D. PARVAZ AND KATHY GEORGE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS

A few political sketches took a 15-year-old Prosser boy from his art class to questioning by the Secret Service -- and thrust him into a debate over free speech.

On Friday, the boy was questioned by the Secret Service after his art teacher turned in sketches by the boy featuring President Bush.

Cartoon by David Horsey

The lawlessness began in January 2002 when Mr. Rumsfeld publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan "do not have any rights" under the Geneva Conventions.

Washington Post Editorial, 6 May, 2004).


The New Yorker

ANNALS OF NATIONAL SECURITY

TORTURE AT ABU GHRAIB

by SEYMOUR M. HERSH

This important piece if investigative journalism, concerns a report on abuses as Abu Ghraib. The fifty-three page report was written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, and completed in February 2004. It was not meant for public release, but a copy was obtained by the New Yorker.
Here are a some quotations.

"Army intelligence officers, C.I.A. agents, and private contractors "actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses."."

"The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority. "

"No criminal proceedings were suggested for Karpinski;"

Comment in New York Times
In a phone interview from her home in South Carolina in which she offered her first public comments about the growing international furor over the abuse of the Iraq detainees, General Karpinski said the special high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib had been under the direct control of Army intelligence officers, not the reservists under her command.

She said that while the reservists involved in the abuses were "bad people" who deserved punishment, she suspected that they were acting with the encouragement, if not at the direction, of military intelligence units that ran the special cellblock used for interrogation. She said that C.I.A. employees often joined in the interrogations at the prison, although she said she did not know if they had unrestricted access to the cellblock.

Interrogation privatised

Washington Post, Tuesday 4 May

"More than two months after a classified Army report found that two contract workers were implicated in the abuse of Iraqis at a prison outside Baghdad, the companies that employ them say that they have heard nothing from the Pentagon, and that they have not removed any employees from Iraq."

" While Taguba did not excuse the actions of the guards, he saved his harshest criticism for four individuals: Pappas; Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who directed the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center inside the prison; and Stephen Stephanowicz and John Israel, two employees of CACI International Inc., an Arlington-based security firm that hired interrogators to work at the prison.
These four men, Taguba wrote, "were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib." He added that he strongly recommended "immediate disciplinary action" against the four men. Efforts to reach the four on Monday were not successful.
Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had not yet read Taguba's report, which was completed in March and approved in April."

The outcome, so far.

Six (presumably junior) soldiers charged, six senior officers have been "reprimanded". The private interrogation contractors appear to be still working in Iraq, despite the recommendations of Major General Taguba.
Taguba's investigation recommended that she [Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who headed the 800th Military Police Brigade] be relieved of command and reprimanded for a series of command failures related to the abuse. While she says she has received an admonishment [milder than a 'reprimand'] from Sanchez, Karpinski's lawyer, Neal Puckett, said Monday morning his client has not been suspended or relieved of her command. Kansas City Star, 4 May, 2004

Quotation from Leader

The Guardian 6 May 04

"The real responsibility rests with the commander himself and the entire chain of authority right up to the president who sanctioned or condoned a system imported from - need we be surprised? - Guantánamo Bay. We now learn that it was Gen Miller who last September, when he was still in charge of the US concentration camp in Cuba, visited Iraq to offer (as the Washington Post puts it) "suggestions on how to make interrogations more efficient and effective". The basic aim, he recommended, was that military detention centres in Iraq should serve as an "enabler for interrogation" and that the prison guards should "set the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees". And that is what they proceeded to do."

Extract from the report by Major General Taguba

The report can be read at Memoryhole.org

"2. (S/NF) The recommendations of Major General Miller’s team that the "guard force" be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees would appear to be in conflict with the recommendations of Major General Ryder’s Team and AR 190-8 that military police "do not participate in military intelligence supervised interrogation sessions." The Ryder Report concluded that the OEF template whereby military police actively set the favorable conditions for subsequent interviews runs counter to the smooth operation of a detention facility."

References
49. Assessment of DOD Counter-Terrorism Interrogation and Detention Operations in Iraq, (Major General Geoffrey D. Miller, Commander JTF-GTMO, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba), 9 September 2003.
50. Assessment of Detention and Corrections Operations in Iraq, (Major General Donald J. Ryder, Provost Marshal General), 6 November 2003.

Both Taguba and Ryder said the it was right that military police "do not participate in military intelligence supervised interrogation sessions.". Miller disagreed. It was Miller who was appointed to replace Karpinski when she 'resigned'. This is what Seymour Hersh said about that on Fox News

HERSH: No, look, I don't want to ruin your evening, but the fact of the matter is it was the third investigation. There had been two other investigations. One of them was done by a major general who was involved in Guantánamo, General Miller. And it's very classified, but I can tell you that he was recommending exactly doing the kind of things that happened in that prison, basically. He wanted to cut the lines. He wanted to put the military intelligence in control of the prison.

Iraq abuse: US policy or anomaly?

Paul Reynolds BBC News 9-May-04

He [Major General Miller] told reporters who were shown the prison near Baghdad that sensory deprivation methods would now be used only after a general had "signed off" on them.

"We will examine very closely the more aggressive techniques," he said. But he did not say they would be stopped.

Yet he also said on Saturday that the Geneva Conventions would be applied in Iraq - they are not in Guantánamo though the Pentagon says their "spirit" is respected.

'Cooks and drivers were working as interrogators'

Julian Borger in Washington. Friday May 7, 2004. The Guardian

Many of the prisoners abused at the Abu Ghraib prison were innocent Iraqis, picked up at random by US troops and incarcerated by underqualified intelligence officers, a former US interrogator from the jail told the Guardian.

Torin Nelson, who served as a military intelligence officer at Guantánamoo Bay before moving to Abu Ghraib as a private contractor last year, blamed the abuses on a failure of command in US military intelligence and an over-reliance on private firms.

He alleged those companies were so anxious to meet the demand for their services, they sent "cooks and truck drivers" to work as interrogators.

Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee)

Quoted by BBC News

"Those abusive actions do not appear to be aberrant conduct by individuals, but part of a conscious method of extracting information."

International Red Cross report

BBC News, 8 May 04
The mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in US custody is not limited to isolated cases but forms part of a systematic pattern, the Red Cross has said.

A spokesman said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been warning the US about such cases for more than a year. He was responding to the publication of parts of a leaked ICRC report.

The document concluded that abuse of Iraqi detainees was widespread and in some cases tantamount to torture.

Some details of the International Red Cross report have now come to light!

BBC News 10th May
The details are worse than one could have imagined. The Blair and Hoon claim not to have seen them. Rumsfeld and Bush claim not to have seen it. Why not?

The details (reproduced from Wall Street Journal) can be found on the web site of NPR. Alleged Methods of Ill Treatment. An Exerpt from the Red Cross Report on Prisoner Abuse in Iraq [ National Public Radio]

Not just Abu Ghraib. Now it is all coming out.

Secret World of U.S. Interrogation. Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light

By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; Page A01
The Washington Post

Memo warned of prison tactics

By Dave Moniz and Tom Squitieri, USA TODAY 21 May 2004.

"WASHINGTON. A group of senior military attorneys sent a memo 15 months ago warning top Pentagon lawyers that prisoner interrogation policies at the U.S. detention center in Cuba could lead to violations of the Geneva Conventions and other rules prohibiting abuse, Defense Department officials confirmed Thursday."

"The judge advocates general were particularly concerned about a proposal to use extremely harsh methods against a detainee suspected of having specific information about a potential attack. Some of the methods were approved in that case."

Lawyer: U.S. general knew of Iraqi abuse

Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 22 May 2004

" . . . a military lawyer stated at an open hearing April 2 that Capt. Donald J. Reese told him that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior military officers were aware of the abuse at the prison."

" "Are you saying that Captain Reese is going to testify that General Sanchez was there and saw this going on?" "That's what he told me," "

" . . . Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, supervisor of the military intelligence operation at Abu Ghraib, was "involved in intensive interrogations of detainees, condoned some of the activities and stressed that that was standard procedure, what the accused was doing." "


THE GRAY ZONE

by SEYMOUR M. HERSH

How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib.

New Yorker
Issue of 2004-05-24 Posted 2004-05-15

"The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America's prospects in the war on terror."


Admiral Stansfield Turner (former Director of Central Intelligence Agency)

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, at 0810, Monday 10th May, Admiral Turner responded as follows.

Interviewer (James Naughtie): So what makes you say that what happened in that particular gaol in Iraq came from a general mood, or a general willingness, to see this happen at the top of the administration?

Admiral Turner: Well, if it was just the action of a few aberrant people, they either would have to have believed that their supervisors were going to condone what they did, or that they could get away with it because there was a lack of adequate supervision.
In short, in any situation like this, where military accountability has got to be upheld, you decide how serious the event was, and therefore how high in the chain of command you go when trying to correct it, or find who was guilty. In this case it is a very serious situation and therefore we've got to look very high in the administration to place the blame. In this case, I think at least a three or four star general should be fired, and fired immediately.
This is not a question of did someone do a very heinous act; we know they did, and those people are being court-martialled. But who let the prison system get as chaotic state as it was? Who let the prisons be as abysmally run as they were? And who's responsible for the fact that it's been months now since all this was originally uncovered, and it's just taken all this time to get to the top attention and to get corrective action started?

Quotations from editorial in the Army Times (a US military newspaper).

For full text go to Army Times

Published: May 17, 2004

Editorial: A failure of leadership at the highest levels

"Around the halls of the Pentagon, a term of caustic derision has emerged for the enlisted soldiers at the heart of the furor over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal: the six morons who lost the war.

Indeed, the damage done to the U.S. military and the nation as a whole by the horrifying photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the notorious prison is incalculable.

But the folks in the Pentagon are talking about the wrong morons."

"Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also shares in the shame. Myers asked “60 Minutes II" to hold off reporting news of the scandal because it could put U.S. troops at risk. But when the report was aired, a week later, Myers still hadn’t read Taguba’s report, which had been completed in March. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also failed to read the report until after the scandal broke in the media. By then, of course, it was too late. "

"On the battlefield, Myers’ and Rumsfeld’s errors would be called a lack of situational awareness — a failure that amounts to professional negligence."

More good reporting of the horrors

Early Iraq abuse accounts met with silence Seattle Post-Intelligencer 8 May 04

Videos Amplify Picture of Violence Washington Post May 21, 2004

Memo Gave Intelligence Bigger Role. Increased Pressure Sought on Prisoners Washington Post May 21, 2004


New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge Washington Post May 21, 2004

New prisoner abuse accounts emerge

BBC 21 May 2004

Here is one quotation.

"I said to him, 'I believe in Allah.' So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'"
He said one soldier struck his broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam.
"Because they started to hit my broken leg, I curse my religion," the paper quoted him as saying. "They ordered me to thank Jesus I'm alive."

Punishment and Amusement

Documents Indicate 3 Photos Were Not Staged for Interrogation. Washington Post, 22 May 2004.

"Prisoners posed in three of the most infamous photographs of abuse to come out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were not being softened up for interrogation by intelligence officers but instead were being punished for criminal acts or the amusement of their jailers, according to previously secret documents obtained by The Washington Post."

"He [Darby] said that he asked Graner, a Pennsylvania prison guard in civilian life, about the photographs. Graner replied: "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.' " ".

" Davis said the intelligence officers told Graner and Frederick: "Loosen this guy up for us. Make sure he has a bad night. Make sure he gets the treatment." "What is the name of the MI staff member who made the previously stated comments?" investigators asked. "I don't know the name because they often don't wear uniforms, and if they do they don't have name tapes," Davis said. ".

" Harman said she attached the wires to "Gilligan" and told him he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box. "Why did you do this to the detainee 'Gilligan'?" a military investigator asked. "Just playing with him," Harman said. ".


Good news: Miramax bought the film from Disney, and they WILL distribute it after all.

(BBC)

"Director Michael Moore's controversial anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has won the prestigious Palme d'Or best film award at the Cannes festival. It was the first documentary to win the top prize since Jacques Cousteau's The Silent World in 1956. The film received a 15-minute standing ovation when it was screened on Monday. BBC News, 22 May 2004

Disney Forbidding Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush

By JIM RUTENBERG
New York Times Published: May 5, 2004

"The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.

The film, "Fahrenheit 911," links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis — including the family of Osama bin Laden — and criticizes Mr. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "


US to bring back draft?

Thanks to John Sutherland (Guardian) for drawing attention to this item. Why, one wonders, is it not front page news in the USA?

Read about it at www.congress.org

"There is pending legislation in the House and Senate (twin bills: S 89 and HR 163) which will time the program's initiation so the draft can begin at early as Spring 2005 -- just after the 2004 presidential election."

"Congress brought twin bills, S. 89 and HR 163 forward this year, http://www.hslda.org/legislation/na...s89/default.asp entitled the Universal National Service Act of 2003, "to provide for the common defense by requiring that all young persons [age 18--26] in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes." "

"College and Canada will not be options. In December 2001, Canada and the U.S. signed a "smart border declaration," which could be used to keep would-be draft dodgers in" . . . " Reforms aimed at making the draft more equitable along gender and class lines also eliminates higher education as a shelter. Underclassmen would only be able to postpone service until the end of their current semester. Seniors would have until the end of the academic year. "


New documents show that torture was indeed authorised from the top

Washington Post, 12 June 04

"Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay"

"The list of interrogation options in the document closely matches a menu of options developed for use on detainees held by the U.S. military at Guantánamo Bay and approved in a series of memos signed by top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. In January 2002"

"Then, in April 2003, Rumsfeld approved the use in Guantánamo of at least five other high-pressure techniques also listed on the Oct. 9 Abu Ghraib memo, none of which was among the Army's standard interrogation methods. This overlap existed even though detainees in Iraq were covered, according to the administration's policy, by Geneva Convention protections that did not apply to the detainees in Cuba."


Justice Department?

Washington Post; New York Times, 7 June, 2004.
Full text of the 'legal' advice from Washington Post (pdf)

"In August 2002, the Justice Department advised the White House that torturing al Qaeda terrorists in captivity abroad "may be justified," and that international laws against torture "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations" conducted in President Bush's war on terrorism"

"A team of administration lawyers concluded in a March 2003 legal memorandum that President Bush was not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal antitorture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation's security.

The memo, prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, also said that any executive branch officials, including those in the military, could be immune from domestic and international prohibitions against torture for a variety of reasons."


Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib

Steve Bell, Guardian

Lynndie England sentenced

Lynddie England was sentenced to three years in jail and dishonourable discharge by a military panel, for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail last year. [BBC News]. Private England is 22 years old. She is the 9th US soldier to be sentenced. The most noticeable thing about this list is that there is nobody above the rank of sergeant in it. The people really responsible, including General Miller, Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales are not in prison. In fact Gonzales was promoted to be Attorney General, no doubt as thanks for his legal opinion that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint".

  • Private Lynndie England, -three years, dishonourable discharge
  • Spc Megan Ambuhl: guilty plea - lost rank, "other than honourable" discharge
  • Spc Armin Cruz: guilty plea - 8 months in jail, bad conduct discharge
  • Staff Sgt Ivan L Frederick II: guilty plea - 8 years in jail, dishonourable discharge
  • Spc Charles A Graner Jr: found guilty and given 10 years in jail, dishonourable discharge
  • Spc Jeremy Sivits: guilty plea - 1 year in jail, bad conduct discharge
  • Sgt Javal S Davis: guilty plea - 6 months in jail, bad conduct discharge
  • Spc Roman Krol: guilty plea - 10 months in jail, bad conduct discharge
  • Spc Sabrina Harman: found guilty and given six months in jail, bad conduct discharge

Iraq abuse 'ordered from the top'

[BBC News]

Gen Karpinski said military intelligence took over part of the Abu Ghraib jail to "Gitmoize" their interrogations - make them more like what was happening in the US detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which is nicknamed "Gitmo".

She said current Iraqi prisons chief Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller - who was in charge at Guantánamoo Bay - visited her in Baghdad and said: "At Guantánamo Bay we learned that the prisoners have to earn every single thing that they have."

"He said they are like dogs and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them."


Report Details 'Kleptocracy' at Newspaper Firm

Richard Perle -more evil?

The Washington Post, Aug 31, 2004.

A report by a special board committee, on the enormous rip-offs by Conrad Black and others at Hollinger Intrenational, singled out director Richard N. Perle, a former Defense Department official, who received $5.4 million in bonuses and compensation. Yes, that is the same extreme right wing Richard Perle who is so shameless that he contradicted Bush and Blair by admitting that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. Guardian

"The report said Perle "breached his fiduciary duties" as a member of the board's executive committee, signing documents without evaluating or, sometimes, reading them, including those that allowed Black and Radler to evade audit committee scrutiny. Perle received more than $3 million in bonuses and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in compensation from a Hollinger subsidiary that invested in new media companies during the dot-com boom. The report said Hollinger International put $63.6 million into 11 companies Perle recommended and lost nearly $50 million. "Perle was a faithless fiduciary . . . and . . . should not be allowed to retain any of his Hollinger compensation," the report said."


Guantánamo has 'failed to prevent terror attacks'

Martin Bright, Observer 3 October 2004

Bush, Rumsfeld and Blair's torture does not even work

"Prisoner interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, the controversial US military detention centre where guards have been accused of brutality and torture, have not prevented a single terrorist attack, according to a senior Pentagon intelligence officer who worked at the heart of the US war on terror.

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, who retired last June after 20 years in military intelligence, says that President George W Bush and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have 'wildly exaggerated' their intelligence value.

Christino's revelations, to be published this week in Guantánamo: America's War on Human Rights, by British journalist David Rose, are supported by three further intelligence officials. Christino also disclosed that the 'screening' process in Afghanistan which determined whether detainees were sent to Guantánamo was 'hopelessly flawed from the get-go'."

Guantánamo Bay: America's War on Human Rights by David Rose is published by Faber on 7 October. To order a copy for £7.99, with free UK p&p, call the Observer Book Service on 0870 836 0885, or go to observer.co.uk/bookshop.


Why is war-torn Iraq giving $190,000 to Toys R Us?

Naomi Klein, Guardian, 16 Oct, 2004

"Since Saddam was toppled in April, Iraq has paid out $1.8bn in reparations to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC),"

" Here is a small sample of who has been getting "reparation" awards from Iraq: Halliburton ($18m), Bechtel ($7m), Mobil ($2.3m), Shell ($1.6m), Nestlé ($2.6m), Pepsi ($3.8m), Philip Morris ($1.3m), Sheraton ($11m), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and Toys R Us ($189,449). In the vast majority of cases, these corporations did not claim that Saddam's forces damaged their property in Kuwait - only that they "lost profits" "


Threatening behaviour from Johns Hopkins

My colleague Steve Jones, Professor of genetics at UCL, writes an excellent science column for the Daily Telegraph. The issue of 13th October 2004 shows more graphically than any liberal critic could do, the danger that Bush poses to a free society. This is how the article starts (the emphasis is mine).

"A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Richard Dawkins's new book Meet the Ancestors in the medical journal The Lancet. It's a good read, as one would expect, but I noted its several mentions of President Bush which - in spite of the remarks often made about his supposed resemblance to various primates - sit somewhat oddly in a tome on evolution.

I received an e-mail from a professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University (a major American centre for biological research). He did not like the piece. "Little Stevie," he began (not a good start): "What I found was the grumbling of yet another toady prig who gets his jollies from Bush-bashing. Where did you cower during the London Blitz? Thank God the Atlantic separates us."

I was, I admit, no hero in the Blitz as I had omitted to be born in time but, stung by his comments, I fired off a brief and rude reply stating my intention to stay on this side of the ocean until after a Republican defeat in November. The distinguished professor's response was a bit of a surprise: "Have you thought of taking psychiatric advice for your delusional, paranoid disorder? Just in case you might change your mind about a visit, I'm going to have our Homeland Security put you on the suspicious person list."

False denunciations to the secret police are a reminder of a time and a place when paranoia was justified, but medical advice from Johns Hopkins is not to be set aside lightly. . . . "

Scary stuff!


Teaching torture: Congress quietly keeps School of the Americas alive

Los Angeles Weekly, Doug Ireland, July 2004

"Remember how congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle deplored the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib as “un-American"? Last Thursday, however, the House quietly passed a renewed appropriation that keeps open the U.S.’s most infamous torture-teaching institution, known as the School of the Americas (SOA), where the illegal physical and psychological abuse of prisoners of the kind the world condemned at Abu Ghraib and worse has been routinely taught for years."

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The National Security Archive

An excellent source of information from USA

"The National Security Archive combines a unique range of functions in one non governmental, non-profit institution. The Archive is simultaneously a research institute on international affairs, a library and archive of declassified U.S. documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, a public interest law firm defending and expanding public access to government information through the FOIA, and an indexer and publisher of the documents in books, microfiche, and electronic formats."

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Guantánamo torture and humiliation still going on

Vikram Dodd and Clare Dyer. Saturday December 11, 2004 Guardian

"Fresh allegations about a regime of torture and humiliation inflicted on detainees by their American captors at Guantánamo Bay have been made by a Briton still held there, according to Foreign Office documents seen by the Guardian."

"During a visit by a Foreign Office official on October 3, a record of which the Guardian has seen, Mr Mubanga was kept trussed up for the entire 60 minutes. The official noted: "Martin's feet were shackled to the ring in the floor." "

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New jail abuse allegations hit US

BBC 21 December 2004

"Memos between FBI officials detailing abuses, some dated after the Abu Ghraib jail scandal, were released as part of a lawsuit against the government.
The documents, which were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, are mostly made up of communications between FBI agents concerned at seeing interrogation techniques they are prohibited from using in their own investigations."

More details of the memos

"One of the memorandums released on Monday provided the account of an agent who observed "serious physical abuses" in Iraq."

"It was dated 25 June - two months after the extent of abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison was revealed - and was marked "urgent" and sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller."

"It described strangulation, beatings and the placing of lit cigarettes into detainees' ears."

"Another document said an executive order signed by President George W Bush had authorised techniques such as "sleep management", stress positions, use of military dogs and sensory deprivation."

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Christmas eve news: torture advocate nominated again as Federal judge

The White House says President George Bush will try again to get Senate approval for 20 people he has nominated to become federal judges. BBC 24 September 2004. One of these is William Haynes, General Counsel to the Defense Department.

Haynes has been nominated to the influential 4th Circuit on the basis of his work as general counsel for the Department of Defense. In that capacity he has developed and defended three of the administration's most controversial policies: the refusal to treat any of the hundreds of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions of 1949; the department's military tribunal plan for trying suspected war criminals; and even the incarceration of U.S. citizens without counsel or judicial review. Washington Post

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Military opposes nomination of torture advocate Gonzales for Attorney General

Gonzales Nomination Draws Military Criticism

Retired Officers Cite His Role in Shaping Policies on Torture

By Dan Eggen Washington Post, January 4, 2005

The signatories include Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, former chief of the Central Command; former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak; and Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy. The letter "criticizes Gonzales for his role in reviewing and approving a series of memorandums arguing, among other things, that the United States could lawfully ignore portions of the Geneva Conventions and that some forms of torture "may be justified" in the war on terror."

"A dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the unusual step yesterday of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing "deep concern" over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, marking a rare military foray into the debate over a civilian post."

"Today, it is clear that these operations have fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence gathering efforts and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world," the officers wrote, referring to the Bush administration's detention and interrogation policies."

" "Repeatedly in our past, the United States has confronted foes that, at the time they emerged, posed threats of a scope or nature unlike any we had previously faced," the letter reads. "But we have been far more steadfast in the past in keeping faith with our national commitment to the rule of law." "

According to the BBC, at the Senate confirmation hearings:

"Among those who will testify against Mr Gonzales will be John Hudson, a retired Rear Admiral and naval lawyer who calls the Gonzales memos "bad law, bad diplomacy, bad morality and bad politics. But the White House is standing firm by Mr Gonzales. "Judge Gonzales is a very trusted adviser to the president [who is] doing an outstanding job," "."

Read the original Gonzales-Haynes memos

"I note that you [GWB] have the constitutional authority to make the determination you made on January 18 that the [Geneva Convention] does not apply to al-Qaeda and the Taleban." [BBC]

". . . neither the Geneva Conventions nor the War Crimes Act regulate the detention of Al Qaeda prisoners captured during the Afghanistan conflict." Justice Dept memo, 22 Jan 2002 (3.3mb pdf file)
Justice Dept memo, 1 Aug 2002 (27.5mb pdf file)

Senate confirmation hearings

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC, and Judge Advocate in the Air Force Reserve), questioning Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales. [click here]

" . . . this legal memo, I think, put our troops at jeopardy because the Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically makes it a crime for a member of our uniformed forces to abuse a detainee."

I would like you to reject, if you would, the reasoning in that memo when it came time to give a torturers view of torture. Will you be willing to do that here today?

Gonzales did not reject the memo., but is widely expected to become Attorney General anyway.

see video of the hearings

So guess who the new Attorney General is?

Albert Gonzales confirmed as US Attorney General by Senate vote 60-36 [Washington Post].
Gonzales says the "new paradigm" of the war on terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." [Download whole Gonzales memo (593kb pdf)]

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University of California at Berkeley: law professor, John Yoo, advocates torture

It is one thing to have the extreme right in charge of the White House, but In my opinion, it is in same ways even more worrying to find they have penetrated the universities. In the UK, as everywhere, there is a range of political opinion in universities, but nowhere have I heard views expressed that are so deeply inhuman as those of Professor Yoo. If you want to be sickened by the depths to which the far right can descend, just try these. They represent, sadly, the extent to which terrorists have succeeded in reducing the USA to a state of trembling panic.

Terrorists have no Geneva Rights. John Yoo Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2004
"Human rights advocates, for example, claim that the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners is of a piece with President Bush's 2002 decision to deny al Qaeda and Taliban fighters the legal status of POWs under the Geneva Conventions. Critics, no doubt, will soon demand that reforms include an extension of Geneva standards to interrogations at Guantánamo Bay."

International Court of Hubris. By John Yoo, Eric Posner Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2004
"Last week, the United States suffered an embarrassing setback before the International Court of Justice. Sitting in The Hague, in a "Peace Palace" originally paid for by Andrew Carnegie, the "World Court" has effectively ordered the U.S. to halt the execution of all foreigners within its borders. Now that the ICJ has thrown in its lot with the anti-death penalty movement, it may be time for the U.S. to turn its back on the World Court."

Introducing the Asian Pacific American Hall of Shame & Our First Inductee, John Yoo
This site expresses a rather different view of Yoo.

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John Yoo knows no limits

Well I'll bet you thought the quotations above represented the very cesspit if utterances by any American (actually John Yoo came from Korea as an infant). If so, think again as you read the read this quotation from a debate held in Chicago on December 1st, 2005.

John Yoo publicly argued there is no law that could prevent the President from ordering the torture of a child of a suspect in custody – including by crushing that child’s testicles. This came out in response to a question in a December 1st debate in Chicago with Notre Dame professor and international human rights scholar Doug Cassel.

Cassel: If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty.

Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.

Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

Well no wonder Bush seeks his advice.

This apology for a human being brings shame to his University. to his country and to the human race. According to Wikipedia "In the spring of 2006, John Yoo can be found teaching a course on Asian Law at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall. The course meets thursdays from 3:20-5:10pm in room 140."

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Torture is just 'blowing off steam": Rush Limbaugh

Pro-torture propaganda is broadcast to troops by Department of Defense's American Forces Radio and Television Service, says Mike Farrell

"Do the right thing." These were Secretary of State Colin Powell's words of advice to the Wake Forest University class of 2004 in his May 17 commencement address. Then Powell issued an incontrovertible condemnation of the actions of U.S. soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners: "Our nation is now going through a period of deep disappointment, a period of deep pain over some of our soldiers not doing the right thing at a place called Abu Ghraib. All Americans deplored what happened there."

Well, perhaps not all Americans. There's at least one American [Rush Limbaugh] who has publicly praised, condoned, trivialized and joked about the abuse, torture, rape and possible murder of Iraqi prisoners. This American does not appear to be going through "a period of deep pain." This American has instead called the abuse "a brilliant maneuver" and compared it to a college fraternity prank.

He excused the actions of our soldiers this way: "You know, these people are being fired at every day. You ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of the need to blow some steam off?"

"The Rush Limbaugh Show" is broadcast every weekday directly to our soldiers in Iraq and around the world - to nearly 1 million U.S. troops in more than 175 countries and U.S. territories. Moreover, it is the only hourlong partisan political talk show broadcast daily to the troops."

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Texas lawyer says Abu Ghraib is just cheerleaders having fun

Houston lawyer, Guy Womack, seems to have a curious idea of normal behaviour, according to report from CNN

A lawyer defending Specialist Charles Graner, who is accused of being a ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, argued that piling naked prisoners in pyramids was a valid form of prisoner control.

"Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" said Guy Womack, Sergeant Graner's lawyer.

Womack said using a tether was a valid method of controlling detainees."You're keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections," he said.

More on Graner

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Quotation of the week    

Graner gets 10 years. Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzales, Miller get rewarded. [ BBC]

Graner : "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.' " ".[ Washington Post]

Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller: "He said they are like dogs and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them." [BBC]

FBI: " . . an executive order signed by President George W Bush had authorised techniques such as "sleep management", stress positions, use of military dogs and sensory deprivation." [BBC]

Christian morality? [BBC]

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White House Fought New Curbs on Interrogations, Officials Say

[New York Times] [Washington Post]

"WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 - At the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by American intelligence officers, Congressional officials say."

"The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. They would have explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment, . . ."

". . . four senior members from the House and Senate deleted the restrictions from the final bill after the White House expressed opposition."

"The Oct. 18 letter said the administration opposed attaching the measure on intelligence officer interrogations and was signed by White House budget chief Joshua Bolten and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice."

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Schwarzenegger's second real life killing

BBC report (22 January 2005(. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian citizenship should be ended over the execution of a convicted killer in the US, a politician in Austria has said.

Mr Pilz said: "Capital punishment is unacceptable in Austria and in Europe, and no Austrian citizen may take part in it or arrange it."

I'll bet that is even more of a kick than slaughtering people in the movies, uh?

And now another.  On 13th december 2005 [BBC News]. Schwarzenegger refused to commute the death sentence passed on Stanley "Tookie" Williams. No doubt he still thinks he's the 'tough guy' in one of his pornographically violent movies.

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$8.8 billion of Iraqi oil revenue, intended for reconstruction, has vanished

We have, rightly, heard much about the shocking mishandling of 'oil-for-food' money by the UN before the war [BBC news]. But for some reason the press, especially in the USA, has been almost totally silent about the loss of of over 40% of $20bn reconstruction money.

According to the BBC's File On 4 programme, and the auditors' chief of staff, Ms Ginger Cruz, $8.8bn has vanished, largely into the pockets of companies like Halliburton and Custer Battles.

$1.4bn had to be transported to a bank in three helicopters, as it weighed 14 tons, but no deposit slip was obtained when it was paid in.

"The report says that in one case some 8,206 guards were listed on a payroll but only 602 real individuals could be verified."

One US company is accused of massively inflating its profits by setting up sham companies to send fake invoices which the coalition paid. Others are alleged to have demanded dubious commissions which then came out of Iraqi funds. Even some Coalition officials are said to have openly demanded bribes of up to $300,000 in cash.

"Many Iraqis are angry at the way the Coalition handled funds, particularly the money from their own oil, and especially where inexplicable amounts ended up in the hands of foreign businesses."

Listen to 1st Feb programme : [.mp3 file], or streaming audio [.m3u file]

Financial Times (Reuters)
A lawyer representing two "whistle-blowers" in the Custer Battles case, Alan Grayson, said his clients wanted to provide testimony at the hearing but had been too afraid to attend because of death threats, and because they feared retaliation from the Bush administration.

First (highly expurgated) US reports: [ CNN], [MSNBC] [Washington Post]
But now a better report, in New York Times editorial

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CIA prisoners 'tortured' in Arab jails

The next File on 4 program is equally revealing. "A former CIA official has confirmed suspicions that dozens of terror suspects have been flown to jails in Middle Eastern countries where torture is routinely practised, and without reference to courts of law." This is the disgraceful procedure known by the absurd euphemism, "extraordiary rendition" (see also here and here).

Michael Scheuer (former CIA agent): "Human rights is a very flexible concept... It depends how hypocritical you want to be on a particular day."

Listen to 8th Feb programme [mp3 file], or streaming audio [.m3u file]

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The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib

by Karen J. Greenberg (Editor), Joshua L. Dratel (Editor)
Buy (UK) Buy (USA)

This book assembles all the original memos and reports which US government officials wrote to prepare the way for coercive interrogation and torture in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and Abu Ghraib.

"The Torture Papers may well be the most important and damning set of documents exposing U.S. government lawlessness ever published. Each page tells the story of U.S. leaders consciously willing to ignore the fundamental protections that guarantee all of us our humanity. I fear for our future. Read these pages and weep for our country, the rule of law and victims of torture everywhere."
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights

Thanks to the US Freedom of Information act, plus the fact that the authors of some of these documents appear, unbelievably, to be proud of them, a remarkable amount of information is available. In contrast, the advice given to Blair about the legality of the war has still not been revealed.

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Pentagon Will Not Try 17 G.I.'s Implicated in Prisoners' Deaths

26 March 2005 New York Times

"WASHINGTON, March 25 - Despite recommendations by Army investigators [Army Criminal Investigation Command], commanders have decided not to prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004"

"Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy and negligent homicide. While none of the 17 will face any prosecution, one received a letter of reprimand and another was discharged after the investigations."


More information on US torture: this time in Mosul

Fresh details emerge of Iraqis' abuse by American soldiers

Independent 25 March 2005.

"Damning evidence of American soldiers abusing detainees at another prison in Iraq was made public yesterday. It details how prisoners were "systematically and intentionally mistreated" at a military base in Mosul, culminating in the death of one. Nobody was court-martialled over the abuse."

"The facility at Mosul was run by the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division. In a memo, the investigating officer said: "There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel ... engaged in physical torture." "

Army's Own Documents Acknowledge Evidence That Soldiers Used Torture

American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU]

"The American Civil Liberties Union today charged that the government is attempting to bury the torture scandal involving the U.S. military by failing to comply with a court order requiring release of documents to the ACLU."

"The reason for the delay in delivering the more than 1,200 pages of documents was evident, the ACLU said, in the contents, which include reports of brutal beatings, "exercise until exhaustion" and sworn statements that soldiers were told to "beat the fuck out of" detainees."

"The documents were supposed to have been turned over to the ACLU on March 21, but were not released to the ACLU until late on a Friday of what for many is a holiday weekend"

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General Ricardo Sanchez did authorise torture


The suspected documentation has been released [BBC]  [ACLU]  [documents]

"The top US general in Iraq authorised interrogation techniques including the use of dogs, stress positions and disorientation, a memo has shown."

"The document was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the US Freedom of Information Act."

"The ACLU says at least 12 of the 29 techniques listed in the document went far beyond limits established by the army's field manual."

"Gen Sanchez authorised interrogation techniques that were in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and the army's own standards,"

"The September 2003 document is signed by the then commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen Ricardo Sanchez. "

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Army Clears Sanchez et al. There's a surprise.

The Washington Post says

“An Army inspector general's report has cleared senior Army officers of wrongdoing in the abuse of military prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere”

In the light of the evidence on this page, much of it from Army and CIA sources, that is simply laughable (though it is much too serious for laughter). If you thought you lived in a democracy where the guilty are punished, forget it (unless, of course, your rank is sufficiently low).

Amnesty International spokesman Alistair Hodgett said (BBC News).

“What this decision unfortunately continues is a pattern of exoneration and indeed promotion for many of the individuals at the heart of the torture scandal”

“It only serves to underscore the desperate need for an independent investigation that will scrutinize the policy decisions and the individuals who made and implemented them in a manner that will expose the truth”.

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Suppression of freedom of speech in universities

Univesities, where people are meant to think, are always targets for extreme right wing regimes. Here are a few examples from the USA.

No free speech in Texas

Big brother is watching? Thanks to the liberal traditions of UCL, I am allowed to say what I like here. Contrast this with what I heard recently from a colleague at the University of Texas.

"I am reminded in print 4 times annually that I am NOT permitted to post anything political either via my web-site nor via UT e-mail. . . . .Land of the free, eh?"
(My emphasis)

No free speech in Georgetown university

This is quoted from the Georgetown's Newspaper.
"Students planning to study abroad must agree to adhere to strict 'Conditions of Participation.' The Office of International Programs states in these conditions that any student found guilty of 'participation in political activities' — marching in an anti-war protest, for instance — while abroad is subject to discipline 'including but not limited to immediate dismissal from an overseas program and/or sanctions by the GU Office of Student Conduct.' This is the same punishment that is meted out for sexual harassment and 'criminal conduct of any kind'."
Oddly enough, I have come across some very dubious behaviour from Goergetown University before. When a very obviously fraudulant paper was referred to their ethics committee, they found nothing wrong! See my quack page for the details of this disgraceful episode. How odd that this behaviour comes from a university the boasts of its Catholic and Jesuit identity.

A right-wing political takeover of the universities

A disturbing report in Nature describes the introduction, in several US states, of "Academic Bills of Rights" [pdf file]

"Along with introducing protection from discrimination based on political or religious convictions, a bill being proposed in Florida calls on faculty members to refrain from introducing “controversial matter" unrelated to the course subject. It also requires them to present 'serious scholarly viewpoints' other than their own."

"On 22 March, Dennis Baxley (Republican, Ocala), who is backing the bill, said that it would make sure that alternatives to evolution are not shut out of universities."

" 'This effort is part of a larger pressure on higher education to politicize the agenda,' says Ruth Flower, the AAUP’s director of public policy".

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The terrifying case of Dr Butler

A scientist persucuted by a paranoid and unjust government

Dr Thomas Butler used to work on plague at Texas Tech (Lubbock, TX). In January 2003, Butler found that 30 vials were missing from his lab, and he very properly reported the disappearence. Instead of being thanked, his troubles then began. Here is an extract from a statement made by four Nobel prize-winners, Peter Agre, Sidney Altman, Robert Curl, and Torsten Wiesel

“As a result of his voluntary report of the missing vials, Dr. Butler has been subjected to:

An interrogation session that betrayed his willingness to cooperate by imposing intimidating elements, such as shackling, lie-detector tests, and continuous questioning for many hours without adequate food or rest.

Imprisonment for five days and six nights without bail.

Nine months of house arrest (following posting of $100,000 bail).

Humiliating conditions of house arrest that initially involved wearing an electronic monitoring device, being allowed only 4 hours per day (9 am ? 1 pm) free movement away from home, a prohibition against his use of a computer or e-mail, and being forbidden contact with colleagues who might be called as witnesses in his defense. These are extreme and paralyzing punishments for a scientist, and seem to presume guilt without proof. (Some four months later, upon appeal and posting of $225,000 bond, these conditions were subsequently modified to permit 12 daily hours away from home, and use of a computer and e-mail.)

Piling on of accusations which now total 69 counts, including many such as tax offenses and internal university matters that are unrelated to bioterrorism defense and seem included only as an attempt to discredit Butler and assure his conviction. (Conviction on all counts could mean life imprisonment and a fine of millions of dollars.) ”

Dr Butler has enormous support from scientists.

But Butler received very little support from his own employer or colleagues. One letter of support came from Thomas M. Lehman, a "distinguished geologist at Texas Tech University", who sent a letter regarding the Thomas Butler case to several Texas Tech colleagues in early January 2004. Read the letter here. What makes the letter interesting is that in it, Dr Lehman describes himself as "very conservative Republican". Here are some extracts.

“Why am I writing this? I do not know for sure, but I'm mad as hell and feel like doing something about it. I believe that Tech has committed a great injustice to a good man.”

“We were shocked that virtually no one from the Tech community was in attendance at the trial, except those committed to prosecuting Butler. Not unexpectedly, the local news organizations here in Lubbock have done a miserable job covering and no job at all investigating this case.”

“As you know, I am not a "political activist" and this is the first time I have felt compelled to exercise something of what is left of our freedom of speech.”

“If it weren't for the fact that they were successful in destroying the Butlers' lives, the entire story would be a hilarious farce. Unfortunately, it was and is not a joke to the Butlers. They are now literally flat broke, facing life in prison, the prospect of losing even their home to the government, and have little prospect of success on appeal. I personally will never be the same. I can now see why some in our society are afraid of the police, the government, the "patriot act," and so on. If you had seen the way Tech officials, employees, and lawyers cozied up with the FBI and federal prosecutors, it would have made you sick to your stomach. It certainly did me.”

“politically speaking I am a very conservative Republican - and so it came as quite a shock to me to discover that my government and its agents, and my university and its agents, could and would actually come after a good man with the clear intent of destroying him - even though it had to be patently obvious to them, as it was to me, that he is a good and honest man.”

In a second letter, Dr Lehman examined the facts again.

“Did you know that Dr. Butler is credited with developing a treatment there for cholera (known as "oral rehydration therapy" - one of the first papers he wrote while working for them in Calcutta) that is currently credited by the World Health Organization for saving between 2 and 3 MILLION lives of children under four-years old EVERY YEAR?!! Apparently this is well known among doctors in the field, but I had never heard of this until Dr. Greenough spoke about it in the courtroom. He went on to explain about Dr. Butler's important contributions to treatment for typhoid fever, shigella, dysentery, and of course plague. Someday when the transcripts of the trial are available, or when someone writes a thorough account of Dr. Butler's life story, you will be embarrassed by what you hear. Has something you've done saved a million babies lives this year or the past year or for the past twenty years? How could such a man be sent to jail? It was embarrassing to be an American sitting there in the courtroom that day, and it should have been embarrassing for the judge and lawyers to sit there and ask themselves "What have I done with my life?", "Who am I to accuse and judge this man?" But then, Texas Tech must have its overhead, and the "Justice" Department must have its "example".”

“Someday when the transcripts of the trial are available, or when someone writes a thorough account of Dr. Butler's life story, you will be embarrassed by what you hear. Has something you've done saved a million babies lives this year or the past year or for the past twenty years? How could such a man be sent to jail? It was embarrassing to be an American sitting there in the courtroom that day, and it should have been embarrassing for the judge and lawyers to sit there and ask themselves "What have I done with my life?", "Who am I to accuse and judge this man?" But then, Texas Tech must have its overhead, and the "Justice" Department must have its "example".”

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Death in Bagram

A a 2,000-page document leaked from a US army investigation has been obtained by the New York Times. See also, BBC News. The report investigated the treatment of two Afghans who died in custody at Bagram (north of Kabul) in December 2002. Here are some extracts from their account of it.

In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths

“The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.”

“At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.”

“But with President Bush's final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they "could deviate slightly from the rules," said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy.

"There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists," Sergeant Leahy told Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers said, were to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise.”

And so it goes, on and on. Yet another story of sadistic soldiers acting as though they were in a pornographic Hollywood movie or internet chatroom, under the impression that their president had authorised it. Which, of course, he had. Once again, what are we defending?

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An army insider blows the whistle on human rights abuses at Guantánamo

Erik Saar, an Arabic speaking US soldier has spoken in The Observer, and on the BBC's Newsnight programme.

“Erik Saar, an Arabic speaker who was a translator in interrogation sessions, has produced a searing first-hand account of working at Guantánamo. It will prove a damaging blow to a White House still struggling to recover from the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

In an exclusive interview, Saar told The Observer that prisoners were physically assaulted by 'snatch squads' and subjected to sexual interrogation techniques and that the Geneva Conventions were deliberately ignored by the US military.

He also said that soldiers staged fake interrogations to impress visiting administration and military officials. Saar believes that the great majority of prisoners at Guantánamo have no terrorist links and little worthwhile intelligence information has emerged from the base despite its prominent role in America's war on terror.”

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War on words: some fine gobbledygook!

The following fine bit of prose is an extract from a report on the web site of the Multi-National Force Iraq. With clear and incisive brains like this on the job we have, uh, nothing to fear. Right?

Jointness is Key to Victory in Global War on Terror, General Says

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2005 – Defense industry leaders got a strong message endorsing joint operations and "netcentric warfare" from a senior military officer at the TechNet International 2005 convention here May 17.

"We believe the cornerstone of winning the war on terror is enhancing joint warfighting and transforming our armed forces and how we go about doing that," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "That's going to be based on the ability to see ourselves, see the enemy in the ways that provide us an overwhelming advantage.

"In my mind, that's what networkcentric warfare is all about," he added.

. . . .

"As we walk forward ... we've got to be guided by what we call our joint operational concepts," Odierno said. "It's a mark on the wall that's going to become a capstone concept for joint operations. It's still in the approval phase, but we think this will be the overarching concept that we move as we move forward."

. . . .

"We have to 'spiral' technologies," he said. "We can't wait for the solution 10 years from now. We have to put what we know now into the force and spiral this technology (into the mix) and continue to improve it over time. We can't wait. We need it now."

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What every American needs to know about Israel/Palestine

If Americans Knew is an interesting US web site, which states its aim thus.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world’s major sources of instability. Americans are directly connected to this conflict, and increasingly imperiled by its devastation. It is the goal of If Americans Knew to provide full and accurate information on this critical issue, and on our power – and duty –to bring a resolution.

The site gives detailed factual charts and statistics that don't seem to get much publicity on Fox News, or even on CBS. Here are three examples.

  • The U.S. gives $15,139,178 per day to the Israeli government and military and $232,290 per day to Palestinian NGO’s.
  • No Israelis are being held prisoner by Palestinians, while 8,043 Palestinians are currently imprisoned by Israel.
  • 0 Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians and 4,170 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since September 29, 2000.

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CIA Avoids Scrutiny of Detainee Treatment

More horrors reported in the Washington Post, March 3rd, 2005. Yet another exmaple of the 'civilisation' that Bush is defending. Here are some quotations.

In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.

The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said. As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature. By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.

The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said. "He just disappeared from the face of the earth," said one U.S. government official with knowledge of the case.

The CIA case officer, meanwhile, has been promoted, two of the officials said,. . .

The fact that the Salt Pit case has remained secret for more than two years reflects how little is known about the CIA's treatment of detainees and its handling of allegations of abuse.

The CIA wanted the Salt Pit to be a "host-nation facility," an Afghan prison with Afghan guards. Its designation as an Afghan facility was intended to give U.S. personnel some insulation from actions taken by Afghan guards inside, a tactic used in secret CIA prisons in other countries, former and current CIA officials said.

The Afghan detainee had been captured in Pakistan along with a group of other Afghans. His connection to al Qaeda or the value of his intelligence was never established before he died. "He was probably associated with people who were associated with al Qaeda," one U.S. government official said.

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Guantánamo, FBI, Amnesty and Newsweek

The Amnesty International Report 2005, gives details of abuses in 149 countries. Among the 149 countries, the USA featured as follows.

The US administration's attempts to dilute the absolute ban on torture through new policies and quasi-management speak such as "environmental manipulation", "stress positions" and "sensory manipulation", was one of the most damaging assaults on global values.

Despite the US administration's repeated use of the language of justice and freedom there was a huge gap between rhetoric and reality. This was starkly illustrated by the failure to conduct a full and independent investigation into the appalling torture and ill-treatment of detainees by US soldiers in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the failure to hold senior individuals to account.

"The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity," said Irene Khan.

When Newsweek Magazine reported abuses at Guantánamo Bay, they became they brought upon themselves the wrath of the Pentagon and right wing press, and were bullied into withdrawing the report (so much for a free press) [BBC].

Yet soon after Newsweek's report, both an Army Investigation and FBI documents verified that the report was essentially correct. None of this prevented US general Richard Myers from describing the Amnesty International report on Guantanamo Bay as "absolutely irresponsible". [BBC]

The FBI documents were made public on Wednesday 25 May 2005, after a request from the human rights group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). After interviewing a detainee, an unnamed FBI agent wrote on 1 August 2002:

"Personally, he has nothing against the United States. The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behaviour is bad.

"About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet.

"The guards dance around when the detainees are trying to pray. The guards still do these things."

More information about this from the US Army and a US soldier.

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Guantánamo a “tremendous failure” says military lawyer

Guardian June 16th, 2005

Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, testifying before the first full Senate hearing on the Bush administration's treatment of detainees since the "war on terror" began, said that the military tribunals of suspected terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay were a "tremendous failure"

Lt Cdr Swift was assigned to represent Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, whom he said had been left mentally disturbed after being held in solitary confinement for seven months. Lt Cdr Swift said that Mr Hamdan was offered the opportunity to see a defence lawyer only if he pleaded guilty to the charges made against him.

He told the Senate judiciary committee: "Mr Hamdan was on the verge of being coerced into a guilty plea or deteriorating mentally to the point that he would be unable to assist in his defence if he ever came to trial.

"We have lost sight of our fundamental values to the point that Mr Hamdan faces judgement for allegedly violating the law of war in a tribunal that fails to live up to the standards of justice required by that same law."

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Medical involvement in torture in US bases

Several articles have appeared on the involvement of medical personnel and psychologists in torture; for example here and here. Social psychologists have sought to make torture seem normal. Two lawyers, Gregg Bloche (Georgetown University) and Jonathan Marks (Matrix Chambers, London, and Georgetown), have written "Doctors and Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay" in the New England Journal of Medicine (June 2005), and "When Doctors Go to War" (New Engl. J. Med. 352:3-6, Jan 6, 2005). Here are some quotations.

“In helping to plan and execute interrogation strategies, did doctors breach medical ethics? Military physicians and Pentagon officials make a case to the contrary. Doctors, they argue, act as combatants, not physicians, when they put their knowledge to use for military ends. A medical degree, Tornberg said, is not a “sacramental vow" — it is a certification of skill. When a doctor participates in interrogation, “he’s not functioning as a physician," and the Hippocratic ethic of commitment to patient welfare does not apply.” (Jan, 2005)

“In a memo made public last month, announcing “Principles . . . for the Protection and Treatment of Detainees," William Winkenwerder, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, said that limits on detainees’ medical privacy are “analogous to legal standards applicable to U.S. citizens." But this claim, our inquiry has determined, is sharply at odds with orders given to military medical personnel — and with actual practice at Guantanamo. Health information has been routinely available to behavioral science consultants and others who are responsible for crafting and carrying out interrogation strategies.”

“the personnel section of the Southern Command website, not only requires caregivers to provide clinical information to military and Central Intelligence Agency interrogation teams on request; it calls on them to volunteer information that they believe might be of value.”

The New York Times reports on these articles, and other related cases.

“The former interrogators said the military doctors' role was to advise them and their fellow interrogators on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes by exploiting their fears, in the hopes of making them more cooperative and willing to provide information. In one example, interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.”

“Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, declined to address the specifics in the accounts. But he suggested that the doctors advising interrogators were not covered by ethics strictures because they were not treating patients but rather were acting as behavioral scientists.”

“Several ethics experts outside the military said there were serious questions involving the conduct of the doctors, especially those in units known as Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, BSCT, colloquially referred to as "biscuit" teams, which advise interrogators. "Their purpose was to help us break them," one former interrogator told The Times earlier this year.”

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USA in denial about global warming

The Observer of 19th July 2005 has obtained documents which show the extraordinary lengths to which the White House is prepared to go, to conceal from the public the facts about global warming. Here are a few quoutations.

These papers - part of the Bush administration's submission to the G8 action plan for Gleneagles next month - show how the United States, over the past two months, has been secretly undermining Tony Blair's proposals to tackle climate change.

The documents obtained by The Observer represent an attempt by the Bush administration to undermine completely the science of climate change and show that the US position has hardened during the G8 negotiations. They also reveal that the White House has withdrawn from a crucial United Nations commitment to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions.

The documents show that Washington officials:

  • Removed all reference to the fact that climate change is a 'serious threat to human health and to ecosystems';
  • Deleted any suggestion that global warming has already started;
  • Expunged any suggestion that human activity was to blame for climate change.

Among the sentences removed was the following: 'Unless urgent action is taken, there will be a growing risk of adverse effects on economic development, human health and the natural environment, and of irreversible long-term changes to our climate and oceans.'

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Fahrenheit 9/11 wins CBS People's Choice Award

21 million people voted Fahrenheit 9/11 "best movie of the year. [Michael Moore, and CBS Television]

Michael Moore's site has a fascinating 6-section list of links that verify many of the facts in the film'

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Abu Ghraib Tactics Were First Used at Guantanamo

A new military investigation that shows the tactics were employed there months before military police used them on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. [Washington Post, 14 July 2005]

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and later helped set up U.S. operations at Abu Ghraib, was accused of failing to properly supervise Qahtani's interrogation plan and was recommended for reprimand by investigators

The investigation at Guantanamo Bay looked into 26 allegations by FBI personnel that military interrogators had mistreated detainees. It found that almost all the tactics were "authorized" interrogation methods and by definition were not abusive.

In the case of Qahtani, who endured weeks of sleep deprivation and many of the harshest techniques, Lt. Gen. Mark Schmidt and Brig. Gen. John Furlow found that the cumulative effect of those tactics "resulted in degrading and abusive treatment" but stopped short of torture.

"There are some striking similarities between the actions at Guantanamo and what occurred at Abu Ghraib," said Capt. Jonathan Crisp, England's military defense attorney. "I feel that warrants further investigation."

Sen. Pat Roberts (Republican-Kansas) called the Guantanamo abuse relatively "minor incidents" that should not be a matter of national interest.

"almost all the tactics were "authorized" interrogation methods and by definition were not abusive" must take some sort of prize for circular arguments.

But guess what? General Miller will NOT be reprimanded, despite the recommendation of the Army investigators.

US military investigators tried in vain to get a former Guantanamo Bay prison commander reprimanded [BBC News]

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The Truth About Abu Ghraib

Editorial in Washington Post, 29 July 2005

“FOR 15 MONTHS now the Bush administration has insisted that the horrific photographs of abuse from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were the result of freelance behavior by low-level personnel and had nothing to do with its policies. In this the White House has been enthusiastically supported by the Army brass, which has conducted investigations documenting hundreds of cases of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but denies that any of its senior officers are culpable. For some time these implacable positions have been glaringly at odds with the known facts. In the past few days, those facts have grown harder to ignore.”

“The court evidence strongly suggests that Gen. Miller lied about his actions, and it merits further investigation by prosecutors and Congress. But the Guantanamo commander was not acting on his own: The interrogation of Mr. Qahtani, investigators found, was carried out under rules approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Dec. 2, 2002. After strong protests from military lawyers, the Rumsfeld standards -- which explicitly allowed nudity, the use of dogs and shackling -- were revised in April 2003. Yet the same practices were later adopted at Abu Ghraib, at least in part at the direct instigation of Gen. Miller. "We understood," Maj. DiNenna testified, "that [Gen. Miller] was sent over by the secretary of defense."

The White House and Pentagon have gotten away with their stonewalling largely because of Republican control of Congress.”

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Grand Theft Auto -violence, sex and hypocrisy

One of the signs of Western civiliation, which we wish to export to the world. is ultra-violent computer games, like Grand Theft Auto. These games use vicious sadism as a form of amusement. You can buy them at Amazon. Now for one of the year's more mind-boggling bits of hypocrisy. The sadistic nature of the game escaped much criticism from politicians, but now, shock-horror, somebody has introduced sex scenes into it. Suddenly "The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly called for investigation into the companies behind the game." [BBC News]. Such a distorted sense of what is shocking might explain a lot. Like Abu Ghraib, for example.

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Intelligent enough to die

I was already a research student when the last execution occurred in the UK, in 1964. A year later it was outlawed. Now, 40 years later. those times seem like the dark ages. It is quite inconcievable that we could ever return to that sort of barbarity. Nobody (apart from a handful of Daily Mail readers) could imagine that.
Not surprising then, that to a European, this news from the state of Virginia, sounds surreal. [BBC]

A jury in the US state of Virginia has decided that a man with learning difficulties on death row is intelligent enough to be executed.

P.S. The convicted man was black. The jury was all white.

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Freeway bloggers

Right-minded Americans fight back with road signs. Here are some examples from Freewayblogger.com. Go there for more. We need a few more of these in the UK.

Aerial blog - Flown over Super Bowl, Houston TX
air blog

   free speech
   
   
   
   

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Pat Robertson advocates assassination: with christians like this, who needs enemies

This must take some sort of record for evil by christians. Pat Robertson, the US televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition. On his TV show he said that the US should assassinate the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. [BBC], [Reuters]

“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” Robertson said of Chavez in Monday's broadcast of The 700 Club.“We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.” “I don't think any oil shipments would stop.”

Here are some more words of neanderthal wisdom from Robertson.

feminism "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
"If they look over the course of 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings," he said in May of this year in response to a question during an ABC interview about whether activist judges were more of a threat to the United States than terrorists.

Late in the 2004 presidential race, Robertson told CNN that during a meeting with Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq, the president told him he did not believe there would be casualties. The White House strongly denied the claim.

Robertson's "700 Club" reaches an average of 1 million American viewers daily, according to his Web site.
He ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1988.

Robertson also seemed to agree with that other fundamentalist fanatic, Jerry Falwell, when he blamed the atrocity on September 11th, 2001, on civil libertarians, feminists, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters.

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."
Rev. Jerry Falwell, quoted from John F. Harris, "God Gave U.S. 'What We Deserve,' Falwell Says," The Washington Post (September 14, 2001)

Nothing new about assassinations?

For an interesting history of earlier attempts by the USA to kill leaders of other countries, look at the Washington Post article by Lynne Duke (24 August 2005).

“The broad U.S. history of assassinations against foreign leaders is long, colorful and still controversial.”

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Senate votes against torture, but Bush disagrees

New York Times    Washington Post   BBC News

The US senate voted 90 to 9, to pass the bill sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain. The bill bans "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in United States government custody.

Funny, I thought the Geneva conventions already did that, but not in the eyes of the White House it seems.

But the bill applies only to the US Army. It does not cover techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Apparently, then, the CIA is still allowed to use "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"

One might think this bill was a minimal response to recent events, but it is not minimal enough for George Bush.

The White House threatened to veto a $440 billion military spending bill if the detention amendment was tacked on, saying it would bind the president's hands in wartime.

“Opposing the effort, Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, said that requiring American troops to follow procedures in the Army manual was not practical in the current war environment.”

So according to this senator, torture by the army is bad except when there is a war. And these are the people from whom our prime minister takes his directions.

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Abuse of the Patriot Act

This report appeared In the New York Times (1 Nov 2005), and in the International Herald Tribune. Once again we see that politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are eager to exploit threats, real and imagined, to pursue their own frighteningly totalitarian agenda. The next item is still worse.

“In the national anguish after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Congress rushed to enact a formidable antiterrorism law - the Patriot Act - that significantly crimped civil liberties by expanding law enforcement's power to use wiretaps, search warrants and other surveillance techniques, often under the cloak of secrecy. There was virtually no public debate before these major changes to the nation's legal system were put into effect. Now, with some of the act's most sweeping powers set to expire at the end of the year, the two houses of Congress face crucial negotiations, which will also take place out of public view, on how to extend and amend the law.”

“In a breathtaking afterthought at the close of debate, the House voted to triple the number of terrorism-related crimes carrying the death penalty. The House also voted to allow judges to reduce the size of juries that decide on executions, and even to permit prosecutors to try repeatedly for a death sentence when a hung jury fails to vote for death.”

“There are now 20 terrorism-related crimes eligible for capital punishment, and the House measure would add 41 more.”

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CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons

More horrific news in the Washington Post (November 2nd, 2005). Are US papers at last doing the job that journalists should do, but failed so signally to do in the run up to the Iraq war?

“Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.”

This long article is a wonderful bit of reporting that exposes the depths to which the Bush administration has sunk. Read it!

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White House attempts to legalise torture

The Washington Post revelations (previous section) have at last provoked other US Newspapers to speak out. The The New York Times (and International Herald Tribune) has had highly critical comments on two consecutive days. On Wednesday November 2nd, their report started thus.

“More than three years after President George W. Bush determined that the Geneva conventions did not apply to the fight against terrorism, his administration is embroiled in a sharp internal debate . . . ”

The next day, the comment was more caustic. The editorial begins thus.

“Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture.”

Hang on. Just read that again. A major US Newspaper has stated that their president is making tireless efforts to legalise torture. Once again, I come back to the title of this page. What on earth are we defending?

“Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney proposed a novel solution for the moral and legal problems raised by the use of American soldiers to abuse prisoners and the practice of turning captives over to governments willing to act as proxies in doing the torturing. Cheney wants to make it legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to do this wet work.”

“President George W. Bush's threat to veto the entire military budget over this issue was bizarre enough [above] . . .But Cheney's proposal was even more ludicrous. It would give the president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense Department (the administration has in mind the CIA) to mistreat and torture prisoners as long as that behavior was part of "counterterrorism operations conducted abroad" and they were not American citizens.
That would neatly legalize the illegal prisons the CIA is said to be operating around the world and obviate the need for the torture outsourcing known as extraordinary rendition.”

You can read and hear more about 'extraordinary rendition' here.

November 7th 2005. The stories continue The Washington Post says
"Over the past year, Vice President Cheney has waged an intense and largely unpublicized campaign to stop Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department from imposing more restrictive rules on the handling of terrorist suspects, according to defense, state, intelligence and congressional officials."
And on the same day that Bush claims "we do not torture" [ BBC News], five more US soldiers are charged with doing just that (low ranks as usual, no doubt).

November 9th 2005. It is reported that the CIA is starting a criminal inquiry into who told the media that it runs secret jails abroad (as reported above). [BBC News] .  This news has two obvious implications,

  • the allegations are true
  • the US government is sufficiently ashamed of what it is doing that it does not wish its citizens to know what is being done in their name.

Bush and Cheney's efforts to legalise torture defeated

BBC News (16th December 2005) reports that the story above has turned out well, for a change. When outvoted by both Houses, Bush and Cheney had to give up their efforts to legalise torture (pinch yourself -yes we are talking about the USA in the 21st century).

But when both the Senate and the House of Representatives came out overwhelmingly in favour of a new law banning torture, Mr Bush did not have much choice, our correspondent says - even though it is a blow to presidential authority.

It is also being seen as bitter personal defeat for Vice-President Dick Cheney, who had telephoned every Republican senator to try to get the measure derailed.

Of course it remains to be seen what difference the new legistlation makes to what goes on behind closed doors in secret prisons.

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USA used white phosphorus on civilians in Fallujah. UK too?

 

A documentary on the Italian TV station RAI seems to have evidence for illegal use of chemical weapons against civilians in the attack on Fallujah in 2004.

The TV programme can now be seen in English: click here.

See the TV programme and the report on RAI.

 
Reports in The Independent, and BBC News (8th November 2005).

Italian state TV, Rai, has broadcast a documentary accusing the US military of using white phosphorus bombs against civilians in the Iraqi city of Falluja.

The Rai film also alleges that Washington has systematically attempted to destroy filmed evidence of the alleged use of white phosphorus on civilians in Falluja.

More on white phosphorus (15th November 2005)

A big article in the Independent gives more details. It seems that US military documents have now come to light that confirm the use of white phosphorus, despite initial denials by the US government.[see the Field Artillery Magazine]. The magazine says

"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes where we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosive]. We fired "shake and bake" missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out,".

The Pentagon has confirmed that US troops used white phosphorus

BBC News had an interview with Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable (listen to robocop here). He confirmed that white phosporus was used but said that is quite OK because “White phosphorus is an incendiary weapon, not a chemical weapon”.

This being done in YOUR name, by the government elected by the US citizens, and with the uncritical support of the UK government. Be angry.

The main editorial in the Independent starts thus.

Leading article: An attempt to excuse the inexcusable
Published: 15 November 2005

An accusation of the utmost seriousness has been levelled against the US military. Evidence has emerged that appears to show that the US military used white phosphorous bombs against civilians in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November last year. If this turns out to be true, a war crime has been committed.

16th November 2005: the UK admits to using phosphorus weapons too

BBC News reports that the UK has now admitted that we too have used white phosphorus weapons in Iraq. The defence secretary, John Reid, said he could not answer for the US use of the substance. But he said:
“We do not use white phosphorus, or indeed any other form of munition or weaponry, against civilians... ”

Can we believe what our government tells us? If it were true that weapons are not used against civilians, then no civilians would have been killed in Iraq. That is palpably absurd. Politicians might have a better reputation if the did not treat the citizens as though they were incapable of thinking for themselves. And they might have a better chance of being believed when they make statements like that if they did not have a record, now proved beyond a shadow of doubt, of having been 'economical with the truth' in the run up to the war (and if the US government had not lied initially about its use of phosphorus).

17th November 2005. The legal status of white phosphorus is discussed on BBC News.

20th November 2005. The Daily Telegraph carried two items about white phosphorus: "Tim Collins trained troops to fight with white phosphorus", and "I watched US use 'shake and bake' ", by Toby Harnden.

22nd November 2005. More illegal weapons?

George Monbiot, in the Guardian, quotes some interesting military sources.

“The US army knows that its use as a weapon is illegal. In the Battle Book, published by the US Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, my correspondent David Traynier found the following sentence: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.".”

“Before attacking the city, the marines stopped men "of fighting age" from leaving. Many women and children stayed: the Guardian's correspondent estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were left. The marines treated Falluja as if its only inhabitants were fighters. They levelled thousands of buildings, illegally denied access to the Iraqi Red Crescent and, according to the UN's special rapporteur, used "hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population" ”

“I have been reading accounts of the assault published in the Marine Corps Gazette” . . . “An assault weapon the marines were using had been armed with warheads containing "about 35% thermobaric novel explosive (NE) and 65% standard high explosive". They deployed it "to cause the roof to collapse and crush the insurgents fortified inside interior rooms". It was used repeatedly: "The expenditure of explosives clearing houses was enormous." ”

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How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball'

The Los Angeles Times has a detailed account of the misuse of intelligence information by the Bush administration in the run up to the Iraq war.

“The Iraqi informant's German handlers say they had told U.S. officials that his information was 'not proven,' and were shocked when President Bush and Colin L. Powell used it in key prewar speeches.”

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Colonel Wilkerson: Cheney's war crimes?

Once again it seems that we have to rely on soldiers and military lawyers to get anything like the truth. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, was, until January this year, General Colin Powell's chief of staff. He was at the very heart of the Bush administration and knows exactly what went on. Now he has spoken about it. Yet again, one's worst fears turn out not to be paranoid, on the contrary, the truth is worse..

Report in Independent.

Read transcript of interview with Col. Wilkerson (BBC Today programme, 29 Nov 05) (pdf file, 18 kb). Here are some quotations from the transcript of the interview with Carolyn Quinn.

Quinn: I asked Colonel Wilkerson why he felt the post-war planning had been so inadequate.

Wilkerson: . . . This was not only inept and incompetent, it was day-dreaming of the most unfortunate type and ever since that failed we've been in a pick-up game - a pick-up game that's cost us over 2,000 American KIAs [killed in action] and almost a division's worth of casualties.

Quinn: Now you call this alternative decision-making as a process and you seem to be laying the blame pretty fairly and squarely at the door of Dick Cheney. Am I correct in assuming that?

Wilkerson: Well in the two decision-making processes into which I had the most insight - the detainee abuse issue and this issue of post-invasion planning for Iraq - I lay the blame squarely at his feet. I look at the relationship between Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld as being one that produced these two failures in particular and I see that the president is not holding either of them accountable, or at least up to this point he is not, and so I have to lay some blame at his feet too.

Quinn: There was a presidential memo ordering that detainees be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions that forbid torture. Are you saying that Dick Cheney ordered that to be ignored?

Wilkerson: Well my critics have said that the president's continuing phrase in what you just quoted, "consistent with military necessity", was an out, under which almost anything could be done.

Quinn: And that question of detainee abuse - are you saying that the implicit message allowing it to happen was sanctioned by Dick Cheney - it came from his office?

Wilkerson: Well you see two sides of this debate in the statutory process. You see the side represented by Colin Powell, Will Taft, all arguing for Geneva. You see the other side represented by Yoo, John Yoo from the Department of Justice, Alberto Gonzales - you see the other side being argued by them and you see the president compromising. Then you see the secretary of defence moving out in his own memorandum to act as if the side that declared everything open, free and anything goes, actually being what's implemented. And so what I'm saying.

Quinn: If what you say is correct, in your view, is Dick Cheney then guilty of a war crime?

Wilkerson: Well, that's an interesting question - it was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is - for whatever it's worth - an international crime as well.

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False news in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times (3 Dec 2005) reveals a few more lies and deceptions.

“WASHINGTON — A top Pentagon official said Friday that "transgressions" may have occurred in a secret military program that pays Iraqi newspapers to publish information favorable to the U.S. mission, and American military commanders in Baghdad said that any "improprieties" by defense contractors would be investigated.

Under the arrangement between Lincoln Group and the U.S. military's Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad, dozens of storyboards created by U.S. military personnel have been edited and translated into Arabic-language articles by employees of Lincoln Group. After that, the contractor uses a network of Iraqis to pay newspapers to publish the articles.

Some of the articles have been published as news reports and some as op-ed pieces or advertisements. Of more than a dozen published items reviewed by The Times, none revealed a connection to the military.

In July, one storyboard written by military personnel titled "Children Murdered at the Hands of Terrorists" was recast by Lincoln Group as an opinion column written by an Iraqi citizen. It was published July 19 in Baghdad's Al Sabah newspaper, documents show.” “ Documents show that Al Sabah was paid more than $1,500 to publish the piece”,

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The Niger forgeries

Yet more tortuous deceptions in the forged documents that purported to show that Iraq had obtained or was seeking uranium in Niger. It is now know that these documents were already known to be forgeries when they were used as part of the justication for war byTony Blair in late 2002, and by Gorege Bush in January 2003. The Los Angeles Times (3 Dec 2005) has more details.

WASHINGTON — The FBI has reopened an inquiry into one of the most intriguing aspects of the pre-Iraq war intelligence fiasco: how the Bush administration came to rely on forged documents linking Iraq to nuclear weapons materials as part of its justification for the invasion.

The documents inspired intense U.S. interest in the buildup to the war — and they led the CIA to send a former ambassador to the African nation of Niger to investigate whether Iraq had sought the materials there. The ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, found little evidence to support such a claim, and the documents were later deemed to have been forged.

But President Bush referred to the claim in his 2003 State of the Union address in making the case for the invasion. Bush's speech, Wilson's trip and the role Wilson's wife played in sending him have created a political storm that still envelops the White House.

The documents in question included letters on Niger government letterhead and purported contracts showing sales of uranium to Iraq. They were provided in 2002 to an Italian magazine, which turned them over to the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

The FBI's decision to reopen the investigation reverses the agency's announcement last month that it had finished a two-year inquiry and concluded that the forgeries were part of a moneymaking scheme — and not an effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.

Federal officials familiar with the case say investigators might examine whether the forgeries were instigated by U.S. citizens who advocated an invasion of Iraq or by members of the Iraqi National Congress — the group led by Ahmad Chalabi that worked closely with Bush administration officials in the buildup to the war.

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Where shall we invade next? A vox pop from CNN

A CNN reporter asks members of the public "in terms of the war on terror, who do you think should be the next country to invade?". And asks them to put a flag pin in the country they name.

See the movie [wmv file, 3 Mb)

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US bars access to Red Cross

We all knew about this despicable behaviour, but now it is official [BBC News]

The US has admitted for the first time that it has not given the Red Cross access to all detainees in its custody. The state department's top legal adviser, John Bellinger, made the admission but gave no details about where such prisoners were held.

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US, guns and 9/11

Nothing very original about finding an American opposed to guns, but this one is more poignant than most. Jenny Price wrote in the Washington Post, on christmas day, 2005.

Five years ago an elderly Los Angeles woman who had agreed to move out of her daughter's apartment bought a handgun. She cleared the background check, passed the safety test and practiced on targets at the local shooting range. Then she shot and killed her daughter and her daughter's fiancé - my brother David.

65 million people in the United States own handguns.

Nearly 12,000 Americans annually use guns to kill people (compared with about 100 in UK).

Of the 12,000 guns used to kill people every year, 160 are used in legitimate self-defense. Guns in the home are used seven times more often for murder than for self-defense.

Think about 12000 murders with handguns. That is around 50000 people since 9/11. It dwarfs even the worst ever terrorist massacre. It is like having a 9/ll every three months, year in, year out. Perhaps the war on terror is looking at the wrong place. The National Rifle Association has been responsible for far more deaths than any terrorist. Born-again Bush supports them.

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Freedom of speech? Cindy Sheehan arrested

Cindy Sheehan tried to attend the State of the Union speech. She was arrested, Read her acount here.

“This afternoon at the People's State of the Union Address in DC where I was joined by Congresspersons Lynn Woolsey and John Conyers, Ann Wright, Malik Rahim and John Cavanagh, Lynn brought me a ticket to the State of the Union Address. At that time, I was wearing the shirt that said: 2245 Dead. How many more?”

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Conservative means something quite different in the USA

 It is sometimes hard for a European to imagine just how extreme the US “conservatives" are. There is an account in the Financial Times (February 13th, 2006) of a meeting in Washington at which Ann Coulter was the star attraction.

To a chorus of "We love you, Ann", she launched into her trademark outrageous one-liners, denouncing moderate Republicans as "rats" and "Washington weenies".

You can buy a T shirt (right).

Be ashamed.

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Neo-conservatives admit 'we were wrong' (but Mr Blair still does not)

I still have difficulty in believing the news this week. Some of the most extreme right-wing conservatives in the USA (and hence anywhere in the world) have come to a view not entirely dissimilar to those expressed on the streets of London by the anti-war demonstrators in early 2003. The Independent, 9 Mar 2006, [front page].  Robert Cornwall comments on “ . . . the blatant contradiction between the neo-cons' aversion to government meddling at home and their childlike faith in their ability to impose massive social engineering in foreign and utterly unfamiliar countries like Iraq.”

William Buckley Jnr. INFLUENTIAL CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST AND TV PUNDIT

“One can't doubt the objective in Iraq has failed ... Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an army of 130,000 Americans. Different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.”

Francis Fukuyama. AUTHOR AND LONG-TERM ADVOCATE OF TOPPLING SADDAM

“By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, a training ground and an operational base for jihadists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at.”

Richard Perle. ARCH-WARMONGER AND PIVOTAL REPUBLICAN HAWK

“The military campaign and its political aftermath were both passionately debated within the Bush administration. It got the war right and the aftermath wrong We should have understood that we needed Iraqi partners.”

Andrew Sullivan. PROMINENT COMMENTATOR AND INFLUENTIAL BLOGGER

“The world has learnt a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis ... than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response is not more spin but a sense of shame and sorrow.”

George Will. RIGHT-WING COLUMNIST ON 'THE WASHINGTON POST' AND TV PUNDIT

“Almost three years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or in what sense, Iraq is a nation. And after two elections and a referendum on the constitution, Iraq barely has a government.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, no less, told the Los Angeles Times that the "potential is there" for sectarian violence to become full-blown civil war. And "We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?"

Zalmay Khalilzad was one of the signatories to the original Neo-conservative statement of principles in 1997, along with (among others) Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Francis Fukuyama, I. Lewis Libby, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz,

The demonstrators in 2003 could see very clearly the likely consequences of the unilateral invasion. Very sadly almost all of our predictions have come to pass. How could all these neo-cons be so wrong? I imagine it was because they placed ideology above common sense. They truly represented the age of (self)-delusion.

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Free speech? McCarthyism returns to US schools and universities

University professors denounced for anti-Americanism; schoolteachers suspended for their politics; students encouraged to report on their tutors.

A special report on the USA in The Guardian (4th April, 2006), by Gary Yonge, makes scary reading.

“ Earlier this year, Fox news commentator Sean Hannity urged students to record "leftwing propaganda" by professors so he could broadcast it on his show. On the web there is Campus Watch, "monitoring Middle East studies on campus"; Edwatch, "Education for a free nation"; and Parents Against Bad Books in School.”

“In mid January, the Bruin Alumni association offered students $100 to tape leftwing professors at the University of California Los Angeles.”

“Over the past three years Horowitz has led the call for an academic bill of rights in several states. The bills would allow students to opt out of any part of a course they felt was "personally offensive" and force American universities to adopt quotas for conservative professors as well as monitor the political inclinations of their staff.”

This is the land of the free in action. You can say whatever you want as long as it isn't the tiniest bit 'liberal'. Truly scary.

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Seven generals turn on Rumsfeld: he approved torture

Washington Post (14 April 2006).

Gen. Anthony Zinni (retired Marine Corps General) told CNN Rumsfeld should be held responsible for a series of blunders, starting with "throwing away 10 years worth of planning, plans that had taken into account what we would face in an occupation of Iraq."

Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack *( led the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, now retired). "I really believe that we need a new secretary of defense because Secretary Rumsfeld carries way too much baggage with him," said retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, who led the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.

Major Gen. John Riggs (retired) told National Public Radio that Rumsfeld had helped create an atmosphere of "arrogance" among the Pentagon's top civilian leadership. "They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda. I think that's a mistake, and that's why I think he should resign,"

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq before his retirement, urged Rumsfeld on Wednesday to resign.

Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold (Marine Corps, retired) and Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton have also spoken out against Rumsfeld.

General Wesley Clark (retired four-star general. Formerly NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe) “ . . . I felt that the administration's entire direction of policy with regard to the war on terror was a mistake. We should have fought in Afghanistan and finished off Osama bin Laden. The war in Iraq was unnecessary. Secretary Rumsfeld was the officer in charge as the Secretary of Defense. He's the number 2 in the chain of command to the president and I believe Secretary Rumsfeld hasn't done an adequate job. He should go.” (Fox News, 15 April, 2006)

Rumsfeld approved torture at Guantanamo

An army report obtained by Salon.com show the most direct link so far between Donald Rumsfeld and prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. The give the full text of interviews with Lieutenant General Randall M. Schmidt [download pdf], and General James T. Hill [download pdf]. Salon.com comment as follows.

“Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was personally involved in the late 2002 interrogation of a high-value al-Qaida detainee known in intelligence circles as "the 20th hijacker." He also communicated weekly with the man in charge of the interrogation, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the controversial commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention center.

During the same period, detainee Mohammed al-Kahtani suffered from what Army investigators have called "degrading and abusive" treatment by soldiers who were following the interrogation plan Rumsfeld had approved. Kahtani was forced to stand naked in front of a female interrogator, was accused of being a homosexual, and was forced to wear women's underwear and to perform "dog tricks" on a leash. He received 18-to-20-hour interrogations during 48 of 54 days. ”

“In a sworn statement to the inspector general, Schmidt described Rumsfeld as "personally involved" in the interrogation and said that the defense secretary was "talking weekly" with Miller. Schmidt said he concluded that Rumsfeld did not specifically prescribe the more "creative" interrogation methods used on Kahtani. But he added that the open-ended policies Rumsfeld approved, and that the apparent lack of supervision of day-to-day interrogations permitted the abusive conduct to take place. "Where is the throttle on this stuff?" asked Schmidt, an Air Force fighter pilot, who said in his interview under oath with the inspector general that he had concerns about the length and repetition of the harsh interrogation methods. "There were no limits." ”

The Guardian reports

“ . . . in the wake of the inspector general's report, Human Rights Watch said: "The question at this point is not whether secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it's whether he should be indicted. General Schmidt's sworn statement suggests Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on Mr al-Qahtani." ”

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Middle East: Reaping what Bush sowed

The terrible events in Lebanon have some obvious causes that seem to me to be discussed lucidly in an article in the International Herald Tribune (July 19th 2006). Here are some extracts.

Charles A. Kupchan and Ray, Takeyh International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON “The Middle East is burning. From Baghdad to Beirut, car bombs, suicide attacks, air strikes and a grim tally of civilian deaths are the new currency of daily life.

The extremist and rejectionist machinations of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah are partly to blame. But so is an American administration that thought it could transform the Middle East overnight, using regime change in Iraq to jump start rapid democratization throughout the region.

Instead, Washington's ideological hubris and practical incompetence have succeeded only in setting the region ablaze, awakening extremist and militant voices.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein was intended to send shock waves across the Arab world, intimidating the region's brittle tyrannies while encouraging the spontaneous civic movements that have brought democracy to much of post-Communist Europe. In Iraq itself, democrats were to replace a brutal autocrat, providing a model for the region.

Precisely the opposite has happened. The war has not only engulfed Iraq in violence and made the country a magnet for jihadists, but it has also awakened sectarian tensions that are spreading beyond Iraq's borders. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, Shiites and Sunnis are cautiously eyeing each other, heading for a mounting rivalry that has already helped plunge Lebanon into chaos.”

. . . “Iraq lies in ruins, Islamist forces are strengthening, and the Palestine-Israel conflict threatens to become a full-scale war. Even more ominously, the Middle East is being polarized along sectarian lines, empowering an Iran with nuclear ambitions. The mistakes of the Bush administration are coming home to roost.”

Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Ray Takeyh is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Hidden Iran: Power and Paradox in the Islamic Republic."

Funny thing is that I recall clearly many people in UCL quadrangle, on 20th March 2003, who were saying that this was precisely the likely outcome. Bush and Blair would not listen. They were wrong.

Postscript July 21st 2006. The New York Times reports "The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon "

 

Click here to download
high resolution wallpaper version.

Sir Menzies Campbell (Lib Dem leader) sent a letter to Mr Blair. [BBC]

“In light of disproportionate military action by Israel in Lebanon and Gaza the UK government must suspend any further arms exports to Israel.

“Over the last year and a half the UK government has licensed the export of arms to Israel worth over £25m, including components for naval light guns, military utility helicopters, aircraft radars and electronic warfare equipment.

“The government is right to ensure there are no arms transfers, either direct or indirect, from the UK to Syria, Iran or illegal armed groups such as the military wing of Hezbollah. ”

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Civil war: another prediction coming true

While we are on the topic of how a miilion people on the streets of London could see the outcome of the Iraq war more clearly than the president and prime minister, this is what we got in August 2006.

“The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy ”
William Patey in his last confidential memo to the UK government, before leaving his job as British Ambassador in Iraq. [BBC]

"The sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it," Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." [Washington Post]

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A new low point? Israel kills UN observers

[BBC]  [CNN]

Four unarmed UN observers in Lebanon were killed by an Israeli precision guided missile. after their observation post had been shelled for six hours. The dead men were from Austria, Canada, China and Finland.

The UN observation post was marked as such on Israeli military maps. According to a UN report, the UN observers contacted Israeli troops 10 times, asking them to stop. Each time the UN contacted Israeli forces, they were assured the firing would stop.

Ireland's foreign ministry said that a senior Irish soldier working for the UN forces had warned the Israelis six times that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff. It did not stop.

This attack on unarmed neutral people appears, therefore, to have been deliberate. Israel denies that it was deliberate. It is being investigated, but only by the people who perpetrated it.

It is hard to exaggerate how much this sort of thing causes harm to the reputation of Israel.

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Torture in Iraq was "routine"

Accounts from the soldiers involved shows, yet again, that the torture of prisoners in US custody in Iraq was authorised and routine even after the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light. [BBC]  [Human Rights Watch]  [The full report].

“The torture of prisoners in US custody in Iraq was authorised and routine even after the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light Soldiers' accounts show that detainees routinely faced severe beatings, sleep deprivation and other abuses for much of 2003-2005, Human Rights Watch says.

Soldiers who tried to complain about the abuse were rebuffed or ignored.”

“An interrogator who served at Camp Nama told Human Rights Watch that the leadership of his interrogation unit encouraged abuse. "[P]eople wanted to go, go, go harsh on everybody," he said. "They thought that was their job and that’s what they needed to do, and do it every time." ”

And still nobody above the rank of Sergeant has been convicted.

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No academic Freedom at Roosevelt Univsersity

This item is on my religion and education page. Sign the petition!

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UK News


Intelligence officer fired for criticising Blair over Iraq's WMD

Independent, 26 July 2004.
Oops, the Independent's archive does not last long, but you can still read the details here and here.

"Downing Street was accused yesterday of conducting a vendetta after the sacking of a senior intelligence official who accused Tony Blair of misleading the public over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The decision to terminate the contract of John Morrison as the investigator for Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee was due to pressure from No 10, according to senior Whitehall sources. It stemmed from Mr Morrison's appearance on BBC Television's Panorama programme."

One colleague said yesterday: "It's rather ironic that the only person who goes as a result of the Butler inquiry is someone who told it as it was."


Shame: British judges endorse evidence obtained by torture

Simon Jenkins The Times, 18 August 2004.

Some extracts

"Three appeal court judges inexplicably found in favour of Mr Blunkett, albeit one of them with reservations. Lord Justice Laws declared himself quite unable to see why the Home Secretary should not rely on evidence gained by torture, if the torturers belonged to states over which he has no power of direction". Torture is apparently fine so long as the torturers are not British. "

" Any British court should abhor the same methods of interrogation that were ghoulishly attributed to Saddam Hussein and the Taleban to justify war against their countries. Britain is already guilty by association for the shocking acts perpetrated at Abu Ghraib. British commanders must have suspected what was going on, since similar practices were being used in the British-ruled south. The West’s whole case before the Muslim world is based on its superior respect for human rights. Torture should be as unthinkable in a war against individuals as nuclear weapons now are in a war against nations."

"In The Times on Monday a former immigration scrutineer, Sir Brian Barder, attacked the appeal court decision. Surely, he said, the court should have issued “a ringing condemnation of reliance on evidence obtained by torture, wherever and by whomever practised, as a basis for imprisoning people indefinitely and without trial".

"It is scarcely believable that such words need writing in Britain in the 21st century. They do. "


Shame: British Foreign Office endorses evidence obtained by torture

Daily Telegraph, 12 October, 2004

The leaking of a classified memorandum from Craig Murray, UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, showed his courageous opposition to the [UK] government's use of information extracted under torture in Uzbekistan.

"This material is useless, we are selling our souls for dross," Mr Murray wrote. "Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe - that they and we are fighting the same war against terror. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek Security Services, via the US. We should stop. This is morally, legally and practically wrong."

The practice, he added, "fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture; they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results."

The Foreign Office indicated that it would evaluate intelligence even if it had been extracted in other countries under torture.

Once again, the UK government shows it cares little whether evidence was obtained under torture, as long as somebody else does it (such as the governments of Uzbekistan, or of the USA).

Now it seems that Mr Craig is to be fired by the Foreign Office, allegedly after pressure from the USA and Uzbekistan.

Postscript, 15th October, 2004. Yes, the Foreign Office did fire another person who dared to tell the truth

Craig Murray speaks out. Jack Straw himself decided to ignore Uzbek torture

In June 2005, Craig Murray gave an extended interview with John Humphrys (of Today Programme fame). It seems that he was summoned to a meeting in Whitehall in March 2003. He was told that the information he had sent to the UK and it had been considered by the head of MI6 and by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, personally and that Jack Straw had decided the information obtained under torture should continue to be received. He was told that he was causing a problem, and that he should shut up.

A number of almost entirely trumped up charges were levelled at Mr Murray by the Foreign Office as an excuse to get rid of him. He was threatened with prison (under the Official Secrets Act) if he said anything about the matter. He was pushed out, though 16 of the 18 charges against him were later dropped (and the other two were trivial).

It was clear that Murray's courage in speaking out were not appreciated by the US ambassador in Uzbekistan, who was saying that all was well. Later in the interview, Craig Murray speculates that the reason for his being pushed out was that Uzbekistan was part of the disgraceful US policy of "extraordinary rendition" (see also here, and here). As yet, we still don't know, but sadly it is only too plausible in view of the open US support for the Uzbek president famed for boiling prisoners alive (see below).

Read Craig Murray's biography in Wikipedia
Listen to the interview with John Humphrys [BBC audio]
Listen to the interview with John Humphrys [.mp3 file], or streaming audio [.m3u file]

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Extradition without charge

The extradition agreement, 2003, constitutes yet another erosion of the right to fair trial in the UK, imposed on us by Blair and Blunkett. The following description comes from Statewatch. See also Amnesty , and check how your MP voted.. And look at the case of Babar Ahmed who may be extradited to the USA without prima facie evidence being presented.

"It removes the requirement on the US to provide prima facie evidence when requesting the extradition of people from the UK but maintains the requirement on the UK to satisfy the "probable cause" requirement in the US when seeking the extradition of US nationals."

"Under the new treaty, the allegations of the US government will be enough to secure the extradition of people from the UK. However, if the UK wants to extradite someone from the US, evidence to the standard of a "reasonable" demonstration of guilt will still be required."

"No other EU countries would accept this US demand, either politically or constitutionally. Yet the UK government not only acquiesced, but did so taking advantage of arcane legislative powers to see the treaty signed and implemented without any parliamentary debate or scrutiny."

Latest: 17 May, 2005 A district judge has ruled that British terror suspect Babar Ahmad can be extradited to the United States.
The district judge told London's Bow Street Magistrates' Court it was a "difficult and troubling case". The case has been sent to the home secretary for final approval. An appeal is likely, in which case the matter would be decided in the High Court.
I am the last person to defend religious fundamentalism (or indeed religion in any form). I have no means of knowing what Babar Ahmed has done. But if he has committed a crime here, he should be tried here, not sent to the USA

See many other reports at Statewatch.org

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Queen's Speech -be scared

SImon Jenkins commented on the Queen's Speech in The Times, 24 November 2004. (For non-UK readers, I should say that the Queen's Speech is read by the Queen, but written by the government, a circumstance that can lead to high farce]

" Yesterday's seven “tightening" Bills on law and order in one Queen's Speech was absurd, an insult to British liberty. They come after no fewer than 43 similar Home Office Acts since Tony Blair came to office. What was so inadequate about them as to demand this last-minute legislative blitzkrieg? The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is part Lenin part Papa-Doc Duvalier."

"The Civil Contingencies Bill grants ministers unprecedented special powers. Mr Blunkett can do literally anything he likes. He need not even cite an emergency, merely his own belief in an intransitive “threat". This need not be of terrorism but could be no more than damage to property, ecology or “the money supply". He can override free speech, habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights. He can disregard both the courts and Parliament."

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UK Officials warned of abuse, but the reports were suppressed -by whom?

Britons sounded alert on Abu Ghraib. Stephen Grey, Sunday Times, 5th December 2004

"BRITISH officials in Iraq warned the Foreign Office and American authorities of serious concerns about the treatment of prisoners six months before the torture and sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib was revealed."

"Gareth Davies, governor of Pentonville prison in London, discovered in December 2003 that Americans were using leg irons and belly chains to hold prisoners — a violation not only of new Iraqi laws adopted by coalition forces but also, he believed, of international conventions and of Britain's 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act."

"Davies, awarded an OBE yesterday for his six months' work in Iraqi prisons, protested to American and British officials. He also withdrew British prison staff from Baghdad to avoid complicity in any wrongdoing."

"A Foreign Office spokesman said Davies was among other civil servants who had warned of mistreatment as far back as the summer of last year. 'Ministers were kept informed of those concerns and these issues were raised through appropriate channels', he said".

"Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair's envoy on human rights in Iraq, said she was never informed. 'I think officials knew, but politicians did not', she said".

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Mousa's death leads to war crimes charges against UK soldiers

Six months after the High court judgement, BBC News (20 July, 2005) announced that three British soldiers will face charges of committing war crimes. Eight other soldiers face lesser charges.

The charges faced by three of the men - of "inhuman treatment of persons" - were brought under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and will be tried as war crimes. They will be tried by British courts martial, not at The Hague, because the UK has acted voluntarily to bring the charges.

It is a credit to the British government that they signed up to the International Criminal Court Act 2001, and a credit to the British Army, that they have used the act it what seems to be an appropriate way. The USA, of course, refused to sign up to the act. It is also a credit to the UK that two of the men on trial (though for 'negligently performing a duty', not for war crimes) are higher ranking than any brought to justice in the USA (Major Michael Peebles and Colonel Jorge Mendonca). Let us hope that justice is done.

Just one problem. It should not be for the army to decide what is a war crime, and what is not.

BBC News reports that Tory MP Ben Wallace, a former soldier in the Scots Guards, criticised the decision to charge the men, saying "the chain of command does not stop with commanding officers but goes right to the door of Number 10". That sounds familiar, but it didn't get anywhere in the USA or here.

Once again, the courts protect us from a government with little regard for the law.

Guardian, 21 December 2005

The government must allow an independent inquiry into the death of an Iraqi civilian allegedly killed by British troops, the court of appeal ruled today.

The court rejected a challenge by the government against an earlier high court ruling backing demands by the man's family for an inquiry to be held.

Hotel receptionist Baha Mousa was allegedly tortured and beaten to death in September 2003 while in the custody of troops from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Basra.

The government had refused to hold an inquiry into the allegedly unlawful killing of the 26-year-old. However, in December last year two judges at the high court in London backed his family's demand for an "independent and effective" inquiry.

The next day, Phil Shiner commented as follows. He is a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers, which is acting for the families of the six Iraqi men in these cases.

[The government] has been faced with the clearest possible evidence that our soldiers have shamed themselves, their regiments, the military and the public by torturing Iraqi civilians to death, or so severely that death was imminent. But it has insisted on denying the evidence of systematic torture, including a policy of hooding and stressing all detainees. It denies that international human-rights standards apply to UK armed forces personnel wherever they are in the world, and maintains that the Human Rights Act applies only within Britain.

Today the government's policy on torture lies in tatters. Following a ruling by the law lords two weeks ago it can no longer rely on evidence obtained through torture by other states. It is under increasing pressure to investigate properly the CIA flights in and out of British airports that have been part of the US policy of extraordinary renditions. It finds itself out of step with the US, which at least accepts that the convention on torture and other human-rights standards prohibiting torture apply to its personnel wherever they are in the world. Now it finds that its military system has been exposed by the court of appeal.

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Blow to Blair and Hoon: High court rules against torture in Iraq

"The High Court ruled on Tuesday that Baha Mousa's death in British custody in Iraq fell within the European Convention on Human Rights." BBC 14th December 2004

Baha Mousa was an Iraqi civilian who was allegedly kicked and beaten to death by UK soldiers. The UK government, in the form of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, who appears to think that the alleged behaviour is perfectly all right if it is done abroad, disgracefully refused to have an independent enquiry [BBC 28th July 2004]. Now they have been overruled.

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And another blow from the Law Lords: detention without trial is illegal

The government's policy of detention without trial was described by the Law Lords as "draconian" and "anathema" to the rule of law, in a judgement that overturned government policy by an 8-1 majority.

"Detaining foreign terrorism suspects without trial breaks human rights laws, the UK's highest court has ruled."

"In a blow to the government's anti-terror measures, the House of Lords law lords ruled by an eight to one majority in favour of appeals by nine detainees." BBC 16th December 2004

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory." Lord Justice Hoffmann, in the 8-1 ruling of the Law Lords that the UK government's policy of detention without charge is illegal. [Washington Post] , [Original report]

Full text of the judgment (Appellants) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department

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The following quotations are based on the front page of the Independent, 18th Dec. 2004
Neither the judgement of the courts, nor quotations like these, appear to impress the present government. The new Home Secretary
Charles Clarke vowed the nine men would remain in prison while the law was being reviewed.

The Habeas Corpus Act (1679) has been suspended before. For example, by William Pitt in 1793 and again in January 1817. The latter gave rise to this cartoon by George Cruikshank (1819), and Parliament decided to restore Habeas Corpus in March, 1818.

A free born Englishman

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Government admits it behaved illegally (but their solution is hardly better)

Home Secretary Charles Clarke, today accepted the Law Lords judgement that the detention of foreigners without charge was indeed illegal. [BBC News, 26 Jan 2005]

Instead of keeping them in prison without charge, he now proposes to keep them under house arrest without charge. And detention without charge will now be extended to UK citizens as well as foreign citizens. "The proposed changes would mean the home secretary could order British citizens to be held under house arrest without putting them on trial."

It is not yet clear whether this means that the UK will continue to be the only country in Europe to opt out of European human rights laws, but Charles Clarke says he is quite happy to contunue to opt out if necessary.

So that's OK, no discrimination now. Anyone can be held without charge or trial.

BBC 27 Jan 2005 Charles Clarke said "A lot of the discussion around this revolves around the extent to which I as home secretary or the prime minister or the head of the security services or the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police can be trusted with the assessments that we make... and that's a real issue."

Exactly. And after the way in which the prime minister and the head of the security services handled the Iraq intelligence, and produced the absurd "dodgy dossier" of September 2002, and the part-plagiarised dossier of Feb 2003, does Mr Clarke seriously think they are trusted?

So what happened next?

Blair abolishes Habeas corpus: the terrorists win again. Despite a valiant battle in the House of Lords, Tony Blair, acting like a monarch, has forced through a measure that allows the detention of any British citizen without charge or trial, and without being told of the evidence. After the bill was nearly defeated in the Commons, it was voted down repeatedly in the Lords. Eventually a few trivial concessions were made, just enough to bring pusillanimous Labour back benchers to heel, and, to their shame, just enough to make the conservatives and liberal democrats drop their opposition in the Lords. Legislation that destroys some of our most ancient rights was pushed through in very short time. The standard of evidence needed to get the 'knock in the night' is still the lowest possible, 'reasonable suspicion'; both Lords and Commons failed to get this changed, even to 'balance of probabilities'.

The excuse, as always, was 'if you had seen what I've seen you'd be very frightened'. In the words of Herman Goering (at the Nuremberg trials),

" . . . the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

How afraid should we really be? Well a bit, for sure. After all, Bush and Blair have done enough to ensure a plentiful supply of terrorists. But for a view that the threat to Britain from Islamic militancy is far less serious than the government is telling us, see Be afraid, perhaps. But very afraid?, by Jason Burke in the Observer, 13 March 2005

The UK is the only country in Europe (including Spain) to do this, and the only country to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Unlike the USA, we have lived through (US funded) terrorist bombings in London, without sinking to the depths of Blair and Clarke. [HR watch]

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More on Habeas Corpus

It's a funny old world when you have to rely on Michael Howard and the hereditary Tory peer, the 7th Earl of Onslow, to be the guardians of free speech and liberty. But that is precisely what happened when Tony Blair suspended Habeas Corpus. Despite a valiant battle in the House of Lords, Tony Blair, acting more like a monarch than a prime minister, has forced through his house arrest laws. These allow any British citizen to be detained without charge or trial, and without being told of the evidence.

Here's a quiz. Who said this?

"It must be accepted, as it was accepted when the power was introduced, that prima facie the power is offensive to the basic principle of the rule of law, which is that deprivation of liberty should be through the courts and not through politicians".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/3/93; col. 972.]

"It is not good enough to say that the Home Secretary . . . will exercise them in a proper way, because the very principle of the rule of law is that that decision should be made by a court, not a politician"

"The notion that one should be detained by executive power rather than order of the court is contrary to the provisions of the convention on human rights. If the right hon. . . . Gentleman cannot understand that, he cannot understand the basis of British law".

These remarks were quoted by the Earl of Onslow , a hereditary Tory peer, during the marathon debate in the House of Lords on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill (second reading, 1 March, 2005). [Hansard]

The noble Lord continued thus.

You may not guess it, but those quotes were made by an up-and-coming young barrister who, at that time, led for the Home Office when Mr Clarke was renewing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1993. Noble Lords may just have guessed who that up-and-coming young barrister and Member of Parliament was. It was the right honourable Anthony Blair.

What has made him change his mind? Has he suddenly allowed it to go to his head? Yesterday, on "Woman's Hour" of all places, he suddenly announced that there were hundreds of terrorists out there. If there are hundreds of them out there, why have none of them been arrested and charged or is he making up the whole lot? It is either crass incompetence on behalf of the security services or it is wild imagination on the part of the First Lord of the Treasury.

Despite his magnificent speech in this case, it has to be said that Onslow's views on fox hunting are decidedly less liberal (September 16th 2003 (Hansard Column 891 et.seq.).

“I have an interest to declare: I have hunted. Finally, when I fell off and broke too many bones, I gave up. I have enjoyed it enormously. I shall even produce a marginally risqué story. There is a piece of country in Saddington Vale which is straight off pub table mats, with its cut and laid hedges and its beautiful Leicestershire turf. The hounds were going along looking as though they had been painted by Stubbs or Gainsborough and this gel said to me: “It is better than an orgasm and it lasts a hell of a lot longer".

We are trying to do something that will be illiberal, will harm animal welfare and will probably contravene the Human Rights Act. Well done the Government!"

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Now the UK's turn to torture

[ BBC News]

It has taken a lot longer for the UK photographs to be made public than was the case in the USA. And whereas the USA (Rumsfeld, Rice) have been explicit in endorsing breaches of the Geneva conventions (as shown elsewhere on this page), the UK has, as usual, been more secretive. As a result it is not clear to what extent breaches of the Geneva conventions have been endorsed by Blair and Hoon.

The most striking similarity to Abu Ghraib an Guantánamo lies in the fact that those on trial are very junior (two lance corporals and a corporal). But "Lieutenant Colonel Nick Clapham, prosecuting, told the hearing the camp's commander Major Dan Taylor had ordered looters should be "worked hard". This breached the Geneva Convention, Lt Col Clapham said."

More details [BBC]

Mr Giret [defence counsel] blamed a military plan known as Operation Ali Baba - referring to the story Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves - for the alleged offences.

Camp commander Maj Dan Taylor, responsible for Operation Ali Baba, told his troops to catch looters who had been stealing food and "work them hard", the court heard.

Mr Giret told the court: "The whole reason he [Cpl Kenyon] is in the dock stems from those who gave the order to operate the plan Ali Baba."

This order contravened the Geneva Convention, according to prosecution lawyer Lt Col Nick Clapham.

Why is Major Taylor not on trial?

Major 'destroyed abuse evidence'

[Latest news: BBC]

The commanding officer of three British soldiers accused of abusing prisoners destroyed his records two weeks before their court martial, a court has heard.

Maj Dan Taylor admits telling the troops to "work them hard" but denies ordering them to "beast" the prisoners.

The outcome

BBC 26 Feb 2005

Cooley, 25, was jailed for two years while Kenyon, 33, received an 18 month sentence and Larkin, 30, 140 days. The highest rank to be brought to account was corporal Kenyon.

General Sir Michael Jackson said that although no criminal action had been taken against Maj Taylor, "administrative action" remained a possibility.

Well, there's a surprise; nobody above the rank of corporal has responsibility. And if it had been left to the military, probably they would have not been caught anyway. The assistant in a photographic shop who spotted the pictures, and took action, arguably has more integrity than the army and Geoff Hoon.

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Lawyer resigns over terror laws

BBC 19 December 2004

A senior barrister, given special security clearance to act for suspected terrorists, is to resign in protest at the government's anti-terror laws.

Ian MacDonald QC said he was stepping down after seven years "for reasons of conscience" because the "odious" laws were a "blot on the legal landscape".

"My role has been altered to provide a false legitimacy to indefinite detention without knowledge of the accusations being made and without any kind of criminal charge or trial," he said.

He adds: "Such a law is an odious blot on our legal landscape and for reasons of conscience I feel that I must resign."

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Alastair Campbell is back

Alastair Campbell, who resigned after his intemperate attacks on the BBC were revealed by the Hutton enquiry, is back, and he apparently hasn't changed much. The following email was sent to BBC2's Newsnight programme (allegedly by mistake) after it sought to question his role in producing Labour's distasteful 'flying pigs' poster (and yes, it was his idea). [Trevor Beattie. 'trev', is the boss of TBWA. Labour's advertising agency]. This contribution to political thought is typical of the man Blair trusts to do his dirty work. BBC News

"Just spoke to trev. think tbwa shd give statement to newsnight saying party and agency work together well and nobody here has spoken to standard. Posters done by by tbwa according to political brief. Now fuck off and cover something important you twats!"

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Secrets and Lies

Reporter: Liz Jackson ABC Television (Australia) 14/02/2005, and in the Independent
Transcript of the broadcast
Dr Barton's reply to DoD about prisoner treatment (May 2004)
Barton's Letter of resignation

Rod Barton, an Australian member of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), now retired, spoke to ABC TV (Australia). Dr Barton, a microbiologist who worked for Australian intelligence for more than 20 years, said John Scarlett, then head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, asked for "new elements" to be included in a draft report he was producing on the WMD in Iraq.

He told

* how he quit in disgust after the CIA censored a crucial WMD report, leading to deletion of central facts and conclusions. "We left the impression that maybe there were, was WMD out there … I thought it was dishonest," he says;

* his personal observations of the present head of Britain’s MI6, who also played a key role in the David Kelly affair, applying pressure to "sex up" the same report;

* his pre-war advice to the Australian and US governments that Iraq’s weapons did not threaten either country;

* how he reported to Australian authorities his suspicions about systemic abuse of prisoners in Iraq by coalition forces, before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, and how his concerns were ignored.

Barton's conclusions have now been reinforced by Brian Jones, ex-head of the Defence Intelligence Staff. [Independent]

"He said Dr Barton resigned from the ISG after the letter from Mr Scarlett. "What he says is worth listening to and worth thinking about. It does raise the question of what was in the letter that Scarlett wrote." "

"Dr Jones added that the letter went beyond the realms of intelligence into diplomacy and could be opened to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act. The Government is likely to reject a request for disclosure on grounds of national security."

"The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, said ministers were wrong to withhold the information. But the Foreign Office rejected her findings . . . ".

The UK Freedom of information act, and the parliamentary ombudsman, thus far, seem to be entirely ineffective.

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Foreign Office legal advisor: resignation letter now available in full

The version of the letter obtained under the Freedom of Information Act had been censored, but the full version was obtained by Channel 4 News. The bit that was censored cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be thought to endanger the national interest (though it does no good for the government's reputation).

Report from BBC News

"Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, resigned in March 2003 because she did not believe the war with Iraq was legal. Her letter was released by the Foreign Office to the BBC News website under the Freedom of Information Act."

Full text of her letter is here.

The censored section of the letter says "My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March. ". Thus it is now very clear, as already suspected, that on March 7th 2003, the Attorney General thought the war would be illegal without a second resolution of the Security Council. The resolution was not obtained, and by March 17th 2003 the Attorney General's opinion had reversed. Suddenly he thought the war would be legal with no second resolution. Needless to say, we are assured that no political pressure was applied to him. What a shocking idea!

On the next day, March 18th 2003, Elisabeth Wilmshurst sent her resignation letter. " I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it."

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Attorney General's advice to UK government written by politicians!

Reports in Guardian, and also here.

On March 17th 2003, a parliamentary answer by Lord Goldsmith advised that, contrary to his earlier opinion, the war was legal. All efforts to get hold of the text of this advice have failed. Now we know why. It never existed.

The attorney general told the [Butler] inquiry that a statement issued in his name and used by the government in the Commons to argue that war against Iraq was lawful was in fact drawn up by two of the prime minister's closest aides - Lord Falconer, then a Home Office minister, and Lady Morgan, the prime minister's adviser responsible for relations between Whitehall and the government.

The statement was in the form of a parliamentary answer written in the name of Lord Goldsmith on March 17 2003, the eve of the crucial Commons vote on the war.

After more than a year of pressure, the government still has not yielded to pressure to reveal what actually happened. [BBC]

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The Attorney General's advice, out at last!

A few days before the general election, in May 2005, part of the original advice of March 7th 2003 was leaked to the press. A couple of days later, the whole March 7th judgement was released by the government.

Wednesday 27th April 2005

The summary of the Attorney General's advice is leaked at last

Channel 4 News has published the full text of the summary of famous legal advice given by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, on March 7th 2003. Click here to download Word document from C4. As already supposed the document has many reservations about the legality of the war. Here are a few extracts.

26.To sum up, the language of resolution 1441 leaves the position unclear and the statements made on adoption of the resolution suggest that there were differences of view within the Council as to the legal effect of the resolution.Arguments can be made on both sides.

But a "reasonable case" does not mean that if the matter ever came before a court I would be confident that the court would agree with the view.

Compare this with Mr Blair's statement to the House of Commons on 9th March 2005.

“If it is being said that the legal opinion of the Attorney General was different from the Attorney General's statement to the House, that is patently absurd.”

One bit that hasn't already been leaked is the admission that a veto of the second resolution by France could not be considered "unreasonable" and would not therefore make the war legal. This is particularly interesting because Tony Blair has said that what changed between 7th and 17th March was that it became clear that the second resolution would not be obtained.

So there are no grounds for arguing that an "unreasonable veto" would entitle us to proceed on the basis of a presumed Security Council authorisation.

In any event, if the majority of world opinion remains opposed to military action, it is likely to be difficult on the facts to categorise a French veto as "unreasonable".

Now we need to know the answers to the following questions.

  • What happened between the 7th March and the 17th March, when a "summary" of the advice was presented to the cabinet? Since the summary of March 17th was unequivocal that the war was legal, it was obviously not a summary of the March 7th document. So what, if anything, was the "summary" a summary of?
  • Why was the full advice never shown even to the cabinet, never mind to members of parliament?
  • How many members of the cabinet would have resigned, or failed to support Blair, if they had known about the full advice of March 7th?
  • How many MPs would have voted for the war if they had known about the full advice of March 7th?
  • When will Mr Blair resign?

The Attorney General can change his mind in 10 days. though it is certainly very hard to see what happened in that time to make all his doubts vanish so rapidly. But if had changed his mind, he should then have rewritten his full judgement, and according to the ministerial code of conduct, that full judgement should have been presented to the whole cabinet. It wasn't, and as far as we know, the only full judgement that exists is that of March 7th. The big question is why the short document given to the cabinet on March 17th was described as 'a summary'. That, at least, appears not to be true. It is obviously not a summary of March 7th. It seems that it is not a summary of any document at all.

Clearly the Attorney General was put under pressure to come off the fence. The Times reported that a senior figure in Westminster has claimed that Lord Falconer, a friend of Blair and now lord chancellor, urged Goldsmith to change his original view that war would be illegal. “There was huge pressure from Charlie Falconer," Goldsmith's doubts were known in the USA too, The Times report continues as follows.

“On February 11, 2003 Goldsmith met John Bellinger, a senior US legal adviser, at the White House. According to Philippe Sands, a professor of international law at University College London, Bellinger told one UK official: “We had trouble with your attorney, we got him there eventually." Bellinger later told Sands he did not recall making such a statement.”

Goldsmith himself reacted by saying [BBC news]

Between 7th March and 17th March, 2003, I asked for and received confirmation of the breach of UN Security Council Resolutions.

That, presumably, means that he was assured that all those WMDs posed an immininent threat to Britain. My own (Labour) MP said, when I asked him just before the Hutton enquiry started, what the basis was for the famous 45 minute claim, he said "whoever believed that?". Apparently the Attorney General believed it.

Peter Brookes' cartoon, in The Times of 26th April, removed on instructions from News International.

The Lib Dems have had their views justified again. Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dems deputy leader, pointed out that that it is doubtful whether MPs, or even the cabinet, would have endorsed the war if they had seen the full advice. He also said that a senior member of the bar had commented that the Attorney General's position had become untenable.

The Conservatives, who, of course, supported the war, naturally tried to have their cake and eat it.

As Charles Kennedy said on Monday,

“Every Labour candidate should answer for the government's rush to war. Every Conservative candidate should answer for their party's supine support.”

Thursday 28th April

On the next day, the government was forced to release the whole of the March 7th advice, after refusing adamantly for two years to do so.

Download the whole of the Attorney General's legal advice from the BBC [pdf file, 692 kb).

The government claim that it is a "damp squib". If it is so unimportant, why has Blair fought tooth and nail to keep it secret for the last two years? Charles Kennedy said, on the BBC's 'Question Time' tonight, it is not a damp squib to the families of those who died. He also said "I'm ashamed about what the government did in the name of my country". Right on!

A remarkable statement!
Michael Howard, on the same 'Question Time' programme, said, contrary to some earlier reports, that he would have declared war on Iraq without a new UN mandate, even if he had known about the legal reservations, and even if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and no imminent threat to the UK, simply to produce regime change.
Preemptive invasion of another country, for the sole purpose of changing a regime, is contrary to international law.

Patricia Hewitt, on Channel 4 News, failed totally to answer the question of why the ministerial code of conduct had been breached by failing to give the cabinet, at its meeting on 17th March 2003, the full document on which the Attorney General's final advice was based. Indeed as far as we know, no such document exists.

Peter Hennessey, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History (Queen Mary College, University of London), comments as follows.

“Lord Goldsmith's reputation is now certain to be that of the most pliable Attorney General in recent British political history.”

“The whole thing reeks. Even if the prime minister wins handsomely on polling day this will stain him and his premiership as long as people remember it, just as Anthony Eden's name is forever associated with the Suez crisis.”

Anthony Lester, QC (Lord Lester, Liberal Democrat Peer) analysed the full summary for the Guardian [get the pdf file]. Here is his opinion.

“This is a devastating blow to the government's credibility. The SG's advice is lucid and cogent, and I entirely agree with it. It is contrary to the basic principles of British cabinet government for his carefully balanced advice to have been withheld from the PM's colleagues especially in the light of similar views by Foreign Office advisors. The so-called summary published on the eve of the invasion was not a fair and accurate summary of the AG's advice. In fact the advise was to the contrary. It's outrageous.
Parliament and the public was seriously misled on an issue of paramount importance and the PM and the government should be called to account next Thursday.”

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The Downing Street memo and other documents: the smoking gun has been found

As we suspected all along, Blair decided to go to war long before the matter was brought to parliament.

A damning minute has been leaked to the Sunday Times. In July 2002, a few weeks after meeting George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr Blair summoned his closest aides for what amounted to a council of war. The minute reveals the head of British intelligence reported that President Bush had firmly made up his mind to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, adding that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy". Here are some extracts (emphasis added by me).

The secret Downing Street memo

SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL - UK EYES ONLY

From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell

IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY

Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

. . . . .

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

. . . . .

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.

. . . . .

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early.

Conclusions:

(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

. . . . .

MATTHEW RYCROFT

(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)

In other words, what actually happened was even worse than most of us supposed at the time. The ultimatum about taking back inspectors, was made in the expectation (hope?) that it would be refused, and so provide an excuse for the invasion that was already planned.

Other leaked documents confirm the deception perpetrated on the British public

Apart from the now famous Downing Street memo, two other equally secret and equally damning documents have come to light, as documented by the Sunday Times.

Cabinet Office paper: Conditions for military action (produced by the Cabinet Office on July 21, 2002)

Foreign and Commonwealth Office legal advice (appended as Annex A to the Cabinet Office briefing paper on Iraq of July 21, 2002)

The Washington Post takes notice

Another account of all this new information was published by the Washington Post on 28th June 2005. Better late than never.

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Government silence on evidence obtained under torture

The government has been criticised by MPs for twice refusing to say whether Britain uses information extracted under torture by foreign countries. [BBC News]

The foreign affairs committee's human rights report said that using information obtained by torture risked encouraging it. The MPs urged ministers to "come clean". The committee said: "We find it surprising and unsettling that the government has twice failed to answer our specific question on whether or not the UK receives or acts upon information extracted under torture by a third country.

"We recommend that the government give a clear answer to the question. "The government should ensure that it is understood by other governments that the mistreatment of British nationals is unacceptable and will be met with appropriate action."

The report also condemns the treatment of detainees in Guantánamo Bay, saying now British suspects have been released there is no need for the government to keep quiet about the oppressive conditions.

Does UK turn a blind eye to torture?

In its latest report looking at UK policy in the war on terror, the parliamentary foreign affairs committee has called for straight answers from the government over any British role in the appalling US "extraordinary rendition" policy. [BBC News] (see also here, and here).

The committee expressed frustration at the lack of clarity from the government about any possible involvement in a process in which the US covertly, and without any legal process, seizes terrorist suspects and flies them for interrogation to third countries - some of which are known to use torture.

One member of the committee described the policy as "effectively torture by proxy".

The committee wrote a letter to the Foreign Office on 25 February asking a series of detailed questions about UK practices, the possible use of British airspace or territory, as well as whether the government regarded the use of such methods as legally and morally acceptable.

But the government failed to answer the questions "with the transparency and accountability required on so serious an issue", the committee's latest report said.

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WMD found in North London -22 beans

For example, The Independent says

“Following a massive security operation and lengthy series of court cases that cost an estimated £50m the case finally came to an end yesterday with the conviction of Bourgass for murder and for plotting to spread poison in the UK. But eight other alleged co-conspirators were cleared of the poison charges at the Old Bailey. The defendants' lawyers argue that the failure to bring a successful prosecution against the majority of defendants highlights the complaint that innocent people are becoming victims of the government's terror policies.”
“It also undermines the justification for the Iraq war. Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, used the plot to back his case for the conflict before the UN. Tony Blair also claimed the ricin "find" was evidence of the threat of weapons of mass destruction to Britain.”

Kamel Bourgass murdered a policeman, and was properly punished for it. But the ricin part of his misdeeds raises some more interesting questions. In particular, how frightened should we be? It seems to be often forgotten that no ricin was actually made. Bourgas had recipes for making it, copied from the internet, but hadn't succeeded in making any. The fact that eight other alleged co-conspirators were cleared makes the idea of a highly organised plot look a bit thin.

For some facts about ricin and cyanide, check [BBC] and Guardian. There seems to be no doubt that these people were up to no good. But let's keep it in perspective. The police found 22 castor beans (the source of ricin) and some apple pips and cherry seeds (sources of cyanide) in plastic cups. No actual poisons were found. It is alleged that a whole cupful of apple pips has killed a man. But whatever way you look at it, this was a small scale and amateurish operation which might, if it had not been stopped, have killed a few people. That is good reason to catch them, but it nothing approaching a good enough reason to deprive the whole population of basic liberties, much less a sufficient reason to go to war.

Castor beans
Weapons of mass destruction in North London. “They found a Nivea jar containing nicotine poison, and several castor oil beans which can be used to make ricin” Picture from BBC
Simon Jenkins (15th April), in The Times says it all.
“WE ARE GOING steadily mad. No, there were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no 9/11 style threat, no ricin, no bombs or explosives, just some old photostats and a psychotic individual with undoubtedly evil intent.
He wants to murder us all. Vote for us, cry the politicians, or die.
There is not the faintest convergence between the Bourgass case as revealed in the Old Bailey this week and the crazed media and political coverage of it.
Bourgass, an illegal immigrant from Algeria, was found in possession of cherry stones, castor beans, nail-polish remover and recipes for ricin and other poisons, copied from a 1980s Palo Alto website in California. It was described by a detective as !garden-shed kitchen chemistry". It had nothing to do with al-Qaeda and was translated into Arabic from American survival handbooks.
As for al-Qaeda links, they were based on a claim extracted, possibly under torture, from a compatriot of Bourgass’s, Mohammed Meguerba, back in Algeria. Such “links" are the normal requirement from victims of the CIA’s outsourced torturers. To such material have British prosecutors descended.
. . . the police and security services did a good job. They found their man, and would have done so without loss had normal handcuff procedure been followed, as admitted by Manchester police. The system worked without Charles Clarke’s emergency powers. A nasty character is now in prison for life.
As for his eight supposed co-conspirators, the Old Bailey revealed them as no more than a bunch of illegal immigrants and passport forgers, of whom thousands must be loose in Britain.
I return yet again to Lord Hoffmann’s judgment on the Belmarsh detainees. The greatest threat to British liberty, he said, does not come from terrorism. It comes from the hysterical overreaction to it of the political community and the bad laws that follow”.

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Government ignores jury: acquited defendents to be deported to torture country: ricin trial postscript.

Jury anger over threat of torture

Duncan Campbell and Richard Norton-Taylor May 21, 2005, The Guardian

“Jurors who acquitted four Algerians in the so-called "ricin plot" trial that ended at the Old Bailey last month have expressed outrage at the news that the government is seeking to deport three of the accused to Algeria.

They have told the Guardian that they are very angry that their verdicts of not guilty appear to have been ignored, and fear that the men face torture or death if deported.

"If anyone has grounds for asylum in this country, it is these men," said one of the jurors. "They would almost certainly be subjected to abuse, torture or worse if repatriated. We as a jury made a decision. To see the government disregarding our verdict and preparing to send them back to almost certain torture is horrifying. We would try to do anything to stop it." ”

“ "The government's agenda is slowly eroding civil liberties here," said another juror. "My guess is that it [the decision to try to deport] comes straight from the top." ”

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Identity Cards. Why worry?

a "rehashed bill that is more about political machismo than rational policy". (Shami Chakrabarti, of the civil rights group Liberty)

At first, the idea of identity cards seemed harmless to me. But after a bit more thought, I have come to the view that ID cards, in the form that the government propose, are a very bad idea. Why? Here are some reasons.

  • The large amount of information on the cards makes them unlike the ID cards that exist in other countries. This information will be available to far too many people (it has even been suggested that it might be sold to companies to defray the astronomical costs of the scheme). It is a step to far towards the 'big brother' surveillance society. Combine it with Alistair Darling's road pricing scheme and every government official (and hacker) will not only know all about you, but also where you are.
  • The technology is very far from being good enough. In tests the most reliable biometric ID was iris scans, with 96% correct (fingerprints were worse). But 96% is nowhere near to being good enough. That's about 14 people misidentified on every jumbo jet. Can you imagine the chaos?
  • Not only is the technology far from being good enough in the best cases, but iris scan technology was less successful with black people and people aged over 59, according to tests. Well who cares about them?
  • The cost is quite enormous. Even according to the government, the cost of a card was at first said to be £85, which was soon revised to £93. An independent report from the LSE put the cost as being closer to £300 (and because the Home Secretary did not like this number, he launched a vicious attack on the integrity of the LSE).
  • The elaborate surveillance system that is proposed depends on the success of a huge networked computer system. The government (any government) has a disastrous record in commissioning such systems. Systems for both the health service and for courts have had huge cost overruns, and despite the huge final costs have still not worked well (see, for example,The Independent. 6 July, 2005).
  • Never forget that the September 11th terrorists were in the USA legally, under their true identities. ID cards are obviously useless for prevention of serious terrorism. And most benefit fraudsters lie about their illness not their identities.
  • Can you really imagine that the system will beat forgers and hackers? As soon as the forgery industry gets going, any criminal will be able to buy 'proof' of their (false) identity.

More recently, the computer industry has been expressing profound scepticism about the consequuences of hackers getting into a national data base, as they inevitably will

"A national ID card for the UK is overly ambitious, extremely expensive and will not be a panacea against terrorism or fraud, although it will make a company like mine very happy," said Roberto Tavano, a biometrics specialist for Unisys, a US technology company that has worked on national identity schemes in South Africa and Malaysia.

Earlier this week, Microsoft warned that the ID card posed a huge security risk that could increase the likelihood of confidential personal information falling into the hands of hackers and criminals. [The Scotsman, 18th Oct 2005]

For reasons why the scheme proposed for the UK is far more invidious than those which exist in other countries, look here.

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ID cards: the Home Secretary's bullying tactics.

On Radio 4's Today Programme (Thursday June 16th, 2005), the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, launched an astonishingly abusive attack on academics from the London School of Economics (LSE) who dared to write a report with conclusions that he did not like, The report said that his ID card scheme was likely to cost more than the government has so far estimated.

Clarke described the LSE's numbers as 'mad' and 'outrageous' and as 'fabrication' and 'an incompetent piece of work', before he had even seen the whole report. His bullying outburst was widely reported (e.g. BBC, and The Times).

Clarke's outburst is as good a reason as any to distrust the government's motives. It was the outburst of a thug who wanted to suppress academic work that did not suit his purpose. For a senior politician to describe a serious research study as "fabrication" (before even seeing it) is not a sign of a civilised society. This, of course, is the man who also wanted to decide, without inconvenient interference from judges, who should be imprisoned without charge and without trial.

After Clarke's outburst, the Director of the London School of Economics wrote to The Times (July 2nd 2005). His letter is reproduced in full here.

LSE report on ID cards cost

From the Director of the LSE

Sir, Over the last six months a team of London School of Economics researchers has mounted a major research project to assess the Government’s Identity Cards Bill and its implications. Sixty people contributed to the work, overseen by a dozen LSE professors.

The report is long (305 pages) and detailed. One conclusion among many is that the Government’s scheme will be more costly than it claims (report, June 28).

Aware of the work, Home Office officials demanded to see advance copies. Before they had been provided, the Home Secretary condemned the cost estimates as “mad”. When it was published, he described the analysis as a “fabrication” and one of the project mentors as “highly partisan”.

Following the media coverage, LSE's Governing Council reasserted the right of academic researchers to publish and be damned. The report is not, of course, a 'corporate' LSE document. It does, however, represent the honest and considered views of a team of experts.

It is unfortunate that, on an issue where the civil liberties concerns are so serious, the Government should have chosen to adopt a bullying approach to critics whose prime motivation was to devise a scheme which might work, at an acceptable cost.

HOWARD DAVIES
Kingsway, London

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Bombs hit London

On Thursday 7th July, the long-expected terrorist attack occurred in London.

It was bound to happen, and it was small compared with Madrid, but 54 people (so far) have died. Once again I reflect on the evil done by those (on both sides) who believe 'god is on our side'. Throughout history, religious zealots have used their beliefs as excuses to murder and torture. It might, of course, have helped if we had not killed something like 25,000 Iraqi civilians (latest number here) in a preemptive war undertaken under false premises. It might have helped if we had not ourselves tortured, as documented in sickening detail on this page. Nothing can excuse or justify terrorist bombs. And nothing can excuse the behaviour the (now) attorney general of the USA in describing the Geneva Conventions as "quaint".

I'm now more afraid of my own government's attempts to curtail civil liberties, than I am of terrorists. Remember the words of Lord Justice Hoffman.

"The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory." Lord Justice Hoffmann, in the 8-1 ruling of the Law Lords that the UK government's policy of detention without charge is illegal. [Washington Post] , [Original report]

Needless to say, the bombing has been followed by wall-to-wall coverage on radio and TV, most of it content-free, and much of it inaccurate (8:50 is not the 'height of the rush hour'). For some real sense, try Robin Cook, in the Guardian, the day after the bombing.

Here are some quotations.
“In the absence of anyone else owning up to yesterday's crimes, we will be subjected to a spate of articles analysing the threat of militant Islam. Ironically they will fall in the same week that we recall the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, when the powerful nations of Europe failed to protect 8,000 Muslims from being annihilated in the worst terrorist act in Europe of the past generation.
Osama bin Laden is no more a true representative of Islam than General Mladic, who commanded the Serbian forces, could be held up as an example of Christianity”

“Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.”

“The danger now is that the west's current response to the terrorist threat compounds that original error. So long as the struggle against terrorism is conceived as a war that can be won by military means, it is doomed to fail. The more the west emphasises confrontation, the more it silences moderate voices in the Muslim world who want to speak up for cooperation.”

“President Bush is given to justifying the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that by fighting terrorism abroad, it protects the west from having to fight terrorists at home. Whatever else can be said in defence of the war in Iraq today, it cannot be claimed that it has protected us from terrorism on our soil.”

Hmmm -s o far, the 'christians' seem to have killed a lot more than the 'muslims'. What was that about crusades?

David Horsey, as so often, said it all in cartoons from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, in May 2004 (for more brilliant cartoons, click here.)

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When I wrote, the day after the London bombs, “I'm now more afraid of my own government's attempts to curtail civil liberties, than I am of terrorists” (click here), I had in mind the gradual removal of liberties by two successive Home secretaries with strong totalitarian tendencies. Never in my worst nighmares did I think that, when travelling on the tube. I would have to be scared of getting seven bullets through the head from the secret police. Where do they think we live? Tashkent? Texas? [more here].

US military were banned from entering London for several days after the bombs(!!) [BBC]. In contrast, we worked perfectly normally on Thursday and Friday.


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UCL employee killed by bus bomb

Since I usual get into the lab before 7 am, I know the cleaners better than many of my colleagues. Sadly, one of them is missing. [Daily Mirror]

Gladys Wundowa dead [BBC, 11 July, 2005]
Gladys used to clean in the Pharmacology Department, and last summer her daughter, Azuma, undertook some work experience in the Department. Gladys had finished her 5 am to 8.50 am cleaning shift, and left on the bus to her College course in Shoreditch. She was, simultaneously, mother, cleaner, charity worker and College student.

9th July. The husband of Gladys Wundowa was last night desperately searching for his missing 53-year-old wife. Emmanuel Wundow said the mum-of-two vanished after finishing her cleaning job at 8.50am. He added: "I suspect Gladys either took the train or the bus but we have no idea." "We have gone from hospital to hospital to establish whether she is there but each of the lists have come out negative. I feel almost helpless. We do not know where to go, who to talk to. I was in five hospitals until 2am yesterday."

 

London seemed almost normal. Even on the day of the bombs, my train home ran normally. But on Monday 11th July, I saw this poster as I came into work, attached to the railings outside Euston station.

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“Who cares” -an opinion on the bombing from Fox News TV (USA)

This one beggars belief! Fox News TV host John Gibson said, on July 6th (the day before the bombs)

“By the way, just wanted to tell you people, we missed -- the International Olympic Committee missed a golden opportunity today. If they had picked France, if they had picked France instead of London to hold the Olympics, it would have been the one time we could look forward to where we didn't worry about terrorism. They'd blow up Paris, and who cares?”
On July 7th, after the bombs, he said
“The bombings in London: This is why I thought the Brits should let the French have the Olympics ”

And millions of Americans rely on the famously "fair and balanced" Fox TV network as their source of information.

Read about it here.
Listen to the obscenity yourself. [mp3 clip], or streaming audio [.m3u file]


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Boris Johnson: “Just don't call it war”

For those outside the UK, I should say that Boris Johnson is a conservative member of parliament (recently fired from the front bench for politically incorrect behaviour), and that he has the reputation of being a caricature private schoolboy. He also edits the conservative magazine, The Spectator. In these curious times, I find myself quoting the oddest people, with at least some sympathy. First the 7th Earl of Onslow, and now Boris Johnson. Almost anyone seems to be to the left of Tony Blair now. Here are some selective quotations (omitting the more chauvinistic bits) from his views on the bombing.

“If we were Israelis, we would by now be doing a standard thing to that white semi-detached pebbledash house at 51 Colwyn Road, Beeston. Having given due warning, we would dispatch an American-built ground-assault helicopter and blow the place to bits. Then we would send in bulldozers to scrape over the remains, and we would do the same to all the other houses in the area thought to have been the temporary or permanent addresses of the suicide bombers and their families.

After decades of deranged attacks the Israelis have come to the conclusion that this is the best way to deter Palestinian families from nurturing these vipers in their bosoms, and also the best way of explaining to the death-hungry narcissists that they may get the 72 black-eyed virgins of scripture, but their family gets the bulldozer.

No doubt there are some people in Britain — I can think of at least one Daily Mail columnist — who would approve of such tactics; but we are not Israelis, . . .”

“They were not metics, or the second-class citizens of the Occupied Territories. We cannot build a wall against them, or erect turnstiles on the way into London, foul-smelling pissoirs of the kind that connect the West Bank and Israel. So we have to focus — in the way that only this kind of slaughter can make us focus — on what we should do now to stop people like them hating us so much that they want to kill us. Something so scorched these fools in their young male psyches that they were prepared — in at least one case — to leave wife and child, and to take their own lives and the lives of dozens of other Britons.

In groping to understand, the pundits and the politicians have clutched first at Iraq, and the idea that this is ‘blowback’, the inevitable punishment for Britain’s part in the Pentagon’s fiasco. George Galloway began it in Parliament; he was followed by Sir Max Hastings, with the Lib Dems limping in the rear. It is difficult to deny that they have a point, the Told-You-So brigade. As the Butler report revealed, the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment in 2003 was that a war in Iraq would increase the terror threat to Britain. Anyone who has been to Iraq since the war would agree that the position is very far from ideal; and if any anti-Western mullah wanted a text with which to berate Britain and America for their callousness, it is amply provided by Fallujah”

“. . .we should begin to demand change in a way that is both friendly and outspoken, and by way of a first gesture the entire Muslim clergy might announce, loud and clear, for the benefit of all Bradford-born chipshop boys, that there is no eternal blessedness for the suicide bombers, there are no 72 virgins, and that the whole thing is a con and a fraud upon impressionable minds.”

“There is much more to be done, not least in the treatment of women. But we should not call it a war, whether cultural or military. The language of a ‘war on terror’ may help the government to pass its illiberal measures, such as the ID cards that would have been of no assistance whatever against last week’s bombs, but it is profoundly dishonest. Britain is not at war”

“The more we talk of war, the more we big up the terrorists, inflame suspicions across the Muslim world, and give power-crazed politicians the chance to force through some liberty-eroding measure. Last week’s bombs were placed neither by martyrs nor by soldiers, but by criminals.”
Almost the only thing that Boris Johnson misses here, is the opportunity to point out that the beliefs of fundamentalist christians (don't they involve a virgin too?) are equally "a con and a fraud", and that Tony Blair's encouragement of segregation of schools by religion can do nothing but make the situation worse.

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Why do ministers misrepresent anyone who criticise them?

Chatham House, previously known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs, has published a report that states the fact, obvious to anyone, that our loyalty to George Bush has increased the danger to the UK - "Riding pillion to the US in order to tackle terrorism is a high-risk policy". Read the report here (pdf file). What is notable, is not so much the balanced and sensible analysis in the report, but the nature of the government's reaction to it.

Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, reacted by saying

“I’m astonished Chatham House is now saying that we should not have stood shoulder to shoulder with our long-standing allies” “The time for excuses for terrorism is over”

Straw's response is clearly a criticism of something that wasn't said. It is spin. And it is only too typical of the bullying approach to which we have become accustomed. It is insulting to the millions of thinking people who thought it was wrong to support the extreme right wing administration of Bush and the neocons.

  • Criticism of government policy is, of course, NOT to make excuses for terrorism.
  • It is utterly wrong for ministers to suggest that its critics thought the war was wrong because it would increase the danger of bombs in London. It would obviously be quite wrong to decide policy on the basis of whether or not it increased that danger.

No doubt the government is rattled because most of the predictions of the outcome of the Iraq adventure by its critics were, sadly, far more accurate than those of the government. But that is no excuse for ministers saying, again and again, that their critics are making excuses for inexcusable behaviour. They are not. The behaviour of the bullies, Clarke, Blunkett, Reid, Ingram, and now Straw, are just another example of how the government values spin over honesty. They surely must know that their critics are not making excuses for terrorism. But they dare not admit it and resort instead to this sort of vile abuse of anyone who criticises them.

You don't have to believe those who were against the war all along. Listen to MI5 [New York Times]

Less than a month before the bombs, a report form The Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre, the top officials from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, prompted the government to lower its formal threat assessment one level, from "severe defined" to "substantial". Interestingly the report contradicts directly the statements made by all these ministers, and by Blair himself (as did earlier intelligence reports, revealed by the Butler enquiry). They say

"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the U.K.,"

And the MI5 web site says

“Though they have a range of aspirations and "causes", Iraq is a dominant issue for a range of extremist groups and individuals in the UK and Europe.”

And Blair used the same tactic again on July 26th when he said "Iraq was no excuse for the London bombings". I have never heard anybody say it was. This is a cheap way to deflect legitimate criticism.

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Police shoot innocent man

Menezes

It now turns out that the three plain-clothes policeman who pumped seven bullets into the head of a young man in front of shocked tube-riders at Stockwell station, killed an entirely innocent, and unarmed, person. The police say they are sorry, but, chillingly, that it may happen again.

Jean Charles de Menezes was a 27-year old Brazilian electrician, who had the misfortune to live in the same block of flats as a suspect, and to wear a suspiciously thick jacket [BBC]. Up to now the police seem to have been doing an excellent job in tracking down the bombers. Nevertheless, "sorry" is an utterly inadequate response.

If there ever was an argument for the preemptive war in Iraq, it was (once all the lies about WMD had been discounted) that we were bringing to the people of Iraq our civilised values. We then proceed to blow the moral high ground by torturing in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other, more secret, locations. In the USA the torture was authorised at the highest level, by the Secretary for Defense (Rumsfeld), and by the now Attorney General (Gonzales). In the UK we have soldiers on trial for war crimes (but have yet to be told who authorised their behaviour). And now we have an innocent unarmed young man gunned down in public by the secret police.

It has emerged that the police are operating under secret rules, called Operation Kratos. We have not been told whether the victim knew that the gunmen were police or not, but it seems that there is no requirement for police to identify themselves as such. The victim could very well have assumed they were muggers. We have not been told whether or not the police have to know that someone is armed before they are allowed to shoot them down. I do know that I'll be careful not to root in my rucksack to find my sandwiches.

This is London, not Tashkent or Texas. Much of the reason that I want to live in London is because the police do not shoot people down. This sort of behaviour is, from what little we have been told, unacceptable, and worse still, it a panic reaction, and hence a capitulation to terrorism. I am not panicked and I don't expect the police to be panicked. [BBC]

I repeat the title of this page "What are we defending?"

It gets worse.

The Guardian (28th July, 2005) reports that, according to his cousin, de Menezes was not wearing a heavy jacket that might have concealed a bomb, and did not jump the ticket barrier when challenged by armed plainclothes police. Speaking at a press conference after a meeting with the Metropolitan police, Vivien Figueiredo, 22, said that the first reports of how her 27-year-old cousin had come to be killed in mistake for a suicide bomber on Friday at Stockwell tube station were wrong.

"He used a travel card," she said. "He had no bulky jacket, he was wearing a jeans jacket. But even if he was wearing a bulky jacket that wouldn't be an excuse to kill him."

New leaked documents [BBC News], on 17 August 2005, show important discrepancies between evidence given to the inquiry and the original police statements. For example " CCTV footage is said to show the man walking at normal pace into the station, picking up a copy of a free newspaper and apparently passing through the barriers before descending the escalator to the platform and running to a train."

Independent inquiry?

The de Menezes case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commision (IPCC). This body is supposed to have newly strengthened powers of investigation. It should provide a fair inquiry. Or that is what I thought until I read Private Eye (No. 1138, 5-19 August 2005). It seems that the director of investigations at the IPCC, Roy Clark, has an unenviable record. Roy Clark is former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. And his history is chronicled by Michael Gillard and Laurie Flynn in their book Untouchables: Dirty Cops, Bent Justice and Racism in Scotland Yard [available from Amazon]

They describe Roy Clark as

the "J. Edgar Hoover of British policing"

"for 34 years the gatekeeper of the Yard's secrets".

Hmmm. . . .

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Religion and bombs

I have put on my religion page some ideas, and some links, to the iniqutious effects that religious beliefs can engender.

For example, try London bombs and religion, and “Britain must become either secular or multicultural”.

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How Britain helped Israel get the bomb

The Newsnight programme (Wednesday, 3 August at 10.30pm on BBC2) showed a fine bit of investigative journalism by Michael Crick.

You remember the Israeli nuclear arsenal (now thought to be the 6th largest in the world)? Officially it doesn't exist, a fiction that is maintained with the connivance of the USA (among others). We know about it partly through the heroic courage of Mordecai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison in Israel (over 11 years of which were spent in solitary confinement). He got this vicious punishment for having the courage to tell us about something, the existence of which is still denied officially.

It now seems that the UK played a big part in helping Israel to get the bombs. More surprising still, we kept our role secret from the USA which, in 1958, was desperate to prevent Israel from building WMD; that was a priority for John Kennedy and Robert McNamara. (Now, of course, the USA pays for them.) The USA would not supply the heavy water, because Israel would not undertake to use it for peaceful purposes. The UK had no such scruples.

Documents uncovered by Newsnight in the British National Archives show how, in 1958, Britain agreed to sell Israel 20 tonnes of heavy water, a vital ingredient for the production of plutonium at Israel's top secret Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert.

British officials decided it would be "over-zealous" to impose safeguards on the Israelis, and chose not to insist that Israel use the heavy water only for peaceful purposes.

Robert McNamara, President Kennedy's Defence Secretary, has told Newsnight he is "astonished" at the revelation that Britain kept this secret from America.

British officials decided it would be "over-zealous" to impose safeguards on the Israelis, and chose not to insist that Israel only use the heavy water for peaceful purposes.
Earlier the Americans had refused to supply heavy water to Israel without such safeguards.

Former Conservative Defence and Foreign Office minister, Ian Gilmour, said "One must assume they must have known ... And what's more they seemed to have no idea of the political or indeed even the technical and foreign policy implications of what they were doing. They just seemed to be concerned with making a bit of money."

Until now both France and Norway have been criticised for helping the Israelis develop the bomb, but Britain has escaped criticism.

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Robin Cook dies prematurely, at 59. The government's most effective critic has gone.

Robin Cook (1946-2005) died while hill-walking in Scotland, on 8 August 2005. His resignation speech to the House of Commons showed deeply impressive honesty and integrity. In the past, resignation was the norm for those who mislead the House. Robin Cook is not the one who should have resigned. [BBC], [video]

For more prescient writing by Robin Cook, see The Independent (March 2004), and The Guardian (the day after the bombs).

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Blair attacks BBC (again)

According to Rupert Murdoch, Tony Blair said he had watched BBC World's coverage of Hurricane Katrina. "And," Murdoch explained, "he said it was just full of hate for America and gloating about our troubles." In fact the BBC said nothing about the response to Katrina that had not already been said by a large number of Americans, including many republicans, and even been said by Murdoch's outrageously right wing Fox news TV station.

Jonathan Freedland gives a good account of this in The Guardian (20 Aug 2005).

The tendency of Mr Blair to attempt to suppress criticism in the media, and his evident hatred of the BBC's independence, is deeply worrying. We have, of course, seen it all before in the case of the disgraceful Hutton Report (see below).

Freedland comments as follows

Their [the BBC's] objection is not to America itself, but to this specific US government. Their stance is anti-Bush, anti-Republican perhaps, but not anti-American. Clinton can see that. Blair cannot. He believes that if you are outraged by Bush's lethargy in the face of a terrible catastrophe, then you are "full of hate for America" and gloat at its troubles. In fact, the opposite is true.

But let's not overlook one of the key aspects of Blair's attack on the BBC - the fact that he voiced it to Rupert Murdoch. There is a political pander here, which is no crime but hardly edifying to contemplate. To state the obvious, Murdoch is a global broadcaster who has long had the BBC in his sights. He despises all it represents, starting with its status as a public, rather than commercial, organisation. It is a direct rival. By slating the BBC, Blair was tickling Rupert, hoping, perhaps, that the tycoon would see the PM as an ally.

Therefore we owe Murdoch a great debt. He has given us a single sentence that says so much. It reveals a Labour prime minister whose every instinct is at odds with the movement he leads. The BBC or Fox News? He chooses Fox. The victims of Katrina or the Bush White House? His sympathies go to the White House. German Social Democrat or the Prussian Thatcher? He chooses Thatcher.

The next item is relevant too.

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Blair “relished” invasion

The Independent (19th September 2005) gave one of the best reports on the diary of Lance Price, the former deputy to the notorious Alastair Campbell. The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, accused Price of "betrayal" for his revelations, thus suggesting that they are true and worth reading.

Mr Price wrote: "I couldn't help feeling TB was rather relishing his first blooding as PM, sending the boys into action. Despite all the necessary stuff about taking action 'with a heavy heart', I think he feels it is part of his coming of age as a leader."

Mr Price, 47, was obliged to submit his manuscript to the Government for clearance under the civil service codes of practice. Three passages were toned down on the orders of No 10 and the Cabinet Secretary.

How Downing Street changed the diary

Original version Censored version
 "I couldn't help feeling TB was rather relishing his first blooding as PM, sending the boys into action. Despite all the necessary stuff about taking action 'with a heavy heart', I think he feels it is part of his coming of age as a leader."  "I couldn't help feeling TB had mixed emotions about sending the boys into action. He said he did it with a 'heavy heart' but at the same time, he must have known it would happen some time and maybe it's part of the coming of age as a leader."
 "Fucking Welsh', repeated many times by TB."  "TB f-ing and blinding about the whole thing."
 "No 10 were very edgy because apparently we've promised News International we won't make any changes to our Europe policy without talking to them."  "No 10 were very edgy because apparently News International are under the impression we won't make any changes without asking them.""

To me, the allegation about "relishing" invasion has the ring of truth in it. Equally George Bush (who evaded military service himself) pretty obviously gets a kick from sending people to get killed. Who can doubt that he sees himself as the macho cowboy? One gets the strong impression that both of them have difficulty in distinguishing between a B-movie and real life.

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Suspicious behaviour on the tube

David Mery describes his experience on the tube in The Guardian (Sept. 22, 2005). He left work at 7 pm and took the tube at Southwark, to meet his girlfriend.

Uniformed police officers appear on the platform and surround me. They must immediately notice my French accent, still strong after living more than 12 years in London. They handcuff me, hands behind my back, and take my rucksack out of my sight. They explain that this is for my safety, and that they are acting under the authority of the Terrorism Act. I am told that I am being stopped and searched because:

  • they found my behaviour suspicious from direct observation and then from watching me on the CCTV system;
  • I went into the station without looking at the police officers at the entrance or by the gates;
  • two other men entered the station at about the same time as me;
  • I am wearing a jacket "too warm for the season";
  • I am carrying a bulky rucksack, and kept my rucksack with me at all times;
  • I looked at people coming on the platform;
  • I played with my phone and then took a paper from inside my jacket.

This was 3 weeks after the lethal bombs of July 7th, so some twitchiness might be excusable. But that hardly explains what happened next. After he was searched, and found to be carrying nothing suspicious, he was

  • arrested for "suspicious behaviour and public nuisance" and taken to Walworth Road police station
  • the station was evacuated and part of a main east-west line closed
  • his flat was searched and items taken away
  • at 3.20am he was interviewed by a plainclothes officer.
"On August 31 I arrive at the police station at 9 am as required by bail, with my solicitor. A plainclothes police officer tells us they are dropping the charges, and briefly apologises."

Thus far, he has not been able to find out precisely what record of this event will be kept on police computers around the world, or which of his possessions will be returned.

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82 year old detained as terrorist: no dissent allowed

and an attempt to disrupt labour party conference with mint imperials

At first sight, the ejection of Walter Wolfgang from the Labour Party conference, seems to be nothing but a temporary public relations disaster. Perhaps, though, it is a seriously worrying sign of the ever-increasing authoritarianism of the Labour government. Not long ago, a bit of lively heckling was an normal part of any political meeting.  Consider the facts.

Walter Wolfgang is 82 years old. he came to the UK as a refugee from Nazi Germany. He has been a been a member of the Labour party for 57 years. He has also been a parliamentary candidate.

His crime was to shout "nonsense" during Jack Straw's speech about the government's policy in Iraq, at the point when Straw said "We are in Iraq for one reason only - to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation.". For expressing this opinion, he was dragged from the hall by two hefty bouncers."I shouted 'nonsense'. That's all I said. Then these two toughies manhandled me out." [Guardian]

The BBC's political correspondent commented "The sight of an old man being bundled out of the conference hall by a group of muscular officials .....couldn't be more damaging," [BBC News]

Another delegate, Steve Forrest, chairman of Erith Thamesmead Labour party, who protested at his treatment, was bundled out more forcefully after telling stewards: “You must be joking."

Later police stopped Mr Wolfgang using, unbelievably, powers under the section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, when he tried to re-enter on Wednesday, seizing his pass.

Labour party chairman, Ian McCartney, afterwards issued a rather half-hearted apology. He apologised for the force used in Mr Wolfgang's ejection, but not at all for the suppression of his dissent: he told the Today programme "he was a guest whose role was to listen, not to disrupt".

Two days later, Walter Wolfgang himself wrote the front page story in The Independent, 20 Oct, 2005. He finishes thus.

But the issue for the party is far from resolved. It was foolish to have a foreign policy session at a conference in which the most important issues we face - Iraq and whether we are going to have more nuclear weapons - were barely discussed.

Party leaders have increasingly controlled conference over the last few years. We used to have a very inclusive culture in the party. But New Labour has damaged that. We must reclaim it before it is too late.

In separate incidents, two delegates had packets of sweets confiscated as they entered the hall (a steward said "I'll tell you why they're banned, they could be used as missiles."). And Austin Mitchell (MP for Great Grimsby) had his camera confiscated by the police, and all pictures on it were deleted.[BBC]

Simon Hoggart commented as follows.

“Missiles! What has Labour come to? The party of Hardie, Attlee and Bevan, afraid that its speakers might be cut down under a fusillade of Fox's Glacier mints and Fishermen's Friends!” . . .

“Dissent, at a Labour conference! Not permitted. No way. Building democracy in Iraq is fine, but not at home. Where would it end? Two tough stewards grabbed this frail old gentleman. And rightly so - he might have been a suicide bomber, with a deadly belt containing a dozen sticks of Brighton rock.”

And these are the people who are asking us to trust them to lock up people for three months without charge.

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And now a younger "terrorist" -only 79.

Marcel Berlins reports, in The Guardian, the case of John Catt. According to Sussex Action for Peace, John Catt is a 79-year old retired builder from Withdean, Brighton.

“John Catt was wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Bush Blair Sharon to be tried for war crimes torture human rights abuse" and, lower down, "the leaders of rogue states".

The stop-and-search form filled out by the police officer stated, under grounds for intervention, "carrying plackard [sic] and T-shirt with anti-Blair info". The purpose of the stop and search was stated as "terrorism". So now we know. For the Sussex police, at any rate, an anti-Blair slogan is a ground for suspecting terrorism.

When Tony Blair and Charles Clarke tell the chief constable of Sussex that they want no trouble at their conference, and if that can only be achieved by wrongly using the anti-terrorism laws to stifle freedom of expression, freedom of movement and the right to protest - tough. That is not the way a democratic state should behave. But don't just blame the police for exceeding their powers. The government is conniving at every stage.”

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A bad week for freedoms in the UK and the USA

In the same week we have heard of more lawless behaviour by the CIA, and abuse of the Patriot Act, parliament in the UK has been debating several repressive measures that Tony Blair wishes to impose here, based on the myth that 9/11 (and 7/7) "changed everything". Once again one is reminded of that famous quotation

" . . . the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." [Herman Goering, at the Nuremberg trials].

2nd November 2005. The good thing is that, at last, the normally supine and pusillanimous back bench Labour MPs woke up at last. In a vote in the Commons on the iniquitous proposal to detain people without charge for 90 days they managed to reduce the government's majority to only one [BBC News], close enough to force the government to rethink.  This was the government's smallest majority since coming to power in 1997 [BBC News]. Imprisonment with charge endangers the hard won freedoms of Western democracies, the very thing we are meant to be defending  [see above].

7th November 2005. After the government's narrow margin, talks on the 90 day period were promised. They did not materialise, and Blair, true to form, listened to nobody. It is my understanding that it is only in police states that the police dictate to politicians, as is happening now. In a democracy. elected representatives tell the police what is acceptable.

9th November 2005. The "normally supine and pusillanimous" back bench Labour MPs really did learn to think for themselves. Despite cajoling from Blair, and his new spin advisors. the Police Force, 49 Labour MPs voted against the motion to allow 90 days detention without charge. It was defeated by a majority of 31. This was Mr Blair's first ever defeat in the Commons, Now will he listen, or resign? Not much chance of either on past showing. [BBC News]

Meanwhile the House of Lords has been debating the government's proposal for identity cards.  That measure survived a modest rebellion in the Commons when the third reading passed by 25 votes [BBC News].   The scheme which the government is proposing is excessively invasive, and arguably it is more likely to increase crime (as soon as the hackers get in) than to decrease it.  Reasons and links are given above.

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Blair's litany of failures on Iraq - ambassador's damning verdict

Meyer says PM failed to exert any leverage on Bush and was seduced by US power

The Guardian has serialised parts of the book by UK's ambassador to Washington, one person who knows a great deal about the run up to the war in Iraq. This amounts to top-level verification that all those jokes about 'Bush's poodle' were close to the mark.

Tony Blair repeatedly passed up opportunities to put a brake on the rush to war in Iraq, a failure that may have contributed to the country's present anarchy, according to Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain's ambassador to Washington at the time, in his book DC Confidential,

Sir Christopher, highly critical of Mr Blair's performance in the run-up to the war, argues the prime minister and his team were "seduced" by the proximity and glamour of US power and reluctant to negotiate conditions with George Bush for Britain's support for the war.

Tony Blair's full throated support of the US led to the PM failing to exert any leverage on the White House - UK support was simply taken for granted

In the words of Christopher Meyer,

This Cabinet Office note recorded that Blair had told Bush that Britain would support military action "provided that certain conditions were met". These conditions were that efforts were made to construct a coalition, that the Israel-Palestine crisis was "quiescent", and that "options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through UN weapons inspectors" were exhausted.

When this document was drafted none of those conditions was anywhere near to being met. Nor, at the time the leaked cabinet note was drafted, had we left the starting gate in pursuit of the UN or building an international coalition.

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Lords reject use of evidence obtained by torture evidence

You wouldn't think that, in a civilised country, a case like this could ever come before our 'supreme court'. But it did. [BBC News]

The law lords' unanimous finding that the men's appeal should be allowed began with a forthright condemnation of torture by Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice, who headed the panel of seven law lords.

He said the English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with abhorrence for over 500 years.

"I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion (and the acceptance by the Court of Appeal majority) that this deeply-rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all."

This is the second time (see above) that the public have been protected by an independent judiciary from the totalitarian tendencies of New Labour. Somewhat sulky responses have come from Charles Clark (Home secretary), and Hazel 'Dalek' Blears, the home office minister who always sounds like a tape-recording of a government policy statement. They say the judgement will not make any difference because that was government policy anyway. If that was the case, why did they oppose the proposition? It was the governments' policy to close there eyes to how evidence was obtained, just as it is their policy to close their eyes to abduction of foreign nationals by the CIA.

Postscript (15 December 2005). Well actually it turns out that the government knew all along about illegal abductions by the CIA (details here) -there's a big surprise. Once again the government behaves as though it were above the law.

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Big brother is watching you

The Independent reports the latest round of invasion of privacy by an ever more totalitarian government.

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

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Christmas viewing

Christmas day, 2005.
As usual, I watched the Railway Children on TV, and, as always, cried. It is hard to bear the contrast between the kindness shown in the film, and the real wicked world of Bush, Blair and religious fundamentalists of every hue. Be angry at what is being done in your name.
 

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Ex-envoy to Uzbekistan goes public on torture

The Independent (30th December, 2005) reported as follows

Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has defied the Foreign Office by publishing on the internet documents providing evidence that the British Government knowingly received information extracted by torture in the "war on terror".

Mr Murray, who publicly raised the issue of the usefulness of information obtained under torture before he was forced to leave his job last year, submitted his forthcoming book, Murder in Samarkand, to the Foreign Office for clearance. But the Foreign Office demanded that he remove references to two sensitive government documents, which undermine official denials, to show that Britain had been aware it was receiving information obtained by the Uzbek authorities through torture.

But guess what? A quick Google search revealed that http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/ has been shut down. I wonder who did that? Don't worry though. You can still read the shameful correspondence here and here.

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General says Blair should be impeached


General Sir Michael Rose, the former UN commander in Bosnia, spoke on the BBC's Today programme, (0732, 9 January 2006). He said Mr Blair had to take responsibility for his actions.

BBC News, or listen to the whole interview

"To go to war on what turns out to be false grounds is something that no one should be allowed to walk away from,"

“The politics was wrong, that he rarely declared what his ultimate aims were, as far as we can see, in terms of harping continually on weapons of mass destruction when actually he probably had some other strategy in mind.”

“The consequences of that war have been quite disastrous both for the people of Iraq and also for the west in terms of our wider interests in the war against global terror. ”

General Sir Michael said he would not have lead troops into a war he believed was wrong. "You cannot put people in harm's way if you don't believe the cause is right or sufficient," he said.

Michael Rose amplified is comments the next day in the Guardian: “Enough of his excuses: Blair must be impeached over Iraq”.

General Rose will appear in a documentary, The Failure of War, to be broadcast on Channel 4 TV on Friday, 13th January 2005 at 19.30. This programme is quoted by the Guardian as containing comments from other senior miltary men which show clearly that Rose is not the only one with reservations.

Gen Sir Rupert Smith, who took over from Gen Rose as UN commander in Bosnia, says of Iraq in the programme: "We often actually reinforce our opponent's ability to achieve his objective because his strategy is always to get us to over-react."

General Sir Michael Walker, chief of defence staff, has said in public only that British military presence in Iraq was a "politically-charged issue" which has affected recruitment since people saw the armed forces as "guilty by association" with Mr Blair's decision to invade the country.

General Sir Mike Jackson, head of the army, has criticised US tactics in Iraq. British commanders were told by Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of defence staff at the time of the invasion, to deal with Iraqi officers and Ba'athists to help maintain law and order. That order was rescinded in May 2003 on the instructions of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said yesterday: "General Rose is entitled to his view. Equally, the government is entitled to point out that we have had free democratic elections in Iraq for the first time in well over a generation."

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John Reid: a Labour Party neocon

International laws hinder UK troops - Reid
Defence secretary calls for Geneva conventions to be redrawn

The Guardian (4th April, 2006) reports the speech by John Reid, the Defence Secretary with the bullying manner. He “demanded sweeping changes to international law yesterday to free British soldiers from the restraints of the Geneva conventions and make it easier for the west to mount military actions against other states.”
“Mr Reid declined to say whether he had come round to the US view that detainees at Guantánamo bay should not be allowed the protection of the conventions or the courts. Similarly, he would not say if he thought Britain should support the US practice of extraordinary rendition, the transferring of prisoners to secret camps where they risk being tortured. However, he said, it was not "sufficient just to say [Guantánamo] is wrong".”

It is not easy to see that this view differs greatly from that of the most extreme US neocon advocates of torture and preemptive war. They are barbarians, so we must be barbarians too. Well just one difference: some of the US neocons have admitted their errors. But not John Reid. Once again, I feel ashamed of my country.

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The disgraceful 'Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill' is delayed again

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill was said to be to facilitate reduction in red tape. In fact in its original form it allowed ministers to change just about any law without reference to parliament. It was a licence for dictatorship, that has been barely noticed among the plethora of bills that restrict freedoms which the government has produced.

It has been modified several times in an attempt to push it through. But it is still unacceptable in a free country.

The BBC reports (13 April 2006)

Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth meanwhile said the government needed to go further than it had.

"The government needs to accept restrictions that prevent it from using the bill to change the constitution of this county.

"It also needs to accept procedural safeguards that are stronger than merely relying on government dominated committees in the House of Commons and it needs to remove from the Bill the means to grant unlimited legislative power to one person.

"I'm glad to see that the government plan to take several months to sort out the details of these amendments because the topic is of such constitutional importance.

"It is a disgrace that they had attempted to rush through the legislation in such a fashion."

 

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Terrorism, religious schools and the madness of New Labour

This bit of foolishness is on my Education and Religion page.

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International News

Trisha Greenhalgh, described her experience in the British Medical Journal (2004) 328:235 (24 January)

Land of the free

At the age of 19, I got a job lifeguarding at a kids' summer camp in America. I let slip to a colleague that I didn't have a work permit. Next day, I got a ride in a yellow car with the siren screaming just like in Starsky and Hutch, while handcuffed to a hunky cop. I got six hours of questioning and my mugshot and fingerprints taken by the FBI. And I got deported.

Six months ago, I was invited to give the opening keynote lecture at an international conference in New York. My visa application included an Undesirable Alien Form. I ticked the boxes to indicate that I did not plan any subversive or terrorist activities, and that I had never knowingly engaged in genocide.

I was summoned to the US embassy and took along six character references from seriously important people. After a body search, I waited three hours before explaining to a charming lady what evidence based medicine was. She told me that the conference sounded wonderful, and tapped my number into a computer. An automated message flashed. Her tone became frosty and she informed me that my file would be transferred upstairs.

I was shown into a room behind an air-locked door, guarded by a man with a submachine gun. I waited four more hours without food or water. I made friends with three other Undesirables. One had had a parking ticket; one had been arrested on a peace march; and one (a fellow academic) had been caught eating grapes in a supermarket queue in the early 1970s.

I was eventually called to a desk, charged a three-figure sum, and had another mugshot and more fingerprints taken. I was told to go home while my case was considered, and not to build up my hopes.

Several weeks later they wrote asking me to send in my passport as my visa had been granted, and to expect up to three weeks' wait.

The Post Office tells me that my passport was signed for at the embassy on 21 November 2003 at 11 27 am. The embassy's call centre tells me to submit an email inquiry, and the email inquiry service does not reply to my messages. I have reported my passport stolen and applied for a new one from the British authorities. And if any Americans want to hear me lecture, they can come to me.

Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care University College London.


Here is a still worse case.

The Sunday Times 18 April, 2004

Most wanted: how the US visa cops nailed me

David James Smith was one of many Britons put in a cell for not having the right papers for a visit to the States

Here are a couple of quotations,

" . . . The officer asked me to follow him to the secondary inspection area where he handed my passport to a colleague. I wasn't worried, I had nothing to hide.

Then I was called to the counter and told that the green waiver form was not intended for use by foreign journalists who were supposed to have an I-visa. Again, I was not concerned. I had been travelling to the States on assignments for nearly 10 years and had never had a visa. I had always been open about the nature of my visit and had never before been challenged, not even after 9/11."

" . . . I was kept in the room for the whole night. It was a square room of 15 paces width. Bright fluorescent lights remained on the whole time. I was told they could not be dimmed or turned off. Cold air blew constantly from vents in the high ceiling that were spattered with dried pieces of sodden toilet tissue that other inmates had obviously used to try to block the vents.

There was no bedding and no bed, just a bench fixed to the wall with a cold metallic surface; "

Detention under conditions like that is more reminiscent of Soviet Russia than of a civilised country. Google does not reveal a single report of this case in the US press.

And another
In a similar case, the British writer, Ian McEwan, was also refused entry despite the fact that his visa was perfectly valid (Washington Post). He was subjected to three interrogations ("What kind of novels do you write: fiction or nonfiction?", "We still don't want to let you in, but this is attracting a lot of unfavorable publicity."). Later his lawyer received an apology "Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience and delay the refusal process caused you".

Several more
US claps British tourists in irons [ Sunday Times]
"The officer claimed [incorrectly] Bual had overstayed by four days and ignored the fact that she had visited America again in 1998 without the issue being raised. Her feet were shackled and she was held in a detention room overnight."

And yet another
Welcome to America, Elena Lappin [Guardian]
"Somewhere in central Los Angeles, about 20 miles from LAX airport, there is a nondescript building housing a detention facility for foreigners who have violated US immigration and customs laws. I was driven there around 11pm on May 3, my hands painfully handcuffed behind my back as I sat crammed in one of several small, locked cages inside a security van. "


Involvement of medical doctors in torture

Abu Ghraib: its legacy for miltary medicine. Steven Miles MD

The Lancet, 364, 725-729, 2004.

Here are two quotations from this paper.

"At the operational level, medical personnel evaluated detainees for interrogation, and monitored coercive interrogation, allowed interrogators to use medical records to develop interrogation approaches, falsified medical records and death certificates, and failed to provide provide basic health care"

"Although the US Armed Forces’ medical services are mainly staffed by humane and skilled personnel, the described offences do not merely fall short of medical ideals; some constitute grave breaches of international or US law."

This article was accompanied by an Editorial in the Lancet (Volume 364, Number 9435 21 August 2004)

EDITORIAL How complicit are doctors in abuses of detainees?

"Almost 3 years ago, we asked, "Does the western world still take human rights seriously?" We did so in response to the UK's 2001 Anti-terrorism, Crime, and Security Act, which itself was a reaction to the events of Sept 11 that year. We were disturbed by a Newsweek columnist's suggestion that the use of torture on suspected terrorists should be considered as a legitimate means of obtaining information. As more details about the treatment of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the US Guantánamo Bay detention centre in Cuba come to light, disquiet about contemplating or debating the use of torture to secure information has given way to certainty that this is precisely what took place under US command. The answer to our question posed three years ago is clearly "no"; human rights have become a casualty in the desperate attempt to get results in the war against terrorism. The question we now need to ask is, what part have doctors played in these abuses?"

"Abu Ghraib should serve as an eleventh hour wake-up call for the western world to rediscover and live by the values enshrined in its international treaties and democratic constitutions."


The Power of Nightmares

The BBC has just broadcast the third of a brilliant series of films, The Power of Nightmares. Watch this space for news of the DVD. See also part 1, and part 2.

" There are dangerous and fanatical individuals and groups around the world who have been inspired by extreme Islamist ideas, and who will use the techniques of mass terror - the attacks on America and Madrid make this only too clear.

But the nightmare vision of a uniquely powerful hidden organisation waiting to strike our societies is an illusion.

Wherever one looks for this al-Qaeda organisation, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the "sleeper cells" in America, the British and Americans are chasing a phantom enemy.

But the reason that no-one questions the illusion is because this nightmare enemy gives so many groups new power and influence in a cynical age - and not just politicians.

Those with the darkest imaginations have now become the most powerful.

In part one, the programme looked at the origins of the neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists in the 1950s.

The second part of the series examined how the radical Islamists and neo-conservatives came together to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

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Some post election reactions: three UK national newspapers, and one from the USA

The Independent 4th November 2004
Independent
The Guardian 4th November 2004
Guardian
Daily Mirror 4th November 2004
Sent to me from the USA
A David Horsey cartoon from Seattle Post-Intelligencer (26 October 2003). This says it all.

Cartoon

Bush will now celebrate by putting Falluja to the torch.

Robin Cook (ex Foreign Secretary) Guardian Nov 5

"But the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Falluja. And we're going to destroy him." Lt-Colonel Gareth Brandl BBC

Onward Christian Soldiers

Siman Schama (Historian and TV presenter) Guardian Nov 5

The hopefuls in the Democrat camp really believed victory in the US election was within their grasp. How did they get it so wrong? They failed to appreciate, says Simon Schama, that their country is now in fact two nations that loathe and fear each other - Godly and Worldly America

In the wee small hours of November 3 2004, a new country appeared on the map of the modern world: the DSA, the Divided States of America. Oh yes, I know, the obligatory pieties about "healing" have begun; not least from the lips of the noble Loser. This is music to the ears of the Victor of course, who wants nothing better than for us all to Come Together, a position otherwise known as unconditional surrender. Please, fellow curmudgeons and last ditchers, can someone on the losing side just for once not roll over and fall into a warm bath of patriotic platitudes at such moments, but toot the flute of battle instead; yell and holler and snarl just a wee bit?

Another No-Bid Contract -for Company Involved in Abu Ghraib Abuse

"Even as uniformed soldiers were being court martialed for their misconduct at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. Army announced that it had awarded a no-bid contract worth up to $23 million to CACI International Inc., a private contractor that employed an interrogator cited for involvement in the sexual humiliation of Iraqis at the notorious prison. The purpose of the contract -– to provide private interrogators in Iraq!". "CACI has not terminated a single employee in connection with this scandal." Working for Change

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Francis Wheen's top 10 modern delusions

Essential reading! Francis Wheen's book "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions" is a wonderful analysis (despite the rather silly title) of the common thread that links astrology, quack medicine and neocon politics -the abandonment of reason . Buy it now.

In the USA and Canada, this book is called Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense, and you can buy it here

The dimming of the Enlightenment A longer synopsis by Wheen

Click here for a synopsis, Francis Wheen's Top 10 Delusions . I'll reproduce only the first.

1. "God is on our side"

George W Bush thinks so, as do Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden and an alarmingly high percentage of other important figures in today's world. After September 11 2001 Blair claimed that religion was the solution not the problem, since "Jews, Muslims and Christians are all children of Abraham" - unaware that the example of Abraham was also cited by Mohammed Atta, hijacker of the one of the planes that shattered the New York skyline. R.H. Tawney wrote in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism that "modern social theory, like modern political theory, developed only when society was given a naturalistic instead of a religious explanation". In which case modern social and political theory would now seem to be dead.

2. The market is rational
3. There is no such thing as reality
4. We mustn't be "judgmental"
5. Laissez-faire capitalism is the prerequisite for trade and prosperity
6. Astrology and similar delusions are "harmless fun"
7. Thin air is solid
8. Sentimental hysteria is a sign of emotional maturity
9. America's economic success is entirely due to private enterprise
10. "It could be you. . ."

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The death penalty

Some numbers from Amnesty International

"118 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice."

"78 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller."

"During 2003, at least 1,146 prisoners were executed in 28 countries and at least 2,756 people were sentenced to death in 63 countries. These figures include only cases known to Amnesty International; the true figures are certainly higher."

"In 2003, 84 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, the USA and Viet Nam"

"Eight countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime . . . The USA has executed more child offenders than any other country (19 since 1990)."

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Scientists maximize pain

Maximum pain is aim of new US weapon

New Scientist

"The US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. Intended for use against rioters, it is meant to leave victims unharmed. But pain researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been used to develop a weapon. And they fear that the technology will be used for torture."

"John Wood of University College London, UK, an expert in how the brain perceives pain, says the researchers involved in the project should face censure. "It could be used for torture," he says, "the [researchers] must be aware of this." "

The two academics involved are Martin Richardson (laser expert) and Brian Cooper (expert in dental pain)

"Brian Cooper, an expert in dental pain at the University of Florida, distanced himself from the work, saying "I don't have anything interesting to convey. I was just providing some background for the group." ".

The following links suggest a bit more involvement than this comment implies. NTIC, and slide show

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Psychologists 'explain' Abu Ghraib

The following letter was published in Science (2005, 307,1873), along with three others, as a response to an article by Fiske et al. that appeared to defend Abu Ghraib behaviour as 'normal'. [Get pdf of reply] [Get pdf of Fiske et al.]

Abuse of Prisoners at Abu Ghraib

 IN THEIR POLICY FORUM "WHY ORDINARY people torture enemy prisoners" (26 Nov. 2004, p. 1482), S. T. Fiske and colleagues suggest that almost anyone could have committed the Abu Ghraib atrocities (1). They go on to say, "lay-observers may believe that explaining evil amounts to excusing it and absolving people of responsibility for their actions." Any humane person should react to their "explanation" in exactly this way. I think they make the mistake of trying to divorce "science" from politics in an area where the two are inextricably mixed. There is no mention in their Policy Forum of the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice advised the White House that torture "may be justified" (2–4); that the "war on terrorism" renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions (2–4); or that torture was endorsed at the very highest levels of the government and military (5). Is it really irrelevant that General Miller is quoted (6) as saying that prisoners are "like dogs and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them"?

Why was none of this mentioned?

Studying the effect of "one dissenting peer" may be relatively harmless academic amusement, but if you really want to stop this sort of thing what you need are leaders, both political and military, who have the moral fiber to make it absolutely clear that abuse and torture are intolerable in a civilized society. Sadly, the political and military leadership did exactly the opposite in this case. Fiske et al. should have said so.

DAVID COLQUHOUN

Department of Pharmacology, University College
London,Gower Street,London WC1E 6BT,UK. E-mail:
d.colquhoun@ucl.ac.uk

References and Notes

  1. The conclusion is pretty dubious, as it appears to be
    heavily dependent on meta-analysis, the poor man's
    substitute for doing proper research.
  2. D. Priest, R. J. Smith, Washington Post, 8 June 2004, p.
    A1 (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/
    A23373-2004Jun7.html).
  3. Full text of the Gonzales memo is available at
    http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4999148/site/newsweek/
  4. A compendium of relevant government documents:
    K. J. Greenberg, J. L. Dratel, The Torture Papers: The
    Road to Abu Ghraib(Cambridge Univ. Press,Cambridge,
    2005).
  5. R. J. Smith, J.White, Washington Post, 12 June 2004,
    p. A1 (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/
    A35612-2004Jun11.html).
  6. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski said that current Iraqi
    prisons chief Major General Geoffrey Miller—who was in
    charge at Guantánamo Bay—visited her in Baghdad and
    said, "At Guantánamo Bay we learned that the prisoners
    have to earn every single thing that they have." She said,
    "He said they are like dogs and if you allow them to believe
    at any point that they are more than a dog then you’ve lost
    control of them." "Iraq abused ‘ordered from the top," ""BBC
    News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/
    3806713.stm.

Extracts from three other replies to Fiske et al.

"If U.S. psychologists and scientists are going to stray outside of the narrow confines of the laboratory and attempt to explain the appalling behavior of its citizens abroad, science is ill-served by accepting unflinchingly the definitions of "situation" and "enemy" provided by politicians.*

RAJ PERSAUD
The Maudsley Hospital and Institute of Psychiatry,
Westways Clinic, 49 St James Road,West Croydon.


"There is a shadow over Fiske et al.'s paper: The rest of the world may well think that American social science works for the U.S. State Department."

VLADIMIR J. KONECNI
Department of Psychology, University of California,
San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093–0109,USA.


"IN THEIR POLICY FORUM 'WHY ORDINARY people torture enemy prisoners' (26 Nov. 2004, p. 1482), S. T. Fiske et al. point out that abhorrent actions such as those that occurred at Abu Ghraib can be prevented by "even one dissenting peer." This brings to mind a statement made by Elie Wiesel in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere."

DAVID C.MUSCH
Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences,
and Epidemiology,University of Michigan,Kellogg Eye
Center, 1000 Wall Street,Ann Arbor, MI 48105,USA.
Fiske at al. reply to their four
critics in a way that I find deeply underwhelming. They do admit that "also responsible are their peers and superiors up the chain of command, who determine the powerful social context that encourages atrocities." They do not, however, say why they failed to say this clearly the first time, and they still cannot bring themselves to name those responsible.

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Bolton and Wolfowitz spread the neo-con message

"Challenging the White House, 59 former American diplomats are urging the Senate to reject John R. Bolton's nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations." Washington Post

Three quotations from John Bolton, nominee for US Ambassador to the United nations.

"Diplomacy is not an end in itself if it does not advance U.S. interests."

"There's no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Bolton lead U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court, declaring that the day he signed the letter withdrawing the U.S. signature on the treaty was "the happiest moment of my government service." [Washington Post]

Wolfowitz to spread neo-con gospel [BBC]
"To put the unilateralist architect of the Iraq war in charge of the world's premier multilateral development agency is, many must think, to put a fox in charge of the chicken coop. The nomination does not lack merit. Yet it is objectionable, all the same." Financial Times

Four quotations from Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's nominee for president of the World Bank.

"I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." Press conference in Mosul, Iraq (July 21, 2003)

"The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason." Interview in Vanity Fair,2003

"There's a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." (Congressional Testimony, March 27, 2003)

"Fuck you."
To Al Franken at the White House correspondents dinner after Franken asked "Hi. Dr. Wolfowitz. Hey, the Clinton military did a great job in Iraq, didn't it?" (see page 221 of the paperback edition of Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right)

I'm with Wolfowitz was the very surprising title of a piece by George Monbiot . This makes fascinating reading. Here is a taste.
It highlights the profoundly unfair and undemocratic nature of decision-making at the Bank. His presidency will stand as a constant reminder that this institution, which calls on the nations it bullies to exercise “good governance and democratisation” is run like a mediaevel monarchy.

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U.S. intelligence agencies were "dead wrong" in their prewar assessments of Iraq

The 682 page report of a presidential commission offered a withering critique of the government's collection of information leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, calling its data "either worthless or misleading" and its analysis "riddled with errors." That resulted in one of the "most damaging intelligence failures in recent American history." Washington Post, 1 April, 2005.

But who was to blame? Was it the intelligence, or the wilful manipulation if intelligence by politicians? The Washington Post also reported that, according to the presidential commission Doubts on Weapons Were Dismissed.

"As former secretary of state Colin L. Powell worked into the night in a New York hotel room, on the eve of his February 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council, CIA officers sent urgent e-mails and cables describing grave doubts about a key charge he was going to make."

"On the telephone that night, a senior intelligence officer warned then-CIA Director George J. Tenet that he lacked confidence in the principal source of the assertion that Saddam Hussein's scientists were developing deadly agents in mobile laboratories. " "Mr. Tenet replied with words to the effect of 'yeah, yeah' . . ."

"That was one among many examples -- cited over 692 pages in the report -- of fruitless dissent on the accuracy of claims against Iraq"

What are we to conclude? The obvious conclusion is that the people on the ground had a pretty good idea, but their bosses were so influenced by politicians that they would not listen to things that they didn't want to hear. The politicians, of course, had long since decided to go to war, and WMD were just the excuse, as admitted explicitly by Paul Wolfowitz.

It is very clear that the situation was much the same in the UK. The evidence presented to the Hutton enquiry made it perfectly clear that people like the late David Kelly were perfectly aware of the limitations of the evidence, but their seniors (like John Scarlett, now promoted) filter the information in order to produce the two truly pathetic dossiers. Sadly, Lord Hutton, having collected, and published, much rivetting information, then showed an inability to connect evidence to conclusions that would have earned D- if it had been an undergraduate essay. But that, of course, is why he was chosen.

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SECRET U.S. PLANS FOR IRAQ'S OIL

BBC News World Edition

Greg Palast Reporting for BBC Newsnight (London) , and see also Democracy Now .

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“Why was Paul Wolfowitz pushed out of the Pentagon onto the World Bank? The answer lies in a 323-page document, secret until now, indicating that the allies of Big Oil in the Bush Administration have defeated neo-conservatives and their chief Wolfowitz. BBC Television Newsnight tells the true story of the fall of the neo-cons. An investigation conducted by BBC with Harper's magazine will also reveal that the US State Department made detailed plans for war in Iraq -and for Iraq's oil - within weeks of Bush's first inauguration in 2001.”
The programme was broadcast on Thursday, 17 March, 2005, but you can still see it via Greg Palast's site, or via Democracy Now

ITALY and IRAQ'S OIL

Reports in La Repubblica and at bellaciao.org (in English).

Italian troops were sent to Iraq to secure oil deals worth 300 billion dollars, and not just for post-war humanitarian purposes, an Italian television report by RAI News channel claimed on Friday. The report was based on interviews and official government documents.

A government report compiled months before the war broke out recommends that Italy, in case of conflict, should secure the region of Nasiriyah and the nearby area of Halfaya, south of Baghdad, so as to secure “a deal worth 300 billion dollars".

A total of 19 Italians, most of them soldiers, died in November 2003 in a suicide bombing against Italy’s base in Nasiriyah.

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What drives support for this torturer?

Oil and gas ensure that the US backs the Uzbek dictator to the hilt

The shameful story of the firing of the UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan by the Foreign Office was told above. Craig Murray's sin was to point out in a secret memorandum that the UK was using (useless) information extracted under torture in Uzbekistan.

Craig Murray writes about the current government massacres in Uzbekistan in today's Guardian.

The White House comment on this tyrant, George Bush's ally in the 'war in terror', is interesting.

Quotation of the week: demonstrators should seek democratic government

“through peaceful means, not through violence”

Scott McClellan (White House spokesman )

Murray says
“And there is no media freedom. On Saturday morning, when Andijan had been leading world news bulletins for two days, most people in the capital, Tashkent, still had no idea anything was happening. Nor are demonstrations in the capital tolerated. On December 7 a peaceful picket at the gates of the British embassy was broken up with great violence, its victims including women and children. So how can Uzbeks pursue democracy by "peaceful means"?”
“Take the 23 businessmen whose trial for "Islamic extremism" sparked recent events. Had the crowd not sprung them from jail, what would have awaited them? The conviction rate in criminal and political trials in Uzbekistan is over 99% - in President Karimov's torture chambers, everyone confesses.”
“You may think I exaggerate. Read the 2002 report by Professor Theo van Boven, the UN special rapporteur on torture, in which he denounced torture in Uzbekistan as "widespread and systemic".”
“One of the uses of Uzbek torture is to provide the CIA and MI6 with "intelligence" material linking the Uzbek opposition with Islamist terrorism and al-Qaida. The information is almost entirely bogus, and it was my efforts to stop MI6 using it that led ultimately to my effective dismissal from the Foreign Office.”
“The information may be untrue, but it is valuable because it feeds into the US agenda. Karimov is very much George Bush's man in central Asia. There is not a senior member of the US administration who is not on record saying warm words about Karimov. There is not a single word recorded by any of them calling for free elections in Uzbekistan.”
“Karimov remains in power. The White House will be happy. That's enough for No 10.”

Latest: 16th May “The unconfirmed death toll in Uzbekistan from a suspected crackdown by security forces on demonstrators rose to more than 700 people today after fresh reports of killings.”

The Washington Post says
“Last summer the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, publicly criticized cuts in U.S. aid to Uzbekistan. If President Bush really wants to influence Mr. Karimov, he will need to forge a policy that connects the military relationship to the dictator's domestic policies -- and order uniformed U.S. officers to follow it.”

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US 'backed illegal Iraqi oil deals'

Julian Borger and Jamie Wilson in Washington, Tuesday May 17, 2005, in the Guardian.

A report released last night by Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee presents documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Saddam Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them.

The scale of the shipments involved dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway, and the former French minister, Charles Pasqua.

In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together.

The report said

“The United States was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions.” “On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales.”

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Now it is the new Iraqis who are torturing

There seems to be no end to the problems in Iraq. A harrowing account in The Observer (Sunday, 3 June, 2005) is headed

UK aid funds Iraqi torture units

“British and American aid intended for Iraq's hard-pressed police service is being diverted to paramilitary commando units accused of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings, The Observer can reveal.

Iraqi Police Service officers said that ammunition, weapons and vehicles earmarked for the IPS are being taken by shock troops at the forefront of Iraq's new dirty counter-insurgency war.”

The investigation revealed:

  • A 'ghost' network of secret detention centres across the country, inaccessible to human rights organisations, where torture is taking place.
  • Compelling evidence of widespread use of violent interrogation methods including hanging by the arms, burnings, beatings, the use of electric shocks and sexual abuse.
  • Claims that serious abuse has taken place within the walls of the Iraqi government's own Ministry of the Interior.
  • Apparent co-operation between unofficial and official detention facilities, and evidence of extra-judicial executions by the police.

In another article, in the same paper, the appalling details are described.

Revealed: grim world of new Iraqi torture camps

“Secret torture chambers, the brutal interrogation of prisoners, murders by paramilitaries with links to powerful ministries... Foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont in Baghdad uncovers a grim trail of abuse carried out by forces loyal to the new Iraqi government.”

The Times (7th July) has a similar report:

West turns blind eye as police put Saddam's torturers back to work

“The abuse has not gone unnoticed by the coalition, but little has been done to address it. A US State Department report in February stated that Iraqi authorities had been accused of 'arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions — particularly in pre-trial detention facilities — and arbitrary arrest and detention'.”

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Iraq suspects suffocate in heat

Nine building workers have died in Iraq after being arrested on suspicion of insurgent activity and then left in a closed metal container. A local resident, thinking they were insurgents, called the police, who sent commandos to arrest the men. At about midday, they were put into a metal container and by nightfall eight prisoners were dead and three were in a critical condition. The Iraqi capital suffers scorching heat during the summer months, with temperatures often reaching 50 degrees. A doctor told the BBC that one of the survivors had said he had been given repeated electric shocks by the commandos. Police commandos face numerous claims that they abuse and torture detainees. [BBC News] 11th July 2005.

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If you do not want your money to go to right wing extremists, read this

TOP 10 UK BRANDS TO BOYCOTT (taken from Republican donors listed here)

1 Esso
2 Maxwell House
3 Microsoft
4 MBNA
5 Lucozade
6 ASDA
7 Hotpoint
8 AOL
9 Budweiser
10 Walkers crisps
The largest single donor to the Republican party is Altria (formerly Philip Morris) They own the following brands.

Tobacco: Marlboro, Parliament, Benson & Hedges
Cheese: Dairylea, Philadelphia, Kraft singles
Chocolate: Dime bar, Marabou, Milka, Suchard, Terry's, Toblerone
Coffee: Carte Noire, Kenco, Maxwell House, General Foods, Maxwell House, Sanka, Starbucks
Miscellaneous: Bird's custard, Kraft foods

The top 25 donors to the Republican Party include the following (In order of the amount contributed)

Altria
AT&T
Microsoft Corporation
United Parcel Services (UPS)
MBNA credit cards
Citigroup (Citibank)
Pfizer
FedEx Corporation
Bristol-Myers Squibb
GlaxoSmithKline
Wal-Mart (ASDA supermarkets)
General Electric (Hotpoint, GE)
ExxonMobil (Esso petrol etc)
AOL TimeWarner (AOL internet services, Netscape, Time-Life, Warner Bros)
Anheuser Busch (Budweiser, Michelob and Bud Ice beers)
ChevronTexaco (Texaco petrol)
PepsiCo ( Pepsi, 7 Up, Doritos, Walker's crisps, Quaker Oats, Sugar Puffs)
Schering Plough
Archer Daniels Midland (Granose, Protoveg and Realeat meat substitutes)
Wyeth (formerly American Home Products) Anadin painkillers
American Airlines (all other US airlines are big donors too)
Ford Motor Company (Ford, Land Rover, Range Rover, Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar)
BP Amoco (petrol)
Walt Disney

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Déja vu. Theocracy coming to Iraq?

According to the Washington Post (15 August 2005), the Bush administration is, at last, coming to recognise some realities. It gives me little satisfaction to point out that what they are now saying is much what a million people on the streets of London tried to tell him in 2003.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning,. . .

See also, "Someone Tell the President the War Is Over" in the New York Times, on the same day.

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Billions of dollars missing in Iraq

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Brainwashing: Pentagon instills militarism via computer games

Pat Kane's article, "Toy Soldiers" (Guardian, 1 Dec 2005) documents the brainwashing of the public into thinking that killing people is fun. Of course this is not restricted to the Pentagon. For some time now ultra-violent computer games have been big business, particularly perhaps in Japan and the USA. (See also, above)

At the same time as the UK government is promoting laws against thinking hateful thoughts, big business is doing its best to promote them. But that seems to be perfectly OK if it is done to make money.

It is bad enough having Microsoft and Sony promoting extreme violence. But somehow it seems much worse when a government does it.

“As the situation in Iraq gets bloodier and more uncontrollable, who would take on the task of promoting the idea of enlistment to America's youth? Step forward Colonel Casey Wardynski, who is deploying perhaps the most cost-effective recruitment method presently available to the US army - a war game.”

“The whole purpose of America's Army, a first-person-shooter simulation of army training and combat whose development began in 1999 and which was launched in 2002 (on July 4, Independence Day, of course), is to recruit more soldiers.”

"Players can download it free from the internet [29 million have done] , and use it to try the role of soldier, virtually, and see if it's something they want to do in real life," said Wardynski, who has a doctorate from Rand and is a professor at West Point Academy.

“. . . the Department of Defence has spent $100m creating an entire campus, the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of California, which turns games intended for soldier training into marketable products: Full Spectrum Warrior is the most notable example. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) - the US government's powerful military laboratory - has a range of projects that blur the line between online gaming, virtual worlds and military performance . . .”

The “Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of California”? Just how sick can you get?

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CIA methods revealed

The Independent on Sunday (4 Dec, 2005) reports a leak.

CIA agents have broken ranks to reveal the 'cruel and inhuman' interrogation techniques they are ordered to use at secret prisons around the world,

Amid a growing row in the US over torture, a list of "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by CIA agents in secret prisons - including near-drowning, freezing, sleep deprivation, shaking and slapping - has been leaked. In at least one case, a prisoner has died.”

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Wrongful imprisonment of a German citizen by CIA

The Washington Post (Sunday December 4th, 2005) published an investigation of the case of Khaled Masri.  Here are some extracts (emphasis is mine).

German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'

Coats [U.S. ambassador in Germany] informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries . .

The CIA, working with other intelligence agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people, including several key leaders of al Qaeda, in its campaign to dismantle terrorist networks. It is impossible to know, however, how many mistakes the CIA and its foreign partners have made.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials.

"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.

Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center's al Qaeda unit "believed he was someone else," one former CIA official said. "She didn't really know. She just had a hunch."

Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip.

"Whatever quality control mechanisms were in play on September 10th were eliminated on September 11th," a former senior intelligence official said.

Others criticized Black's CTC for embracing a "Hollywood model" of operations, as one former longtime CIA veteran called it, eschewing the hard work of recruiting agents and penetrating terrorist networks. Instead, the new approach was similar to the flashier paramilitary operations that had worked so well in Afghanistan, and played well at the White House, where the president was keeping a scorecard of captured or killed terrorists.

He [Khaled Masri] was taken off a bus at the Tabanovce border crossing by police because his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker. The police drove him to Skopje, the capital, and put him in a motel room with darkened windows,

On the 23rd day of his motel captivity, the police videotaped Masri, then bundled him, handcuffed and blindfolded, into a van and drove to a closed-off building at the airport, Masri said. There, in silence, someone cut off his clothes. As they changed his blindfold, "I saw seven or eight men with black clothing and wearing masks,"

Masri said his cell in Afghanistan was cold, dirty and in a cellar, with no light and one dirty cover for warmth. The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: "You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know."

A week before his release in late May 2004, Masri said he was visited in prison by a German man with a goatee who called himself Sam.

On the day of his release, the prison's director, who Masri believed was an American, told Masri that he had been held because he "had a suspicious name," Masri said in an interview. On the day of his release, the prison's director, who Masri believed was an American, told Masri that he had been held because he "had a suspicious name," Masri said in an interview.

Remember that, according to the CIA themselves, this man had a genuine passport and was entirely innocent. He was picked off the streets in secret, tortured in secret and released in secret, without any sort of charge. One would not be surprised if the secret police of Stalin, or of the former East Germany behaved in this way. But this was done by the richest 'democracy' in the Western world. Quite possibly this was done with the knowledge and complicity of the German and UK governments. We have, as usual, not been told (yet).

The allusion to a "Hollywood model" is interesting. Once again we see that the Bush administration (and Blair too?) is not capab;e of distinguishing between real life and a cheap B movie. Does Bush see himself as a swaggering John Wayne?

According to the BBC News, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to go on the offensive to defend this utterly illegal and indefensible behaviour.  This has already started. The International Herald Tribune reports thus.

Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, argued in three television appearances that Europeans benefit as much as Americans do from an aggressive U.S.-led fight against terrorists and have said themselves that the campaign required some secrecy. He made the argument, as other Bush administration officials have done, without acknowledging that secret camps exist. "If there were such operations," Hadley said, "these are the kinds of things we can't talk about publicly."

He also defended the practice known as "rendition," in which terrorist suspects captured by the United States are sent to their home countries or to third countries, some of which have records of torturing prisoners, even while acknowledging that some mistakes had been made.

So obviously the camps do exist and the US Government is totally unapologetic about its lawless behaviour.

Monday December 5th 2005 BBC News confirms that interpetation.

Rice defends US terror policies

Ms Rice did say that suspects were moved by plane under a process known as rendition.

But, before boarding a plane to Germany, she refused to say whether the CIA ran secret prisons abroad.

Similarly in the New York Times

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chastised Europe leaders today, saying that before they complain about secret jails for terror suspects in European nations, they should realize that interrogations of these suspects have produced information that helped "save European lives."

Noting that half-a-dozen international investigations are underway, Ms. Rice did not explicitly confirm the existence of the detentions center. But that was implicit in her remarks.

"We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible," she said. "But there have been many cases where the local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect, and traditional extradition is not a good option."

"In those cases," she added, "the local government can make the sovereign choice to cooperate in the transfer of a suspect to a third country, which is known as a rendition. "Sometimes, these efforts are misunderstood," she said.

Or perhaps the problem is not that they are misunderstood but that they are understood only too well.  How can anyone in their right mind believe the 'rendition' to countries like Egypt and Syria will not result in torture?  Why must we accept such disgusting double-speak from the 'leader of the free world?

Tom Malinowski, a Human Rights Watch official in Washington commented thus..

"Secretary Rice made extra-legal rendition sound like just another form of extradition"
"In fact, it's a form of kidnapping and 'disappearing' someone entirely outside the law."

Another CIA abduction, from the streets of Milan, to Egypt

Reported in the Washington Post, 6th December, 2005.

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The secret CIA jails exposed

ABC News gives names of suspects abducted by CIA and held in secret jails

“Following is a list of 12 high-value targets housed by the CIA.

<\tr>
 
  • Abu Zubaydah: Held first in Thailand then Poland
  • Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi: Held in Poland. Previously held in Pakistan/Afghanistan
  • Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi: Held in Poland
  • Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri: Held in Poland
  • Ramzi Binalshibh: Held in Poland
  • Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman: Held in Poland
  • Abu Zubaydah: Held first in Thailand then Poland
 
  • Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: Held in Poland
  • Waleed Mohammed bin Attash: Held in Poland
  • Hambali: In U.S. custody. Kept isolated from other high-value targets.
  • Hassan Ghul: Held in Poland.
  • Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani: Held in Poland
  • Abu Faraj al-Libbi: Held in Poland ”
 

Alleged military base site in Romania

Pictures from ABC News video

 
Rumsfeld at the base last year

10 Out of 11 High-Value Terror Leaders Subjected to 'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques'

ABC News (Brian Ross And Richard Esposito), December 5 2005

Dec. 5, 2005 — Two CIA secret prisons were operating in Eastern Europe until last month when they were shut down following Human Rights Watch reports of their existence in Poland and Romania.

Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality say the United States scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert.

All but one of these 11 high-value al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the harshest interrogation techniques in the CIA's secret arsenal, the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized for use by about 14 CIA officers and first reported by ABC News on Nov. 18.

Rice today avoided directly answering the question of secret prisons in remarks made on her departure for Europe, where the issue of secret prisons and secret flights has caused a furor.

But Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told ABC Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross today: "My president has said there is no truth in these reports."

Ross asked: "Do you know otherwise, sir, are you aware of these sites being shut down in the last few weeks, operating on a base under your direct control?"

These same sources also tell ABC News that U.S. intelligence also ships some "unlawful combatants" to countries that use interrogation techniques harsher than any authorized for use by U.S. intelligence officers. They say that Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Egypt were among the nations used in order to extract confessions quickly using techniques harsher than those authorized for use by U.S. intelligence officers. These prisoners were not necessarily citizens of those nations.

Sikorski answered, "I think this is as much as I can tell you about this."

Of the 12 high-value targets housed by the CIA, only one did not require water boarding before he talked.

So it seems that Condoleeza Rice was, as everybody supposed, lying when she said the USA does not use torture. Or, to put the same thing in a different way, the USA has simply redefined torture to suit its purposes. For example both Rice and Bellinger have refused to comment on 'waterboarding', thus, if course, tacitly confirming that the ABC News report is right. That amounts to a totally different definition of torture from that used by the USA during the Vietnam war. ABC News points out what happened to then.

Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment.

"The soldier who participated in water torture in January 1968 was court-martialed within one month after the photos appeared in The Washington Post, and he was drummed out of the Army.

Who do the US government think they are fooling? These obvious and well-documented lies don't take in anyone (apart from about half of their own citizens -see the CNN movie). I'm going to have to stop writing this emetic stuff.

Secretary Rice's Rendition

The New York Times leading ediorial. 7th December, 2005

It was a sad enough measure of how badly the Bush administration has damaged its moral standing that the secretary of state had to deny that the president condones torture before she could visit some of the most reliable American allies in Europe. It was even worse that she had a hard time sounding credible when she did it.

Of course, it would have helped if Condoleezza Rice was actually in a position to convince the world that the United States has not, does not and will not torture prisoners. But there's just too much evidence that this has happened at the hands of American interrogators or their proxies in other countries. Vice President Dick Cheney is still lobbying to legalize torture at the C.I.A.'s secret prisons, and to block a law that would reimpose on military prisons the decades-old standard of decent treatment that Mr. Bush scrapped after 9/11.

Another 'explanation' that merely confirms ones worst fears

On Friday 10th December, John Bellinger, senior legal adviser at the State department, again made matters worse for the US government. [BBC News]

Mr Bellinger said the US did practice rendition, by which some terror suspects were sent to a third country to be questioned.

But he added that even transferring a prisoner to a country which had been criticised over its human rights record was not a violation of international law.

Even if it were legal (which, according to Lord Steyn, below, it is not), Bellinger's statement merely confirms that the US government has sunk to the level of the mediaeval inquisition. And is almost proud of it.

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Lord Steyn on war crimesLord Steyn

A lawyers view of what constitutes war crimes, from Lord Steyn, until recently one of the law lords (the equivalent of supreme court judges in other countries). In an interview by Jon Snow for Channel 4 News, Lord Steyn was asked for his legal opinion on "extraordinary rendition".

Read the transcript or watch the broadcast at Channel 4 News. Here are some quotations from the transcript.

Jon Snow The Americans are saying that European lives have been saved by carrying people from one place to another. They deny torture.

Lord Steyn I can't see that that is a proposition that can be sustained. Specifically when you refer to torture it is very important to know what is meant by torture. I'm speaking purely as a lawyer. The US administration has adopted a definition of torture which is extremely narrow. It involves causing death, total organ failure and so forth. The true definition is much wider

Jon Snow Do you therefore think that in a way Guantanamo Bay is a template for what is happening?

Lord Steyn I think Guantanamo Bay is the clue to much of what we have seen unravelled even over this weekend. We have seen a scale of lawlessness unravel which in my opinion is the logical extension of Guantanamo Bay because Guantanamo Bay involved taking prisoners from Afghanistan, and many other places, to an island where there would be a lawless black hole where they can never escape from, where they have no right to trial. This logically is not very different from what the Americans call rendition which, in truth, is abduction. It is not authorised by international law and the connection between this and Guatanamo Bay is very close.

Jon Snow Let's leave aside the question of torture which in a sense you've dealt with. Is it legal to move people around the world from one detention centre to another?

Lord Steyn It is undoubtedly not legal. One must go back to the Geneva Convention and the matter is governed by the Geneva Conventions and prisoners must be dealt with in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. And the Geneva Convention is not something you can opt into or opt out as you like. Those are binding conventions.

Jon Snow But as things stand, it is law that is being broken in your terms. What is the cumulative effect then Guantanamo, of removal and of black sites?

Lord Steyn The cumulative effect of all these matters is lawlessness on a truly grand scale. It has the effect of giving a setback to international law, to humanitarian law - human rights law - for a very, very long time.

Jon Snow But the very concept of a war crime is an enormous statement. You are actually saying people who are doing this at the moment may be guilty of a war crime?

Lord Steyn If prisoners are tortured at Guantanamo Bay or at black sites - if they are - those who commit those acts will be guilty of war crimes, and those who authorise it can be similarly guilty of war crime.

Jon Snow Let me press you then, the British authorities may be guilty of war crimes?

Lord Steyn If the British authorities were fully aware of the purpose of the flights. If they were aware that these were attempts to take detainees to place where they could be tortured, of course there is the risk that the British authorities may themselves be guilty of war crimes. But it is dependent of proof.

Jon Snow What then do we ask of our government from a legal perspective?

Lord Steyn From a legal perspective, I would say we are at least entitled to ask of our government that it must stand up to the international rule of law, that it must no so unambiguously and publicly. That necessarily involves that there should be no kow-towing to the lawlessness of the US administration.

Compare and contrast this with

"Tony Blair has defended co-operation with the US over the secret transfer of terrorism suspects, amid fears that some could be facing torture." [BBC News].

And what happens at Guantanamo? Read "The Strange Case of Chaplain Yee" in the New York Review of Books.

 Meanwhile 25-year old Maya Evans got a criminal record for standing outside Downing Street and reading aloud the names of the 97 British soldiers who have died in the Iraq conflict. After a three-hour hearing, she was found guilty of breaching Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 [Independent].  
(photo: BBC)

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UK complicit in CIA abductions?

The Sunday Times (11 December 2005) published some interesting allegations. They are interesting because they document what appears to be the first (known) case of abduction of a UK citizen by the CIA, to be sent to another country for torture. They are also very interesting because it seems that the abduction was carried out with the full knowledge and cooperation of the UK authorities. If this report is accurate is exceedingly serious. The UK (and Polish, and Romanian) governments have claimed that they don't know what is going on. They haven't been very convincing, of course. Tony Blair has managed to give the strong impression that, at least, he has chosen to look the other way at the illegal activities of the CIA. The alternative possibility, of course, is that the UK government is fully aware of the abductions and cooperates with them, while lying to the public about it. This latter interpretation is what appears, from the report, to be right. Is anyone really surprised?

A FORMER London student accused of terrorism claims he was tortured under the CIA's policy of flying prisoners to countries that use extreme interrogation techniques.

The Pentagon alleges that Binyam Mohammed plotted to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in America and received instructions from Al-Qaeda's senior leaders, including the architect of the 9/11 attacks.

The 27-year-old, from Notting Hill, west London, faces a trial before a military court at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He could be jailed for life.

Mohammed's lawyers, however, say he is the first British resident to become a victim of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme which came under scrutiny last week as Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, toured Europe.

The lawyers claim the allegations against Mohammed are based on a confession extracted through torture in a Moroccan jail — and accuse the British authorities of being complicit in his ordeal.

In a diary written by Mohammed and seen by The Sunday Times, he claims two British officials knew in advance of his transfer to Morocco and says his interrogators told him they were being assisted by MI5.

Mohammed is thought to have been flown in and out of north Africa on two private jets, reportedly operated by the CIA, which have landed at UK airports more than 150 times, according to official records.

While he was held in Pakistan, Mohammed claims he was met by two Britons, who he believes to be MI6 officers.

"They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it," he writes. "I initially took one. ‘No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going you need a lot of sugar.’ . . . One of them did tell me that I was going to get tortured by the Arabs."

A few weeks later, Mohammed claims he was handed to a team of Americans "dressed in black, with masks, wearing what looked like Timberland boots". He was stripped naked, photographed, given an enema and put on a plane with shackles, earphones and a blindfold. A report in The Washington Post last week attributed a virtually identical procedure to the CIA’s “Rendition Group”.

On July 22, 2002 — the day that Mohammed claims he was moved to Morocco — flight logs show a Gulfstream V private jet, registration number N379P, was at Rabat airport

See also the Independent, 12 Dec 2005, Straw faces MPs over claims MI6 delivered suspect for torture. On the Today programme this morning, Jack Straw said he could find no letters from the USA that requested assistance to abduct people and send them the other countries for interrogation. Ah well, so that's OK then.

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Switzerland says CIA abduction claims “credible"

Swiss senator Dick Marty has submitted a report to a meeting of the human rights committee of the Council of Europe, on the claims that the CIA abducted and illegally transported terror suspects across European borders. Mr Marty criticised the US for refusing to confirm or deny the allegations. [BBC News]

"The elements we have gathered so far tend to reinforce the credibility of the allegations concerning the transport and temporary detention of detainees - outside all judicial procedure - in European countries. Legal proceedings in progress in certain countries seemed to indicate that individuals had been abducted and transferred to other countries without respect for any legal standards."

He warned, if the allegations proved correct any European states involved "would stand accused of having seriously breached their human rights obligations to the Council of Europe".

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Censored document reveals increased transit facilities for the USA to use EU airports to move people around the world

Statewatch (15 Dec 2005) has done a wonderful bit of detective work. It is now clear beyond doubt that not only Tony Blair but every European government has lied about its knowledge concerning US "rendition" (a revolting euphemism for kidnapping, detention in secret without charge, and torture, the things expected of military dictatorships). Read the sordid detalis here.

There has been an informal agreement between the EU and the USA that flights to and from the USA can stop-over in transit at EU airports since around 1998 (see EU docs no: 13554/97 and 6541/1/98). The USA requested these "facilities" into order to send people back to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. No figures have ever been published on the extent to which this agreement has been used.

However, a year after the invasion of Iraq the minutes of a high-level meeting of the "New Transatlantic Agenda: EU-US meeting on Justice and Home Affairs" in Athens on 22 January 2003 record that:

“Both sides agreed on the areas where cooperation could be improved i.a. the exchange of data between border management services, increased use of European transit facilities to support the return of criminal/inadmissible aliens, . . .”

At its regular press briefing on Monday 12 December the European Commission tried to deny that "secret minutes of the meeting exist" and handed out copies of the uncensored version to journalists - however the Council's register still only carries the censored "partially accessible" version. - that is to say that all the details concerning the USA have been deleted (censored). A spokesperson for the Council said the deletions were a: "courtesy" to the USA.

Download the censored version of the minutes [pdf file, 165 kb]

And download the uncensored version here [pdf file, 198 kb]

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Italy issues warrant for arrest of CIA agents

BBC News (23 Dec 2005) carried this report.

An Italian court has issued Europe-wide arrest warrants for 22 suspected CIA agents accused of helping to kidnap a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003.

The suspects are accused of abducting Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, without Italian permission, and flying him to Egypt for interrogation. The new warrants allow for the suspects' detention anywhere in the 25-nation EU, a prosecutor said.

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Illegal abductions by MI6 in Greece

Yet another case of illegal behaviour by the secret police. They seem to be coming thick and fast now. (e.g. Guardian

The Greek government faced mounting pressure last night to investigate claims that a senior MI6 officer masterminded the arrest and torture of Pakistani immigrants in Athens by local intelligence agents after the July 7 London bombings.

A Greek investigative weekly, Proto Thema (Top Story), published the names of the Athens M16 station chief, who allegedly ran the operation. They said intelligence agents from Greece's national information service, kidnapped the 27 Pakistani-born men from their homes in Athens and the northwestern town of Ioannina. The agents beat and psychologically tortured the men to "show off" in front of the British officer, the newspaper reported, before dumping the blindfolded men in central Athens at night.

Greece's public order minister, Giorgos Voulgarakis, said: "Such a thing never happened, does not happen and won't happen. It's either a provocation or a farce." The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and the Pakistani interior minister, have also denied the claims. Straw said that reports of British involvement were "nonsense".

Of course one knows that governments always disown the activities of their secret police, so presumably (yet again) these earnest assurances for the British and Greek governments are not worth the paper they are written on. Nevertheless the non-stop dissimulation gets tedious, and has the great disadvantage for governments that people cease to believe them even when they are telling the truth.

The British government said that an official committee had imposed a "D" notice making it illegal for British media to name the MI6 man involved. Well it is hard to keep a secret these days. It took me a full 5 minutes to find the name of the alleged MI6 agent on the web. I won't take the risk of giving it here, because it would not achieve much. It is sad that one has become nervous of the knock on the door in the night.

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More on EU complicity with illegal abductions: a fax comes to light

January 2006. There was never much doubt of the existence of European complicity in secret CIA abduction and detention, because it is wriiten in official EU documents, as reported above. Now the BBC News, and Der Spiegel, report that Swiss military intelligence has intercepted a top-secret fax from Cairo to the Egyptian embassy in London that seems to confirm the existence of CIA prisons in eastern Europe, according to the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, which published the fax on Sunday.

Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who is carrying out an inquiry into claims the CIA has run illegal secret detention centres in Europe, accused the US of violating human rights and attacked European nations for their "shocking" passivity in the face of such violations. He is due to give a preliminary report to the Council of Europe on 23 January.

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Foreign Office advises government to lie about 'rendition'

This can hardly be a surprise after what is nown already, but nevertheless it is always horrifying to see in black and white the extent to which the government is willing to deceive the public about the truth.

 

The New Statesman obtained a leak copy of a briefing paper sent by the Foreign Office to No 10. The document was dated December 7 last year; it is a note from Irfan Siddiq, of the foreign secretary's private office, to Grace Cassy in Tony Blair's office.

The memo advises that rendition is illegal, but then offers the advice that ministers "should not be drawn" on the question, and try to "move the debate on".

It does not advise that illegal practices should be stopped. The advice concerns how to cover them up.

The contents are widely reported on 19th January 2006.

  • BBC News: "Memo raises rendition questions"
  • Richard Norton–Taylor in The Guardian: "Torture flights: what No 10 knew and tried to cover up "
  • Ian Cobain in The Guardian: "FO paper reveals British knowledge of torture flights"
  • Oliver Duff in The Independent: " Leaked memo reveals 'torture flights cover-up'"
  • Ian Evans in The Times: "CIA torture flights 'cover-up' "
 

Get the pdf file of the whole of the (ex)-secret memo, as obtained by the New Statesman, by clicking here (600 kb),

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The White House memo: Bush and Blair discussed using American Spyplane in UN colours to lure Saddam into war

Much of the astonishing information in the Channel 4 report comes from a new version of the book 'Lawless World' written by a leading British human rights lawyer, Philippe Sands QC

Philippe Sands joined the Faculty of Law at UCL in January 2002. He is Professor of Law and Director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals in the Faculty, and a key member of staff in the Centre for Law and the Environment. His teaching areas include public international law, the settlement of international disputes, and environmental and natural resources law.

Channel 4 News tonight reveals extraordinary details of George Bush and Tony Blair's pre-war meeting in January 2003 at which they discussed plans to begin military action on March 10th 2003, irrespective of whether the United Nations had passed a new resolution authorising the use of force. ”

“Channel 4 News has seen minutes from that meeting, which took place in the White House on 31 January 2003. The two leaders discussed the possibility of securing further UN support, but President Bush made it clear that he had already decided to go to war. ”

President Bush said that:

"The US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would 'twist arms' and 'even threaten'. But he had to say that if ultimately we failed, military action would follow anyway.''

Prime Minister Blair responded that he was: "solidly with the President and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam."

Mr Sands' book says that the meeting focused on the need to identify evidence that Saddam had committed a material breach of his obligations under the existing UN Resolution 1441. There was concern that insufficient evidence had been unearthed by the UN inspection team, led by Dr Hans Blix. Other options were considered.

“President Bush said: "The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

He went on: "It was also possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddams WMD, and there was also a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated."

President Bush said that he: "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups."

Mr Blair did not respond.”

 

So it now seems that the protesters who assembled at UCL on March 20th 2003 did not exaggerate the duplicity of the US and UK governments. We underestimated it.

 

UCL -Axis of peace (20 March 2003)

Click here to download high resolution wallpaper version.

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Caricatures and freedom of speech

This horrifying saga is dealt with on my Education and Religion page.

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A bad week for humanity

The week 13th – 17th February 2006 brought bad news just about every day. Guantánamo camp, where prisoners have been held without charge and without trial for up to four years, was in the news again.

A United Nations report

said, paraphrasing, that Guantánamo camp was illegal, that it was likely that inmates had been tortured and that the camp should be shut down [download the report, 337kb]. The conclusions of the report were promptly supported by Kofi Annan.

Nothing would be better for the reputation of the USA in the rest of the world than to shut Guantánamo, but the US government responded, as usual, by denying everything. John Bellinger (see also here, and here) said that some Guantánamo prisoners who had been released had gone on to fight the USA. If this is true, I suppose it means that three years of confinement without charge had failed to convince them of the virtues of the American way of life. What better way to recruit terrorists? The US government once again denied that it used torture, despite endless evidence that it does, including evidence from its own soldiers from its own soldiers and from military lawyers. As repeatedly documented here, the trick is that the US government uses the word "torture" in a different way from the rest of the world.

Sir Andrew Collins speaks out. Mr Justice Collins (a High Court judge) said yesterday that America's idea of what constitutes torture "is not the same as ours and doesn't appear to coincide with that of most civilised countries" .

Even a British cabinet minister, Peter Hains, spoke up for a change, and said "he would prefer to see Guantanamo Bay close"

More videos of US and UK soldiers behaving like violent thugs

More of the Abu Ghraib pictures have been published, despite the best efforts of the US government to cover them up. No doubt a corporal or two will be punished and those who are responsible for authorising torture escape entirely.

The video of UK soldiers beating teenagers in Basra is at least as revolting. It is distinguished by the revolting commentary supplied by whoever did the filming. Mysteriously the video seems to have vanished from the web.

Cartoons

The abuse pictures at least show that freedom of the press works. Meanwhile more people have been killed in the absurd cartoon row.

Free speech -Walter Wolfgang speaks

 A Channel 4 documentary, made by Walter Wolfgang, documents the progressive loss of freedom of speech that has occurred under Blair's government.

He speaks to peaceful protestors who have been stopped under the Terrorism Act including an elderly man held in Brighton for wearing an anti-Blair T-shirt and the 11-year-old girl stopped and searched while participating in a peace march.

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The Road To Guantánamo

This film was shown on Channel 4 TV on Thursday March 9th, 2006. You can now download the film. The film tells the true story of three British Muslims held, and tortured, at the US prison camp for two years before being released without charge. On their return they were taken under heavy police guard for questioning in London. The UK authorities also decided they had done nothing wrong. They, like almost all prisoners at Guantánamo, were never charged and never given access to a lawyer. Both the UK and the US governments eventually decided they were innocent. Their interrogation was reminiscent of the Salem witchcraft trials: 'sign this statement that you are a member of Al Qaeda, or die'.  Their story brings shame on the USA and, all that Mr Blair can say about it is that Guantánamo is an "anomaly".

The film had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. When the ex-prisoners and actors returned to the UK they were arrested, or detained, under anti-terrorism laws at Luton Airport. Yes, that's right, not just the ex-prisoners, who had already been cleared by both US and UK authorities, but also the actors who played their parts in the film. One of the actors, Rizwan Ahmed, said a police officer asked him if he intended to make any more "political" films.

Does making political films now count as terrorism?

See reports on BBC News, The Times, Craig Murray's site. and the Blairwatch site, among many others.

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My Name is Rachel Corrie

This page was started after I read of the death of Rachel Corrie.

The Royal Court Theatre production of the play, 'My Name is Rachel Corrie', was based on her childhood writings. It was due to transfer to New York next month. But last week the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled the production - or, in their words, "postponed it indefinitely". [Guardian, 2-Mar-06].

The play will now be shown at the Playhouse theatre in London's West End from March 28; booking number 0870 060 6631.  Book now!

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SAS soldier quits Army in disgust at 'illegal' American tactics in Iraq

The Sunday Telegraph (12 March 2006) has an interesting story, by Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent.

“An SAS soldier has refused to fight in Iraq and has left the Army over the "illegal" tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces.

After three months in Baghdad, Ben Griffin told his commander that he was no longer prepared to fight alongside American forces.

He said he had witnessed "dozens of illegal acts" by US troops, claiming they viewed all Iraqis as "untermenschen" - the Nazi term for races regarded as sub-human.

The decision marks the first time an SAS soldier has refused to go into combat and quit the Army on moral grounds.

 
Photo: Daily Telegraph

It immediately brought to an end Mr Griffin's exemplary, eight-year career in which he also served with the Parachute Regiment, taking part in operations in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan.

But it will also embarrass the Government and have a potentially profound impact on cases of other soldiers who have refused to fight.

On Wednesday, the pre-trial hearing will begin into the court martial of Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, a Royal Air Force doctor who has refused to return to Iraq for a third tour of duty on the grounds that the war is illegal. Mr Griffin's allegations came as the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells, visiting Basra yesterday, admitted that Iraq was now "a mess".

Mr Griffin, 28, who spent two years with the SAS, said the American military's "gung-ho and trigger happy mentality" and tactics had completely undermined any chance of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi population. He added that many innocent civilians were arrested in night-time raids and interrogated by American soldiers, imprisoned in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, or handed over to the Iraqi authorities and "most probably" tortured.

Mr Griffin eventually told SAS commanders at Hereford that he could not take part in a war which he regarded as "illegal".

He added that he now believed that the Prime Minister and the Government had repeatedly "lied" over the war's conduct.

"I did not join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy," he said. He expected to be labelled a coward and to face a court martial and imprisonment after making what "the most difficult decision of my life" last March.

Instead, he was discharged with a testimonial describing him as a "balanced, honest, loyal and determined individual who possesses the strength of character to have the courage of his convictions".

Last night Patrick Mercer, the shadow minister for homeland security, said: "Trooper Griffin is a highly experienced soldier. This makes his decision particularly disturbing and his views and opinions must be listened to by the Government."

The MoD declined to comment.”

And, of course, Mr Blair has no comment.

'I didn't join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy'. Another article in the same Sunday Telegraph, an interview with Martin Griffin by Sean Rayment.

“"The Americans had this catch-all approach to lifting suspects. The tactics were draconian and completely ineffective. The Americans were doing things like chucking farmers into Abu Ghraib [the notorious prison in Baghdad where US troops abused and tortured Iraqi detainees] or handing them over to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well they were going to be tortured. ”

The fatal divide at the heart of the Coalition. In the same issue the veteran war correspondent, Max Hastings comments thus.

“Here is a quote from a British security contractor in Iraq about his American counterparts: "I hate those bastards more than the scumbag insurgents." A British colonel recently returned from a tour in the country said that, in our next war, he would sooner fight alongside the Russians than the US.

This is another quote from a British security contractor: "The American way is not my way. I don't mind a scrap but I draw the line at mooning the enemy and inviting him to shoot at my backside, and that's virtually what the Yanks are doing. I'm also convinced that many Americans hate the Iraqis, not just the insurgents but all Iraqis… What a mess."

Those last lines are taken from a rather good new book about the experience of Iraq today, Highway To Hell, written by an ex-SAS man who signs himself John Geddes. My point in all the above, is to show that Ben Griffin, the former SAS soldier who vents his dismay about what is happening to Iraq in today's Sunday Telegraph, is not a lone voice. ”

“I've had conversations with many [US security contractors] and regular US soldiers who are evangelical Christians," writes John Geddes, the ex-SAS soldier quoted above, "who see themselves in a crusade against the Muslim hordes. In my view, they're not much different to the Iraqi militiamen and foreign fighters who see themselves at the heart of a jihad against the Christian crusaders." ”

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MI5, Camp Delta, and the story that shames Britain

The Independent (16 March 2006) carries yet another shocking story, by George B. Mickum (a partner with Washington law firm Keller and Hackman) [get pdf file].

“Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna are among eight British residents who remain prisoners at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They are jailed because British officials rendered them into the hands of the CIA in Africa, a fact that may explain why the British government refuses to intercede on their behalf. Bisher and Jamil have been wrongfully imprisoned now for more than three years. This is the story of their betrayal by the British government and their appalling treatment at the hands of the CIA and the U.S. military.”

. . .

“Why the British Government has treated these two men as it has, I cannot say. What seems most likely is that they were simply expendable pawns in Great Britain's and America's attempt to create a case against Abu Qatada.

My security clearance allows me to review all of the classified evidence in the cases, including all the evidence the tribunal relied upon to conclude that Mr al-Rawi and Mr el-Banna were enemy combatants. There is no evidence in the record, classified or unclassified, which supports the military's determination that these are enemy combatants. None.”

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Third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, 20 March 2006

The march of folly led by small men dressed up as titans

Robert Fisk (The Independent). [Get pdf]

 . . . in Iraq, the British have been “led into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady witholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse that we have been told. Our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows . . . We are today not far from a disaster.”

Lawrence of Arabia, on the British occupation of Iraq in 1920.

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An officer with a conscience is jailed: liars still free

[BBC] [Guardian]. 13 April 2006.

An RAF doctor, Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith, 37, was jailed for 8 months by a Court Martial after being found guilty of five charges of disobeying orders after he refused to go to Basra last June.

“Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith, 37, was found guilty on five counts of disobeying orders after a trial marked by bitter exchanges, in which he compared the actions of US forces to those of Nazi Germany. ”

The judge said

“Obedience of orders is at the heart of any disciplined force. Refusal to obey orders means that the force is not a disciplined force but a rabble." A non-custodial sentence "would send a message to all those who wear the Queen's uniform that it does not matter if they refuse to carry out the policy of Her Majesty's government”.

Kendall-Smith's defence was that his orders were illegal. Ever since the Nuremberg trials, this has been considered a valid defence. And after the saga of the Attorney General's advice (see here and here, the legality of the war in Iraq has, of course, been in serious doubt.

This case stands in stark contrast with that of Ben Griffin, the SAS soldier who left the Army in disgust at 'illegal' American tactics in Iraq. Mr Griffin eventually told SAS commanders at Hereford that he could not take part in a war which he regarded as "illegal". He was not court-martialled, but discharged with a testimonial describing him as a "balanced, honest, loyal and determined individual who possesses the strength of character to have the courage of his convictions"

It is now widely recognised that the war was probably illegal and that it was undoubtedly justified by distorted advice (otherwise known as lies). Even many neocons now admit it. Many senior army officers admit it. The authorities were wrong, the doctor was right. But it is the Kendall-Smith who goes to jail, for having the temerity to tell the truth. The real villains, Bush, Rumsfeld, Blair, Hoon, are still in office. And most of the thugs, apart from a few low-ranking soldiers, remain free. If there were enough soldiers with the strength of character of Kendall-Smith and Griffin, perhaps the world would be a better place.

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More attacks on freedom and the rule of law in UK and USA

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Recent times have not been good for those who think that Franklin was right.

Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws (Charlie Savage, The Boston Globe, Sunday 30 April 2006)

"Washington - President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution."

Bush appointee must clear any scientist advising WHO World health agency says policy threatens free, open inquiry

Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, Saturday, June 26, 2004.

"Washington -- The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization,"

The USDA on Iraq:

Al Kamen, Washington Post, Monday, May 8, 2006.

“Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.”

John Reid appointed to Home Office, and starts attack on human rights

Tony Blair's reshuffle replaced the bully Charles Clarke with the only bigger bully of New Labour, John Reid. He is the neocon who recently, as Defence Secretary, called for abolition of the Geneva Conventions. And guess what his first action was? To water down the Human Rights Act.

Well, to be fair, the initiative seems to have come from Tony Blair (Observer, 14th May 2006). Just the latest in a series of quick-fix bits of legislation, designed to appeal to the Daily Mail reader, at the cost of basic freedoms and the rule of law.

As the distinguished UCL international lawyer, Philippe Sands, says "When will this abuse of human rights end?" (Observer 14th May). He says

" . . it is he [Blair] who is out of touch with fundamental values and poses the more fundamental threat to constitutional democracy, the separation of powers and fundamental rights."

On the following day, a fierce Guardian editorial comments thus.

“Few things in the record of the Blair government are shabbier or more destructive than its increasing tendency - intimately related to its own mounting political difficulties - to foster lies and bolster rightwing myths about its own Human Rights Act. ”

Well, there was one bit of good news. At last a member of the government has come off the fence about Guantanamo. While Blair, Reid and the Lord Chancellor have been busy trying to dismantle the Human Rights Act, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, in which he made a very clear statement.

“But the existence of Guantanamo Bay remains unacceptable. It is time, in my view, that it should close.”

"The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol,"

But no other member of the government supported him, and the USA does not seem to be very interested in being a "beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice" at the moment: they immediately rejected the call.

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USA, Germany and Kafka

The case of the German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, is described above. He was kidnapped by the USA, and tortured before being released without charge. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he aimed to sue former CIA chief George Tenet and other officials for their alleged role in the "extraordinary rendition" programme.

This attempt has now been thwarted by Virginia Distric Court judge T.S. Ellis. Washington Post,   [BBC]

“The judge did not rule on the truth of the allegations, but said letting the case proceed might endanger security.”

“. . the district court judge in Virginia rejected the challenge, saying Mr el-Masri's "private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets". ”

To me, this sounds more like a Kafka novel than the rule of law.

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Haditha and other disasters

Gerard Baker in The Times, 3rd June 2006, comments on the tragic events in Haditha

Tales of US shame and dishonour blight the week of Memorial Day

This Memorial Day week has probably been the worst seven days for the US military since the Vietnam War ended more than 30 years ago.

The events of the past week have underscored, as Abu Ghraib did two years ago, that for the US military, true defeat comes only rarely at the hands of its enemies and far more often through the arms of a small but significant minority of its own servicemen, whose indiscipline and inhumanity can dwarf the honourable efforts of the vast majority.

This scepticism about using the military as a tool to remake nations and civilise a hostile world was put best by an article in the periodical Foreign Affairs in 2000. The author attacked the misuse of the US military in nation-building projects in the Clinton years.

"The president must remember that the military is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society."

It was a succinct indictment about the dangers of using the military as anything other than a fighting force. Its author was Condoleezza Rice, then principal foreign policy adviser to the man who was soon to be President Bush.

It is hard to escape the sense that Americans are increasingly coming to embrace its wisdom, even as its authors have disowned it.

Ishaqi: US soldiers cleared of murdering Iraqi civilians in raid

Report in The Guardian.

“American soldiers have been cleared of deliberately killing Iraqi civilians in one of several incidents that have raised questions about the conduct of the occupying force, it emerged yesterday. But US marines still face murder charges for two other incidents.

According to defence officials quoted last night, a military investigation has cleared troops involved in the March raid on Ishaqi, 60 miles north of Baghdad, in which women and children were killed.

The BBC broadcast footage from Ishaqi apparently questioning the American version of events, which contended that four people were killed when US troops raided a house in pursuit of an al-Qaida suspect. Iraqi police say 11 people including four children were executed and the house subsequently demolished.”

“The episodes have been sharply criticised by the Iraqi government. Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, said his government was losing patience with reports of civilian deaths at the hands of coalition forces.”

Court martial acquits British soldiers

Report in The Times (“Military justice in the dock after acquittals”) and in The Guardian.

“The prosecution had alleged that Ahmed Jabar Karheem, who could not swim, was ordered into the Shatt al-Basra canal in May 2003 after being caught looting. There was only one eyewitness, another suspected looter named Aiad Salim Hanon, who claimed to have been beaten by the soldiers and admitted that he had hoped for compensation from the British authorities for reporting the incident.

After the verdicts, Phil Shiner, a human rights lawyer who represents the victim's father, said: "There are huge structural problems with the military system of investigating itself." He accused the Royal Military police of a number of failings.

"It lacks independence. It lacks rigour. It lacks a strong rationale to get to the bottom of this type of incident," he said. ”

 

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Degrading America's Image

The New York Times published this editorial on 6 June, 2006

Editorial

Published: June 6, 2006

“For more than seven decades, civilized nations have adhered to minimum standards of decent behavior toward prisoners of war — agreed to in the Geneva Conventions. They were respected by 12 presidents and generations of military leaders because they reflected this nation's principles and gave Americans some protection if they were captured in wartime.

It took the Bush administration to make the world doubt Washington's fidelity to the rules. And The Los Angeles Times, reporting yesterday on a dispute over updating the Army rulebook known as the Field Manual, reminded us that there is good reason to worry.

At issue is Directive 2310 on the treatment and questioning of prisoners, an annex to the Field Manual. It has long contained a reference to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which covers all prisoners, whether they meet the common definition of prisoners of war or are the sort of prisoners the administration classifies as "unlawful enemy combatants," like suspected members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

Article 3 prohibits the use of torture and other overt acts of violence. But Mr. Bush's civilian lawyers removed it from the military rulebook over the objections of diplomats and military lawyers. Mr. Bush has said he does not condone torture, but he has also said he would decide for himself when to follow the ban on torture imposed by Congress last year. Removing the Geneva Conventions from Army regulations gives the world more cause for doubt.”

“It defies belief that this administration is still clinging to its benighted policies on prisoners after the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the killings at American camps in Afghanistan and the world's fresh outrage over what appears to have been the massacre of Iraqi men, women and children in the village of Haditha.”

Postcript

On 29th June 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled against Rumsfeld et al, by a majority of 5 to 3 (despite the recent right wing appointments to the Court). The court ruled that Bush administration did not by itself have the authority to order that the detainees be tried by military commission. It said its decision was based on both US military law and the Geneva Conventions – asserting for the first time in US law that the detainees were entitled to Geneva protections. As a result the White House has been forced, at last, its long-standing support for detention without charge and for torture (remember the comment of the New York Times: “Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture”). It was announced that all US military detainees, including those at Guantanamo Bay, are to be treated in line with the minimum standards of the Geneva Conventions.
[BBC report] [Read the full judgement]

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The Lopez case: history repeats itself

In the BBC Radio 4 programme, A Point of View (7 July 2006), Lisa Jardine gave a fascinating account of the fate of Dr Roderigo Lopez, Physician to Elizabeth the First. The parallels with today are very obvious.

“In January 1594, Queen Elizabeth I's headstrong young favourite, the Earl of Essex, accompanied by officers from the Elizabethan security forces, raided the residence of the Queen's personal physician, Dr Roderigo Lopez.

“Five years after the failed Spanish Armada [1588], the English government” remained in a state of agitation at the possibility of an imminent Catholic invasion from the European mainland. The country was still on high alert. Society doctor Correspondence from overseas was regularly intercepted, dawn raids - carried out by the intelligence services - were normal. The public were told to be on the look-out for foreign spies and extremists in their midst, and to report suspicious individuals immediately. Personal freedom was curtailed in the interests of national security - the Elizabethan state had become to all intents and purposes a police state. ”

“The Queen remained unconvinced. Lopez, she maintained, was a trustworthy and loyal servant. Essex was a 'rash and temerarious youth', making claims he could not substantiate. Nevertheless, Dr Lopez was held for 38 days without charge, before eventually being brought to trial. His home was subjected to a ruthlessly thorough search, ransacked and turned upside-down while his family stood by and watched. Nothing significant was uncovered. As one of Elizabeth's ministers reported to her: 'In the poor man's house were found no kind of writings of intelligences whereof he is accused'. Lopez was repeatedly interrogated, and eventually subjected to torture. On the rack, he confessed that he had accepted 50,000 crowns from the Spanish intelligence services to carry out the poisoning using exotic drugs he had obtained abroad. He later retracted that confession. ”

“At the end of February 1594, Lopez was tried in camera, by a special commission at London's Guildhall, charged with leaking intelligence to the king of Spain, attempting to stir up rebellion, and conspiring to poison the Queen. Found guilty on all charges, he was hanged, drawn and quartered alongside two fellow alleged conspirators in June. Right to the end Lopez protested his innocence.”

“In the fraught 1590s, not much was needed to convince a jittery public of the guilt of a foreigner, who dressed distinctively, and was thought to practise what seemed like an outlandish religion. The evidence used to convict Lopez had been obtained while he was under police surveillance. ”

““It was not until the end of the seventeenth century, by a slow process, during and after the English Civil Wars, that the civil liberties fatally undermined during the Age of Elizabeth began gradually to be restored. It took until the nineteenth century for the individual human rights we take for granted to become fully enshrined in law.”

“The process by which people who are alleged to have committed offences against the state are brought to court, so that the allegations against them can be properly examined, has been honed over centuries. Once dismantled, due process of the law will take centuries to rebuild. If, in order to be able to detain those we suspect of intending harm, we reduce, for the time being, the long-established methods of accumulating evidence and establishing the burden of proof, how will we be able, at some future date, to reinstate them? How long will it take our children and our grandchildren to recognise the importance of what has been lost, to recover and reinstate the rights we freely gave away? ”

It seems that Bush and Blair have taken us right back to the late 16th century.

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The Anglo-US Extradition Treaty 2003

Well, here is an odd thing. I wrote above about this notoriously one-sided extradition treaty, ratified by David Blunkett in 2003 (but not yet by the USA). It didn't get much publicity until it was applied to white bankers. You can read the full text of the Treaty for yourself.

The Treaty is headed by the Royal crest, and starts as below. But who wrote it? Throughout the Treaty 'offence' is spelt as 'offense', and 'counselling' is spelt 'counseling'. It seems almost as though this Treaty, approved by the UK Parliament had been written in another country. There's a surprise.

Extradition Treaty

between the Government of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
and the Government of the United States of America

Washington, 31 March 2003

[Instruments of ratification have not been exchanged


Presented to Parliament
by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
by Command of Her Majesty

May 2003

© Crown copyright 2003

This matter came to light on a Forensic Linguistics discussion. The Extradition Act 2003 gives the treaty the force of law (but does not mention the USA). In subsequent correspondence, Nick Clegg, MP, is quoted as saying in the House of Commons:

“The treaty was negotiated in secret and the text was published months later, a day before Parliament went into recess. Then it was subject to no more than 90 minutes' scrutiny in the Committee. The report on the treaty was published before the treaty!”

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Seymour Hersh unveils facts about Lebanon

Once again the brilliant investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, (see here and here) has unearthed some very interesting facts about the conflict in Lebanon, in an article in the New Yorker. [Download as pdf]

“The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah . . . ”

“Bush’s strongest supporter in Europe continues to be British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but many in Blair’s own Foreign Office, as a former diplomat said, believe that he has “gone out on a particular limb on this"—especially by accepting Bush’s refusal to seek an immediate and total ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. “Blair stands alone on this,” the former diplomat said. "He knows he’s a lame duck who’s on the way out, but he buys it"—the Bush policy. "He drinks the White House Kool-Aid as much as anybody in Washington." ”

“ "The warfare of today is not mass on mass," he [John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School] said. "You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result." ”

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Statement of April 2004

I apologise for my failure to turn up at the meeting of the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics, UCLA, where I was to talk about "Single ion channels: theory and practice of the analysis of a single molecule", on May 25.

I had, naively, it seems, supposed that no Western government could survive such total betrayal of all that Western civilisation is supposed to stand for. But I was wrong: it seems that a substantial proportion of US voters see nothing wrong with policies of this sort. [Washington Post, 27 May, 2004]

In the light of recent events, I simply cannot bring myself to visit the USA again, until civilised standards are restored.

Bush authorised torture: If it was not already obvious, the new book, Chain of Command, by Seymour Hersh, shows very clearly how the policy of torture originated directly from Bush and Rumsfeld. [extract in Guardian, 13 Sep., 2004]

Medics' shame: Doctors' involvement in torture The Lancet

UK's shame: British judges, and Home Secretary Blunkett, see nothing wrong with evidence obtained by torture [The Times]

"The lawlessness began in January 2002 when Mr. Rumsfeld publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan "do not have any rights" under the Geneva Conventions." Washington Post Editorial, 6 May, 2004).

"Those abusive actions do not appear to be aberrant conduct by individuals, but part of a conscious method of extracting information."
Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee) ( BBC News)

"The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq."
[Seymour Hersh , New Yorker]

". . . only a third of Americans would define what happened at Abu Ghraib as torture." Washington Post, 27 May

US claps British tourists in irons [ Sunday Times] [Guardian] [more] What sort of society puts tourists in leg shackles?

In August 2002, the Justice Department advised the White House that torturing al Qaeda terrorists in captivity abroad "may be justified," [more]

Prisoners "are like dogs" Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller [BBC News]

Bush administration "ideological and callously indifferent" say 26 US Diplomats and Military Commanders. (BBC News]

Supreme Court says Bush administration's actions are illegal [Washington Post]

Lt Gen James Mattis, US Marine corps: "Actually, it's quite a lot of fun to fight; you know, it's a hell of a hoot. I like brawling; it's fun to shoot some people." [BBC News]

2nd Lt Ilario Pantano, US Marine corps: "Our duty as Marines is, quite frankly, to export violence to the four corners of the globe, to make sure that this [9/11] doesn't happen again." [BBC News]

Reporter: "What do you think of Western Civilisation?" Gandhi: "It would be a good idea".
Gandhi: "Almost everything you do will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it."

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Latest

Carter: Blair "major tragedy for world"

Blair's Orwellian society

Matters of conscience

US soldiers approve of torture

Virgina Tech shootings

Matty Hull killing by US "criminal"

Mousa whitewash because UK approved torture

DPP: "there is no war on terror"

Guantánamo: 5 years on

Bush, hanging and Hattersley

Who knows Sunni form Shiite?

Mid-term elections: not so good

Military turn on Bush

Neocons turn on Bush

650 000 dead in Iraq?

Which countries support torture?

General Sir Richard Dannatt speaks out

John Reid for torture

The endarkenment continues

USA news

Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall

David Horsey (Seattle)

Real motives for war

WMD found in Texas!

Free speech for kids?

Abu Ghraib unveiled

Military views

War crime immunity

Torture as fun

Walt Disney

US to bring back draft?

Rumsfeld authorised torture

'Justice' Department

Lynndie and Rummy

Lynndie sentenced

Prisoners are Dogs

Richard Perle -more evil?

Guantánamo has 'failed'

Iraq pays Toys R Us'

Threats from Johns Hopkins

Teaching torture

National Security Archive

More from Guantánamo

More torture, after Abu Ghraib

Torture advocate to be judge

Torture advocate becomes Attorney General

Berkeley's Torture advocate

Torture "just blowing off steam"

Texas lawyer: torture "like cheerleaders"

Bush, Rice block torture curbs

Schwarzenegger's second real life killing

$8.8 billion missing

CIA torture by proxy

The Torture papers

Pentagon Will Not Try 17 soldiers

More US abuse: now Mosul

Gen. Sanchez authorised torture>

Army clears Gen. Sanchez!!

Suppression of freedom in Universities

US 'backed illegal Iraqi oil deals'

The terrifying case of Dr Butler

Brutal death in Bagram

A US soldier speaks

War on words?

US aid

Guantánamo, FBI, Amnesty and Newsweek

Guantánamo "failure"

Torture by CIA

Doctors and Guantánamo

Denial about warming

Fahrenheit 9/11 wins award

General Miller escapes reprimands

"Truth about Abu Ghraib"

Violent games

Intelligent enough to die

Freeway bloggers

US assassination

Torture: senate, no; Bush, yes

God told Bush to start war

Abuse of The Patriot Act

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons

Bush tries to legalize torture

USA uses white phosphorus

Deception by Bush: curveball

Cheney war crimes?

False news in Iraq

The Niger forgeries

Where to invade next?

US bars Red Cross access

US, guns and 9/11

John Yoo brings more shame on USA

Free speech? Cindy Sheehan arrested

Ann Coulter: be ashamed

Neo-cons say 'we were wrong'!

McCarthyism returns to the USA

Generals oppose Bush: Rumsfeld knew

Middle East: Reaping what Bush sowed

Israel kills unarmed UN observers

Torture was "routine"

No acadenic freedom at Roosevelt U


UK news

Fired for telling the truth

Shame: UK judges endorse torture

UK Foreign Office endorse torture

Jack Straw himself decided torture policy

Extradition without evidence

Queen's speech threatens freedom

UK fails to act

Courts: Blair and Hoon are illegal

War crimes, UK: updated

Home Sec is illegal

Habeas Corpus

'No trial' for UK citizens now

Habeas Corpus gone

UK's torture: records "missing"

Lawyer says UK law "odious"

The man Blair trusts

CIA censorship leads to resignation

FO lawyer resigns: war illegal

Legal advice not there!

Attorney General's advice

The Downing Street memo, 2002 and other secrets

UK uses torture evidence?

WMD found -in London

Ricin -postscript

Why ID cards?

ID cards: bullying by Clarke

Bombs hit London UCL employee died

Fox News: who cares?

Boris Johnson on bombers

Ministers abuse critics

Police shoot innocent man

Religion and bombs

UK and Israeli WMD

Robin Cook dies at 59

Blair attacks BBC (again)

Blair "relished" invasion

Suspicious behaviour on the tube

82 year-old detained as terrorist

... and now a 79 year-old

Assault on UK freedoms

UK Ambassador: Blair's failures in Iraq

White phosphorus: UK too

Rule of law 'blow to Blair'

Big brother

The Railway Children

Censoring of Craig Murray

General Rose: impeach Blair

John Reid: a Labour Party Neocon?

'Dictatorship Bill' delayed

Terrorism and religious schools

DC's stetement: April 2004.

Some useful links

National Security Archive An excellent source of information from USA.

Spinwatch Information on spin and deception (UK version).

PR watch Information on spin and deception (US version).

Statewatch monitoring the state and civil liberties in the European Union.

UCS Union of Concerned Scientists (USA)

Francis Wheen's Top 10 Delusions

Liberty The UK Civil Liberties and Human Rights group

Human rights watch

Amnesty International

Open democracy “Free thinking for the World”

[ACLU] American Civil Liberties Union

Human Rights First Another US pressure group.

The Downing street memos.  This site gives a detailed timeline of Iraq-related events.

AU site Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Facts behind FAHRENHEIT 9/11. Michael Moore's site has many links to sources for the film.

Blairwatch: "Chronicling the demise of the new Labour project"

Craigmurray.com: Britain's ex-Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan speaks out.

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©David Colquhoun, 2005