Saturday, December 31, 2005 

Guardian editor replies to Obsolete's disappointment at no coverage of Murray in the paper.

Alan Rusbridger is currently on holiday, but has said that it should have been covered in response to an email from Obsolete. Excuses apart, it's good to see that some editors will engage with us commoners.

Share |

 

Abolish the honours system.



It's Neo Year's Eve, so it's time once again for what we look forward to every year with baited breath: the new year's honours list. Or rather, for those of us who can't stand it, the yearly time to realise just how shit Britain and so many of its famous occupants are.

Heroes of the response to the July 7 London bombings, the victorious Ashes cricket team and the architects of the London Olympic bid dominate the new year's honours list, vividly reflecting the emotional lurches of a turbulent 12 months.

In the world of light entertainment there are knighthoods for veteran singer Tom Jones, for services to music, jazz musician Johnny Dankworth and a CBE for Bruce Forsyth, whose honour had been leaked to a national newspaper, with friends complaining he should have been knighted.

There will be a return to Buckingham Palace for Dame Vivienne Westwood, once the grande dame of anti-establishment fashion, who famously twirled for the cameras and revealed she was not wearing any knickers when she collected her OBE in 1992. Celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal receive OBEs.

There is a gentlemen versus players divide in the England cricket team with OBEs for captain Michael Vaughan, coach Duncan Fletcher, and chairman of selectors David Graveney, while the 11 other players who helped regain the Ashes, including Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, get MBEs.

Leading those honoured for the response to the bombings are Peter Hendy, the Transport for London managing director for buses, Tim O'Toole, managing director of London Underground and Julie Dent, chief executive at the South-west strategic health authority in London. They all receive CBEs.

MBEs go to David Boyce, the station supervisor who went into the tunnel at Russell Square tube station, John Boyle, first on the scene at London Aldgate and William Kilminster, a London Ambulance Service paramedic. "These people showed immense strength of spirit and courage in the face of terrorism on our transport system," said a Downing Street spokeswoman.

Lord Coe, the chairman of the London Olympic bid, is made a Knight Commander of the British Empire while knighthoods are given to Keith Mills, chief executive to the bid, and Craig Reedie, a member of the British Olympic Committee.

The inventor of the iPod and iMac, Jonathan Ive, the Newcastle-educated vice-president of industrial design at Apple, is given a CBE. In the field of the arts, the playwright Arnold Wesker is knighted while Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Staunton and Jeanette Winterson are all given OBEs.

Six other women are made dames - Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission; Liz Forgan, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Guardian Media Group's Scott Trust; Daphne Sheldrick, the conservationist; Averil Cameron, Professor of Byzantine history at Oxford University; Suzi Leather, chair of the Human Fertilisation Authority; Anna Hassan, head of Millfields community school, in Hackney, east London.


So let's get this straight: Tom Jones gets a knighthood for singing, Bruce Forsyth complains he doesn't get one for hosting crappy game shows and variety performances for god knows how long, and Gordon Ramsay gets an OBE for cooking and swearing while being filmed. Other than that, a group of people get honours for doing their jobs on 7/7, as opposed to running away screaming. Sebastian Coe, a Tory cunt of the highest order gets knighted for bringing the Olympics to London (I'm sure the London people will thank him when they have to pay higher taxes to finance an event many in the country didn't want), and the England cricket team get honoured because they managed to win a series for a change.

I'm not completely opposed to the honours system. Many thousands of hard working men and women who have helped their communities and others all their lives undoubtedly deserve their moment in the spotlight. It is however the awards to the above that make the thing a laughing stock. Most of all, it is politically influenced, the whole thing is out of date (I mean for Christ sake, the only empire now is Pax Americana) and there have been numerous notable omissions over the years. David Jason was given a knighthood earlier this year, but the far superior actor and comedian Ronnie Barker only received the OBE before he sadly died in October.

What's next? We've already seen Alex Ferguson knighted, as has been Ian Blair, Jeremy Greenstock, Bob Geldof, Mick Jagger and Digby Jones. In 20 years will Alastair Campbell receive the same honour? How about Dame Jade Goody, for services to humanity (i.e. making people turn their televisions off)? Dame Kate Moss, for services to no one except drug dealers, or maybe Sir Pete Doherty, for proving you can be both talentless and a smackhead and yet somehow still be taken seriously? It's time to end this anachronism or conduct a root and branch reform of it before it loses its very last drop of credibility.

Share |

 

Tabloid-watch: Exclusive interviews with girlfriend of footballer!

In case you were wondering what the two red-top tabloids were splashing on today, they both have remarkably similar claims on their front pages:




Yes, both apparently have EXCLUSIVE interviews with Wayne Rooney's girlfriend, Coleen. While I can't be bothered to find out whether they both actually did have seperate interviews or whether just one had it and the other subsequently stole the whole thing from the first edition of the rival or not, one's thing sure: it's not everyday that an otherwise completely unremarkable woman gets interviewed by the national papers simply because she's going out with an idiot who just happens to be able to kick a ball rather well. Oh wait, we've been putting up with Victoria Beckham for years.

Share |

 

Murray documents: Mainstream wakes up, apart from the Grauniad.

A load more newspaper and media outlets have featured Murray and his documents today, although none I think have actually had the guts to print them in full:

The Scotsman
Torygraph (which pulls a Grauniad and refers to Murray as "Mr Craig")
New York Times (requires registration)
Associated Press (via the Grauniad)
Daily Mirror
BBC

Which leaves the Guardian in the position of being the only serious national newspaper (not counting the FT or the Herald) in Britain not to have printed the story or bothered to get a staff writer to put a report up on the website. Pretty pathetic, guys.

Share |

Friday, December 30, 2005 

The Murray letters: mainstream gets in on the act.

At least 4 mainstream media outlets have now featured the mass-publishing by bloggers of the Murray documents on Uzbekistan:

The Register
The Times (which links to the documents)
The Independent

Radio 4 has apparently also been featuring the papers. For the other mainstream outlets yet to publish, there's no way they can get at you without getting at us also. Publish and be damned. That means you, Guardian, as I've yet to see anything about this other than on your talkboards.

If you missed the documents, they can be downloaded as a text file by clicking here.

Share |

Thursday, December 29, 2005 

The documents the government is trying to ban.

Thanks to Bloggerheads for bringing this to my attention.

The below are documents that the British government are trying to remove from circulation. 3 are letters from the former Uzbekistan ambassador, Craig Murray to the Foreign Commonwealth Office and other ministries and government departments. The other is a transcript of a fax sent from a Foreign Office legal adviser, who makes the point that he would expect any evidence known to have been obtained via torture to be inadmissible in a British court. Craig Murray has been ordered to return these documents to the FCO, and remove any reference to them from his upcoming book. You can expect him, if he hasn't already, to be threatened with the Official Secrets Act. You can download the documents as a text by clicking here.


Letter #1

Confidential

FM Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)

TO FCO, Cabxinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts

16 September 02

SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism

SUMMARY

US plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.

DETAIL

The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year. Human Rights Watch immediately published a commendably sober and balanced rebuttal of the State Department claim.

Again we are back in the area of the US accepting sham reform [a reference to my previous telegram on the economy]. In August media censorship was abolished, and theoretically there are independent media outlets, but in practice there is absolutely no criticism of President Karimov or the central government in any Uzbek media. State Department call this self-censorship: I am not sure that is a fair way to describe an unwillingness to experience the brutal methods of the security services.

Similarly, following US pressure when Karimov visited Washington, a human rights NGO has been permitted to register. This is an advance, but they have little impact given that no media are prepared to cover any of their activities or carry any of their statements.

The final improvement State quote is that in one case of murder of a prisoner the police involved have been prosecuted. That is an improvement, but again related to the Karimov visit and does not appear to presage a general change of policy. On the latest cases of torture deaths the Uzbeks have given the OSCE an incredible explanation, given the nature of the injuries, that the victims died in a fight between prisoners.

But allowing a single NGO, a token prosecution of police officers and a fake press freedom cannot possibly outweigh the huge scale of detentions, the torture and the secret executions. President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Karimov is a dictator who is committed to neither political nor economic reform. The purpose of his regime is not the development of his country but the diversion of economic rent to his oligarchic supporters through government controls. As a senior Uzbek academic told me privately, there is more repression here now than in Brezhnev's time. The US are trying to prop up Karimov economically and to justify this support they need to claim that a process of economic and political reform is underway. That they do so claim is either cynicism or self-delusion.

This policy is doomed to failure. Karimov is driving this resource-rich country towards economic ruin like an Abacha. And the policy of increasing repression aimed indiscriminately at pious Muslims, combined with a deepening poverty, is the most certain way to ensure continuing support for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They have certainly been decimated and disorganised in Afghanistan, and Karimov's repression may keep the lid on for years - but pressure is building and could ultimately explode.

I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.

If Karimov is on "our" side, then this war cannot be simply between the forces of good and evil. It must be about more complex things, like securing the long-term US military presence in Uzbekistan. I silently wept at the 11 September commemoration here. The right words on New York have all been said. But last week was also another anniversary - the US-led overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The subsequent dictatorship killed, dare I say it, rather more people than died on September 11. Should we not remember then also, and learn from that too? I fear that we are heading down the same path of US-sponsored dictatorship here. It is ironic that the beneficiary is perhaps the most unreformed of the World's old communist leaders.

We need to think much more deeply about Central Asia. It is easy to place Uzbekistan in the "too difficult" tray and let the US run with it, but I think they are running in the wrong direction. We should tell them of the dangers we see. Our policy is theoretically one of engagement, but in practice this has not meant much. Engagement makes sense, but it must mean grappling with the problems, not mute collaboration. We need to start actively to state a distinctive position on democracy and human rights, and press for a realistic view to be taken in the IMF. We should continue to resist pressures to start a bilateral DFID programme, unless channelled non-governmentally, and not restore ECGD cover despite the constant lobbying. We should not invite Karimov to the UK. We should step up our public diplomacy effort, stressing democratic values, including more resources from the British Council. We should increase support to human rights activists, and strive for contact with non-official Islamic groups.

Above all we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.

MURRAY

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Letter #2

Confidential

Fm Tashkent (Ambassador Craig Murray)

To FCO

18 March 2003

SUBJECT: US FOREIGN POLICY

SUMMARY

1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.

DETAIL

2. Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

3. Uzbekistan's geo-strategic position is crucial. It has half the population of the whole of Central Asia. It alone borders all the other states in a region which is important to future Western oil and gas supplies. It is the regional military power. That is why the US is here, and here to stay. Contractors at the US military bases are extending the design life of the buildings from ten to twenty five years.

4. Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid - more than US aid to all of West Africa - is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov's vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He - and they - are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

5. I was stunned to hear that the US had pressured the EU to withdraw a motion on Human Rights in Uzbekistan which the EU was tabling at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I was most unhappy to find that we are helping the US in what I can only call this cover-up. I am saddened when the US constantly quote fake improvements in human rights in Uzbekistan, such as the abolition of censorship and Internet freedom, which quite simply have not happened (I see these are quoted in the draft EBRD strategy for Uzbekistan, again I understand at American urging).

6. From Tashkent it is difficult to agree that we and the US are activated by shared values. Here we have a brutal US sponsored dictatorship reminiscent of Central and South American policy under previous US Republican administrations. I watched George Bush talk today of Iraq and "dismantling the apparatus of terror… removing the torture chambers and the rape rooms". Yet when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to affect the relationship and to be downplayed in international fora. Double standards? Yes.

7. I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.

MURRAY

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Transcript of facsimile sent 25 March 2003 from the Foreign Office]

From: Michael Wood, Legal Advisor

Date: 13 March 2003

CC: PS/PUS; Matthew Kidd, WLD

Linda Duffield

UZBEKISTAN: INTELLIGENCE POSSIBLY OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

1. Your record of our meeting with HMA Tashkent recorded that Craig had said that his understanding was that it was also an offence under the UN Convention on Torture to receive or possess information under torture. I said that I did not believe that this was the case, but undertook to re-read the Convention.

2. I have done so. There is nothing in the Convention to this effect. The nearest thing is article 15 which provides:

"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

3. This does not create any offence. I would expect that under UK law any statement established to have been made as a result of torture would not be admissible as evidence.

[signed]

M C Wood
Legal Adviser

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Letter #3

CONFIDENTIAL

FM TASHKENT (Ambassador Craig Murray)

TO IMMEDIATE FCO

TELNO 63
OF 220939 JULY 04

INFO IMMEDIATE DFID, ISLAMIC POSTS, MOD, OSCE POSTS UKDEL EBRD LONDON, UKMIS GENEVA, UKMIS MEW YORK

SUBJECT: RECEIPT OF INTELLIGENCE OBTAINED UNDER TORTURE

SUMMARY

1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and 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.

3. We should cease all co-operation with the Uzbek Security Services they are beyond the pale. We indeed need to establish an SIS presence here, but not as in a friendly state.

DETAIL

4. In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

5. I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

6. On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror. Linda Duffield said that she had been asked to assure me that my qualms of conscience were respected and understood.

7. Sir Michael Jay's circular of 26 May stated that there was a reporting obligation on us to report torture by allies (and I have been instructed to refer to Uzbekistan as such in the context of the war on terror). You, Sir, have made a number of striking, and I believe heartfelt, condemnations of torture in the last few weeks. I had in the light of this decided to return to this question and to highlight an apparent contradiction in our policy. I had intimated as much to the Head of Eastern Department.

8. I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear that without informing me of the meeting, or since informing me of the result of the meeting, a meeting was convened in the FCO at the level of Heads of Department and above, precisely to consider the question of the receipt of Uzbek intelligence material obtained under torture. As the office knew, I was in London at the time and perfectly able to attend the meeting. I still have only gleaned that it happened.

9. I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true - the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

10. I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence. I do not think there is any doubt as to the fact

11. The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

"The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights."

While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

12. On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer:

"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

13. Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless - we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

14. I was taken aback when Matthew Kydd said this stuff was valuable. Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them. Furthermore MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment.

15. At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family's links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.

16. I have been considering Michael Wood's legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

17. The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points. I should be grateful to hear Michael's views on this.

18. It seems to me that there are degrees of complicity and guilt, but being at one or two removes does not make us blameless. There are other factors. Plainly it was a breach of Article 3 of the Convention for the coalition to deport detainees back here from Baghram, but it has been done. That seems plainly complicit.

19. This is a difficult and dangerous part of the World. Dire and increasing poverty and harsh repression are undoubtedly turning young people here towards radical Islam. The Uzbek government are thus creating this threat, and perceived US support for Karimov strengthens anti-Western feeling. SIS ought to establish a presence here, but not as partners of the Uzbek Security Services, whose sheer brutality puts them beyond the pale.

MURRAY


The main points then:

This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.


Mugabe and his henchmen are banned from visiting Europe; Zimbabwe has become an international pariah, with its population starving and hundreds of thousands being displaced from their homes. While we denounced Zimbabwe, we gave tacit support to Uzebekistan, turned a blind eye to horrific torture, and even considered the information obtained under that torture as "useful".


I quite understand the interest of the US in strategic airbases and why they back Karimov, but I believe US policy is misconceived. In the short term it may help fight terrorism but in the medium term it will promote it, as the Economist points out. And it can never be right to lower our standards on human rights. There is a complex situation in Central Asia and it is wrong to look at it only through a prism picked up on September 12. Worst of all is what appears to be the philosophy underlying the current US view of Uzbekistan: that September 11 divided the World into two camps in the "War against Terrorism" and that Karimov is on "our" side.

Murray here eloquently describes Bush's with us or with the terrorists jibe in geopolitical terms. The UK and US up until recently helped prop a totalitarian regime which has tortured and massacred its own people, just so that the US could use its airbases and take its resources.


SUMMARY

1. As seen from Tashkent, US policy is not much focussed on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the US pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship. We must not close our eyes to uncomfortable truth.


Does any more need to be added to that?

SUMMARY

1. We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the US. We should stop. It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

2. I gather a recent London interdepartmental meeting considered the question and decided to continue to receive the material. This is morally, legally and practically wrong. It exposes as hypocritical our post Abu Ghraib pronouncements and 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.


Compare and contrast the above with a statement made by Tony Blair at a press conference on the 22nd of December:

Now I don't know whether you would define that as rendition or not, all I know is that we should keep within the law at all times, and the notion that I, or the Americans, or anybody else approve or condone torture, or ill treatment, or degrading treatment, that is completely and totally out of order in any set of circumstances.
Craig Murray's letter was sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth office, as well as the Department of International Development. Blair can theoretically get away with saying he may not have seen the above. Jack Straw however, as foreign secretary, cannot. So, has he said anything similar to the prime minister on this matter?

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.
While Straw was commenting on so-called "extraordinary rendition", is it really so outrageous and fantastic that Britain may be involved? After all, Straw wrote in a written answer on the 26th October 2004 on Uzbekistan and torture:

The UK abides by its commitments under international law, including the UN Convention Against Torture. The British Government, including the intelligence and security agencies, never use torture in order to obtain information. Nor would we instigate others to commit torture for that purpose. We are active in pressing other countries to live up to their human rights obligations and to deliver on human rights commitments they have made.
No, perhaps they would not, but as Craig Murray's documents and letters make clear, they are more than happy to accept information obtained via torture and view it as valuable and valid intelligence.

Plain and simply, both Tony Blair and Jack Straw have repeatedly given comments and answers laced with sophistry. Whether either has actually lied or not is up to you personally to decide. What is certain though is that they are being economical with the actualite, to paraphrase Alan Clark. Britain has used and continues to use information obtained under torture, it knows much more about rendition than it is letting on, and it has propped up a totalitarian regime that has tortured and murdered its own people. Isn't that one of the reasons Blair gave for waging war on Iraq?

Share |

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 

Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005.



The ever excellent Juan Cole has written an superb expose on the top ten myths about Iraq in 2005. Click above for the full article, while the ten are summarised below:

1. The guerrilla war is being waged only in four provinces.
2. Iraqi Sunnis voting in the December 15 election is a sign that they are being drawn into the political process and might give up the armed insurgency
3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces.
4. Iraqis are grateful for the US presence and want US forces there to help them build their country.
5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran
6. There is a silent majority of middle class, secular-minded Iraqis who reject religious fundamentalism.
7. The new Iraqi constitution is a victory for Western, liberal values in the Middle East.
8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get.
9. The US can buy off the Iraqis now supporting guerrilla action against US troops.
10. The Bush administration wanted free elections in Iraq.

Share |

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 

Scaremongering doesn't stop for Christmas.



I didn't think that Ken would be so willing to pursue the agenda of those above him. The only explanation must be that he is being fed misinformation by an increasingly politically controlled and motivated police force:

Terrorists have tried to attack London 10 times in the four years since September 11, the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, claimed yesterday, but he insisted the threat to the capital was disorganised and not part of an international conspiracy.

Mr Livingstone said eight attacks had been foiled between the attacks on New York in 2001 and the tube and bus bombings in London in July this year. Two attacks had been attempted since the July 7 deaths, he said, including the failed attempt to detonate bombs on the transport network two weeks later.

Mr Livingstone, speaking on BBC Radio 4, did not provide any further details about the attempted attacks, and his office referred further inquiries to the Metropolitan police.

The Met have been reluctant to disclose numbers and dates of foiled attacks for security reasons. Sir Ian Blair, the Met commissioner, did, however, disclose earlier this month that the authorities had thwarted several attacks since July 7, resulting in charges and some deportations.

President George Bush said two months ago that 10 al-Qaida plots had been foiled in the past four years, including three involving UK targets.


It has to be remembered of course that London as the capital of Britain has always faced threats from disaffected people of all political persuasions and beliefs, as Red Ken makes clear. Some of these supposed attacks could be real, and nothing to do with al-Qaida or any groups with a similar ideology. However, many of these are undoubtedly likely to be either non-existent, or plots such as the "ricin" one, where there was never any ricin and even if there had been, Kamel Bourgass had no idea how to actually use it.

What is the point of this scaremongering? Could it be that as the IPCC continues with the de Menezes inquiry, that the Met and its political masters are becoming increasingly concerned with what its findings may be? The constant reminders that London is under threat and that the police are our line of defence are made to make us remember that the real enemy is those who "hate our freedom" and not the police and parliament which continue to demand ever more draconian powers and the abolition of yet more civil liberties.

Share |

Saturday, December 24, 2005 

Three stories all interconnected.



Lawyers acting for seven British residents detained in Guantánamo Bay have launched a court challenge to help secure their release.

They say Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Charles Clarke, the home secretary, are under a legal obligation to demand that the US frees the men. They should be treated in the same way as the nine British citizens who have already been released from the US detention camp in Cuba, their lawyers argue.

The seven concerned are Bisher al Rawi, Jamil el Banna, Omar Deghayes, Wahab al Rawi, Jahida Sayyadi, Sabah Sunnoqrot and Abubaker Deghayes. All were resident in Britain, some as refugees, before they were captured by the US.

Bisher al Rawi and Mr El Banna, two businessmen, were seized in Gambia in 2002 by CIA agents after being held by British intelligence officers in the UK before being released. Chris Mullin, a former Foreign Office minister for Africa, says they were seized by the Americans after a tip-off by the British authorities.

Bisher al Rawi and Mr Deghayes say British intelligence officers who questioned them in Guantánamo Bay said they would be released if they agreed to work for British intelligence.

Lawyers, led by Rabinder Singh QC, have drawn up an 82-page document asking for a judicial review of what they say is the failure by ministers to honour their legal obligations. They say ministers are wrong in claiming they have no legal right to intervene because the men are not British citizens.

Moreover, the fact that the US has shown no interest in trying them through military commissions shows Washington "has no interest in detaining them for the purpose of pursuing any criminal charges against them", their lawyers say.

The detainees were suffering serious violations of their human rights and there was serious risk they were also suffering abuse amounting to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.

In a reference to Mr el Banna and Mr Deghayes, they say international law recognises refugees as particularly vulnerable, making their case even stronger.

The detainees' solicitor, Irene Nembhard of Birnberg Peirce, said yesterday: "The grounds of this claim point to British intelligence forces being complicit in both the seizure and interrogation of the detainees in Gambia and in Guantánamo Bay - what is now referred to as extraordinary rendition. Against this background, the subsequent refusal of the British government to seek the detainees' return and to deny any legal or moral responsibility to do so is reprehensible."

It was incomprehensible to the men's families that the foreign secretary refused to act in the light of the prime minister's comments in the Commons on November 22 2005 that the situation in Guantánamo Bay was an anomaly that ought to be brought to an end, she said.



Meanwhile, in the other prisons which the US and UK would rather you didn't know about in Iraq:

Detainees held by the British army in Iraq have been involved in disturbances this week in protest at being held without charge or trial, the Guardian has learned.

The governor of Basra has made representations to the British after complaints by family members who say that their relatives have gone on hunger strike in the Shaiba detention facility south of Basra.

Families of the men say that they were prevented from visiting their relatives on Thursday and blocked the road to the base in protest. They say that when a few did gain access they heard allegations of beatings and of men being attacked by dogs.

Yesterday a British military spokesman confirmed that some of the "internees" had been involved in disturbances and had been on hunger strike but were now "getting fed". The men are suspected of being involved in insurgency or terrorist activity in the British-controlled area.

Sadiq Mahmoud Karim, visiting Qasim Mahmoud Karim, who has been in detention for 18 months, said: "Some visitors decided to block the main road leading to the base and not move till they were allowed to visit their relatives."


And finally:

Lebanon yesterday became the third country to sign a deal with Britain that allows terrorism suspects to be deported back there. Under the deal, Lebanon, which has been accused of repeatedly breaching the human rights of its citizens, promises not to ill-treat anyone returned to it by Britain.

Amnesty International said Lebanon's human rights record continued to be of "serious concern". It said Islamist groups and opposition supporters had been detained without charge for political reasons and that there had been attacks on basic liberties such as freedom of expression and association.

The Foreign Office said a monitoring body would keep track of a suspect after deportation, but it is not clear which organisation would carry out this role. "We are in the process of identifying a suitable body, and discussions with the Lebanese authorities are ongoing," the Foreign Office said. It is also unclear whether any of the alleged terror suspects held pending deportation or subject to control orders are from Lebanon.

Mike Blakemore of Amnesty International said: "Torture, suspicious deaths in custody and the use of the death penalty are all matters of serious concern in Lebanon and it's dangerously misguided to expect countries with a known record of torturing people to respect bits of paper promising not to torture. So-called 'diplomatic assurances' of good treatment are frankly not worth the paper they're written on. The government should abandon this policy of trying to find a way around the international ban on torture and instead concentrate on condemning the torture of prisoners in places like Lebanon."


Mike Blakemore should also have added that the government has repeatedly failed to explain why these men cannot be tried in Britain. Is it because they have no case to answer, or because it would involve revealing British intelligence sources? The Independent reported earlier this month that some of those currently awaiting deportation or under control orders have not been interrogated or interviewed by either the police or MI5 the whole time they have been in custody. Why are these men apparently so dangerous that they cannot be allowed to go around in public, but who have also not seemingly committed any crime that the police or the security services wish to investigate further by interviewing the accused?

Those held in the Iraq camps are in a similar position of being held without charge. Those held at Guantanamo are apparently still being force-fed, as their hunger strike against the conditions there continues. It now seems that when our gentle hearts-and-minds winning British army stopped their prisoners from having visitors that they also rebelled. As to whether they have been ill-treated, who knows? Anything now seems to be possible or permissible. Merry fucking Christmas.

Share |

Thursday, December 22, 2005 

Surveillance all the time, all of the time.

What a cheerful little story for the holiday season:

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.

Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.

The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.

By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate "reads" per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.

Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.

Senior police officers have described the surveillance network as possibly the biggest advance in the technology of crime detection and prevention since the introduction of DNA fingerprinting.

But others concerned about civil liberties will be worried that the movements of millions of law-abiding people will soon be routinely recorded and kept on a central computer database for years.

The new national data centre of vehicle movements will form the basis of a sophisticated surveillance tool that lies at the heart of an operation designed to drive criminals off the road.

In the process, the data centre will provide unrivalled opportunities to gather intelligence data on the movements and associations of organised gangs and terrorist suspects whenever they use cars, vans or motorcycles.

The scheme is being orchestrated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and has the full backing of ministers who have sanctioned the spending of £24m this year on equipment.

More than 50 local authorities have signed agreements to allow the police to convert thousands of existing traffic cameras so they can read number plates automatically. The data will then be transmitted to Hendon via a secure police communications network.

Chief constables are also on the verge of brokering agreements with the Highways Agency, supermarkets and petrol station owners to incorporate their own CCTV cameras into the network. In addition to cross-checking each number plate against stolen and suspect vehicles held on the Police National Computer, the national data centre will also check whether each vehicle is lawfully licensed, insured and has a valid MoT test certificate.


It would be cliche to make any references to 1984, but I'm going to anyway. Just remember, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Airstrip one, here we come.

Share |

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 

Whoops!



Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.


-- President George W. Bush, April 20, 2004

Share |

 

Laugh of the year.



Tony Blair today shrugged off the revitalised challenge from the Conservative party, telling reporters their "big idea" seemed to be to "try and become more like New Labour", as he set out a new year reform programme for his government.

"If you look at it for a minute, what is the dominant agenda at the moment in British politics? What's the big idea coming from the Conservative party? To try and become more like New Labour.


Blair must be pissed off, because after all, isn't becoming like the Tories New Labour's job? It must hurt to have all your ideas stolen when you stole them in the first place.

Share |

 

Israel denies Palestinians from excerising their democratic right.



Everyone wants the Middle East to become more democratic, but Israel and the United States are only interested if the people support the 'right' parties:

January's Palestinian parliamentary elections have been plunged into crisis after Israel decided to prevent Palestinians in Jerusalem from voting.

Israeli prime minister's spokesman Raanan Gissin told the BBC it was concerned that the Palestinian militant group Hamas might gain power.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the decision and said it would cancel the poll if voting in Jerusalem is barred.

This election will be only the second since the PA was established in 1995.

Press reports also suggest that head of Egyptian intelligence, General Omar Suleiman, who met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, is attempting to persuade Mr Abbas to postpone the vote.

Gen Suleiman has reportedly passed on a warning from the US and the EU that aid to the Palestinian Authority would be suspended if Hamas were to make big gains and become part of the future Palestinian government.

Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said that if there was no voting in Jerusalem, "there will be no elections at all".

"For us, Jerusalem is more important than any other thing," he added.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the 25 January election would be sabotaged if Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem were prevented from voting.

"If these elections don't take place, it will be a catastrophe for the Palestinians," he said.

"I know what the Israelis have on their minds. They don't want a partner. They want unilateralism."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri has told reporters that his group wants the election held as scheduled.

Mr Gissin told the BBC that the Israeli government had changed its stance since last January's presidential election, when voting had been permitted.

Under special voting arrangements for East Jerusalem - which Israel has annexed and sees as its exclusive domain, while international law decrees it to be occupied territory - Palestinians have previously been allowed to vote in Israeli post offices.

Mr Gissin said these had been exceptions, and stressed the government would not help what he called a terrorist organisation, Hamas, come to power.

In October, Israel pulled back from a policy of opposing the participation of Hamas in January's elections.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said it was not in Israel's interest to oppose Hamas' participation.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had said earlier that his government would hinder voting in the West Bank if Hamas candidates stood in the election.


This is all very ironic. Like America supported the mujahadein in Afghanistan during the 80s in their war against the Soviets, Israel supported and helped Hamas during the 70s and 80s as a bulwark against the PLO. Hamas has since grown hugely in popularity, especially since the death of Yasser Arafat. Hamas more or less runs the Gaza Strip, where Fatah has become marginalised due to corruption, both real and imagined. Hamas now threatens to make the same in-roads into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Israelis are if anything just using delaying tactics. As it continues to build its so-called security wall, which cuts deep into Palestinian land and as the settlements continue to grow, Israel knows that it can get away with calling Hamas terrorists and therefore blocking them from gaining any sort of power. This is despite Hamas's repeated statements that if a viable two-state solution was available, with the right of return and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, that they would lay down their arms and let the next generation decide whether to accept that. In other words, they would disband and live side by side with the Israelis in peace. This though is not compatible with Israel's simplistic message that Hamas is a extremist Islamic organisation that will accept nothing less than Israel's destruction. In constantly letting the world know what it thinks, Israel manages to continue to break both international law and the conditions of the road map to peace. It sets the unreasonable demand that the armed groups have to disarm and renounce terrorism before any negotiations begin, the exact opposite to what has led to relative peace in Northern Ireland.

It now seems that Israel is so afraid of Hamas becoming the main Palestinian political organisation that it will stop elections from taking place, making a mockery of George Bush's stated aims of being democracy to the Middle East. Whether Sharon is willing to give up more settlements if his new Kadima party wins power in Israel in the likely upcoming election, there is no chance of the 1967 borders being recognised in any subsequent deal for peace. Unless Sharon realises that only by not humiliating the Palestinians can be peace be broked, there will never be a deal. If he wants to be remembered as the man who brought peace and an end to the biggest source of discontent in the Middle East, then he will have to accept that bullets will never win over ballots.

In the meantine, Israel continues to make everyday life for Palestinians a complete misery:

"The entire West Bank is now becoming covered with phosphorescent yellow vests. A new ruling that will come into effect in Israel shortly will require every driver to wear this glowing garment when he leaves his car at night on the road. West Bank drivers, whose safety is especially important to Israel, have rushed to buy vests from the many peddlers on the sides of the roads: They know that they will be the first ones to get ticketed for violations. At the Qalandiyah checkpoint they cost NIS 15 each."
Does that remind you of anything at all?

Share |

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 

Boobwatch: Tits on the front page.

Ah yes, we're getting close to Christmas, everyone's getting ready for a holiday and of course Fleet Street is no exception. So cue some pathetic stories to fill space, or in this case, fill breasts:




Both the Daily Mail and Mirror have a superb story in that Sharon Osbourne is going to get her breast augmentation downsized. Of course, you can't illustrate such a story without showing a picture of them more or less hanging out, so the tabloid editors have found a convenient way of getting some tits on the front page.

Away from the main eye drawer, the Mail has some wonderful health tips. Think you're fat? Eat a balloon! Depressed? Get a skin patch! Daily Mail reader? Kill yourself!

Share |

Monday, December 19, 2005 

Same old nasty Conservatives attack John Prescott.



Well, the new nice and cuddly Conservative party lasted for just over a week. When John Prescott yesterday made a principled and commendable stand over Blair 'n' Adonis's disastrous education white paper, both William Hague and David "No Brains" Willetts jumped all over him:

Speaking on BBC1's Sunday AM programme, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the prime minister should take up Mr Cameron's offer.

"He (Tony Blair) knows that the only way to get results in say education, is to give greater freedom to schools at the local level. He knows that is the right thing to do.

"The question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means relying on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott and others?"

Shadow education secretary David Willetts said Mr Prescott was fighting old "class war" battles and ignoring young people already denied a good education because of selection by house price.

He told BBC News 24: "The crucial question for Ruth Kelly will be 'is it full speed ahead with reforms as set out by the prime minister or is it lots of clever little manoeuvres to water down some proposals, and back-tracking?'"

He added: "We shall see whether she is serious about reform or engaging in a retreat under pressure from Labour's left wing."


"The question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means relying on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott and others?"


What John Prescott has articulated and is right to fear is a return to selection. Prescott experienced the humiliation of failing the 11-plus - yet he later went on to go to Oxford, and then got a degree from the University of Hull. William Hague went to a comprehensive. I can't find any information on where David Willetts went to school, but he was born in 1956. The 11-plus was on its way to being abolished in most schools by 1968, so he may well have been one of the last to take it, or he could have of course have been privately educated. Either way, his comments are cowardly and ring hollow. Surprise surprise, both Hague and Willetts went to Oxford.

John Prescott was a working class boy. The 11-plus was notoriously biased and discriminatory, with the results that middle class children were overwhelming those who filled the grammar schools. Those who failed the 11-plus were sent to the secondary moderns, where many experienced a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were made to feel as if they were failures, and many settled into that role, especially at a time when parents were less encouraging of their children and when aspiration was not as high as it is today.

Both Hague and Willetts accuse Prescott of being essentially prejudiced and fighting "old class war battles". The reality is that it is the Tories who are fighting the class war. They wish to reintroduce selection, as David Cameron has been exposed as supporting. John Prescott is defending the right of children not to be judged at such a tender age, for them not to be deemed failures, and for them not to give up on themselves. No one is suggesting that Prescott is condoning the middle class practice of moving into areas close to sought after schools. He obviously does not, and the alternative white paper from Labour backbenchers last week has measures to tackle this. The Tories real plan is to make Tony Blair depend on them to get his downright wrong education plans through - then when they have done so, to win the next election and make the plans even worse, and properly reintroducing selection.

This is David Cameron's supposed new liberal policies laid bare. They wish to abolish comprehensives, just as Labour's education reforms are finally bearing fruit. They are still many improvements to be made, and the alternative white paper is just what is needed. Can Blair not see that and see that Cameron is pushing him into a corner? There is not a more despicable policy that one that will condemn children into a life they can avoid. There is a huge majority both in the Labour party and the public for keeping comprehensives, and they need to make their voices heard now before Blair with the connivance of the Tories reintroduces a failed policy.

Share |

 

The street of shame.

Even by Fleet Street's usual standards, today's front pages are incredibly bad.


The Sun leads on the incredible story that Britain's second most worthless cuntbag had an argument at an airport. You can also read the Sun's XCLUSIVE (sic) interview with Shayne, who won the X (sic) Factor on Saturday. A no doubt fascinating tale. Away from those two sensational stories, we have the Sun supposedly talking to Saddam. I'm sure that they have a completely impartial story about it, if you want to find it. And last but not least, you can get a free page 3 picture on your mobile! I'm frantically dialling as we speak.

The Mirror splashes on the amazing fact that some inmates have threatened to kill the aforementioned Shayne's father, who apparently is in prison. A frightening prospect.
The Mirror also claims to have Shayne's first interview, although they've probably just lifted the Sun's interview and reprinted the entire thing as their own. Their own EXCLUSIVE is a woman's love for mercy death father, which I assume is about last week's Wragg case. Whether anyone still cares or did care in the first place is debatable. And last but not least, the Mirror has a story on the winner of Strictly Come Dancing, Darren Gough. I can't remember (and I don't care) how many contestants there were to begin with, but at the most the odds at the start were 12-1. Congratulations on beating those odds, Darren!


The Star has yet another fucking feature on Shayne who claims to be the new Robbie Williams. He must be an incredibly arrogant moron with stupid tattoos, then. The Star also promises a poster of "Lucy", whoever she may be, topless. Journalism at its finest.

Last and certainly least, we have the Diana Express, sorry, Daily Express with another amazing exclusive on everyone's favourite dead princess. Whether she was knocked up in the motorhome is not disclosed, sadly.


It's enough to make you want to castrate yourself with a rusty switchblade.

Share |

Saturday, December 17, 2005 

Cameron: "I'm a liberal Conservative."



David Cameron yesterday moved to exploit the leadership crisis that has engulfed the Liberal Democrats by appealing to the party's supporters and MPs to "come and join the new Conservative party" if they want to see Labour defeated. Speaking in Hereford yesterday, the Conservative leader said that the two parties shared many values and that he was now the natural leader of a "modern, progressive, liberal, mainstream opposition to Labour".

"Let me make one thing clear. I'm a liberal Conservative. So I believe it's time for Liberal Democrat voters, councillors and MPs that share these values and this agenda to come and join the new Conservative party," he said.

Mr Cameron's allies have been attempting to build links with Lib Dem MPs in the hope of persuading some to defect before the next election. In his speech Mr Cameron set out the importance of cutting into Liberal Democrat support to gain the 126 seats he needs to form a majority government.


So what exactly has Mr Cameron done so far to show that he is a "liberal Conservative?" Despite that almost being an oxymoron, we can have a quick look back at his record. So far his only main policy announcements have been to have a list of candidates for seats that would be widely inclusive, and that he will support the government on their education white-paper. In actual fact it's obvious that Cameron and his new conservative cronies actually wish to go much further than the already dangerous education white paper, and if they could, re-introduce selection for secondary education. So, he's for making sure that the working classes are kept down. That isn't very meritocratic, one of Tony Blair's favourite words, and Cameron's obvious hero.

The other piece of evidence we have of Cameron being a liberal conservative is that he wrote this year's Conservative party manifesto. Let's take a brief look at some of its main points:

The Conservatives are promising to create more good local schools. Parents will have the right to choose the best schools for their children, which means they will be able to send their child to an independent school for the cost of a state-funded education.


In other words, giving money to the rich who would send their kids to "independent" i.e. private and exclusive schools anyway.

Headteachers and governors will have complete control over discipline in school, including control over admissions and exclusions. Heads will set minimum standards of behaviour and will no longer be forced to admit children excluded from other schools. The party will establish Turnaround schools for disruptive pupils - at a cost of £200m a year. Pupils will attend full-time and will only be readmitted to mainstream schools if their behaviour significantly improves.


In other words, we'll throw all the little bastards out of sight of everyone and let them all kill each other out of harm's way, away from our own little darlings. Headteachers will also have complete control over admissions - why, that sounds remarkably similar to selection, doesn't it?

The Connexions careers service will be scrapped and a new service created with strong business involvement.


Ah yes, get them stacking the shelves and make the promise that they might just one day be able to become a manager.

Let's move on asylum and immigration:

Michael Howard has said that an incoming Conservative government would ask parliament to approve a limit on the maximum number of refugees allowed into the United Kingdom. A quota of around 20,000 a year would be set - even though it could mean genuine refugees are refused the right to refuge and asylum in Britain. Applicants for entry to the UK would be processed at offshore asylum centres.


So if there was a catastrophe in say, Zimbabwe or another country which forced huge numbers to leave, they wouldn't be able to come to our little island if the nice round figure of 20,000 had already been reached. The "offshore asylum centres" is a euphemism for the Tories' infamous fantasy islands' - places they hadn't found where they would keep all the darkies to make sure they couldn't rob the decent taxpayers of their money.

How about crime and law and order?

The party intends to return cannabis to a class B classification to resolve current confusion.


This conflicts with Cameron's personal statements that he would keep cannabis as Class C and would also consider downgrading Ecstasy - about the only other truly liberal policy he would like to implement. Too bad his party wouldn't let him.

Pledges to create 20,000 extra prison places to guarantee that sentencing will not be driven by capacity. Plans an end to the early release scheme that sees prisoners monitored by electronic tagging and believes community sentences should only compliment not substitute prison.


In other words, prison works! Even though we've got over 80,000 already serving time and that crime has been falling for 10 years, we need to clamp back down on the yobs and scroungers who blight our streets. Never mind that it would take years to build new prisons and that the early release schemes are broadly successful. Community sentences shouldn't substitute prison - in English that means throw everyone away, and we'll think about the consequences when they come out much the worse for their experience later.

Wants to see the civil law provision that a householder will be only be prosecuted for "grossly disproportionate" action against a burglar extended into criminal law through a householder protection bill.


In other words, the Tories want you to have the right to murder anyone who sets foot on your property. This despite that the law already covers 'reasonable force' being used against intruders. The most infamous case of this kind, the Tony Martin debacle, was only taken to court because he had purposefully lay in wait for the two men who broke in and then shot them when they were in fact running away. Still, it's a good soundbite and it makes all of us who consider our home our castle feel more secure.

How about 'tax and spend'?

The Conservatives promise to spend £4bn of their £12bn worth of efficiency savings on tax cuts. They plan to spend £1.3bn of that on halving council tax for the over-65s and are believed to be considering raising the threshold at which low earners start to pay income tax and cutting inheritance tax and stamp duty further. Ten million workers would get tax relief on their pension contributions, using £1.7bn of the Tories' efficiency savings. The Tories have promised to abolish the 1% stamp duty on house purchases below £250,000. At the last Budget, the threshold was raised from £60,000 to £120,000. The Tories claim that lifting it to £250,000 will free more than 500,000 homebuyers a year from stamp duty, and leave 80% of house purchases unaffected by the tax.


The Tories never managed to explain how they were going to cut taxes and still keep up Labour's spending on the public services. They also promise to go the way of the Republicans in America in trying to abolish inheritance tax, which they misrepresent as a death tax, which helps the Treasury immensely and makes sure that money which is left behind for no one does not just lay dormant.

And finally, let's look at Health:

The party supports free choice for NHS patients in terms of care delivery. Patients will have the option of going private, with 50% of their costs underwritten by the state. GPs will advise patients on the best hospital for their needs.


Similar to their schools policy, they'll pay half the cost to those already wealthy enough to go private out of the pockets of those who rely on the NHS. Their choice policy is similar to Labour's, which is still not supported the public, as opinion polls consistently show a majority in favour of just one good high quality local hospital, not the choice of five in the region.

Is a man who wrote the above really a "liberal Conservative"? Or is he just another nasty man disguised by charisma and good looks? Until Cameron proves that not just he but his party has managed to move on from the above failed policies, no self respecting Lib Dem, let alone anyone else, should touch the Conservatives with a 10-foot pole.

Share |

Friday, December 16, 2005 

Blair considers lifting ban on tapping MPs' phones.

Is there really no depth to which this government will not sink?

Tony Blair yesterday indicated that he may scrap or change a longstanding ban on tapping of MPs' phones brought in by his Labour predecessor at No 10 Harold Wilson.

MPs were given a government guarantee that their phones would not be tapped by police or the security services, "whatsoever the circumstances", by Wilson in the late 1960s.

Prime ministers including Mr Blair have regularly confirmed to parliament that the rule remains in place. Although the ban, known as the Wilson doctrine, does not carry statutory backing, MPs must be told by the prime minister if it is to be changed.

Yesterday Downing Street appeared to take steps towards that in a written statement to MPs. In it, the prime minister said he had received advice about the implications for the ban of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed by parliament amid much controversy in 2000.

The statement said the new advice had come from Sir Swinton Thomas, the interception of communications commissioner, and that Mr Blair was considering "possible implications".

Last night a Downing Street official confirmed a decision on whether the Wilson doctrine would be changed was expected in the new year but refused to reveal details of Sir Swinton's advice.

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, yesterday called for the protection that MPs currently enjoy to remain in place. He has repeatedly called on the government to reveal whether any MPs have had their phones tapped.

In 2003 it was suggested in parliament that the phones of at least one Sinn Féin MP had been bugged.

After making the guarantee, Wilson became convinced in his second spell as prime minister that he was himself being monitored by the security services.
Is this really about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or is it about Blair's continued seeming loss of reality? Who is to say that Blair wouldn't like to have his opponents in parliament bugged? With the Campaign group of MPs' raising hell, and even former loyal ministers supporting the alternative education paper published this week which Blair arrogantly dismissed out of hand, he may well be feeling hemmed in from all sides, with a seemingly resurgent Tory party led by Cameron. Maybe I'm just clutching at straws and that such a ban would only be used against the Sinn Fein MPs who don't even sit in the house.

One thing though is certain. Blair is striving for a legacy, and the only thing that the public at the moment will remember him for is Iraq. That is why he seems so determined to push ahead with the education reforms that he and Lord Adonis had as much a hand in as Ruth Kelly. He doesn't realise that if he tries to push through the white paper, not only will Labour desert him, but he will be sealing his own fate.

Share |

Thursday, December 15, 2005 

No Trousers Charlie wins EU pact for new snoopers charter.


Remember the snoopers charter? Back in the halcyon days of 2002, the then home secretary David Blunkett intended to let hundreds of different government officials and companies have access to the records of internet and mobile phone usage. He backed down after the plans were leaked to the Grauniad, sparking outrage. Now 3 years later Charles Clarke has managed to get a very similar piece of legislation through the European parliament, and hardly anyone has batted an eyelid.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, yesterday won an agreement across Europe to ensure that telephone and internet records are stored by telecoms companies for up to two years.

The deal, which won the backing of the European parliament yesterday, will mean that police investigating terrorism and serious crime will have access to the commercial traffic logs of all phone calls, text messages, emails and instances of internet use by suspects.

Mr Clarke said: "This agreement on retaining communications places a vital tool against terrorism and serious crime in the hands of law enforcement agencies across Europe."

The new EU directive will make it mandatory for telecoms firms to keep phone and internet data for a minimum of six months but will not cover police access to the content of calls or emails, and will be subject to strict data protection. Mr Clarke said yesterday he would however urge EU governments to make it mandatory to store data for up to two years. He had made the issue a key element of the British presidency of the EU; it proved highly controversial, with Germany, Ireland and other countries raising concerns about privacy and cost.

The deal will mean that the voluntary agreement with the telecoms industry in Britain will now become mandatory across the EU. At present in Britain, emails, text messages and internet data are kept for six months. Telephone details, including numbers dialled, the time and duration of calls, and location of the mobile, are kept for 12 months.

Even details of calls that are connected but go unanswered will be archived on the grounds that they could be signals to accomplices or used to detonate a bomb.

Mr Clarke said yesterday the EU member states would each decide on how long the data should be kept, and whether they would reimburse telecoms firms. The UK contributes £6m a year to national costs.

There was also flexibility in the ruling to ensure new forms of data are covered.

Yesterday, the Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford said it amounted to a green light for mass surveillance: "Ordinary citizens could find details of their movements, acquaintances and favourite websites circulating in Whitehall."


On the surface the deal sounds fairly reasonable. Only police investigating terrorism and serious crime are likely to have access to the records, and then they will only be able to see the time messages and calls were made, not the content of them. Then you realise that "serious crime" can be very broadly interpreted. MI5 during the 80s kept huge databases on "subversives", many containing information on people who only had a casual interest in left wing politics or might have happened to attended a protest on nuclear disarmament. Now we are also told that embassies are drawing up lists of people who should be banned from entering the UK. Babar Ahmed is being extradited to the US on the pretext that he supported Islamists in Chechnya and Afghanistan through a website that was based in the United States, despite him living here.

None of the above inspires confidence that these powers will not be abused. Of nearly every new power the police are given, they use it to their advantage in ways which it was not meant for, i.e. the section of the Terrorism Act that led to the heckler at the Labour party conference being stopped from entering the hall. Then we remember that there are many companies dying to get their hands on our personal information, such as the major supermarkets and advertising firms, let alone those who use such information to set up bank accounts in the names of those who become victims to identity fraud. Finally, we have the entertainment industry, which would dearly love to have to avoid the hassle of getting court orders against ISPs to reveal what their customers are doing on the web, intent on cracking down against the teenagers who dare to sample music or films before they buy.

Just try and imagine all the phone calls, messages and web sites you would make, send and visit in two years. Through this the authorities can build up a whole picture of the life that you lead. We trust the companies that we use to keep this information private, and the majority have done. Can we trust that the government will be so careful? Many will say that if you've nothing to hide, then you've nothing to fear from such legislation. The simple answer to that is that everyone has something to hide, some thing however small or big that they would never tell either their partners, their friends or their parents. With this legislation, the government and the police will know your every movement, if they are so inclined to inquire about it. Faced with the threat of suicidal terrorism, it seems that the public and the majority of the politicians have given up their privacy to stop a small minority of threatening people. Once again, those who wish us harm seem to have won.

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Links

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates