Tuesday, March 31, 2009 

Pakistan, Afghanistan and the new American strategy.

In one sense, the claim of responsibility from the Pakistani Taliban for yesterday's attack on the police school, more accurately known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, headed by Baitullah Mehsud, is something of a relief; it means, that as yet, Lashkar-e-Taiba, another group founded by Pakistan's intelligence agencies, has not declared war on the Pakistani state itself, even if they remain the most likely suspects for the previous attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. It does however show how quickly attacks like those in Mumbai can be copied and carried out, the TTP having previously relied almost exclusively on suicide bombings.

The other sort of good news from yesterday's attack was that a complete bloodbath was avoided thanks to the relatively swift intervention of the Pakistani security forces, those who had been criticised, probably unfairly, after the first Lahore attack. "Only" 11 dead, when there were up to 800 police recruits in the attacked compound, can be seen as something of a success. It might also cause a rethink in the terrorists' tactics: a suicide bombing, especially a truck one, would have almost certainly resulted in far higher casualties and at less expense to the attackers, hence why suicide bombing is such an attractive strategy, however much horror it inspires in those who are under attack.

Apart from those very small consolations, there is much to fear from the continuing spiral into proactive insurgency in Pakistan. The sharia "deal" in Swat was meant to bring a halt to some of the attacks: if anything, they have increased elsewhere, as could have been predicted. The justification given by Mehsud for yesterday's attack was the drone strikes which are also continuing in the semi-autonomous tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. While these attacks have been effective in taking out some al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, they are also the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, resulting in civilian casualties which only further enrage public opinion against the Americans, and in turn towards the Pakistani state which they see as colluding with the Hellfire missile assaults, however much they condemn the Americans in public. That the latest attack was again in Lahore, long regarded as being far removed from the tension of Islamabad or the radicalism of the towns and cities further west, also shows just how far the reach of the TTP has spread and also how quickly. The insurgency ostensibly began after the assault on the Red Mosque in 2007, but has since become almost inseparable from the simultaneous jihad in Afghanistan against the foreign forces, as the merging of three separate organisations under the banner of the Council of United Mujahideen last month showed. The new grouping, which also pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, was meant to focus its attacks on the coalition in Afghanistan and turn away from targeting the Pakistani military and police, yet there is no sign of that happening yet. Indeed, if anything, the attacks in Pakistan itself seem to have stepped up further over the past few weeks.

All of this is a direct challenge to the "new" US strategy on both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is fundamentally based around denying terrorists the use of safe havens to attack foreign countries from. In some ways it amounts to a refutation of the previous administration's strategy of tackling rogue states, where the attack on Afghanistan amounted to revenge with the war on Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaida, the main event, but in other ways it is nothing more or less than simply a justification from Obama to continue the war, regardless of the consequences. The strategy fundamentally ignores what the jihadi motivation is: they themselves are only too aware of their actual weak status, knowing full well that they cannot carry out spectaculars like 9/11 on anything like a regular basis. What they can do however is draw in their enemies and then subject them to asymmetrical insurgency, knowing that unless their tactics become too brutal, as they did in Iraq, resulting in a backlash from those who had fought alongside them, that they have the potential to bog down the invaders or occupiers for years, if not decades, while increasingly gaining recruits to their cause as a result. Afghanistan has not really been free from war since before 1980, and some of those fighting have also been involved since then, showing no signs of getting tired of it.

The biggest problem with it though is that it imagines that it can create safe havens, or even that such a policy is the way forward. Even if you managed to kill bin Laden, Zawahiri and Mullah Omar tomorrow and most if not all of those currently actively involved in the insurgencies, while it would be a tremendous blow, it would not even begin to challenge the ideology behind the men. Havens also are transient: at the moment it's the FATA area of Pakistan, but bin Laden if we are to use him did plenty of travelling around after the end of the jihad against the Soviets, moving from Saudi Arabia to Sudan and then back to Afghanistan. As Andrew Exum points out, where does it all end? Do we also go after and into Somalia, Yemen, the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and anywhere else where jihadist movements are also beginning to spawn and which might at some point threaten the West? Then there's the "virtual" safe havens, the online jihadist networks which currently only involve discussion and distribution of propaganda rather than actual plotting, which instead takes place off the actual forums, but which could at some point potentially fill the void. Thomas Hegghammer points out four very simple things that have to be done but which don't involve violence of any variety which would help immensely:

It is very simple: 1) Say and do things on Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir that make Muslims feel less geopolitically deprived and humiliated. 2) Be nice to the locals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and broadcast your good deeds, 3) Point out where the jihadis are wrong on substance, and 4) Let mainstream Muslim clerics take care of the theology.

The above is not suddenly going to stop the TTP from launching more attacks, but it will help to staunch the flow of recruits. Pakistan is worrying, but it is not suddenly about to fall into the hands of jihadists who will instantly have their finger on the nuclear trigger. Lastly, we also have to start thinking seriously about an exit strategy from Afghanistan: a country which could never be conquered in the past is not going to be conquered now. Deals, however unsavoury, will have to be made. It probably won't however look as bad as it currently does when the government we helped install wants to introduce such draconian laws on the role of women in Afghan society as those detailed in today's Grauniad.

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Monday, March 30, 2009 

Richard Timney and the story of his descent into perversion.

The Sunday Express is not often noted for its political scoops, and coming shortly after its Scottish sister thought it was a spiffing idea to lead with the shame of the Dunblane survivors who were daring to act like teenagers generally do, their story on Jacqui Smith's husband claiming expenses for watching two "pornographic" features must be a cause for double satisfaction. For not only did they beat their rivals, but it also seems likely that Richard Timney was also contributing to Richard Desmond's coffers, having probably ordered the features from his Television X venture. A Telegraph blogger claims that the films in question were Raw Meat 3, which it turns out, is of the gay genre, and By Special Request, which is undetermined in nature at present.

If almost any other politician, or rather their spouse had been caught in a similar situation, with the possible exception of Harriet Harman, who the tabloids loves to portray as a feminazi, it wouldn't have probably been so embarrassing or have led to calls for their resignation. This though was unfortunate enough to befall Jacqui Smith, who seems to be have become the latest New Labour Home Secretary to gain the description "accident prone". No one could begrudge a spouse feeling lonely of an evening with their partner away the comfort of a surrogate, and as we know, Smith seems to spend an awful lot of time with her sister, and if they wish to sample adult entertainment to fill the void, as it were, even of the soft pornographic variety available on demand, that is no business of anyone else's. It would be best however if they didn't then claim it on their expenses. Yet to misquote Lady Bracknell, to be caught out once even if no explicit rule has been breached by claiming that your main residence also happens to be your sister's, to be caught out again in such a further shamefacedly way looks like carelessness.

In fact, the claiming of £10 for two half-hearted skin flicks looks remarkably less objectionable when you examine the list for what Smith was claiming in full, which includes, incredibly, a whole 88 pence for a bath plug, not to mention £550 for a Habitat stone model sink. Those who currently find themselves out of work and on jobseeker's allowance would have to save up for two months' and a week (the current rate is £60.50 a week if you're over 25, if you're under it's less) to be able to fit out their bathroom in the same manner. You can't help but think it would have been preferable for Timney to have emerged, crimson and contrite, to say sorry for the fitting out of their home at taxpayer's expense, especially when both are already in the pay of the state and hardly shabbily remunerated, than for him to have face the feral beast in full cry about his masturbatory habits.

Even with all of this in mind, probably the most outrageous statement made since yesterday's revelations has been the repeated claim, by both David Miliband and the prime minister, that Jacqui Smith is doing a "great job". She may be, as Hopi Sen half-heartedly says, decent and hard-working, and might also be a lovely person in general, it's just a crying shame about her politics and more than apparent difficulty to take criticism. It has to be remembered that this was the person who was determined, along with the prime minister, to ram through 42 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects, who recently oversaw the passing of the "dangerous pictures" law, and who now also wants to put through a successor "dangerous cartoons" act. Her contempt for individual liberty could not be more clear than when she when sneers at those that are "reasonably comfortable" but who complain about the erosion of civil liberties when far more important is the "fundamental right" for us "to be safe", and I say all this as someone reasonably sympathetic towards the way the media has portrayed her, from Quentin Letts leering at her bosom (not "pneumatic", friends of Ms Harman have accused me of misogyny) when she made the heinous mistake of inadvertently showing off some cleavage, to the oh so clever cartoonist in Private Eye who draws her with breasts the size of watermelons.

In fairness to Smith, while her claiming that her main residence is her sister's home is especially cunning, most MPs are doing things remarkably similar, regardless of their politics. The Sunday Mirror for instance claimed that William Hague, who is not exactly strapped for cash, was claiming for his second home despite earning in the region of £800,000 a year, and who wouldn't give up his outside interests despite being asked by Cameron. It's been apparent now for quite some time that to all intents and purposes, for those who want to abuse the system, even if they are not breaking the letter of the law, they can claim pretty much anything they want and not have to break into their own salary. At long last, possibly thanks to how bad this looks while everyone else is tightening their belts, Gordon Brown did today finally suggest that the second home allowance should be scrapped, despite only recently fending off attempts by others to reform the system, even if it will be replaced by a flat-rate system.

The rage that this is inducing in the public was palpably summarised on last week's Question Time, when Eric Pickles, who didn't help matters by putting off a poor defence of his allowance, was pulverised by the audience. This can be unfair on politicians who do often, it must be said, make the best of a bad lot. We ought to be grateful that for the most part ours are remarkably straight; far more worthy of criticism is the parliamentary system itself, where party comes above the personal all too often, as indeed is the first past the post system by which they are appointed in the first place. If you had to ask which was preferable, the fiddling of expenses so they can refit their bathrooms and get DVD players and widescreen TVs for their second homes for zilch, or the active buying or bribing of politicians by outside influences, you would go for the former every time. The sad fact is that most of them don't have to be paid to make bad decisions, whether on war, airport expansion or the bailing out of bankers: they do that more than acceptably all on their own.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009 

Weekend links.

Story of the weekend is undoubtedly the large protests in London ahead of the G20 meeting next week. After doing their best to raise tensions ahead of next week's probably more radical protests, the police seem to have made more than the usual effort to count the crowd, saying 35,000 turned up, which means you can probably at least double that, resulting in a more than fine turn out. Lenin, the Daily Maybe and Laurie Penny all have reports.

Elsewhere, Craig Murray examines in detail the latest Foreign Office Human Rights Report, which seems to be saying clearer than ever that it uses "intelligence" which is sourced through torture while at the same time "unreservedly condemning" the practice, Paul Linford says that Stephen Byers' criticism of Brown's economic policy is spot on, Justin puts into detail why Iain Dale should not win the Orwell prize for blogging (I'm rooting for Alix Mortimer), Nosemonkey sets out why he doesn't think the EU is about to become a "superstate" any time soon, David Semple is still (rightly) pissed off about the Jade Goody hysteria, while finally over on Heresy Corner Frank Fisher (aka MrPikeBishop from CiF) guests with a tongue-in-cheek post regarding the "dangerous drawings" legislation and the 18-year-old who painted a massive cock on the roof of where he lived.

In the papers, Ian Jack remarks on how suffering in public became an act, both Peter Oborne and Matthew Parris are rather scathing about Brown's rather unpleasant last week, Deborah Orr covers ground similar on the two contrasting rape cases to that which I did yesterday, and lastly Howard Jacobson rather weakly suggests that we shouldn't disbelieve those who tell us we're all about to die.

As for worst tabloid article of the weekend, normally the Sun would deserve some sort of prize for its curious belief that the mother of a footballer being caught shoplifting is a front page news story for two days running, but when such incredible chutzpah is on the front page of the Daily Mail it rather glosses over it. This country of anger and fear, a damning verdict, says the newspaper which does more than any other publication with the possible exception of the Sun to incite both that anger and fear. We also sadly can't go one week without mentioning the lovely Amanda Platell, who has this stereotypically Mail response to the Peter Bacon rape case:

Answer: because the strident feminist lobby has demanded that every woman's accusation of rape must be treated equally, however weak the evidence.

That does a great injustice to men like Mr Bacon, who - even when proven innocent - will for ever bear the shame and stigma of the trial.

But just as importantly it does a huge disservice to the genuine victims of aggressive rape, who will find their claims lumped together with those of promiscuous, binge- drinking, irresponsible fools who are the victims only of their own stupidity.

That's a rather harsh verdict on Mr Bacon; after all, he was only out for a totally legitimate one-night stand. Oh, she's talking about the woman...

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Friday, March 27, 2009 

An interesting set of priorities.

It's interesting and perhaps informative to note that on the day that there was another case which showed the deficiencies and incompetence which often dogs police investigations into accusations of rape, both the Daily Mail and Express decided that a man cleared of rape after 45 minutes of deliberations was far more worthy of going on the front page than the conviction of Kirk Reid, who raped or indecently assaulted as many as 71 women before finally being caught.

The acquittal of Peter Bacon predictably touches all the issues which the Mail and Express love to highlight. His accuser admitted that she was drunk and couldn't remember what happened. She claimed that because she couldn't remember what happened, the sexual intercourse the pair apparently had must have been non-consensual, in line with an appeal court judgement from 2007 which adjudged that a woman who is drunk may well be unable to give her consent, but the decision is still ultimately left up to the jury to decide whether the man had a "reasonable belief" that consent had been given. For a paper that continues to take a highly moralistic line when it comes to sex, Bacon gets off remarkably scot free from criticism, especially considering his comment that he was aiming to try to get a one-night stand legitimately", with predictably the woman copping it instead. She was a self-confessed "recreational binge drinker", had not a boyfriend for a number of years, "was close to her mother", had been suffering from depression, "was known for flamboyant outfits in court" during her work as a lawyer, and had had another one night stand with a different man when Bacon and the woman had previously crossed paths. Bacon, instead, is "a very kind and caring individual, and would never speak badly of anyone", was holding down two part-time jobs, and also studying sociology at Canterbury university.

All of this is with a contrast with the Kirk Reid case, which you might have thought was more newsworthy. The second case within a month concerning police incompetence and repeated attacks on women over a number of years, the conviction of John Worboys being the other example. Reid had first entered the police's inquiries in 2004, and came into contact with the police 12 times before a detective inspector who had just been handed the case joined the dots in a matter of days. Both Worboys and Reid targeted women returning from nights out, often the worse the wear from drink, which Worboys then compounded by offering the women who entered his cab a drink, claiming that he had a major betting or casino win. The drinks were spiked; the women often woke up unable to remember what happened, but knowing that they had been sexually assaulted.

The obvious point to make is that despite improvements over the years, women are still all too often completely disbelieved or not taken seriously when making rape allegations, especially when drink has been involved. This is further not helped by surveys which routinely return results that up to a third believe women are partially responsible if they flirt with someone who subsequently rapes them, with around the same number also thinking the victim should accept some of the blame if she was drunk. As potentially irresponsible as getting drunk on your own is, with no one to take care of you while you get home, all the blame has to lie with the person who takes advantage of it - not the victim.

As much as Peter Bacon has undoubtedly suffered since he was accused, the end result shows that the system has worked. There is an argument to be made for the accused in rape trials to be given the same protection as the victim until conviction, but that then raises implications for those accused of other crimes. Why should those charged with murder or child molestation/possession of child pornography for example not also claim they should be protected until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Bacon couldn't really have asked for a better confirmation of his innocence than for him to be splashed across the front page of the second biggest selling newspaper in the country, which will hopefully be some kind of recompense, however slight. A far bigger travesty would be if the wide publication of his case was to further damage the belief in those who have been assaulted and who have never faced a greater challenge in bringing their attackers to justice.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009 

A police investigation, but how far will it go?

It's difficult to know whether to be surprised at the decision of the Attorney General to refer to the Metropolitan police her concerns that MI5 may have broken the law through its alleged complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, or surprised but at the same time cynical. The manoeuvres last week by the government, announcing that they would publish the guidelines MI5 and 6 would follow when interviewing suspects abroad, that the Intelligence and Security Committee would reinvestigate Mohamed's treatment, and that there would be a new agreement with the Pakistani authorities concerning their treatment of British detainees seemed to be an attempt to bring the embarrassment involving Mohamed's allegations to an abrupt end. Hopes were not raised by the length of time that Baroness Scotland was taking to look into the claims, which themselves arose after the evidence heard in a secret session of the court case involving Mohamed's lawyers' attempts to gain access to documents detailing his detention was felt to be so serious that the "possible criminal wrongdoing" demanded further investigation. Undoubtedly both the government and MI5 would have hoped to have avoided an investigation of any sort; that Scotland has decided that there is a possible case to answer is deserving of praise, especially considering her predecessor's considerable lack of independence from the government.

It will however be prudent to be concerned about just how wide the investigation will be and whether it will get anywhere. At the moment it looks like it may just be investigating the behaviour of "Witness B", the MI5 officer who drew the short straw and was the person who interviewed Mohamed while he was being held in Pakistan, where he was already suffering ill-treatment but was yet to be subjected to the "medieval" torture that he almost certainly suffered in Morocco. It's apparent from other cases that "Witness B" was not the only person to show a worrying lack of concern for detainees' well-being while in Pakistani custody, and the spectre of him being made a scapegoat and left hung out to dry is potentially worse than there being no investigation at all. As the Guardian has established, Mohamed's interrogation by "Witness B" was almost certainly the result of an official policy which had been drawn up by government ministers in conjunction with the security services. This agreement essentially took the "three monkeys" approach: they did nothing that would directly associate them with the ill-treatment that is endemic in Pakistani custody, while also doing nothing to stop it from happening. This was further compounded by how despite claiming to not know where Mohamed had been taken, they supplied information to the Americans which was subsequently used during the "interrogation" sessions in Morocco.

In other words, this potentially goes all the way to the very top. As has been pointed out, the current head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, was in charge of international counter-terrorism at the time. It hardly seems realistic that Knacker of the Yard is going to burst into Thames House and ask Evans to come along quietly, just as it seems doubtful that the spooks will be letting anything incriminating slip into their statements to the police. They can, after all, just like normal suspects, completely refuse to co-operate with the police's inquiries. This is one of the major reasons why there should be an independent judicial review, where evidence, not necessarily in public, would have to be given under oath. Doubtless also the likes of the Sun, which has been shameless in their disbelief concerning Mohamed's treatment, will be squealing tomorrow about how it will be distracting MI5 from their vital work of keeping us safe from those whom would, uh, not think twice about instigating similar methods.

This though is not just about Mohamed, but about how we suddenly decided that complicity with torture, not just of others but our own citizens and residents was acceptable despite knowing full well that torture makes for hopeless "intelligence". Those responsible should be at the least brought to account and made to explain themselves; criminal charges may well be sought, but again they seem unlikely to stick, just as very little concerning the war on terror has stuck to this government. The hope has to be again that today's announced investigation will shed even more light on one of the most shaming events in our recent history.

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Scum-watch: Disgraceful journalism shocker.

There was a major story today which highlighted some truly reprehensible journalism by the Sun which I was intending to post on, but which has since been removed from the newspaper site on which it was posted, not I presume because it was inaccurate but because of a court order which had previously been granted that had brought the initial coverage to an end. I'm not going to repeat it because I think the story, broken in the Sun, should never have been published in the first place, but if you're so inclined you'll undoubtedly be able to find it. I do however hope that the Press Complaints Commission, which was already investigating the initial story, now throws the book at the Sun.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009 

Scum-watch: Demanding the immediate arrest of Anjem Choudary.

One of the great things about the Sun is that every so often it gets enough of a bee in its bonnet, or rather sees a passing bandwagon, and it can't help but leap upon it. On occasion it starts the ball rolling; at other times it just enjoys the ride. These campaigns, if they can even be termed such, rarely last long; long-term attention span, except when it comes to something like the Human Rights Act, is not the Sun's strong point. Sometimes these campaigns will have a lasting and damaging effect, such as late last year's witch-hunt over the death of Baby P, and at other times they will have absolutely no impact at all, and end up being quietly dropped and forgotten. Their campaign against knife crime is one such example, although ostensibly it is still on-going. "Broken Britain", last year's big motif, has also not been so big this year, what with Jade Goody dying to instead concentrate on.

One of the previous campaigns which the Sun has not since stopped crowing about involved Abu Hamza. The Sun has since claimed that it was more or less thanks to them that he ended up behind bars, which was utter nonsense, as have other "internet investigators" that have since become rather discredited (see Bloggerheads RE: Glen Jenvey). Nonetheless, the Sun's continual emphasis on Hamza ended up turning him into a major villain and the archetypal spouting Islamic madman. How much influence he genuinely had on those who went on to take part in terrorist attacks is disputed; he certainly was involved in radicalisation, but the more lurid claims against him don't necessarily stand up to scrutiny. He was definitely on the periphery, and some who have gone on to become noted extremists certainly did go to the Finsbury Park mosque if not regularly then on more than one or two occasions to hear him speak, but also thanks to the portrayal of Hamza many now imagine that it's radical imams in mosques that do the radicalising when this is overwhelmingly, especially now, not the case. Hamza has if anything now become a cartoon, a puppet who can be brought out and used for almost any purpose.

Since Hamza's sad sojourn to Belmarsh, the Sun has been looking for someone to replace him. First they alighted upon Omar Bakri Muhammad, the then leader of al-Muhajiroun, since banned and now exiled in Lebanon, having been denied re-entry to the country. He even more than Hamza was a media whore, who loved the attention and had even less discernible links to those who have subsequently took part in if we must call it that, the global jihad. He still regularly pops up, when the Sun can be bothered to phone him up and incur the international charges. Replacing him though has been the second in command of al-Muhajiroun, now supposedly the leader of one of its numerous successor organisations, Anjem Choudary. Choudary is interesting for two reasons: firstly because unlike either Hamza or Bakri he has no religious training whatsoever, and has not studied to be an imam, and is instead a lawyer by profession, albeit one that doesn't seem to practice; and secondly because Choudary used to be a "normal" person, i.e. got drunk, slept around and generally had something approaching fun. Hamza also didn't embrace radical Islam until he was in his late 20s, during the mid-80s, but was not as well-known for similar behaviour as Choudary was.

Choudary however is even more shameless when it comes to media attention than Bakri and Hamza combined. He appears to adore it, perhaps even crave it. He never seems happier than when appearing on Newsnight or some other news programme, moderating his rhetoric somewhat to not appear completely out there, addressing the anchor by name (he almost seemed to be flirting with Kirsty Wark on a recent NN appearance) and generally enjoying the attention. This is not to deny that Choudary holds undoubted extremist views which go against not just the vast vast majority of people in this country but also the vast vast majority of Muslims as well, but he is, not to put too fine a point on it, an idiot, a shill, a complete incompetent who almost seems like a plant by the security services to discredit radical Islam even further. He is leader of a tiny sect that has only gained attention because both of his own inflammatory views, their skills at exploiting the outrage of the gullible, and because the media itself adores him, because he makes either their programme or their newspaper seem exciting, even vaguely dangerous. It's quite accurate to lump Choudary in with the British National Party, except that it's acceptable to use Choudary where it isn't to use the BNP. If anything, the roles should be reversed: the BNP is far more influential than Choudary and deserves challenging in the media spotlight, unlike the clownish Choudary.

Choudary is a distraction. His group may well contain some individuals who might go on to put their words into action, although not necessarily in this country, hence why it should be carefully monitored. Choudary though is just a windbag, someone who can be relied upon for a quote but who can equally be turned on when the press feels like it. Which is what the Sun has done today.

Coinciding with the release of the CONTEST anti-terrorism strategy, the Sun has unilaterally decided that Choudary is such a danger and has got away with his "incitement" for so long that he must be immediately arrested, charged, and locked away. Quite why it's decided now is anyone's guess, although it might be connected with the fact that the terrorist threat from jihadists in general seems to be receding somewhat, as the strategy set out, meaning the Sun might not be able to scaremonger relentlessly for much longer, as it also does today, as we shall come to. Other papers would suggest that the police might well want to look at the "evidence" they've gathered and go from there; not the Sun. No, the paper "DEMANDS" on the front page that the police take action. And inside it does much the same:

So today The Sun calls on police chiefs to stop dithering and charge former lawyer Choudary, 41, before he poisons more young minds.

There isn't of course the slightest evidence that Choudary has "poisoned" any young minds; those he appeals to have probably already gone through their "radicalisation" process.

Needless to say, the Sun's evidence is predictably weak and contentious, with context being everything. In his latest rant, the paper breathlessly informs us:

In his new outburst — a recording posted on a password-protected Al-Qaeda website — he said: “You do not neglect any of our duties...

“If many of our Muslim lands are under occupation then of course jihad — you are going to be talking about jihad. You are going to be recruiting for the Mujahideen.

“You’re going to be working to overthrow, sorry, liberate, Muslim lands. Because you’re living in a situation where there’s lots of Muslim lands under occupation.”

Quoting from Islamic text, Choudary added: “ ‘You cannot accomplish this until you train... train for jihad.’ What kind of training is he talking about? He’s talking about military training.”


Choudary is quite clearly not directly inciting those listening to go abroad and start overthrowing "Muslim lands". He's talking rhetorically, for a start. Britain has also never been considered a "Muslim land"; the caliphate which many radical Muslims wish to re-establish only ever reached as far as Spain. Choudary's group and Choudary himself talk rather hilariously about instituting Sharia law here and flying the "flag of Islam" from Downing Street, but it's for the birds. Not even they really believe it. The Sun doesn't try and suggest he's broken any laws here, but it's painstakingly analysed his other utterances for the slightest suggestion that he may have done:

Last September Choudary claimed the publisher of a novel about the prophet Mohammed should face the death penalty.

Martin Rynja — who put out fictional tale The Jewel Of Medina about the Prophet’s child bride — was placed under armed guard after petrol was poured through his letter box.

At the time Choudary appeared to be condoning the attacks, saying: “It is clearly stipulated in Muslim law that any kind of attack on his honour carries the death penalty.

“People should be aware of the consequences they might face when producing material like this.”

Our legal experts say this breaks section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which states racially or religiously aggravated disorderly behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress, is a crime punishable by up to two years in jail.

If it could be proved Choudary’s comments were directly linked to an attack on the publisher’s life, he could be prosecuted for conspiracy to murder — which carries a LIFE term.


Again here, it's quite apparent that Choudary is not directly inciting violence against the book's publisher. Choudary had made similar remarks to prior to this, including at a demonstration against the speech by the Pope which referred to Muhammad's work as "evil", where he said that under Islamic law the Pope could be executed for his slur on the prophet. He was careful during the actual protest to make clear the inference that it had to be under an Islamic system; with reporters he was not so careful, apparently telling one:

"Whoever insults the message of Muhammad is going to be subject to capital punishment. I am here have a peaceful demonstration. But there may be people in Italy or other parts of the world who would carry that out. I think that warning needs to be understood by all people who want to insult Islam and want to insult the prophet of Islam."

Now that is potentially incitement, but the Met had already investigated and decided not to press charges, as the remarks were apparently made in private. It's unlikely that they'd be able to prosecute or make the case stand up were they to attempt to do so over what the Sun highlights.

The paper isn't beat yet though:

Recently Choudary threatened that Lord Mandelson would be stoned to death under Sharia law and declared: “He would not be able to speak openly about homosexuality.”

Our experts said his comments broke the Public Order Act 1986, section 4A. It outlaws behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Breaking this law carries a heavy fine and/or six months in jail.

They might have a case here, but it would be a piss weak one and not get rid of Choudary for long. And err, that's it. That's all the Sun's evidence. To call this an investigation is itself rather pretentious, considering the amount of work that must have gone into it.

It's the Sun's leader though that is bordering on hysterical (url will change):

GORDON Brown warns of unprecedented terror threats as he prepares to host next week’s G20 summit.

Err, no he hasn't. He hasn't used any such terminology, either in his pronouncements on the anti-terrorist document, or in his Observer article at the weekend, "unprecedented" being entirely absent.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith raises fears further, predicting extremists will stop at nothing, including a nuclear “dirty bomb”, to inflict mass murder.

Again, no she hasn't. The most the document goes is to suggest that the "aspirations" of terrorists to use such materials has risen. My aspiration has risen to not get so worked up about a tabloid newspaper, but it doesn't mean it's going to happen.

So why hasn’t she rounded up dangerous loudmouth Anjem Choudary whose rants are most likely to provoke such an atrocity?

Probably because he is just what the Sun calls him, a loudmouth, just not dangerous. His rants are irrelevant except to his tiny band of followers and to the tabloid newspapers that love reporting them.

Ministers would ban harmless jokes about gays — even by gay comics — yet they allow Choudary to demand homosexuals’ execution.

Only neither is happening, or happened. Choudary was again talking about under Sharia law, while the government is not banning jokes about gays, despite the more ridiculous interpretation of potential laws again by the likes of the Sun.

This rabble-rouser pays lip service to peaceful action, yet is free to stir the hatred of gullible Muslims who might blow themselves and us to smithereens.

The key word here is "might". No Muslim listening to Choudary is suddenly going to decide to blow themselves and us to smithereens; to pretend radicalisation is that simple is more than daft, it's ignorant.

Despite his past as a cider-swigging, dope-smoking womaniser, Choudary demands death for anyone who drinks, takes drugs or fornicates.

He was behind the vile Luton demos against our brave soldiers. And he wants to sack our elected Parliament and raise the flag of revolutionary Islam over the House of Commons.


So? Is the Sun really so frightened of a thing called freedom of speech? He can call for whatever he likes or fantasise about whatever he likes as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, and so far there is nothing to suggest that it has.

This is worryingly like a re-run of the Abu Hamza saga.

“Hooky” spent years fomenting terror right under the noses of our security services before he was finally put away. And that was only to stop America getting their hands on him.


This is simply bollocks. The security services were well aware of Hamza, it's true, probably because like with the other radicals they believed that had a "covenant of security", where they were more or less free to do what they wanted as long as they didn't target this country itself, as well as quite possibly informing the security services of those who wanted to. There are still accusations that Abu Qatada, for example, is a double agent. The others also had regular contact with MI5. How deep the links go we simply don't know. The American part is double bollocks: the Americans still want to extradite him.

If the PM is right, another 7/7-style massacre is looming.

Again, Brown has said absolutely nothing like this. The head of MI5 back in January said the threat level was if anything decreasing, and that al-Qaida had no semi-autonomous structure in this country at present. He could of course be completely wrong, as you can't really trust a single thing a spook says, but considering how they've scaremongered in the past it seems doubtful whether they would suddenly decide the threat level was decreasing unless it actually was.

One day our hand-wringing police will have to take action against Choudary. What are they waiting for?

They should slam this nasty piece of work behind bars NOW — before our emergency services have to count the corpses.


Again, like with yesterday the paper almost seems to be willing such an attack to happen, almost say it can say it told you so. If the paper really cared about the terrorist threat to this country it would completely ignore Choudary and go after the really dangerous people - the ones who don't become media whores who can be contacted by phone for an instant quote, the Mohammad Siddique Khans that stay under the radar until it's too late. That though is far too difficult and costs too much. Far simpler to demand that Choudary be thrown behind bars, no matter how weak or dismal the actual evidence to do so is.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009 

An improvement, but more still to be done.

Whenever the government hypes something up, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be less than the sum of its parts. So it is with the latest attempt by the Home Office to get to grips with something approaching an anti-terrorism strategy, which they have christened alliteratively pursue, prevent, protect and prepare, promoted heavily at the weekend by both Brown himself and Jacqui Smith. Using the protect word might well have taken something approaching balls: many minds still associate that with the ominous protect and survive booklets issued in the 80s, which matter of factly went through building a fallout shelter in the basement and wrapping up dead loved ones in black plastic bags, the eeriness and doom of the cartoons which accompanied the booklets still highly memorable now.

While in the past such doommongering, both from politicians and police was regular, this latest document mainly eschews scaremongering, as have the politicians promoting it. With the exception of the potentially worse than useless training of up to 60,000 people in how to act should they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a terrorist attack, which in reality amounts to an around 3 hour seminar session for business people, which only seems likely to be quickly forgotten or alternatively make all those involved even more paranoid than they may have been, and the emphasis that has been put on the threat of some variety of "dirty" attack being launched increasing, it mostly keeps things in something approaching prospective. One of the first facts it points out is that over 3,500 people died between 1969 and 1998 as a result of "Irish-related terrorism", which is something well worth pointing out the next time someone tries telling you that the threat level posed by Islamic terrorists is far beyond that the IRA did; al-Qaida has after all as yet made no attempts whatsoever to murder political figures in the West, attempts on the life of former Pakistan president Musharraf not withstanding, while the IRA came incredibly close to killing much of the Thatcher government in Brighton in 1984.

In fact, the thing that perhaps undermines the entire document the most is that the government is essentially being forced to admit that the threat level is actually diminishing. After years of telling us that things were getting worse, that the "sky was dark" and that an attack could happen at any time, back in January we had the head of MI5 admitting that al-Qaida had no semi-autonomous structure in the country at this time, and that rather than attacks being actively planned, they only had the "intention to launch an attack here". Partly this may well be down to al-Qaida having to re-examine exactly where it's going at this moment in time: with the "Islamic State of Iraq" all but defeated in that country, it being essentially flushed out of Saudi Arabia and with the only real encouraging signs for the organisation being the increased activity in places like Yemen, Algeria and Somalia, with there being a contradictory situation in Pakistan of the Pakistani Taliban increasingly in strength while the drone attacks have succeeded in killing many senior figures in the hierarchy, its supporters in Europe might well be their last concerns at the moment. The document makes clear that should things continue the way they are, it may well be possible by next year to reduce the threat level, which has stayed at severe since 7/7 and gone up to critical on two separate occasions, to substantial.

While the document then continues to claim that the main threat remains "al-Qaida central", i.e. the remnants of the original organisation now in hiding most likely in Pakistan, of increasing importance is the threat from al-Qaida's "franchises", such as the former Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, now known after pledging allegiance to bin Laden as al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb. Almost mentioned is al-Qaida in the Arabian penisula, despite its effective defeat, the aforementioned ISI and al-Qaida in Yemen. Perhaps most notable though is the new importance given to "self-starting" networks, or even lone individuals, motivated by the extreme salafist takfirist jihadist ideology, but whom have no connection whatsoever to al-Qaida central, such as Nicky Reilly. Mentioned last is groups that have a similar ideology to al-Qaida, but whom have their own identity and regional agenda, perhaps thinking of the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The first part of the document is entirely given over to a narrative detailing the effective rise of international terrorism, from the initial actions of Palestinian groups and their attacks during the 70s, up to the founding of Hizbullah and finally the genesis of al-Qaida itself. Interestingly, it directly links the bombings in Istanbul in 2003 against the British consulate and a British bank to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organisation in Iraq, before his group had become part of al-Qaida, which is either new or something I had otherwise missed. This section doesn't tell you anything you probably don't already know, but for the government to be setting it out in such a way, and doing so matter of factly, without anything approaching spin, is itself a sign of progress, even if it is very much the establishment version of events. The part on radicalisation which follows on draws heavily on the leaked MI5 document on understanding extremism in this country. This made clear that there was no single underlying cause, while at the same time dismantling the myths that had built up that it was all the work of extremist preachers. The main threat remains the small groupings which build up, often around a charismatic local leader voiced in radical Islam, whose influence on those around him is worth about 10 of any radical on the internet.

The only main parts where the document noticeably falls down is in the "principles" section and on the reasoning behind the idea that "dirty" attacks are becoming more likely. It's impossible not to snigger at the very first principle in countering international terrorism:

Our approach to national security in general and to counter-terrorism in particular is grounded in a set of core values. They include human rights, the rule of law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all.

This would be the same government currently up to its eyeballs in claims regarding security service collusion in torture of "terrorist suspects" abroad; which completely ignored the rule of law in detaining foreign suspects indefinitely without charged; which continues to defend the permanent deprivation of liberty associated with control orders as well as ensuring that those under them cannot properly find out what they are accused of or challenge that evidence; and which only gave in over extending the detention limit to 42 days after it became clear that it had no chance of pushing it through the House of Lords. If the government has any shame over any of this, it doesn't show it.

Like the initial section of the report, the part on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons is a narrative stating the background. This mentions the Japanese underground Sarin attack, then goes on with claims on how al-Qaida has experimented with CBRN weapons, almost all rudimentary poisons. It details the alleged 2003 plot to release hydrogen cyanide on the New York underground, strangely called off by Zawahiri, and then less realistically lists good old Dhiren Barot's coke-can and smoke alarm bomb plans, which even if he could have got hold of the material involved would likely have been as effective as gas canisters to bring down buildings plan turned out in practice. For good measure it also lists the Islamic State of Iraq's experiments with including chlorine gas canisters with its suicide car/truck bombs, which is again about as rudimentary as you can get, and which they stopped doing some time ago. The three factors listed for the increased threat are "a significant increase" in the trafficking of such materials, that the internet has made information on them much more widely available, and that CBRN materials can be used for legitimate purposes, in case you didn't know. All round, this is pretty woeful stuff. As terrorist groups are incredibly unlikely to get access to enriched uranium any time soon, the main threat posed is from them combining machines from hospitals containing such materials with bombs, and letting the air do the rest of the work. The main threat from this would not be the material itself, but from the panic that would ensue and the subsequent decontamination. Even this has most likely been vastly exaggerated: even the polonium of the type which killed Alexander Litvinenko would be unlikely to kill many, if any, if used in a bomb. The document then mentions IEDs of the type constructed in Iraq and increasingly being used in Afghanistan, concerning the intent to "experiment with novel explosives". Discounting the combination of suicide bombs with chlorine, most of the explosives used in Iraq were actually old regime stockpiles which came in extremely handy, and which only in the last couple of years were exhausted, which itself has probably contributed to the drops in such attacks. The innovations have occurred in the ways in which to trigger them and to get around equipment which is meant to disarm them. Quite why it's even bringing this up is unclear: there have been no signs whatsoever that groups in this country intend to start making roadside bombs, and as the past few attacks have shown, explosives themselves are incredibly difficult to obtain, let alone to then use correctly. You have to wonder if the claims surrounding dirty bombs are ones which they know the media won't bother to investigate, and which instead turn on the horror reflex, hence the Sun's illustration to their report. With the threat diminishing, the unusual threats column is the only one remaining which they can highlight.

While the government then deserves some acclaim for setting out clearly the origins of the threat, not dismissing out of hand the fact that foreign policy clearly has a distinct influence on it, and for also admitting that if anything it's diminishing, all signs that the spin and playing politics with terrorism which flourished under Blair and which continued for a time under Brown might now have finally been decided to have been counter-productive, more work is still needed on really getting to grips with the origins of extremism, while also not denouncing but challenging those that hold views which can be seen as stepping stones towards full-blown Islamic fundamentalism. Not overreacting stupidly to a dozen protesters at a homecoming parade would be a start, but to do that they would also have to challenge the media's completely unhelpful obsession with extremists under the bed, something they have shown no intention of doing.

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Monday, March 23, 2009 

Rights and responsibilities in a policy vacuum.

2009 is turning out to be an incredibly strange year as far as politics is concerned. By any measure, Labour ought to be doing far far worse in the polls than it currently is - most showing a Conservative lead of around 12 points, which if repeated at the ballot box would give Cameron's Tories either a very slim majority or result in a hung parliament. Labour would suffer major casualties, but still not have been wiped out to anything like the extent to which the Tories were in 1997. It's uncertain why despite the recession that Labour's support is holding up, even if reports claiming that if the recession bottoms out before polling day that Labour could still pull it back seem optimistic at best. Brown's constant repetition of two points, firstly that the economic crisis is global, which is true, but doesn't acquit him especially as far as banking regulation goes, and secondly that the Conservatives are the "do nothing" party, which is far less accurate, might be having some effect, but it also seems to be as others constantly witter, that voters like Cameron but don't like his party or trust them.

At the same time, there seems to be an almost complete deficit of policy discussion coming from all the main parties. This is to be expected when all thoughts turn towards the economy, and should it ought to be remembered what so many of us bemoaned for long periods - that when the differences over how to run economy went the major differences between the political parties also went. This doesn't excuse however the almost complete lack of discussion about anything other than taxes, havens and bail-outs, which has become increasingly glaring, entertaining as the Tories bickering internally over tax is. After years of discussing Iraq, we seem to want to blot all talk of Afghanistan out, a war which has never been explained in anywhere near the detail that Iraq was and continues to be. Everyone knows the supposed reasons why we went into Iraq, yet if you asked the same question about what we're doing in Afghanistan shoulders would be shrugged uniformly. We've gone from politicians wanting the troops to leave without firing a single shot to an average of around one body a week returning home, all without anything approaching a reason from a minister as to why such blood and treasure is being spent on such an apparently endless conflict.

As well as the recession, this is also partially down to the election being probably only just over a year away, and we're either at the beginning of the phony war or fast approaching it. Labour's legislating instinct has also somewhat fallen away under Brown, with the resulting dullness of Westminster except over the continuing fallout over expenses not helping. Into all this greyness, Jack Straw seems to want to inject a bit of colour, by finally getting round to publishing the green paper on "rights and responsibilities", much delayed having being trumpeted since Brown's ascension to the throne, as it were, as part of his agenda for constitutional reform. It soon becomes clear why it has been repeatedly kicked into the long grass - even by New Labour's standards, this is a document of such woe and potential pitfalls that it's quite something that it has finally come to light at all.

Fundamentally, you have to approach this knowing two things: firstly, that Labour quite rightly finally got round to introducing the European Convention on Human Rights, largely drafted by us, into our own common law, negating the need for claimants to have to go to Europe to gain recompense. Secondly, that despite its British origins, the tabloids and others have long regarded the ECHR and the HRA as foreign entities, enshrining rights that are beyond the pale, such as the right to life, right to a private family life, right against inhuman and degrading treatment etc, making the HRA appear to be a charter only for terrorists and criminals, and also one which very sadly might well threaten the tabloids' business model, bringing hated ideas of European privacy to our media and stopping the scandal sheets from splashing on the latest strumpet to shag a star. Since then Labour has always deeply regretted introducing it, and has at best put up a shallow defence of it, although Jack Straw, having introduced it, has put in a better one than others. Also to be noted is that the HRA has done very little to prevent the same government from drastically reducing actual civil liberties, given the lengths of time it takes for appellants to go all the way to Strasbourg and challenge things such as the DNA database, our own courts having not seen things the same way as the European one eventually does.

Straw's cherished bill of rights and responsibilities is then at best an attempt to make up for the unpleasantness surrounding the HRA. Straw has tried to cover this up by noting the "interesting times" in which we are living, suggesting that turmoil has often led to constitutional reform, and at the same time somewhat insultingly given the proposals bracketing the "R 'n' R" he has developed with the likes of the American declaration of independence, the subsequent constitution and the French 1789 declaration of the rights of man and the citizen. This might have worked if Straw's bill was a relatively recent idea, but it dates back to before the start of the credit crunch, if we have to call it that. It hence takes on a very different tone, one far more associated with that of New Labour - one of control.

The obvious point to make is that rights protect us, whether from the state or from other individuals or corporations. Responsibilities, on the other hand are the unwritten rules, or indeed, actual written laws which we already know we have to abide by, and which we don't need informing about. Straw actually seems to want to take it even further than this though: he seems to want to extend responsibilities into the territory of norms and values, into outright conformity with the state. The argument that the green paper makes is that some of these existing responsibilities are "arguably so central to our functioning as a society that they deserve an elevated constitutional status...". This argument might be more convincing if the responsibilities which Straw is thinking of were either breaking down and being ignored or if they weren't already being treated with respect. Yet it's a list of essential banalities which Straw wants to enshrine: treating NHS staff with respect, caring properly for children, "participating in civic society through voting and jury service", assisting the police, paying taxes, obeying the law. Yes, seriously, Straw wants potentially to enshrine obeying the law as a responsibility. While these are banalities, there's also something far more sinister lurking underneath them, especially when it comes to voting and assisting the police: neither are legally required, although you can be charged with perverting the course of justice for deliberately obstructing the police in the course of their investigations. This seems to be New Labour setting down on an elevated constitutional status at least two things which should always be personal decisions: the right not to vote especially should be as important as the right to vote.

Before we get too carried away, we ought to note that the chances of this becoming law still seem pretty slim, and the green paper itself acknowledges that the rights in the ECHR and HRA "cannot be legally contingent on the exercise of responsibilities". In others words, even if we do this, we know full well that we cannot in any way enforce them. All they're destined to be is pretty words, a sop to authoritarian opinion whilst also underlining our own far from libertarian attitudes. Even with this in mind, it bears comparison to the great aforementioned documents - nowhere in the American constitution does it outline how those in society are expected to behave whilst wielding their right to bear arms and arm bears and everything in-between, elevating them above normal status because of their utmost importance in ordering society. It smacks of a government that has become so mad with power that it no longer knows how or where to wield it; it just has to do it, and even something as important to the state as the constitution is not out of bounds to the wackiest thinking when it comes to trying to win favour with some of the nation's media. If this is the stuff to fill the policy vacuum, perhaps we want things to remain lifeless for as long as possible.

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The world mourns.

MOST WORTHLESS WOMAN TO HAVE EVER LIVED DIES
THE WORLD PAYS TRIBUTE - OBAMA BROADCASTS TO AMERICA
GORDON BROWN DECLARES WEEK OF MOURNING - MOST WORTHLESS WOMAN TO LIE IN STATE
ALL THE NEWS, PICS AND HYSTERICAL HYPOCRISY PAGES 1-93 PLUS 94 PAGE MEMORIAL PULLOUT WITH FREE MOST WORTHLESS WOMAN CERAMIC FIGURE (JUST PAY £199 POSTAGE AND PACKING)

PAGE 94 - OTHER NEWS
SLOW START TO WORLD WAR 3
MILLIONS DEAD IN MIDDLE EAST
OVER BY CHRISTMAS SAYS JOHN HUTTON - NO NEED TO PANIC

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Saturday, March 21, 2009 

Weekend links.

Another week down, and Manchester United lose for the second weekend in a row. Things don't get much sweeter.

Anywho, onto matters at hand. On the blogs both Craig Murray and BenSix comment on Canada barring George Galloway, Murray especially wondering whether our politicians might make a similar stance to the Dutch ones that supported Geert Wilders. Fat chance; ours don't care about freedom of speech. Paul Linford provides his weekly column, on the policy vacuum at the heart of the Conservatives, Justin answers Tom Harris's feigned outrage that bloggers didn't note the dropping of the much criticised bailiffs policy, where it's tempting to ask whether Harris would like some cheese with his whine, Anton Vowl sees the Mail engaging in up-skirt journalism, but only because Gemma Arteton was wearing (big) pants rather than none, Alix Mortimer says that the upcoming Labour intake shows that the party's doomed, John B notes some statistics which show that the murder rate in London remains stable, rather undermining the "knife crime" epidemic motif, while if you only read one thing, I can't recommend enough Laurie Penny's Tales from the Turnpike, where she collars a banker, relieves him of one note of his fat wad, and hands it to a distressed homeless teenager. Almost restores your faith in humanity.

In the papers, it's a rather a barren week. Marina Hyde in her usual waspish fashion tackles OK!'s premature killing off of Jade Goody, Matthew Parris is readable as ever on lawyers, the law and the connection with politics, and Howard Jacobson somehow files the Myerson saga down to just Jake's habit for making cheese on toast at 2 in the morning and leaving the gas on.

As for worst tabloid article, we are once again spoiled for choice. If we wanted to create a new category of most mystifying tabloid piece, it would have to go to the Sun so much as bothering to cover the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. There isn't of course so much as a word dedicated to the paper's own involvement, and surprisingly in the comments there isn't any mention of it either, where you would expect there might have been. One has to wonder how heavily moderated it's been, although they could have just turned comments off. Also in the Scum is the continued haranguing of Harriet Harman, hilariously called "Harperson", for daring to have a bit of fun with actor Michael Sheen. The prize though must go yet again to Amanda Platell, this time commenting on the post office worker who refuses to serve people who can't speak English. There are choice points throughout, but it's Platell's conclusion that corks it:

It isn’t racist to say that while immigration has benefited Britain in many ways, there are now simply too many people settling here who don’t share our values - and, at worst, actively despise them.

No, it isn't racist - it's just completely and utterly ignorant. Much like the postie himself.

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Friday, March 20, 2009 

It's not enough.

As it has done repeatedly in the past, the government has done the absolute minimum possible in an attempt to put to an end the increasing embarrassment caused by the continuing allegations of our active collusion in torture. We perhaps ought to be glad that the puny sops of publishing the guidance which the intelligence services have when it comes interrogating suspects, the reinvestigation of the treatment suffered by Binyam Mohamed by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the promise of a new agreement with Pakistan concerning the arrest of British citizens have been offered at all; Diane Abbott seemed to sum up this government's attitude towards torture when she described ministers rolling their eyes and whispering about it "all being a Daily Mail campaign" when David Cameron unexpectedly brought the subject up at last week's prime minister's questions. These are former members of the likes of Liberty, some of them apparently still members of Amnesty International, dismissing the most brutal torture of innocent individuals as a tabloid campaign which they can just ignore, sigh and complain in private about. It might not win them many votes at the next election, pretending to care about "terrorist suspects" having their fingernails extracted with pliers or their penises repeatedly slashed with razors, but the general attitude towards such allegations still comes across as shockingly apathetic, even callous.

It's very good news therefore that Craig Murray will be called before the joint committee on human rights' parallel investigation into rendition and torture, his first opportunity to put his personal experience of information obtained via torture being used by the UK authorities before parliament. While the JCHR has been ignored repeatedly in the past, whether by MI5 chiefs or more recently by David Miliband and Jacqui Smith, it will at the least put into the open far more forcefully what has already been known but rarely highlighted for years. The same cannot be said for the Intelligence and Security Committee, a more discredited body it's difficult to think of. Its reports are unintentionally hilarious, when they are not absolutely scandalous, thanks to the ridiculous censorship imposed upon them, such as in these recent examples:

Whilst the primary focus is necessarily on international counter-terrorism (ICT) work, the UK's intelligence and security agencies also dedicate resources towards countering the challenges posed by ***, ***, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional instability in *** and the ***, and other challenges."

• "Top priority" in the UK's requirements for secret intelligence last year was given to seven areas:

• ***;
• ***;
• ***;
• ***;
• ***;
• ***; and
• ***."


And I hate to keep banging on about it, but it was also the ISC in its investigation into extraordinary rendition which decided that their definition of ER was different to everyone else's, thereby helpfully managing to clear the security services of collusion with ER in the case of Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi.

As Ian Cobain points out, it used to be claimed that MI5's 11th commandment was "thou shalt not get caught". Now that they almost certainly have been caught, the only way to fully understand what went wrong, how far the policy went and why we actively connived with the torture of our citizens and residents is for there to be a full judicial inquiry. There have been far too many lies told for anything less to be acceptable, and hopefully the admittance at last that there may have been a problem will inexorably lead towards one being granted.

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