the Disillusioned kid: December 2005
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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lying Lawyers. Whoda Thunk It?

I know I said I was going, but I'm a schmuck for things like this:
Constituent: "This question is for Mr Straw; Have you ever read any documents where the intelligence has been procured through torturous means?"

Jack Straw: "Not to the best of my knowledge... let me make this clear... the British government does not support torture in any circumstances. Full stop. We do not support the obtaining of intelligence by torture, or its use."
- Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, election hustings, Blackburn, April 2005

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... 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.
- Ambassador Craig Murray, memo to the Foreign Office, July 2004
But hang one cotton pickin' minute. What's this?:

(Click on image to enlarge.)

And there's more:
Letter #1
FM Tashkent
TO FCO, Cabinet Office, DFID, MODUK, OSCE Posts, Security Council Posts
16 September 02
SUBJECT: US/Uzbekistan: Promoting Terrorism
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.
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, 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.
Letter #2
Fm Tashkent
18 March 2003
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.
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.
Letter #3
OF 220939 JULY 04
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.
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.
As you might imagine, these are the kinds of things that a government less honest and well-principled than our own might try and cover up. Fortunately, we don't need to worry about that. So whatever you do, don't reprint any of this. There's no need. Just go back to Big Brother or whatever shit you were watching. Everything's fine. There's nothing to see here.
I'm off to Foreign for New Year, so I'm gonna be away for a few days. Before I go, I want to take this chance to thank my no doubt extensive readership and those of you who take time to comment. You guys make this worthwhile, at least while I'm waiting for the film deal. I hope it hasn't been too much of a chore and perhaps even at times been vaguely enjoyable or - horrors! - informative. I've had fun. I hope the next one continues in the same vein. Happy New Year! I'll see you there.

Would Turkeys Vote For Christmas?

An intriguing article by Rosemarie Jackowski appeared in my inbox via the Chagos Discussion List before Christmas, but I've only just gotten around to finishing off my response. In her piece, Jackowski makes the case for "reparations to be paid to every victim of U.S. foreign and domestic policy". She seems to be aware that this is a category containing more than just a handful of people noting, "The list of countries that have a legitimate claim against the U.S. is staggering...Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, just to name a few." She also names Chagos as another entity - if not a country in the normal sense - with such a claim, although one would be mistaken for thinking, based on what she writes, that the island was "ethnically cleansed" by the Americans rather than the British. Given the extensive nature of the claims against the US she suggests, "Fair compensation would certainly deplete the national treasury for generations to come." In light of the massive cost such reparations would entail and their likely psychological impact, Jackowski opines,
Reparations could change everything. Many citizens think with their wallets. If every citizen had to think about having a huge increase in taxes to pay for past actions taken by the government, it could result in a demand for change in U.S. policies. A war tax would make war less likely. A reparations tax would make the exploitation of others around the globe less likely.
This is true enough in and of itself, but as a strategy for challenging imperialism it leaves a lot to be desired.

The idea that people don't mind wars which main, slaughter and disposess dark-skinned people as long as they don't have to pay for it is hardly a new one. Some sections of the anti-war movement have sought to emphasise the financial cost of the war in their campaigning. The problem with this is that it ignores the moral aspect. If you see the invasion of Iraq as part of some glorious moral crusade then you may well be prepared to accept some reduction in quality of life in order to achieve success in that mission. Progressives often claim that they are prepared to give up their gold-plated toilets and other consumerist luxuries in order to improve the lives of others. Why should we assume that others are not capable of making a similar sacrifice?

Those who focus their campaigning around the war on such issues seem to believe that the proles are incapable of achieving anything other than a purely economistic consciousness, if you'll excuse the Marxist turn. If we are serious about challenging imperialism we need to believe that they are capable of taking that step further. Recall that full-blown invasions like Iraq are the aberration not the norm. Western imperialism over the last fifty-years has primarily consisted of low-key interventions by proxy, which entail onlych a limited financial cost. If people are only capable of mobilising when their government's foreign policy hits them in the wallet then nine times out of ten when the US is killing somebody they're going to be able to do so without having to concern themselves with popular resistance.

Jackowski's proposal addresses some of these concerns by making the taxpayer responsible for every US attrocity, but she never gets around to explaining how we're going to go about introducing such a system. She points to groups already camapigning for compensation for the injustices done to them, such as Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, but notes the paucity of success which such an approach has acheived. The Chagossians have met with similar problems in their own efforts. Clearly this strategy is wholly insufficient even with regard to securing compensation for specific incidents of imperialism, let alone for imperialism in toto. The only other thing Jackowski has to offer is some vague sentiments about a "debate" as if talking will be enough to bring about the end she hopes for, which I fear is hopelessly naive.

To my mind, Jackowski's error is a common one amongst activists, perhaps even something I'm guilty of myself (I leave the judgement on that point to you my readers). She seems to have mistaken something which is a nice idea (we pay for the bad things we've done, realise how horrible we've been hitherto and stop being so beastfully nasty) for one which is practical. She appears to have forgotten that those in a position to introduce such a tax (the Senators and Congress people of the US) are the very same people who have driven US agression for so long and the very same people who stand to gain the most from it. Why would these people vote for a policy explicitly designed to undermine policies they not only support but helped to create? Sure, massive pressure might force them to do so, but I can't help feeling that that pressure could be more usefully applied to the problem itself: the US state-capitalist system.

Furthermore, Jacowski's entire strategy appears to based on a confused assesment of human nature. The idea that a "reparations tax" will be a disincentive to support wars of agression seems to be predicated on a belief that people are, at least on some level, economistic, driven by their own self-interest. The problem is that for anybody in the US to campaign for the introduction of reparations they would need to be going against that same self-interest. The conclusion I draw from this is that Jackowski considers people to be more than self-interested economic agents and capable of making decisions on the basis of moral reasoning (an assesment I agree with). This being the case, why should we limit ourselves to such a pesimistic strategy as the one she advocates? Why not attempt to engage with people's moral capacities?

There is no question that the strategies adopted hitherto by the anti-imperialist movements of the west clearly don't cut it. Rather than face up to this, the movement seems happy to let the armed resistance in Iraq fight for us. There is a real need for a debate about how we challenge US, British and other forms of imperialism. Jackowski deserves credit for contributing to that putative debate. It is unfortunate, however, that the strategy she proposes leaves so much to be desired.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Butt of the Joke

Is it just me, or is this "study" an excuse to stare at women's asses?:
One of the greatest female sartorial dilemmas - 'does my bum look big in this?' - is to be answered by a team of researchers.

Experts are launching what is thought to be the world's first scientific study into how clothing can affect the appearance of the female rear.

The team from Heriot Watt University's School of Textiles and Design in Scotland believes the study could have major implications for retailers.

Female volunteers wearing hundreds of different types of clothing will have their rears photographed for the study.

Participants will then be asked to look at the pictures to assess how big or small each model's backside appears.

The study will examine how various designs, colours, patterns and fabric types affect perception of bottom size.

Dr Lisa Macintyre, who is leading the research, said four models had been chosen to provide as representative a sample as possible of female rears.

"There's much discussion in the media of clothing styles that flatter the body and it's generally accepted that enhancing body perception can improve confidence and self-esteem," she said.

"But the factors behind this have never been fully investigated in a proper scientific manner."
Twisty Faster, whence this report originates, suggests that the authors of the aforementioned "study" can kiss her you-know-what and with good reason. There's quite enough insecurity about the female form as it is and one has to wonder about the implicit suggestion that any problems imaginary or real can be resolved simply by buying the right thing. Philosophical questions aside, I'm dubious - although I'm no connoisseur of female ass (and with witty remarks like that I probably never will be) - about just how representative four models can be. "Scientific study" my arse!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Google Baby Jesus. Unexpected, no? (via)
I've just discovered that I made the sixth Carnival of the Green. Yay me! I've never even heard of the Carnival of the Green, but it's all good I'm sure.
It's Carnival time again! Feminism, Godlesness, Britain, Bad History and Bent Attractions. What more could you want?

A Satire A Day Keeps The Doctor Away

Contrary to what you might think from looking at the manistream media or this blog, shit doesn't stop going down just because it's Christmas. There's various things which are worthy of comment here: the CBI's decision to government plans to extend maternity and paid paternity leave; the ongoing nightmare in Iraq; Ginmar's tips on how to stop rape (via); the succesful (and thankfully arrest-free) carol service in Parliament Square; the anniversary of the Asian tsunami and the importance of local communities as opposed to NGOs and government agencies in relief efforts; and Israeli plans to extablish a "buffer zone" in Northern Gaza. All of these are important. All could be a blog post in themselves. But I'm not going to write about any of them. No, I'm gonna write about Doctor Who.

The Christmas Invasion, which went out in the UK on Christmas Day, attracted 9.4 million viewers, second only to Eastenders and with good reason. I generally think that "family entertainment" is a dirty word (words?), little more than a synonym for insipid, mindnumbing or simply crap. Doctor Who, under the guidance of producer and writer Russel T. Davies (a big-time Whovian himself) has actually managed to blend something the kids will like, with interesting stories, well developed characters, genuinely funny jokes and a darker edge. The Christmas Invasion saw the Doctor save the world with a cup of tea and a satsuma for chrissakes, all while wearing pyjamas ("very Arthur Dent"). How many other shows could get away with that? Let alone do it with so much panache?

The bulk of the story isn't really what I want to talk about here, however. I've tried doing reviews before and I'm crap at it. Rather, what I'm interested in is the episode's anti-war message. This emerges in a twist which Davies throws in at the end. The Doctor has vanquished the Sycorax leader and convinced the alien scavengers to return to whence they came. Nevertheless, British PM Harriet Jones (previously seen in the Aliens of London/World War III two-parter and again played by Penelope Wilton) gives the order to the shady Torchwood (who are going to get their own spin-off series starring John Barrowman as Captain Jack Hartness) to destroy the alien ship with a big Death Star-esque space gun, much to the Doctor's disgust. This unexpected turn adds another dimension to Jones who has hitherto appeared to be one of the good-guys, even dismissing demands from the US President that he be allowed to take control of the Sycorax situation with an off-the-cuff remark that she wasn't going to let him turn this into a war.

Various bloggers have compared Jones' decision to Thatcher's sinking of the Belgrano and there are clearly parallels, but I'm not sure this is what Davies is trying to get at. When the Doctor challenges Jones about what she has done here response is instructive. She points to the threat the Sycorax (or perhaps another species they come into contact with) may pose at some undetermined point in the future, even if at the present time they aren't a danger. This echoes the doctrine of "pre-emptive war" (which should more properly have been called "preventive war") espoused by the Blair and Bush regimes as a justification for the invasion of Iraq. There is no question in the Doctor's mind that Jones' actions constitute murder and who are we to question the conclusions of our hero?

In the old Doctor Who, Jones' decision might well be forgotten by the next week, but the new series doesn't seem to work like that. Davies seems interested in making the Doctor face up to the consequences of his actions. This raises the intriguing possibility that blowing up the Sycorax ship might well come back and bite the Earth on its collective butt in an example of interstellar "blowback". The Sycorax leader made an ambiguous reference to an "armada" which we never saw, perhaps they won't take so well to their bretheren being blown to (snow-like) smithereens. Maybe this'll form the backdrop to the Torchwood series? If either of these predictions materialises you can put money on the warmongers getting all hot under the collar about the BBC's "indoctrination" of the nation's youth, particularly if anyone has the audacity to draw parallels with 7/7. Fuck 'em. I'll be watching.

Monday, December 26, 2005

If Mary and Joseph had to make the same journey today as they are rumoured to have done 2,006 years ago (give or take) they would have to pass through 15 Israeli checkpoints (via).

Stalinist Pig-Doggery Par Excellence

Word has come down from our glorious leader: Henceforth all blogs are to be equipped with fluffy kittens and ducks. My initial attempts to introduce fully-grown cats into the mix ended in a blood-soaked feathery mess. In lieu of that, please enjoy the following:

Normal service will resume shortly.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Disillusioned kid's Seasonal Message

Fuck Queenie. This is where it's at boys and girls. Your annual dose of festive rambling from the big kid with the attitude problem.

Like last year, the build up to this year's festivities has been accompanied by an undercurrent of nonsense emanating from the dark recesses to the right of the aisle about how Christmas is under attack from eeevil baby eating secularists. Unfortunately being a vegetarian, I'm not allowed to eat babies (it's a sacrifice, but one I'm prepared to make). Nevertheless I imagine I'm exactly the kind of person they're thinking of when they try to hang this shit from the tree.

Like many things, this nonsense has been imported from the States, where it has some serious currency within the burdgeoning Christofascist movement. Remember, these are the same eejits who go on about "intelligent design" and get suspiciously excited about the activities of homosexuals. Ironically their ideological antecedents, in the form of puritans like Oliver Cromwell actually tried to ban Christmas. This shouldn't be all that surprising. These people aren't interested in festive cheer anymore than they're interested in fun at any other time of year. It's just the latest stick they've found to beat liberals and ethnic minorities with, and a stick is a stick no matter how much tinsel you wrap it in.

In reality, Christmas as we have come to know (and love?) it, is actually a pagan festival which was hijacked by early Christians. There is no evidence that Christ was born in the winter (leaving aside questions about whether he was born at all), indeed that evidence which does exist suggests a birth in the summer or early Autumn.

That said, I don't blame them for wanting an excuse to party through the depths of winter. The weather's crap (unless you live in Australia) and summer might as well be a different planet. We all need something to stop us throwing ourselves in front of the nearest train. Lots of other religions seem to have been on the same wavelength, which explains the proliferation of religious festivals at this time of year.

None of the foregoing should be taken as a rejection of seasonal festivity. For all that the season's characterised tackiness, brainless consumerism (even - in the most egregious cases - the explicit celebration of capitalism) and obnoxious children I have to confess that I actually quite like the whole thing. And not just because I'll spend a large part of it drunk. Maybe it's just because at heart I'm a big kid who never grew up or maybe it's a naive hope that the season of goodwill contains the seeds of a better world, but whatever it is, you'll excuse me while I enjoy my vegetarian Christmas lunch. If tacking some kind of religious significance - whatever faith that religious significance may originate from - onto that is was floats your boat then good luck to you. Just don't expect the rest of us to sing from the same carol sheet.

Happy Christmas, Chrismukkah, Duckmass, Hannukah, Hogmany, HumanLight, Koruchun, Kwanza, New Year, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, Winterval, Yalda and/or Yule!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Apologies for the paucity of posts recently. I've been otherwise engaged celebrating the annual pagan drinking festival. All being well this will continue over the next few days, so you can expect coverage to remain patchy. While your waiting for your next facefull of that Dk magic go amuse yourself with this. (Note: Dk Ltd takes no responsibility for valuable hours lost as a result of following this link.)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cold Cold Christmas?

Scientists have discovered evidence that climate change is killing polar bears. The bears inhabit the edges of polar ice, where it is thinnest, hunting seals when they break holes in the ice to breath. As the ice retreats north in the Artic summer, between June and October, they are forced to travel between ice floes in order to continue hunting in the food-rich shallow waters of the continental waters off the Alaskan coast. Last summer, as an apparent consequence of global warming, the ice caps receded about 200 miles further north than the average of twenty years ago, requiring the bears to undertake much longer and more arduous journies between floes.

The US Minerals Management Service (MMS) report that in a quarter-century of aerial studies of the Alaskan coastline prior to 2004 they typically spotted a lone polar bear swimming in the ocean far from ice only once every two-years. Polar bear drownings were so rare they have never been documented in surveys. In September 2004, however, when the ice had retreated a record 160 miles north of the northern coast of Alaska, researchers counted 10 polar bears (20% of those spotted) swimming as far as 60 miles offshore

Steve Amstrup, a wildlife biologist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) explains why this is a problem:
We know short swims up to 15 miles are no problem, and we know that one or two may have swum up to 100 miles. But that is the extent of their ability, and if they are trying to make such a long swim and they encounter rough seas they could get into trouble.
This seems to have been what happened to many of the bears spotted in September 2004. According to the Sunday Times:
The researchers returned to the vicinity a few days later after a fierce storm and found four dead bears floating in the water. “We estimate that of the order of 40 bears may have been swimming and that many of those probably drowned as a result of rough seas caused by high winds,” said the report.
This may not be a unique event. A study by the USGS in conjunction with the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) which is due to be published next year examined polar bear populations in Hudson Bay, Canada, the site of the most southerlu polar bears, concluded that the population fell by 22% from 1,194 in 1987 to 935 last year.

Paradoxically, while climate change may be turning up the heat on polar bears it may have quite the opposite effect on those of us in blighty. The UK is on the same latitude as Labrador on Canada's east coast. We are warmed, however, by the Gulf Stream which forms part of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation. This is a system of ocean currents which functions kind of like a giant conveyor belt, carrying warm water from the tropics. The Times explains:
The Gulf Stream begins in the Gulf of Mexico and carries warm water north and east, through the straits of Florida and across the North Atlantic. Halfway across the ocean, it branches into two, with one current flowing south towards Africa and another drifting towards northern Europe.

By the time the northern current reaches the Arctic, its waters have become colder and more saline, causing them to sink. A vast undersea river of cold water then flows back towards the Gulf of Mexico, where the process begins again.
This is obviously a good thing. I don't mind the cold half as much as some people, but even I might find permafrost hardgoing. Those of you uninterested in my discomfort might care to consider the fact that 25,000 elderly people die from cold-related illnesses every winter, that's 8 an hour. Imagine how much worse that would be if winter temperatures routinely dropped to -25C. It seems to me therefore, that screwing with the Gulf Stream probably isn't a very good idea, which is unfortunate because that's exactly what we seem to be doing.

Scientists have predicted for sometime that melting ice caps could disrupt these currents as the melting ice increases the amount of freshwater and reduces the salinity of the Arctic waters, stopping it from sinking. A study by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) based in Southampton suggests that this may already be happening as the Times explains:
To assess whether this is already happening, the Southampton team measured current flow across a latitude of 25 degrees north. The original Gulf Stream, cold water returning from the Arctic, and the southern branch of warm water all cross this line stretching from north Africa to the Bahamas. Measurements taken in 2004 were compared with data collected in 1957, 1981, 1992 and 1998.

The results, published today in the journal Nature, show that while the outward flow of the Gulf Stream has not changed, the strength of the cold water returning from the Arctic has fallen by 30 per cent since 1992.

Over the same period, the flow of warm water branching off the Gulf Stream towards Africa has increased by 30 per cent. This suggests that the current’s warm waters are being diverted to the south and away from Europe, with potentially serious consequences for the continent’s climate.
The report, of course, is couched in the requisite scientific caveats and there is no question that we can't be sure this isn't a transient phenomenon. A project to monitor Atlantic currents continuously over the next four years is currently underway to determine if the 1992 and 2004 readings are merely aberrations or indicative of a real change. Nevertheless, it's clear that this is something we ought to be concerned about.

Similarly, the kind of temperature drops we can expect to see is a point of some debate. We're unlikely (to put it lightly) to see a drop comparable to that depicted in disaster film The Day After Tomorrow (which I've never bothered to watch, but have heard much about), but Meric Srokosz of the Natural Environment Research Council, which funded the NOC study suggests a fairly minor drop of 1C over a decade or two if the decline in currents remains persistent, although a total shutdown would entail a drop of 4-6C and a German study suggests a 50% shutdown would lead to a 2c drop. Others point to the possibility of harsher drops, Rahul Mahajan notes, "During the Younger Dryas, a period roughly 12-11,000 years ago, the NATC was disrupted, lowering average summer temperatures in New England by 5-7 degrees in a few decades."

As depressing as all this sounds, Rahul suggests that there may actually be good reason to view the decline of the Gulf Stream not just as a problem, but also as an opportunity:
This terrible threat also, paradoxically, gives reason for hope. So far, the victims of global warming (it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands die every year from it) have been primarily the poor from the Global South, who don’t count in the calculations of the globally powerful. The worst projections of short and medium-term future effects were also confined to the Global South.

This rapid climate change scenario changes all of that – we now know there is a good chance of major effects in the eastern United States and northwestern Europe, which just happen to be the seats of global power and influence. So far, although the Pentagon recognized rapid climate change as a potential national security threat, it has not really gotten attention outside of scientific circles; now, it can be used to lend a greater urgency to the whole debate on global warming.


The next 20 years are the crucial period and, outside of the United States, everybody seems to know it. We have a genuine, though slight, chance to eliminate or mitigate some of the numerous catastrophes that lie in wait for us. All the political conditions are ripe for a real movement against climate change. We will have to take on not just rampant energy inefficiency and use of fossil fuels, but, sooner or later, the cult of growth itself. In doing so, we will have to take on some of the fundamental tenets of capitalism. It won’t be easy, but it is, for the first time, eminently possible.
I hope he's right. For my sake as much as the bears'.
It appears that the death of an anti-WTO protester which I pointed to yesterday may not have been what it intially appeared. Guy Taylor, from Globalise Resistance, who's blogging from Hong Kong on the protests and who was the source of original report, recounts his experiences at one of yesterday's protests:
At one point the announcement came that there'd been many arrests and 30 peopple hospitalised, one person in a critical condition with internal bleeding. Soon afterwards there was another announcement that the WTO talks had collapsed, with jubilant scenes (I remember a similar thing happening in Genoa). Later still the mood deepened with the announcement that someone, a Korean farmer had died. We observed a minutes silence, followed by a gutsy rendition of the Korean peasant song that has become the theme tune of the protests. It later emerged that the person dead might well be a suicide back in Korea (not necessarily in protest at the WTO, just as likely a desperate and sad end to a life suffering from the effects of WTO policies. Neither version of this story has been confirmed or denied and we're trying to find out exactly what has happened.
One to follow I think.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Blood For Oil

Apparently this is for real; give blood get oil (via).
According to Lenny, one of the protesters involved in anti-WTO actions in Hong Kong has died in hospital. No further details as yet.

The Strawman and his Brain

One of the great things about blogging is the cool people who get in touch with you on the basis of something you've written. Sometimes people even send me stuff they think I'm likely to find interesting, which saves me the effort of having to go and find it. Which is good, because when it comes down to it I'm really quite lazy. Anyway, one of my sources over at Blairwatch slipped me this link which leads to the transcript of Jack Straw's oral evidence to the Foreign Affair's Committee last week. Like so many official documents it doesn't exactly make for riveting reading, but dig into it and there's a few nuggets which at the very least merit a blog post.

The Committee began by asking the Foreign Secretary various exciting questions about Britain's relationship with the EU and the highly contentious matter of the UK's rebate. They then turn to allegations of US "rendition" of terror suspects for torture. I don't intend to examine the allegations in toto, others have done a far better job of that than I ever could (see e.g. Blairwatch and Craig Murray's blog), nor do I want to tackle the Strawman's hypocritical platitudes about the imorality and questionable intelligence value of torture. Instead my focus here is on the role played in this whole affair by a small british controlled island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The day prior to his appearance before the Committe, Straw had replied to a question by Ming Campbell on the issue of rendition flights. Fellow LibDem Paul Keetch, pressed the Foreign Secretary for some further clarification of that reply:
Q29 Mr Keetch: Foreign Secretary, can we be clear about your answer yesterday to my colleague, Sir Ming Campbell, when you used the expression "UK territory and airspace". Does that include British dependent territories overseas?

Mr Straw: Diego Garcia.

Q30 Mr Keetch: Diego Garcia or RAF Akrotiri in the southern base area of Cyprus?

Mr Straw: The search was related to the UK mainland, all right, and the requests that I received in 1998 related to the UK mainland. What I can say to you, and I will need to make some more enquiries and come back to this Committee about your question about Diego Garcia, not in relation to any rendition but certainly in relation to other activities based on Diego Garcia that United States government does seek our permission, but I cannot give you a specific answer on that.

Q31 Mr Keetch: Because your colleague Iain Pearson told the Committee in answer to a question from me two weeks ago that his definition when he sought advice from his officials of UK territory and airspace did include Diego Garcia, did include Akrotiri and, indeed, did include Gibraltar - I threw that one in as well - so it would be very helpful if we could have that direct view, particularly, obviously, on Diego Garcia.

Mr Straw: Can I say that had the search thrown up examples of requests, then, of course, I would have reported them to the House via the answer to Ming Campbell, but you asked me a very specific question about whether what I had in mind there was UK mainland territory.
The Strawman's ignorance on this point is particularly significant in the context of reports that the US base on British-controlled Diego Garcia is being used as a Guantanamo-style detention and interrogation facility, perhaps even utilising interrogation methods that Amnesty International might not approve of. Is it really credible that Straw would not be sure about whether his reply was specific to the mainland? Somebody must have known. Why didn't he ask? Is this indicative of incompetence or something more sinister? I'm note sure there's enough evidence to draw a conlusion either way, but neither possibility reflects particularly well on Straw.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Please sign this. If only in the vain hope that it'll shut up the conspiracy theorists.
You are cordially invited to a public carol service in Parliament Square at 6pm on Wednesday the 21st of December 2005.

This inclusive service will contain both Christian and secular verse, and is expected to last no more than an hour.

Candles and song sheets will be made available, with donations going to Medical Aid for Iraqi Children.

Please note that if you attend this carol service, it will classify as a spontaneous demonstration (of faith, hope, joy and/or religious tolerance) and there is a possibility that you will be cautioned or arrested under Section 132 of the Serious and Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005.

Click here for more information.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chagos: The Latest

According to the latest UK Chagos Support Association update, the High Court hearing challenging the Orders in Council has been adjourned after seven days until January 19 next year. The various Chagossians who had travelled to the UK to attend the hearing returned to Port Louis in Mauritius on Sunday. The aforementioned update also links to this article which is worth a gander.

Gotta run. I've got an interview to prepare for.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sovereignty Schmovereignty Redux

The court hearing on the Orders in Council which prevent the Chagossians returning to their island homes will probably be drawing to a close over the next few days, but even before it reaches its conclusion the Mauritian government is preparing (link via) to try and recover sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. Recent elections in the country brought in a new government. Some commentators had suggested that the campaign led by former PM Paul Berenger was a mistake which had cost Mauritus dearly in the diplomatic stakes, but the new regime seems to take a different view:
On the contrary, Navin Ramgoolam did not hesitate to remind the United Nations – during the UN summit in September – that Mauritius wanted that the problem be “rapidly solved”. He said that the Chagos were “detached from Mauritius” just before the country gained its independence in violation of the UN 1514 declaration and the 2066 declaration of the organisation’s general assembly. The Chagos are now under British jurisdiction and there is a lease for Diego Garcia between the British and the Americans who use the island as a military base.
The really interesting bit, however, emerged after Ramgoolam met with Tony Blair. (Which compares well with Berenger's visit to the UK in 2004 when he was refused meetings with both Blair or Jack Straw.) As you might expect given the foregoing, the issue did come up:
[Ramgoolam] insisted that Mauritius and Great Britain have always had friendly relations that must be used to reach a compromise on this delicate issue. As he was answering the Private Notice Question (PNQ) of the opposition leader, Paul Bérenger, Navin Ramgoolam revealed in Parliament last Friday that Mauritius had proposed that a treaty be signed for the use of Diego Garcia as a military base.

He made it clear that he did not want the Americans to leave the military base. What Mauritius wants is to be given its sovereignty back. If the country obtains this, then the government would conclude an agreement with the Americans so that they can go on using the island. The government is fully aware that Americans need the base and will do nothing to prevent them from staying there.

Although the British government has not accepted the proposal yet, Navin Ramgoolam believes it is a good sign that the British PM has agreed to consider it. Navin Ramgoolam looks quite hopeful : "Both Prime Minister Blair and myself agreed on the need for discussions on the whole issue of the Chagos archipelago to be resumed."
Berenger responded, with some justification, that the real problem lay with Washington who he had previously tried to open talks with. The opposition leader seems generally more pessimistic about the prospects, pointing out, "We have seen what the British did over the sovereignty of the Chagos with their Orders in Council." (Maybe he's still pissed at Tony for blowing him off.)

What's striking about this debate is that the Chagossians seem to be irrelevant to it. This shouldn't be surprising. The Mauritian government reject their very existence, insisting that there were no indigenous people and that all those who had gone to live their came from Mauritius. Furthermore, Chagossian leader Olivier Bancoult has argued previously, "All the time that Mauritius has been talking to the British Government, the Mauritius Government never bothered to bring in the islanders or to consult with them. Why should we worry about Mauritius?"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'd always assumed that blogroll was just a clever play on words. Apparently I was wrong (via).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Junk the WTO

For those of you who don't know, tomorrow sees the commencement of the Sixth World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong. As we've come to expect over the last few years, this meeting will not pass without resistance and activist groups, trade unions, NGOs and political organisations are organising a week of actions, meetings and performances to express their rejection of the neo-liberal order. That week kicked off yesterday with a large rally which snaked its way through the streets of Hong Kong to the Central Government Offices. Migrant workers, many of them from Indonesia, and famers were particularly, but, occasional Dk lurker and drinking partner, Pranjal was also there. He also writes that the offices of the Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Organisations (KOTKIHO) were raided by police the day before the rally, ostensibly because they had information on people remaining in Hong Kong illegally after their visas had run out and of reports of a second raid.

Police intimidation of protesters has been accompanied by extensive mass-media scaremongering (which Pranjal has blogged about at some length in the run-up to the conference). This sort of thing is familiar to anyone who has had any involvement with the so-called "anti-globalisation" movement. Remember the stories about the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service asking for 20,000 extra pints of blood in preparation for the G8 Summit in July? Or the "Mayday poison threat to Dublin" concocted by a "sinister anarchist group" in 2004? At such times, the media go out of their way to demonstrate their subservience to the powers that be, but the impressive turn out at yesterday's rally (or any of the other events they have sought to cast aspersions about) demonstrates that people are capable of seeing through the propaganda.

Those of you wanting to find out more could do worse than checking out Pranjal's blog. Alternatively, try the Junk WTO blog which looks pretty good. Z-Net have a primer on the WTO (along with the IMF and World Bank) for those of you trying to work out what all the fuss is about.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The latest Britblog Roundup and Carnival of the Godless are up at The Devil's Kitchen and Unscrewing the Inscrutable respectively. Check it y'all. In related news, the fourth Carnival of the Feminists has been up since last week, but in case you missed it it's over at the Happy Feminist.

Conspiracy Theorists Are Fuckwits

Parallels between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are hardly a new thing, but the political climate following September 11 and July 7 has arguably thrown them into stark contrast. The New Statesman recently ran a cover story asking whether European Islamophobia portended a new holocaust. In fact, the article by Ziauddin Sardar, doesn't raise the question of anti-Semitism at all and certainly doesn't imply we're setting the ground for new gas chambers. The suggestion, presumably having been added by the editors. For what it's worth, I tend to think the point is overstated. The scourge of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment (intertwined, but seperate issues in my opinion) is a serious problem in western Europe and both are afforded a worrying acceptability not granted to other expressions of prejudice. That said, there is widespread of the problem, an active debate about how we should respond and considerable inter-community discussion.

Yusuf Smith has uncovered a new, worrying parallel (via):
Islamophobia in Europe is taking on yet another of the characteristics of traditional European anti-Semitism: the conspiracy theory. We’ve all heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document containing supposed plans for Jewish world domination fabricated by a Russian agent about a century ago; the tone of a Melanie Phillips diary entry revealing a similarly conspiratorial document of the authorship of members of the Muslim Brotherhood brought precisely this to mind. The Daily Ablution has published a series of articles about the 14-page document, allegedly discovered during a raid on a villa near Lugano in Switzerland by Swiss and Italian police in November 2001. “The Project”, supposedly dating from 1982, is made to sound like a plan for Muslim world domination, “a strategic plan whose ultimate ambition is ‘to establish the Kingdom of God everywhere in the world’”.
I don't like conspiracy theories at the best of times, throw racism into the mix and you've got a volatile mix. For the timebeing concern about "The Project" is peripheral, but as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, long-known to have been a foregery, demonstrate, these things have a tendency to develop a life of their own which allows them to transcend rational argument, evidence and common sense. Rather more worrying, I fear is a perception of Muslims as an "enemy within" enunciated by several commentators in the aftermath of riots in France, most prominently in the Spectator which carried a front cover depicting the UK caught in a pincer by a giant crescent straddling Europe. This, apparently, represents the "Eurabian Nightmare" which we are facing. (Isn't Boris Johnson a lovely, affable chap?) David Aaronovitch did a surprisingly good demolition of all this nonsense, but the damage may already have been done.

This kind of racist bullshit is damaging, not just for the obvious reasons. Islamophobia has long been the strongest card in the hand of western Islamists. What better way to encourage people to sign up to your puritanical political programme than point to the all too real prejudice western Muslims face from the "natives"? Furthermore, it can be used to stiffle debate within Muslim communities, weakening the potential for leftist and progressive elements within those communities to expand. You never know, if we look hard enough for a Muslim plan to annihilate us, we might just be able to create one.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Freedom? Yeah Right!

International Human Rights Day is celebrated every year. As such it's much like Christmas, except cheaper and fifteen days earlier. December 10 was chosen as the date for the festivities in order to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10 1948. The day is a popular choice for awareness raising efforts by human rights organsations. The local branch of Amnesty International, for instance, were braving the cold and apathy of Chelmsford high street earlier today hoping to make Christmas shoppers aware of the scorgue of violence against women and repression in Georgia. Recognition of the day is not just limited to liberal groups. The Freedom to Protest Conference, held in London in October, decided - insofar as several hundred people can "decide" anything - to call for actions in defence of the freedom to protest to take place today. (A call taken up by at least one group, namely Brighton's smashEDO.)

The issue of freedom to protest has become an important one over the last few years, particularly in the aftermath of September 11. At this year's Labour conference, for instance, more than 600 people were detained under anti-terrorism legislation, most of them anti-war activists and anti-Blairite OAPs. Elsewhere, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 has been used against such seriously organised criminals as Maya Evans who was convicted of breaching Section 132 of the Act after reading aloud the names of the 97 British soliders who had died in Iraq while standing next to the Cenotaph. Just to underline the sheer ridiculousness of the Act, I discovered last week that it also includes a prohibition on the use of megaphones within a mile of Parliament which applies even if you are on an authorised protest routed past "the mother of all democracies."

As if to underline the importance of demanding our freedom's today, yesterday saw the authorities launch their latest attack on anti-war protester Brian Haw. Haw has maintained a vigil outside Parliament for four-and-a-half-years, broken only by three admissions to hospital and numerous court cases as both defendant and witness, in protest against the sanctions imposed on Iraq and the subsequent war. You might conclude that he's a little strange, not without good reason, but it's clear that his intentions are sincere and that he is a threat to nobody. Nevertheless, at first light yesterday Haw was arrested and taken to Charing Cross police station to answer charges of "breaching the peace" (the ultimate catch-all offence). Haw asserts that he was arrested after he challenged two police officers who were quizzing a woman who had come to participate in his vigil.

Although Haw was released within an hour the arrest fits into a pattern of harrasment which reached its apotheosis with the introduction of SOCPA. The sections on protest near Parliament seem to have been designed primarily to end Haw's vigil. MPs, apparently, are perfectly happy to support the invasion and occupation of foreign countries, but aren't so keen on being reminded about the consequences of that support. Much easier to shoot the messenger than face up to their responsibility for the deaths of untold numbers of Iraqi children. Or so they thought. Shoddy draftsmanship meant that when the High Court came to interpret the Act they concluded that it only applied to protests beginning after it came into force. As Haw's protest began in 2001 he was exempt. How they must have laughed back at the Home Office...

Haw's case is merely one of the more high profile examples of a wider crackdown on a freedom which should be at the very core of any system which describes itself as "democratic." John McDonnell MP, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, told the Independent, "Freedom of speech has never been under such attack in the UK and it is shameful this is happening under a Labour government. We need a concerted campaign in Parliament and if necessary in the courts to counter this full-frontal attack on our centuries' old democratic rights." While I have a lot of time for his analysis of the state we're in, I'm not so hot on his proposed response. Frankly I don't trust the spineless obeisants who mingle in the halls of power as far as I can throw them. I certainly don't trust them to defend my civil liberties, the unexpected discovery of their collective backbone when they went to vote on detention without trial notwithstanding. If we want to retain our hard won freedoms then we are indeed going to need a concerted campaign, but Parliamentary action will form only a small part of it. Fortunately the beginnings of such a campaign are already emerging.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Apparently there are other British people who have blogs. Hard to believe I know. Even more surprisingly, some of them only started blogging recently. Justin's been looking into it and he's dug up a whole list's worth. Not checked many of them out myself, but they're there should you get bored.

Small People Without Blonde Hair

It's encouraging to see people beginning to show an interest in the plight of the Chagossians. I fear, however, that I've run out of interesting things to say about the legal challenge currently being heard by the High Court (discussed previously here and here) at least for the timebeing. That being the case, I'll take this opportunity to point you in the direction of some good pieces by other people which I recommend you peruse at your leisure.

For start-offs, Unity has a helpful explanation of the process whereby Orders in Council become law:
1. A conniving slime-ball New Labour Scumbag Privy Councillor stands in front of Her Maj and reads out the title of the order... Note, I said the title of the order - the Chagossians don't even get the courtesy of Her Maj having to listen to the whole order that's fucking with their lives.

2. Her Maj says whatever she says on such occasions - 'yeah, alright then you've talked me into, I s'pose' for all I know or fucking care - and then signs the thing - or more likely it gets pp'd by the Grovelling Keeper of the Royal Biro.

And that's it - it takes less time for this government to fuck over 4,500 people than it used to take Bush to sign death warrants and the not even any of that messy bullshit about democracy or Parliament to get in the way.
I happen to think that banning the Chagossians from their own homes would have been contemptible even if it had been done with the full support of Parliament (as I'm sure does Unity). That the government felt the need to utlise such archaic and undemocratic methods is an indication, I think, of how difficult they felt it would have been to sell the idea to Parliament.

Elsewhere, Daniel Simpson describes the eviction of the Chagossians as the "special relationship's dirty secret," asserting, "nothing demonstrates British subservience to the United States quite as blatantly as the theft of Diego Garcia." Padma Rao, meanwhile, has an article in Der Spiegel (reprinted in the New York Times and no doubt elsewhere). Both are good places to start for anybody wanting to understand how we got to the present situation. So to is John Pilger's slightly older documentary which is available in RealVideo format from here (via) if you missed it the first two times around. The Rao article, ends with a quote from Chagossian leader Olivier Bancoult which seems to sum everything up succinctly:
"We are a small people without blonde hair and without education," says Bancoult. "But we ask the world to respect us and let us return home."
Is that so unreasonable?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

That's My Prerogative

Today saw the commencement of the High Court challenge to the Orders in Council passed to prevent the onetime inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago returning to the islands from which they were evicted by the British Government.

The Chagossians are being represented by Sir Sydney Kentridge QC who has prevously acted for Nelson Mandela and Stephen Biko, an anti-Apartheid campaigner who was killed in custody. Judging from the report in the Times (the best of the five articles on Google News at the time of writing) the crux of the argument Kentridge presented was that "when the Queen approved an 'Order in Council' on June 10, 2004, to uphold the 40-year-old eviction of the Chagosians from their homes, she acted outside her authority over the British Indian Ocean Territory to which the Chagos Islands belong." (For those of you who don't know, or had forgotten, the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT, is an artificial entity created by the British to carve the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius when the latter became independent, considered to be a territory of the UK.)

Orders in Council are a Royal Prerogative power, passed by the Privy Council. As Sydney Kentridge noted, they are not statutory instruments, not subject ot Parliamentary approval and in this case were made without any consultation with the Chagosians. Despite their medieval origins, Kentridge argued (at least according to the Times) that "the Queen's authority over the Chagos Islands was limited to legislating 'for the peace, order and good governance of the territory' and as such, the order was 'invalid and of no effect'."

The case has been brought by 41-year old electrician and Chagossian leader Louis Olivier Bancoult (there is some confusion over his name, with several media outlets reffering to him as Louis Bancoult, rather than Olivier which seems to be more common). In a telephone interview with Bancoult claimed, "We feel ashamed for Her Majesty the Queen, for her to read what is written and to say, 'Banish the right of a human being, banish the right of a British citizen, turn them away from their homeland,'"

The Chagossians have already won the right to return to their homes once in the High Court. In 2000 the court ruled that the expulsion of the Chagossians had been unlwawful and that the order which had expelled them should be immediately be amended to confer on all those born on the island, and their children, the right to resettle their. The government responded by insisting that this would have to be balanced with our treaty obligations to the US, meaning that Diego Garcia itself (the site of a major US military base) would be excluded from the right of return. Nonetheless, then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook promised, "We will put in place a new immigration ordinance which will allow the Ilois to return to the outer islands while observing our treaty obligations."

Needless to say this didn't happen. Over the next few years the government carried out a number of "feasibility" studies into the possibility of resettlement which they claimed showed return to be impossible. This was followed with an extended period of silence over the matter, ended in by the passing of the Orders in Council on 10 June 2004, which - entirely coincidentally you understand - was also "Super Thursday," when european and local elections were taking place. These banned anyone from setting foot on the island.

Kentridge notes that the passing of the orders destroyed the hopes of many Chagossians:
"They thought they had finally succeeded in establishing their right to return - but that was not to be," Sir Sydney told Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Cresswell.

"On June 10, 2004, the right they thought they had, and believed they had, was removed from them," he said. "Not by Parliament, but by Her Majesty the Queen acting through Orders in Council on advice from the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office."

The orders restored the Government's eviction order that had been quashed by the High Court, Sir Sydney said.
Dashed hopes notwithstanding, the Chagossians have continued to fight for their rights. That this case, with all the attendant costs and inconveniences, is being brought at all is testament to that. Bancoult had travelled from Mauritius to attend the case and was joined by a number of fellow Chagossians from the community in Crawley. On the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice he told assembled supporters, "The Orders in Council are a secret law shamefully used to by-pass Parliament. The Government knew many MPs would be against them. We want to show the British Government has treated us, its own citizens, very shamefully and shown contempt for its own institutions and the judgment of the High Court."

Others were similarly damning of government policy. Lawyer for the Chagossians, Richard Gifford dismissed suggestions that difficulties made the cost of resettlement prohibitive, according to the BBC, he opined, "I've no doubt it is quite inconvenient to provide for the return of a population to their homeland, but that really doesn't square with concepts of morality, justice or anything else in this day and age. It's the sort of thing they might have done in the 17th or 18th Century." Durham professor of law Colin Warbrick also criticised the outdated laws used against the Chagossians, noting that Orders in Council were used to govern colonies as they are used to govern "overseas territories" today. Inceed, they were used by King George III to govern some of his American colonies prior to their rebellion. "That's what all the fuss was about," Warbrick suggests. "All that fuss," of course being a reference to the American War of Independence.

The case is expected to continue for five days, with the verdict reserved for a later, as yet unknown, date.

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