Monthly Archives: February 2006


Normality and the Jowells

Tessa Jowell tells us she did nothing wrong. She merely signed documents to remortgage her home. She strongly asserted today that this was ‘a very normal thing to do, and certainly not illegal.’

It is indeed not unusual to remortgage, though it was unusual that she remortgaged with an offshore bank. It is also unusual to remortgage for as much as ‘400,000. But it is very unusual indeed to remortgage for ‘400,000, then pay off the full loan, within a month, with spare cash.

What sort of people do such a thing? Well, money launderers. If you have ‘400,000 of cash not easily explained, you now have remortgage papers available to show where you got it.

Now, where did the money actually come from? Well, on two occasions, David Mills has said in writing that it came from Silvio Berlusconi. He said so in a signed confession to the Italian police, which he now says was extracted under duress. And he said so in a letter to his own accountant, where he explained that it was not in fact a bribe from Berlusconi for the evidence he had just given in an Italian court to keep Berlusconi out of jail. It was rather a personal gift. Mills now says that this second occasion when he wrote that the money came from Berlusconi was in fact a lie to protect another client. One can believe him or not ‘ he is claiming to be a liar already. What we do know for certain is that, shortly after giving evidence on behalf of Berlusconi, evidence which Italian authorities now allege was perjured, David Mills received a lot of money from an Italian source, which he has difficulty accounting for and claims he needed to disguise. His wife then took out a mortgage for about the same sum, which they almost immediately then paid off again.

It stinks to heaven.

Mills is, beyond dispute, a confidante and adviser of the odious Berlusconi. Mills’ job as an international corporate lawyer is to help the cosmopolitan super rich move their money about and avoid tax, and to disguise their cash flows if necessary. Mills is a long term shyster whose activities and profession should appal Labour supporters. Everything Mills stands for is what Keir Hardie and Clement Atlee were against. So it should be of no surprise that he is close to Blair and a member of his personal circle. The day I decided Blair was calculating and self-seeking, rather than honest and misguided, was the day that Blair first chose to spend family holidays with the Berlusconis, at some of their palaces. But Blair’s friendship with the likes of Mills should have warned all of us sooner.

Now for something else you won’t find in the mainstream media. Mills was under long term surveillance by the Serious Fraud Office for numerous dubious financial transactions. Approximately nine years ago, his office was actually raided by the SFO. As the investigation drew to a close, New Labour came to power. An inside source tells me that SFO staff believed they had a good case, and wondered whether his friendship with the new Prime Minister Blair had any bearing on it not coming to court. A Sunday Times Insight investigation into Mills was spiked by the editors.

So these current peculiar financial dealings do not drop out of a clear blue sky. A lot of taxpayers’ money has been spent investigating Mills before. He is well dodgy.

What will it take for the eyes of the very many decent people still left in the Labour Party to be opened to the appalling people who now lead their party? How many of the current cabinet are not, themselves or their partners, personally millionaires? Blair has a ‘3 million house. Straw has a Cotswold mansion as one of his homes. We recall Blunkett’s dodgy directorships, and Mandelson’s loan from Robinson. Who do these people represent, except a self-serving, cosmopolitan elite? Is it any wonder they are so keen on privatising health and education, when they and all their friends can afford the best? And what does any of this have to do with the aims and origins of the Labour Party, or the hopes of those who elected them?

When you have sold your soul to Mammon, you end up doing things like launching illegal wars that kill over a hundred thousand and cost the taxpayer billions, but bring massive profits to your friends who own shares in oil companies or arms manufacturers. I have no doubt that some of those who have made a killing out of the Iraq War will have paid for Mills’ useful professional advice on offshore money transactions.

Mills and Blair will be close to those making a killing, but not those suffering the killing. It is hard to see that far from the marble terrace overlooking one of Mr Berlusconi’s private beaches.

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A green light for torture

From the International Herald Tribune

The Bush administration’s tendency to dodge accountability for lawless actions by resorting to secrecy and claims of national security is on sharp display in the case of a Syrian- born Canadian, Maher Arar, who spent months under torture because of U.S. action. A federal trial judge in Brooklyn has refused to stand up to the executive branch, in a decision that is both chilling and ripe for prompt overturning.

Arar, 35, a software engineer, was detained at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2002 while on his way home from a family vacation. He was held in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn detention center and interrogated without proper access to legal counsel. Finally, he was shipped off to a Syrian prison. There, he was held for 10 months in a rat-infested underground dungeon and brutally tortured because officials suspected that he was a member of Al Qaeda. All this was part of a morally and legally unsupportable U.S. practice known as “extraordinary rendition,” in which the federal government outsources interrogations to regimes known to use torture and lacking fundamental human rights protections.

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Director Options Dismissed U.K. Diplomat’s Book

From OhMy News

Director Michael Winterbottom has taken an option on “Murder in Samarkand,” the forthcoming book by Craig Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, detailing his dismissal in October 2004 “after exposing appalling human rights abuses by the U.S.-funded regime of President Islam Karimov,” according to the publisher.

Winterbottom’s most recent film “The Road to Guantanamo” won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and will soon be shown in the U.K. on Channel 4 television. The new film could take at least a year to develop.

As reported in the Times Online, Murray has no objection to being portrayed in the film by Steve Coogan, better known as a comedian. “There are elements of dark comedy in the story,” says Murray, “and Steve Coogan has shown that he has quite a dramatic range.”

The book is scheduled for publication in June but has not been cleared by the Foreign Office. As reported by Blairwatch, Murray has listed some of the changes made in a version that might have been cleared. These include removing a report on GCHQ telephone intercepts, and making it clear that there is dispute over a reference to Research Analysts being “in tears over pressure brought over claims of Iraqi WMD.”

Richard Stagg, Director General Corporate Affairs, has written to Murray showing four areas of legal reasons to prevent publication. These are defamation, breach of confidence, Crown Copyright and the Official Secrets Act. In a letter of Feb. 9, Murray asks for the passages thought to be defamatory to be identified. Murray repeats his readiness to alter the text.

“The only point still at dispute, is that I have in the text that a member of Research Analysts told me that people in that Department were in tears over pressure put on them to go along with claims of Iraqi WMD. You tell me that the officer, still in your employ, now denies telling me this. I have noted in the book that I say he told me this, and he apparently says he did not tell me this. People can draw their own conclusions. I cannot see why this is such a huge problem for you, or would lead you to want to ban a book.”

Murray then asks why Crown Copyright issues would be any different from the recent memoirs by former British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer.

The letter concludes: “Finally, you threaten me with the Official Secrets Act. I am confident I am not breaking it. And if you really want to ask a jury of twelve honest citizens to send me to prison for campaigning against torture, good luck to you.”

Action under the Official Secrets Act may follow publication in June. However, the case on the Al Jazeera memo has been very slow to get to court and no action has been taken against Peter Kilfoyle MP. As reported by Guy Adams in The Independent, Murray is ready for a legal case and would call Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as a witness. In an interview with The Bookseller he said he has “proof that the Government has been obtaining intelligence from torture, and that Jack Straw approved it.”

Any legal action would be taken as there is growing concern about the legality of U.K. government policy and support for the U.S.

In a related story, Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and formerly a High Court judge in Uganda who fled during the regime of Idi Amin, has called for Guantanamo to be closed. He objects to Tony Blair’s description of Guantanamo as an “anomaly.”

Dr. Sentamu said: “By declaring ‘war on terror’ President Bush is perversely applying the rules of engagement that apply in a war situation. But the prisoners are not being regularly visited by the Red Cross or Red Crescent, which is required by the Geneva Convention. They were not even allowed to be interviewed by the U.N. human rights group.

“In Uganda President Amin did something similar: he did not imprison suspects because he knew that in prison, the law would apply to them so he created special places to keep them. If the Guantanamo Bay detainees were on American soil the law would apply. This is a breach of international law and a blight on the conscience of America.”

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind recently wrote in the Spectator: “As the use of extraordinary rendition has increased enormously since 2001, the obvious explanation is that the Americans have used British airports and airspace but have stopped requesting permission, and the British authorities have acquiesced. If he wants to clear the matter up, all that Mr. Straw needs to do is ask the United States for an assurance that from now on, no CIA flights landing or refueling at British airports will carry kidnapped prisoners.”

Last weekend an editorial in the Sunday Times concluded “The United States betrays its founding principles if it condones torture. Mr. Bush and Tony Blair shrug off the criticism at home but fail to address the international damage done. We are peppering ourselves with buckshot.”

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Craig Murray to address Tower Hamlets Stop the War meeting, Wednesday 1st March

TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ – DON’T ATTACK IRAN

7.00pm, Wednesday 1 March Skeel Hall lecture theatre, People’s Palace, Queen Mary University, Mile End Rd, E1 (nearest tube: Mile End)

more info from 079 585 35231 / 079 177 96673 / [email protected]

TONY BENN

GEORGE GALLOWAY(Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow)

ROSE GENTLE (mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, killed in Basra in June ’04)

CRAIG MURRAY (Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan)

JOHN REES (Stop the War Coalition)

SAMI RAMADANI (Iraqi exile)

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A Celluloid Headache: more on the Craig Murray movie

The cinema face of Craig Murray? Click for more on Steve Coogan

From Times Online

A celluloid headache awaits the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The controversial memoirs of Craig Murray (former Ambassador to Uzbekistan) are to be made into a movie.

Slightly weirdly, Michael Winterbottom, the director (24 Hour Party People, The Road to Guant’namo), has optioned Murder in Samarkand, which ‘ court battles permitting ‘ is due to be published in June.

Very weirdly, he plans to cast Steve Coogan in the lead role. Can it be true? ‘Actually, yes,’ says Murray. ‘It’s extremely good news. I’ve met with Michael, and with Steve Coogan, and with a, well, a very well-known screenwriter, whose name I’m not going to divulge.’

Murray’s book lifts the lid on torture and corruption in the former Soviet state and alleges lazy complicity on the part of Downing Street and the FCO. It doesn’t, in short, sound like typical Alan Partridge fare.

‘There are elements of dark comedy in the story,’ shrugs Murray, ‘and Steve Coogan has shown that he has quite a dramatic range.’

And who should play Jack Straw, the man whom Murray evidently considers to be his nemesis? The former ambassador lets out a dark laugh. ‘I think it is a role tailor-made for Alan Rickman,’ he says.

See also Cinematical and TimeOut

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MPs recall Straw as air traffic controllers confirm 200 CIA flights

From The Guardian (23.02.2006)

MPs will today chastise ministers over their stance on the US practice of “extraordinary rendition” amid the first official admission that 200 suspect CIA flights had used British airspace.

In a report highly critical of the government’s attitude towards human rights abuses, the Commons foreign affairs committee accuses ministers of failing in their duty to find out whether Britain has been complicit in the US policy of secretly transferring detainees to places where they risked being tortured.

Members of the committee say they have not been told the full story despite months of trying. They are to summon the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to give evidence again on an issue which has serious political and legal implications. The move was agreed after Mr Straw suggested he would be questioned in private only by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, Paul Keetch, a Liberal Democrat member of the Commons foreign affairs group, said yesterday.

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Human rights “a broken promise in the UK”

Click to visit the AI site

Amnesty International have released a damning 83-page report exposing the damaging effect of the UK’s anti-terrorism policies on human rights.

Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General emphasised the extent of the organisation’s concern:

“There is now a dangerous imbalance between draconian actions the UK is taking in the name of security and its obligation to protect human rights. These measures tarnish the UK’s image and its ability to promote human rights abroad.”

The new report presents a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the UK’s anti-terrorism measures on human rights, and follows meetings with senior government ministers. The report also documents how the UK has tried to circumvent its obligations in relation to human rights abuses committed by UK armed forces in Iraq.

“The UK government has introduced sweeping and ill conceived measures that seriously undermine the rule of law,” said Ms Khan.

A summary of the report can be read here

A PDF of the full report can be downloaded here

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CIA flights: “If Straw and Blair get away with this foul abuse, then the rule of law is finished”

Now that information is starting to come out about the hundreds of CIA rendition flights in UK airspace, at least scores refuelling at UK airports, the government’s refusal to give details to MPs of CIA flights landing at military airports is an appalling denial of democracy.

The government claims that this information would be “too expensive” to collect.

Earlier in my career, I was the number 2 in the FCO’s Aviation and Maritime Department. I can tell you for certain that, even by Jack Straw’s standards, the “too expensive” claim is an appalling lie.

When these planes touch down in the UK, they no longer have flag immunity. Which means that UK law applies rather than the law of the country in which the plane is registered. So when someone is being held against their will without legal authority- usually shackled to the floor – and the plane is on the ground at Prestwick, RAF Northolt or elsewhere, a serious crime is being committed.

I can tell you for certain that if these planes were carrying heroin, rather than beaten and degraded human beings, it would be technically very simple to track them, given we know the physical planes used. It would also be no problem at all to board them at the airport.

If parliament and the courts allow Straw and Blair to get away with this foul abuse, then the rule of law is finished and we no longer live in a democracy.

I shall be testifying before the European Parliament’s Committee on Extraordinary Rendition in Brussels on 23 March.

Craig

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Pressure builds over rendition flights in UK

From The Guardian (22.02.2006)

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today again denied the government had any knowledge of CIA “extraordinary rendition” flights, after it was revealed last night that the suspected planes involved had flown through UK airspace around 200 times in the past five years.

The row over possible British government collusion in the controversial US practice re-erupted last night after Channel Four news revealed new figures from the National Air Traffic Service relating to the aircraft thought to be involved.

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Five European states withhold information on CIA flights

From BBC Online

Five European countries have not given information about allegations of covert CIA prison transport flights, Europe’s human rights watchdog has said. Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Italy, San Marino and Georgia were all in breach of European human rights law, according to the Council of Europe.

The head of the council had asked all 46 members to detail any involvement. A recent council inquiry said the CIA flew more than 100 terror suspects through Europe, possibly for torture.

In a series of questions distributed in November 2005, Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis asked member states to detail what measures they had taken to ensure that people were not subject to “forced disappearances, secret detentions and extraordinary renditions”.

The deadline for responses expired on Tuesday.

Mr Davis said: “I remind all five countries that their failure to reply is a clear breach of the Convention, which underpins the defence of human rights across the continent.” The breach should be rectified “as a matter of urgency”, he added.

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Who will blink first?

The New Statesman on Murder in Samarkand

Jack “the Lad” Straw and ex-ambassador turned general-election rival Craig Murray are in a “who’ll blink first” stand-off. The Foreign Secretary refuses to clear Murray’s weighty 160,000-word memoirs for publication; our ex-man in Uzbekistan offers the book for sale from June on Amazon. Murray threatens to lift the lid on UK support for torture and rendition. Jack the Lad, it seems, is putting Murray through his own torture.

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Steve Coogan “in the frame” to play Craig Murray in film version of Murder in Samarkand

From Dark Horizons

Controversial British director Michael Winterbottom (“9 Songs”, “Code 46”, “The Road to Guantanamo”) has set yet another hot button project as his next film – “Murder in Samarkand” reports Production Weekly.

Based on the memoirs of Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, the film will follow his famous firing in 2004 after drawing attention to torture and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

Comedian Steve Coogan, who has worked twice with Winterbottom before on “24 Hour Party People” and “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is tipped to be playing Murray in the film which is expected to be taking a year to set up.

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MOD delays the release of British casualty figures

The Ministry of Defence is continuing to delay the release of information on British casualties in the Iraq war. Information was requested under the Freedom of Information Act following recent statements from the Minister, John Reid.

LFCM describes the continuing struggle to get at the facts.

Update 24.02.06: the MOD responses to the FOIA enquiries appear to indicate more than a small degree of obfuscation from the Minister.

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Not lost in translation

From Mainichi Newspapers

“Suspect of terrorism might have been secretly handed over to

the related countries by US”. Interview with former UK diplomat.

Click to enlarge

Summary

“Mr. Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has told to Mainichi that “US and UK have utilized, or admitted to use, the information which have been obtained by torture”. In addition, he asserted that the opinion of then a legal advisor for the UK government was; “receiving or possessing information under torture does not create any offense against the UN convention on Torture”. Mr. Murray has testified at the Council of Europe with having submitted the documents which confirm these remarks. He also points out that, according to his experience in Uzbekistan, while US might not construct any “secret prison” in European Continent, it seems to be quite probable that US would hand over these suspects to the third countries.”

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Outrage grows over Police harrassment of “Road to Guantanamo” actors

From BBC News

See also: “She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guant’namo'”

…Actor Farhad Harun was also questioned, along with Shafiq Rusul and Rhuhel Ahmed, the men whose detention in Guantanamo is chronicled in the film.

Mr Ahmed also alleges that he was verbally abused by a police officer and had his mobile phone taken from him for a short period.

The actor also claims that he was told by police that he could be held for up to 48 hours without access to a lawyer.

He says he was initially questioned at the airport’s baggage pick-up area and taken to a separate room when he demanded to know why.

Human rights organisation Reprieve, who Mr Ahmed has asked to speak on his behalf, called Thursday’s incident an “ugly farce”.

They have called for an urgent inquiry into what happened while one of the film’s producers, Melissa Parmenter, said the detention was outrageous.

Bedfordshire police have said they will issue another statement specifically concerning the allegations made by Mr Ahmed and Reprieve…

If you are concerned about this latest abuse of “anti-terror” powers, you can fax your MP for free at www.writetothem.com

Update from the BBC: Guantanamo duo ‘held’ at airport

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Straw faces a torturous spell in the witness box

From The Independent

Twenty-five years after he hung up his barrister’s wig, Jack Straw faces the unwelcome prospect of returning to court. Craig Murray, our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, intends to call the Foreign Secretary to give evidence in any legal action over his forthcoming memoirs.

This month, Straw’s staff wrote to Murray – who was sacked for blowing the whistle on human rights abuses – saying they’d “actively consider a claim for breach of confidence or Crown copyright” over his book, Murder in Samarkand.

Despite that threat, Murray’s publishers, Mainstream, tell me they “intend to proceed” with the memoir, which will hit the shelves in July.

Meanwhile, Murray has used an interview with The Bookseller to launch a personal offensive against Straw, saying he has “proof that the Government has been obtaining intelligence from torture, and that Jack Straw approved it.”

He’s also happy to take the matter to court, adding: “The Government is seeking to undermine freedom of speech … If they want to send me to prison, I am prepared.”

The Foreign Office letter to Murray was drafted by legal advisors, who are anxious to avoid a hoo-hah similar to that inspired by the publication of Sir Christopher Meyer’s memoir DC Confidential.

However, Straw’s direct involvement makes it hard for them to keep him away from any trial. With this in mind, an FO spokesman stressed that they’ve yet to decide “how to take this forward.”

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“She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guant’namo'”

See also: UK police arrest stars of award-winning film “The Road to Guantanamo” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

See also: The Lip Magazine – Full statement from actor Riz Ahmed

From The Guardian

Four actors who play al-Qaida suspects in a British movie that won a prestigious prize were detained by the police at Luton airport as they returned from the Berlin Film Festival and questioned under anti-terror laws, alongside two of the former terrorism suspects they play on screen.

They were returning last Thursday after the premiere of the film, The Road to Guant’namo. It depicts the life of three men from Tipton in the West Midlands, who go to Afghanistan and end up being held for two years by the US at its military base on Cuba before being released without charge.

The film, directed by Michael Winterbottom, won the Silver Bear award for direction at Berlin on Sunday. Released in Britain next month, it depicts the alleged shackling, torture and other ill treatment the Tipton detainees claim they suffered at the hands of the Americans.

The film’s producers say four actors from the film, who all play terrorism suspects, were detained at Luton airport after flying back from Germany on an easyJet flight. They included Rizwan Ahmed and Farhad Harun, who were stopped along with Shafiq Rasul and Rhuhel Ahmed, the former Guant’namo inmates they play on screen.

In a statement, Rizwan Ahmed said police swore at him and asked if he had become an actor to further the Islamic cause. He said he was at first denied access to a lawyer and was questioned about his views on the Iraq war by a policewoman. “She asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guant’namo. She asked ‘Did you become an actor mainly to do films like this, to publicise the struggles of Muslims?'”

Mr Ahmed alleged that he had a telephone wrestled from his hand as he tried to contact a lawyer and was later abused. He claimed that one police officer had called him a “fucker”.

Melissa Parmenter, co-producer of the film, described the detention and questioning as outrageous.

A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire police, which patrols Luton airport, said that none of the six men had been arrested. “The police officers wanted to ask them some questions under the counter-terrorism act,” she said. “All were released within the hour. Part of the counter-terrorism act allows us to stop and examine people if something happens that might be suspicious.”

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Uzbekistan: In for the Long Haul – A report from the International Crisis Group

From the International Crisis Group

OVERVIEW

Economic misrule and political repression have left Uzbekistan in a woeful state. President Islam Karimov’s intransigence has meant that efforts to encourage economic and political reform have failed. Relations with Europe and the U.S. are the worst since independence in 1991. Religious and political repression and worsening living standards have raised domestic tensions and provoked violence. There is little that Western countries can do now to change Uzbekistan’s direction but they should be doing more to prepare the Uzbek people and the neighbouring states to withstand future instability in Central Asia.

Uzbekistan is well down the path of self-destruction followed by such countries as Burma, Zimbabwe and North Korea, in which an elite prospers while the majority lives in worsening poverty. Even as European governments and the U.S. have encouraged regional development, Tashkent acts as a persistent spoiler and presents a growing threat to its neighbours, with refugees and drugs spilling over its frontiers. The other four Central Asian states and Afghanistan are all relatively weak and vulnerable. Kyrgyzstan was profoundly shaken by the arrival of fewer than 500 refugees after the Andijon massacre in May 2005. Tajikistan has been hard hit by border closures and trade restrictions. Even relatively prosperous Kazakhstan could be seriously troubled if violence were to drive Uzbeks across its border.

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