Monthly Archives: January 2007


Germany issues CIA arrest orders

From BBC Online

Germany has ordered the arrest of 13 suspected CIA agents over the alleged kidnapping of one of its citizens. Munich prosecutors confirmed that the warrants were linked to the case of Khaled al-Masri, a German national of Lebanese descent.

Mr Masri says he was seized in Macedonia, flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan and mistreated there. He says he was released in Albania five months later when the Americans realised they had the wrong man. Mr Masri says his case is an example of the US policy of “extraordinary rendition” – a practice whereby the US government flies foreign terror suspects to third countries without judicial process for interrogation or detention.

Code names

Prosecutors in Munich said in a statement that the city’s court had issued the warrants on suspicion of abduction and grievous bodily harm. The information on which the warrants were based came from Mr Masri’s lawyers and a journalist and officials in Spain, where the flight carrying Mr Masri is thought to have originated. The names and nationalities concerned were not released but prosecutors said the names identified were thought to be the code names of CIA agents.

“The investigation will now focus on learning the actual names of the suspects,” they said.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Masri’s lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, said the arrest warrants were “a very important step in the rehabilitation of Masri”.

“It shows us that we were right in putting our trust in the German authorities and the German prosecutors,” he said. German arrest warrants are not valid in the US but if the suspects were to travel to the European Union they could be arrested.

Italian case

Mr Masri says he was abducted by US agents in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on 31 December 2003. He is seeking to sue the US government over his detention, but in May a judge dismissed a lawsuit he filed against the CIA, citing national security considerations. The US government is not assisting the German authorities with the case.

Meanwhile in the Italian city of Milan, court hearings to decide whether to indict 25 alleged CIA agents and several Italians accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric in 2003 are under way. Osama Mustafa Hassan, or Abu Omar, says he was abducted from the streets of Milan and then tortured in Egypt. If the case proceeds to trial, it would be the first criminal prosecution over America’s rendition policy.

The practice has drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups, legal experts and the international community. But last week a European Parliament committee approved a report saying EU states knew about secret CIA flights over Europe, the abduction of terror suspects by US agents and the existence of clandestine detention camps.

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A virtual march on Washington this Saturday

Updated: The AVAAZ blog says that around 87,000 virtual marchers from 189 countries joined the protest in Wasington on January 27th!

From AVAAZ.org

Hundreds of thousands of Americans will march to their capital city Washington DC on Saturday 27 January. It could be the rebirth of the US peace movement. People round the world – let’s join the march with our own global internet protest! Last week, our ad told decision-makers in Congress how strong world opposition is to Bush’s escalation in Iraq.

This Saturday, Avaaz supporters at the US march will carry banners and country placards announcing how many of us from each nation are joining the marching. Every signature will be counted on the banners! Let’s raise a global voice for a real plan to end this war. Let’s make those numbers big. Time is short. Join the global peace march and tell your friends today!

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Blair will fail to attend parliamentary debate on Iraq

“…where will Tony Blair be, when parliament debates the consequences of one of the most disastrous foreign policy decisions in British history? Straight after Prime Minister’s Question Time and before the Iraq debate starts, the man responsible for this policy will flee the House of Commons to speak at a meeting of the Confederation of British Industries!”

Stop the War are organising a lunchtime lobby (1pm – 2 pm) and evening protest (5pm – 7pm).

Click here for more.

Update: There will be an additional protest today outside the Victoria Park Plaza Hotel at 2.30PM, where Blair is speaking to the CBI.

Victoria Park Plaza Hotel

239 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Victoria, London. SW1V 1EQ

NEAREST TUBE VICTORIA

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European parliament committe condems government response to illegal CIA acitivities

The Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners issued the following press release yesterday.

European Parliament: Committee deplores Member States’ passivity in the face of illegal CIA operations

Over a thousand CIA-operated flights used European airspace in 2001-05 and temporary secret detention facilities “may have been located at US military bases” in Europe, says Parliament’s temporary committee on CIA activities in Europe. Its final report deplores the passivity of some Member States in the face of illegal CIA operations, and a lack of co-operation from the EU Council of Ministers. It calls for a formal investigation under EU Treaty Article 7 on breaches of fundamental rights.

The report, adopted on Tuesday with 28 votes in favour, 17 against and 3 abstentions, and now due for debate and vote at the February plenary in Strasbourg, says European countries have been “turning a blind eye” to flights operated by the CIA which, “on some occasions, were being used for extraordinary rendition or the illegal transportation of detainees.” In some cases, says the report, “temporary secret detention facilities in European countries may have been located at US military bases” and ‘there may have been a lack of control’ over such bases by European host countries. ‘Secret detention facilities’, it explains, can also include places where somebody is held incommunicado, such as hotel rooms, as in the case of Khaled El-Masri in Skopje in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Temporary Committee therefore “expects the Council to start hearings and commission an independent investigation without delay, as foreseen in EU Treaty Article 7”, and, “where necessary, to impose sanctions on Member States in case of a serious and persistent breach of Article 6”.

(more…)

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The police bite back

Iraq, Rendition, the Saudi Arms Deal, and Cash-for-Honours – has there ever been a British Prime Minister facing so many simultaneous scandals combined with the realistic prospect of criminal litigation?

While the Cash-for-Honours affair is certainly not the most serious and is in reality relatively trivial, it does seem to offer the best hope for effective legal action. While it would obviously be a travesty of justice if Blair was to only called to legal account over this issue, it is worth remembering that Al Capone was finally brought down on a charge of income tax evasion. The biggest fish sometimes have to be caught with the smallest hook.

The Scotsman: Downing St not above law warn police

POLICE chiefs last night publicly warned the Labour Party that “no one is above the law” as the cash-for-honours inquiry erupted into open warfare between Downing Street and the Met.

After senior Labour figures lined up to criticise the “theatrical” arrest of Tony Blair’s aide Ruth Turner, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority launched an unprecedented counterattack, suggesting the party was trying to “manipulate” and “pressurise” officers.

Len Duvall – in remarks believed to reflect growing fury within Scotland Yard – urged those who had questioned the conduct of police to “reflect on what they have said”…..

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War with Iran? US Congress attempts to block Bush

Boston Herald: Dems to Bush: Don’t attack Iran without Congress OK

WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders in Congress lobbed a warning shot yesterday at the White House not to launch an attack against Iran without first seeking approval from lawmakers.

‘The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization,’ Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told the National Press Club.

The administration has accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs and contributing technology and bomb-making materials for insurgents to use against U.S. and Iraqi security forces. President Bush said last week the United States will ‘seek out and destroy’ networks providing that support. While top administration officials have said they have no plans to attack Iran itself, they have declined to rule it out.

This week, the administration sent another aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf – the second to deploy in the region. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the buildup was intended to impress on Iran that the four-year war in Iraq has not made America vulnerable. The United States also is deploying anti-missile Patriot missiles in the region.

The United States has accused Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that Iran would not back down over its nuclear program, which Tehran says is being developed only to produce energy.

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The almighty or instinct are no defence

Published back in May 2006, this transcript of an International Rule of Law Lecture looks at Extraordinary Rendition: Complicity and its consequences

Given by Professor Philippe Sands QC, Director, Centre of International Courts and Tribunals, UCL, it provides a legal perspective on rendition and responsibility. With the European Parliament committee on involvement in rendition meeting on the 23rd January to consider their draft report, this area could shortly become yet another problem for the Prime Minister and associated ministers of state.

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Blair under continued attack over Saudi arms deal

BBC Online: OECD ‘concerns’ over Saudi probe

There are “serious concerns” about the UK dropping a fraud probe into a Saudi arms deal, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The OECD, which drew up an anti-bribery treaty signed by Britain, has been investigating the Serious Fraud Office decision announced last month. Prime Minister Tony Blair the decision to end the probe was taken in the interests of national security.

The OECD has said it will take “appropriate action” against the UK.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said this could mean an investigation into how the decision was taken, which would mean “further embarrassment” for the UK.

He told BBC News 24: “I think a government other than Mr Blair’s would feel severely embarrassed by criticism of this kind. After all this is a convention which Britain has signed and for us to be seen in breach of an international obligation of this kind is deeply damaging to our reputation.” …

Update 19.01.07 Britain rebuked for dropping bribe inquiry

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Tony Blair on trial tonight (and in April)

Prime Minister Tony Blair faces trial by both theatre and television as he prepares to step down and the debate over his role in the Iraq war intensifies.

Tonight, Channel 4 presents “The Trial of Tony Blair” which portrays future events as the Prime Minister leaves office after more than a decade in power.

It is some time in the future. Gordon Brown is moving in. President Clinton is looking for her second term in the White House. And Tony Blair has swapped the corridors of power for carpet swatches in his home in Connaught Square.

Says writer Alistair Beaton: “I gather Mr Blair is very concerned about his place in history. This film is my idea of where that place might be. Whether it’s fiction or prediction remains to be seen.”

Later this spring, Tricycle Theatre, with a reputation for political plays based on real-life trials and inquiries, is staging “Called to Account: The Indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the Crime of Aggression Against Iraq – a Hearing“.

The play will be based on a debate between two leading lawyers — Philippe Sands for the prosecution and Julian Knowles for the defence. Both belong to the same law practice as Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth. They will examine witnesses including parliamentarians, diplomats, UN officials, lawyers and intelligence experts.

Richard Norton-Taylor, a journalist at the Guardian newspaper, will condense the transcript from the lawyers’ debate into a play, which will run from April 19 to May 19.

Reuters previews both productions

And, if some light relief is required, the Prime Ministers old band, Ugly Rumours, have apparently reformed to release a single. Watch a trailer here and go here for more info.

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All Eyes on Parliament: January 24th

From Stop the War

Predictably, Tony Blair is virtually alone among world leaders in supporting George Bush’s “new strategy” for Iraq. Blair says the plan “makes sense”. Is this the same Tony Blair who barely one month ago welcomed the Iraq Study Group’s report, saying, “It is practical, it’s clear, and it offers also the way of bringing people together”? The ISG report called for a phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and dialogue with Iran and Syria — in other words, the opposite of Bush’s “new strategy.”

There is one group that has always had the power to stop Blair’s compulsive subservience to George Bush: members of parliament. So far, the majority have acquiesced in every stage of Blair’s warmongering. On 24 January, Iraq will be debated and voted on in parliament. Stop the War has called for a lunchtime lobby of MPs, followed by an evening demonstration outside the House of Commons (details below). Between now and then we need to do everything possible to ensure that MPs know that they must not repeat their abject performance on 31 October 2006, when only 12 Labour MPs voted for an inquiry into the whole Iraq disaster.

You can fax your MP easily from here

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Bush gets 2007 off with a bang

In Iraq the UN is warning of a looming humanitarian refugee crisis with over 3 million Iraqis diplaced form their homes by insecurtiy. Tonight, Bush is expected to annouce an escalation in the conflict with about 20,000 extra troops for Baghdad and Anbar province.

Apparently not content with the catastrophe created there, the US has now started overt military action in Somalia. Reports yesterday said that air strikes had killed over 20 in south Somalia. British citizens were said to be amongst the wounded. A long insurgenecy war in that country now also appears highly likely with the Ethiopian army acting as proxies for US policy.

Reuters: “People don’t understand why the Americans have bombed the field. The Islamists are not there, they are miles away,” he said. Local people have fled the area but are unable to cross the sealed Kenyan border, he added.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on the air strikes. There have also been reports of helicopter attacks. Somali officials have declined to say whether the attacks were carried out by U.S. or Ethiopian aircraft.

UNHCR: Incessant violence across much of Iraq’s central and southern regions is forcing thousands of people to leave their homes every month, presenting the international community with a looming humanitarian crisis even larger than the upheaval aid agencies had planned for during the 2003 war.

UNHCR estimates there are at least 1.6 million Iraqis displaced internally, and up to 1.8 million in neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. Many were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now. Egypt hosts an estimated Iraqi population of more than 150,000, and in the first half of 2006 Iraqis had become the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe.

See also: Blood and oil: How the West will profit from Iraq’s most precious commodity

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Chasing Shadows

European governments are under increasing pressure to reveal the extent of the assistance provided to the US for the operation of their extraordinary rendition programmes and covert detention and interrogation centres. The extent of the concern is revealed in a draft report on extraordinary rendition from the European Parliament that we posted previously. Now the BBC have produced a radio documentary that looks at growing suspicions about locations that may have been used illegally by the Americans in Poland and Morocco.

Click here to listen or go here for further details.

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Hunt for CIA ‘black site’ in Poland

By Nick Hawton from BBC Online

I stood at the end of the frozen runway, peering through the mist, trying to make out the terminal building in the distance. It was exactly at this spot, and under the cover of darkness, that the CIA planes did their business.

“They always followed the same procedure,” says Mariola Przewlocka, the manager at the remote Szymany airport in north-east Poland when the strange flights arrived during 2003.

“We were always told to keep away. The planes would stay at the end of the runway, often with their engines running. A couple of military vans from the nearby intelligence base would go up to them, stay a while and then drive off, out of the airport.

‘Cash payments’

“I saw several of these flights but never saw inside the vans because they had tinted windows and they never stopped at the terminal building.

“Payment was always made in cash. The invoices were made out to American companies but they were probably fake,” says Mrs Przewlocka.

In September 2006, President Bush admitted what had been suspected for a long time – that the CIA had been running a special programme to transport and interrogate leading members of al-Qaeda, away from the public spotlight.

Human rights groups have expressed concerns that the prisoners may have been tortured. The hunt has been on ever since to locate the secret prisons, or “black sites” as they are known. Poland and Romania have been named by investigators as hosting such sites.

The claims are denied by both governments.

CIA landings

After a week of meetings in smoky Warsaw restaurants and coffee bars with Polish intelligence sources, airport workers and journalists, I obtained what I had been looking for, and something that nobody in authority wanted to reveal, the flight log of planes landing at Szymany airport.

They confirmed my eyewitness’s account – that a well-known CIA Gulfstream plane, the N379P, had made several landings at the airport in 2003. The plane has been strongly linked to the transportation of al-Qaeda terrorists. Another plane, a Boeing 737, had flown direct from Kabul to this remote Polish airport.

“There is no particular reason for a Gulfstream to stop there. So there has to be a reason why the plane is stopping there and the fact that everyone is trying to conceal this reason makes it all the more interesting to try to find out what it is,” says Anne Fitzgerald from Amnesty International.

I followed the route of the military vans from the airport to the nearby secret Polish intelligence base at the village of Stare Kiejkuty. Surrounded by double-lined fences, security cameras and thick pine forest, visitors are not welcome.

‘Secret prison’

Within five minutes of stopping the car I was approached by a man in a military uniform who made it clear he wanted me to leave. Was this where a CIA secret prison had been located? A committee of European parliamentarians who investigated the CIA secret prison programme subsequently concluded in a report:

“In the light of… serious circumstantial evidence, a temporary secret detention facility may have been located at the intelligence training centre at Stare Kiejkuty.”

I think it’s quite probable there was a kind of transfer site, a black site, in Poland.

Jozef Pinior, Polish politician

Others go further. Marc Garlasco is a senior military analyst with Human Rights Watch.

He says: “It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Poland hosted a CIA Black Site.” But the authorities in Poland do not want to talk about it.

All requests for interviews with government ministers were rejected. The European parliamentarians met a similar wall of silence. One civil servant from the prime minister’s office claimed a secret, internal inquiry had concluded there had been no “black site” in Poland.

Others disagree.

“I think it’s quite probable there was a kind of transfer site, a black site, in Poland. There is a Kafka-like mood in Warsaw. No one from the government has the will to answer our questions,” says Jozef Pinior, a senior Polish politician, who has called for a commission to investigate the claims.

With Polish troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with the United States as the country’s key ally, there is no desire to delve into the secret deals made in the secret war against international terrorism. The US state department has said it always complies with its laws and treaty obligations and respects the sovereignty of other countries.

But the truth of Poland’s role may soon emerge.

The new Democratic-controlled US Congress may begin its own investigation into the CIA secret prisons programme in the next few months.

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On being asked to do the decent thing

‘…the army officer is left with the revolver on his desk and asked to do the decent thing. I picked it up and started shooting at the bastards’

A review of Murder in Samarkand by Norrie MacQueen, University of Dundee

This book had a difficult birth. This was nothing to do with the writing process ‘ Murray possesses an easy and fluent style. The problems came from the endless wrangles between the author and his former employers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about what could and could not be offered for public scrutiny. It is a book that Whitehall would dearly have liked to bury: the story of Murray’s pyrotechnic two years as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the post-Soviet Central Asian state of Uzbekistan and the Foreign Office’s cack-handed operation to rid itself of this turbulent diplomat.

Putting right the dysfunctional and ineffective mission that he inherited as his first (and, as it

turned out, emphatically his last ambassadorial posting) would have been a formidable task on its own. But Murray’s restless energy was also directed at building the previously neglected commercial and trade side of the embassy’s work. And, most dramatically, he began a high profile crusade against the hideous human rights abuses (including, charmingly, the boiling alive of political opponents) of the sinister President Islam Karimov and his ruling clique. Karimov, like other post-Soviet leaders in the region, had glided effortlessly from communist hack to enthusiastic western ally. By playing up a barely discernable ‘Islamist challenge’ and offering tracts of the country for American military bases, Karimov’s brutal kleptocracy had been given a free hand to plunder the country’s economy and destroy all internal opposition. Instead of being named and shamed as the vicious despot he undoubtedly is, he was lauded as a key ally in the ‘war on terror’.

The consequence of Murray’s outspoken public speeches, angry diplomatic telegrams and face-to-face conflicts with venal and violent officials was the implacable enmity of his American counterparts in Uzbekistan. The word was passed from Tashkent to Washington and then on to London that the ambassador was not merely off-message but out of control. The Foreign Office and allegedly Downing Street itself, in the raw-nerved atmosphere of the invasion of Iraq, were ready to respond to these transatlantic concerns. The vehicle of this response was a dossier of official complaints against Murray’s personal and professional conduct designed to force his resignation. They were complaints which seemed for the most part to be grossly exaggerated or utterly trivial when they weren’t simply mendacious.

Though the accusations faltered and fell in the absence of credible evidence and in the face of the formidable support he was able to muster, the campaign against him caused his emotional and physical breakdown. Though he returned briefly to Tashkent after the worst of the affair seemed to be over, it should perhaps have been clearer to him than it appeared to be that he would have no future in the diplomatic service. Another series of wrangles with the FCO over his attacks on the regime soon followed. These led to threats of dismissal and, eventually, a reasonable severance package which he had no real option but to accept. His spirits soon rallied, however, and he was to brighten one of the dullest general elections in memory when he ran an obviously doomed but highly colourful campaign against his one-time boss, the then

foreign secretary Jack Straw in his Blackburn fiefdom.

Murray perhaps cannot be wholly absolved of all responsibility for the situation he found himself in. He was by any standards an unconventional ambassador, and not just because of his state school and Dundee University background. In fact the FCO is not as Eton and Oxbridge-dominated as it once was. Murray’s insistence that nothing had changed in this respect does however provide one of his more amusing images. On the doomed attempt to get him to go quietly, he observed ‘…the army officer is left with the revolver on his desk and asked to do the decent thing. I picked it up and started shooting at the bastards’. Although his approach to his job was intentionally informal and relaxed, one doesn’t have to be a Whitehall stuffed-shirt to suspect that it may also have been careless and incautious at times. His penchant for young local women (which, it has to be said, comes across in the book as more Benny Hill than James Bond) was freely admitted, openly pursued and usually alcoholassisted. Inevitably this provided hostages to fortune. And even those in the diplomatic service who shared his revulsion for the Karimov regime may have felt his head-down, glovesoff attacks on it to be unwise.

But if he can be faulted for misjudgement and naivety, he certainly can’t be accused of personal cowardice or lack of moral integrity. He is a brave if flawed individual, a genuine original, and his book has a multiplicity of qualities. It provides an intriguing view of the consequences of Russia’s decolonization of its Asian empire ‘ one of the less explored aspects of the end of the cold war. It offers a snapshot of the front-line of British diplomacy during a phase which is unlikely to be recalled with much pride. Perhaps most importantly, it skewers the hypocrisy and moral absurdity which underlies so much of the ‘war on terror’. It is also a very accessible, often funny and always exhilarating read.

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