Daily archives: April 5, 2007

Video Killed the Radio Star

I had the interesting experience of sitting on set at BBC News 24 for over an hour today, intermittently talking and intermittently on camera. I had come in to discuss both the maritime boundaries issue and the question of the behind the scenes diplomatic negotiations. As Oliver Miles said today, there were at least ten bilateral discussions between Iran and British ambassadors, ministers and No 10 officials. Tony Blair might claim there were no negotiations, but they weren’t discussing the weather.

Anyway, I was on air when the hostages arrived by helicopter and were reunited with their families. Thus I found myself being asked for an hour questions such as “How do you think the families are feeling?”

I should say that the presenters were really nice, and the hectic atmosphere of a newsroom on a big live breaking story is great fun. I found myself involved in an interesting game of offering deadpan expert analysis, but interspersing it with subversive comment. I didn’t want to push that too hard or I was pretty plain I would have got yanked off. So over the course of an hour I first slipped in the observation that, as a taxpayer, I was not too keen on financing very expensive warships steaming around the Gulf allegedly to collect vehicle excise duty. Later I was able to say that, while I shared the unalloyed delight at the return of the 15, I was thinking rather more about the families of the four British servicemen who had been killed in Iraq today, and their civilian interpreter. Before they could recover from the shock of that burst through the reverential coverage, I added the 70 Iraqi civilians who on average die every day.

You should understand that over the long broadcast I mostly talked about the return of the captives and had no difficulty in being genuinely upbeat and happy about that. But the reunion of captives and families probably had the largest live news audience for many months; it did not escape the No 10 spin doctors’ attention that their “Triumph for Tony” moment was being jeopardised by a dissident having been allowed on the BBC.

Ask yourself – when is the last time you saw an anti-war voice, as opposed to a pro-war “military” or “security” expert, asked by the BBC to comment on a Middle East development? Yet the majority of people in this country are against the war. If they want an ex-diplomat, they go for pro war cheerleaders Pauline Neville Jones or Christopher Meyer, even though eight out of ten ex British Ambassadors are against the war.

Anyway the outraged phone calls from the government to the BBC started coming in. As a result, having been introduced as “Former Head of the Foreign Office Maritime Section and Former British Ambassador…” the first time, I was reintroduced as “Craig Murray, who was sacked as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan for opposing British government policy”. The poor presenters, with whom I had been getting on well for an hour, seemed embarassed.

I therefore decided the gloves were off, and introduced “the elephant in the room – that the large majority of the British people don’t believe that our servicemen should be in Iraq and in harm’s way in the first place.”

There is no doubt at all that when you make anti-war or anti-government points on the BBC the whole body language and line of questioning indicates that you are some sort of isolated extremist. Of course, our so called opposition parties fail to make any such points, and the BBC’s normal pool of experts are hand picked to be reliably right wing on these issues. The absolutely astonishing thing is that I then whizzed off to Sky News (Fox affiliate) and there, in the heart of the Murdoch Empire, the atmosphere is totally different.

I was asked open questions if anything leading me on to be overtly critical of the war, Tony Blair and John Bolton. This is not unusual. Tony Benn, George Galloway and I all get far easier access to Sky than the BBC. Sky does seem to maintain a modicum of journalistic integrity. The BBC has totally lost it since Gilligan, Dyke and Hussey were sacked for telling the truth about Iraqi WMD, and David Kelly was murdered.

Anyway, after Sky I went to buy a birthday present for Nadira. A lady outside the shop told me that she had just seen me on the TV. “I used to listen to you on Radio 4” she said, “You looked a lot better on the radio.”

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Conditions Worsen at Guantanamo bay

From Amnesty International

In a new report published today (5 April), Amnesty International says that 80% of detainees at the US military prison at Guant’namo Bay in Cuba are being held in solitary confinement, often in harsh and inhumane conditions.

The report, published days after UK resident Bisher al-Rawi was returned from Guant’namo after over four years in detention – some of it in solitary confinement, calls for an end to the routine use of extended solitary confinement by the US authorities and for independent medical experts to be allowed to examine the prisoners.

Amnesty International has long called for the entire camp to be closed, with plans for unfair ‘military commission’ trials to be abandoned. Last month the organisation published a 103-page report condemning the military commissions as a ‘travesty of justice’.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: ‘The entire process at Guant’namo is a travesty of justice, but we have particular concerns over the widespread use of solitary confinement in harsh conditions at the camp.

‘With many prisoners already in despair at being held in indefinite detention on a remote island prison, some are dangerously close to full-blown mental and physical breakdown after years of solitary confinement.

‘The US authorities should immediately stop pushing people to the edge with extreme isolation techniques and allow proper access for independent medical experts and human rights groups.’

There are approximately 385 men held at Guant’namo Bay and, after an apparent hardening of US operational detention policy in January, around 300 of these are now being held in three units with minimal contact with other prisoners or even prison guards. These units – known as Camp 5, Camp 6 and Camp Echo – are comparable to so-called ‘super-max’ high security units in the United States.

Unlike mainland super-max prisoners, however, Guant’namo detainees are held indefinitely as ‘enemy combatants’, face either no trial at all or an unfair one, have no family visits and no independent expert examinations.

The Red Cross, the only independent monitoring organisation allowed to inspect the detention facilities at Guant’namo, has described conditions at Camp Echo as ‘extremely harsh’. Prisoners are kept in their windowless cells for 23 or 24 hours a day, and – in the absence of any natural light whatsoever – fluorescent lighting is kept on 24 hours a day. Meanwhile, Camp 6 has been described by one detainee as a ‘dungeon above the ground’…

The full press release is available here and the report (pdf) can be downloaded here

The AI petition calling for the return of all the British residents held at Gauntanamo can be signed here

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The Last Word

I just heard the Iraqi Foreign Minister on BBC Radio “The World at One”.

He said “That border is disputed. It has been for many years. It has moved. That is why we had this war of maps…We have agreed with Iran that our technical levels will fix this border including in the Shatt-al-Arab.”‘

Interestingly he said that the Iraqi government had asked the US government, several weeks ago, to release the five Iranians captured by US troops. The US is “reviewing the request”.

There could be no clearer illustration that the idea that Iraq has a sovereign government is a sham. That the Iraqi government is not able to stop the US, against its will, capturing and imprisoning foreigners on the territory of Iraq, is sufficient proof that Iraq remains a state under hostile occupation.

How do those who claim that we are in Iraq under a UN mandate to assist the Iraqi government, square this with the exercise of physical force and deprival of liberty by US forces against the express will of the so-called government of the country?

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No Winners Here

Any life saved is a victory, and I am delighted that the maritime incident has been resolved with nobody being killed or even injured. That is the right perspective on this.

Today four more unfortunate British serviceman died in Southern Iraq as a result of Blair’s crass Middle Eastern policy. Think of them and their families, and the seventy Iraqi civilians who on average will be killed today. Yes, rejoice at the fifteen who came home safely today, but remember those who did not, and their families.

Less than a week before this fifteen were captured, the media received the confirmation that British government scientists believed that 655,000 dead in Iraq a year ago was a good estimate. That received almost no press coverage. The detention of fifteen Britons for ten days is more important than the agonising deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

There was a revelatory moment on BBC Breakfast TV this morning when Admiral Sir Alan West said he was sure we had been in “our” waters. He corrected himself afterwards to “Iraqi waters” but the slip reveals the mindset of the occupying forces.

It is an extraordinarily wide interpretation of the UN occupation mandate to use it to interdict neutral merchant shipping in the Gulf. For me one of the most amazing things about this sorry dispute is that HMS Cornwall was, by the MOD’s own account and according to the embedded journalists on board, attempting to prevent the smuggling of cars. Am I really paying my taxes for incredibly sophisticated warships to be involved in the collection of Iraqi vehicle excise duty?

The Iranian release caught the UK on the hop and was a political coup, but followed British diplomacy offering technical talks on the disputed boundary area and the conduct of future operations. I hope that in the not too distant future Iran and Iraq will negotiate their maritime border; but thanks to us Iraq has a government that controls a tiny proportion of its land, let alone its seas.

Let us hope that the safe return of the fifteen shall be followed swiftly by the safe return of all our forces. They should never have been there in the first place.

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