Daily archives: June 7, 2007

Not Anticipated or Imagined

I have just been sickened by John Reid putting his new anti-liberty proposals to parliament. “Terrible things are threatening” he gravely warned us “which had not been anticipated or imagined” when our liberties were adopted.

Just what are these “terrible things” that we can’t imagine? Reid’s flight of rhetoric is reminiscent of King Lear:

I will do such things, What they are yet I know not; but they shall be

The terrors of the earth

The point is, of course, that Shakespeare’s Lear was supposed to be illustrating his descent into madness by this crazed rambling: whereas Reid’s daft statement comes from a supposedly rational man, intent on destroying the civil liberties of our country.

What terrorism we have seen to date in this country has been, in execution, not unimaginable or even particularly surprising. This is a tough and resilient country. We saw off Hitler, we saw off the IRA, and we can see this smaller threat off too. But we can do it better without Reid gnawing at our social sinews.

Terrible things have indeed happened in this country which I had neither anticipated nor imagined. In November 2005 the British government fought a case all the way to the House of Lords, to try to reintroduce, after three hundred years, the use in court of evidence obtained under torture. I never imagined or anticipated that would happen in my lifetime.

Nor did I imagine or anticipate that, as a matter of policy, our intelligence services would regularly use intelligence obtained under torture, nor that people would be held for years in British jails without charge or trial, nor that we would introduce house arrest. I never imagined or anticipated it would become illegal to read names of the dead at the cenotaph, nor wave a copy of Vanity Fair outside the gates of Downing St. I never imagined or anticipated that a Brazilian electrician could be executed on the London Underground.

One of the more nauseating scenes in the Commons was the brown-nosing of Reid by the so-called Liberal Democrats. Reid is no fool, and he knows that under Ming Campbell the Lib Dems are New Labour’s patsy party. Ming has dreams of ministerial office in a Lib-Lab coalition after the general election. That is why, for example, New Labour and the Lib-Dems are trying to wreck any chance of Alex Salmond providing stable administration in Scotland.

So Reid buttered up Clegg by cosy ministerial chats beforehand, leading to fulsome Lib Dem support today and the suggestion that he should go further. Why not introdue plea-bargaining, the Lib-Dems suggested, so those on the fringes of terrorist plots can turn others in for a reduced sentence?

The answer to that is simple. Terrorist investigations are already a minefield of intelligence obtained from foreign intelligence agencies, often under torture, and statements by informers many of whom appear to be acting as agents provovateurs. To persuade acknowledged criminals to improve their own lot by concocting statements against others, is something to which the British legal system has always offered resistance. If in the future any of you ends up behind bars because of lies told about you by a crook trying to reduce his sentence, you will have Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg and the so-called Lib Dems to thank for it.

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BAE Corruption

Bin Laden and most of the 9/11 team came from Saudi Arabia. In response we keep invading other countries by mistake.

The so-called Attorney-General ordered the Serious Fraud Office to stop the investigation into BAE’s maasive bribery payments to Saudi Arabia because of “national security”. By this, he meant that the Saudis might stop giving us “intelligence” from their torture chambers if we persisted.

The Saudis are even allowed to torture British people if they feel like it:

Three Britons and a Canadian have been denied the right to sue Saudi Arabian officials they say tortured them. A Law Lords ruling allowed an appeal by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against a 2004 Court of Appeal decision for the men to be able to sue for damages.

The four had been jailed after being accused of taking part in a bombing campaign in Saudi Arabia six years ago. Saudi Arabia, supported by the British government, argues that its officials are protected by state immunity.


It was fitting that the first stop on Blair’s World Rour was Libya, where he did deals with Gadaffi for BP and British Aerospace. No Prime Minister ever did more for the oil and defence industries.

But somewhere in the BBC, somebody is redisclvering their nerve. Take advantage of it before they get sacked to watch what looks like an interesting Panorama programme on June 11.

BBC investigation

A Saudi prince who negotiated a ’40bn arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia received secret payments for over a decade, a BBC probe has found. The UK’s biggest arms dealer, BAE Systems, paid hundreds of millions of pounds to the ex-Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The payments were made with the full knowledge of the Ministry of Defence.

Prince Bandar would not comment on the investigation and BAE Systems said it acted lawfully at all times. The MoD said information about the Al Yamamah deal was confidential.

Private plane

The investigation found that up to ‘120m a year was sent by BAE Systems from the UK into two Saudi embassy accounts in Washington. The BBC’s Panorama programme has established that these accounts were actually a conduit to Prince Bandar for his role in the 1985 deal to sell more than 100 warplanes to Saudi Arabia. The purpose of one of the accounts was to pay the expenses of the prince’s private Airbus.

David Caruso, an investigator who worked for the American bank where the accounts were held, said Prince Bandar had been taking money for his own personal use out of accounts that seemed to belong to his government. He said: “There wasn’t a distinction between the accounts of the embassy, or official government accounts as we would call them, and the accounts of the royal family.”

Mr Caruso said he understood this had been going on for “years and years”. “Hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars were involved,” he added.

Investigation stopped

According to Panorama’s sources, the payments were written into the arms deal contract in secret annexes, described as “support services”. They were authorised on a quarterly basis by the MoD.

Prince Bandar was Saudi ambassador to the US for 20 years. It remains unclear whether the payments were actually illegal – a point which depends in part on whether they continued after 2001, when the UK made bribery of foreign officials an offence. The payments were discovered during a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation. The SFO inquiry into the Al Yamamah deal was stopped in December 2006 by attorney general Lord Goldsmith.

Prime Minister Tony Blair declined to comment on the Panorama allegations. But he said that if the SFO investigation into BAE had not been dropped, it would have led to “the complete wreckage of a vital strategic relationship and the loss of thousands of British jobs”.

Prince Bandar, who is the son of the Saudi defence minister, served for 20 years as US ambassador and is now head of the country’s national security council. Panorama reporter Jane Corbin explained that the payments were Saudi public money, channelled through BAE and the MoD, back to the Prince.

The SFO had been trying to establish whether they were illegal when the investigation was stopped, she added. She believed the payments would thrust the issue back into the public domain and raise a number of questions.

‘Bad for business’

Labour MP Roger Berry, head of the House of Commons committee which investigates strategic export controls, told the BBC that the allegations must be properly investigated.

If there was evidence of bribery or corruption in arms deals since 2001 – when the UK signed the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention – then that would be a criminal offence, he said. He added: “It’s bad for British business, apart from anything else, if allegations of bribery popping around aren’t investigated.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said that if ministers in either the present or previous governments were involved there should be a “major parliamentary inquiry”. “It seems to me very clear that this issue has got to be re-opened,” Mr Cable told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight. “It is one thing for a company to have engaged in alleged corruption overseas. It is another thing if British government ministers have approved it.”

Panorama will be broadcast on Monday 11 June 2007 2030 BST


Update 08.06.07: The Guardian reveals that Attorney General Goldsmith hid secret money transfers from international anti-corruption organisation

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The Vanished

The United Nations has held that “disappearance” of persons is in itself a form of torture, because of the mental anguish heaped both on the “disappeared”, and on their family. Yet the US continues to do it.

As Reuters reports, human rights groups have named 39 people “disappeared” while in US custody. Stephen Grey, author of the brilliant Ghost Plane, believes that the numbers disappeared by the USA might reach the hundreds. As Uzbekistan is one of the torture destinations for extraordinary rendition, experience would indicate that many of these will have been murdered and the bodies dumped or cremated.

Groups list 39 ‘disappeared’ in U.S. war on terror

Thu Jun 7, 2007

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Six human rights groups urged the U.S. government on Thursday to name and explain the whereabouts of 39 people they said were believed to have been held in U.S. custody and “disappeared.”

The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said they filed a U.S. federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking information about the 39 people it terms “ghost prisoners” in the U.S. “war on terror.”

“Since the end of Latin America’s dirty wars, the world has rejected the use of ‘disappearances’ as a fundamental violation of international law,” professor Meg Satterthwaite of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University’s School of Law said in a statement.

The report said suspects’ relatives, including children as young as seven, had been held in secret detention on occasion.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano dismissed the report, saying the CIA acts in “strict accord with American law” and its counter-terrorist initiatives are “subject to careful review and oversight.” “The United States does not conduct or condone torture,” he said.

In September, U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged the CIA had interrogated dozens of suspects at secret overseas locations and said 14 of those held had been sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bush strongly defended the secret detention and questioning of terrorism suspects and said the CIA treated them humanely. The program has drawn international outcry and questions about the cooperation of European governments.

Tens of thousands of people “disappeared” during Latin America’s so-called dirty wars in Chile, Argentina and several other countries where right-wing dictators used extra-judicial detentions to crush armed Marxist opposition.

The list of 39 people said to have been held in U.S. custody at some point was compiled using information from six rights groups, including London-based groups Cageprisoners and Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. The detentions began shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and include people said to be captured in locations including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.


The United States has acknowledged detaining three of the 39. The groups said, however, there was strong evidence, including witness testimony, of secret detention in 18 more cases and some evidence of secret detention in the remaining 18 cases.

Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch said it was unknown if the suspects were now in U.S. or foreign custody, or even alive or dead. “We have families who have not seen their loved ones for years. They’ve literally disappeared,” Mariner told Reuters.

Among the cases detailed in the report is the detention in September 2002 of two children, then aged seven and nine, of confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was later detained and is now held at Guantanamo. “According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention center for at least four months while U.S. agents questioned the children about their father’s whereabouts,” the report said. The groups said the lack of information about the prisoners “prevents scrutiny by the public or the courts, and leaves detainees vulnerable to abuses that include torture.”

Bush said in September there were no prisoners remaining in custody in U.S. secret facilities at that time. But the report said the transfer of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi from CIA custody to Guantanamo in April showed the system was still operating.

“Interviews with prisoners who have been released from secret CIA prisons indicate that low-level detainees have frequently been arrested far from any battlefield, and held in isolation for years without legal recourse or contact with their families or outside agencies,” the report said.

The groups urged the U.S. government to cease use of secret detention, provide information on those in custody, give access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to all detainees and either bring charges or release all prisoners.

(Additional reporting by Carol Giacomo)

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