Monthly Archives: July 2007


Energy Blues

I was reading an article by David Aaronovitch in which he argued that the recent floods in the UK were a blip and we certainly should not waste money on flood defences. I am not going to provide a link to the fat thug – google it if you must.

It caused me to ponder the curious link between climate change denial and support for the War in Iraq. High profile climate change deniers like Aaronovitch and barking Melanie Phillips are a major part of the hardcore rump of those who still support the Iraq War. (Adam Bolton on Sky News assured us this morning “The Surge is starting to work”. He was of course saying that from the safety of a Washington street. I should like to see Adam stand in a Baghdad street outside the Green Zone and tell us that). But to return to my tenuous thread of thought, why are climate change deniers particularly keen on the Iraq war? There is a common factor in hydrocarbons, but the two don’t link together in an irresistible way.

Climate change is especially on my mind at the moment as I am trying to help Ghana with power generation. Ghana’s marvellous hydroelectric system – the Akosombo Dam and Volta Lake – has been suffering long term decline through dwindling rainfall, that now threatens to become long term catastrophic, and to undermine one of Africa’s best developed and managed economies. In searching for solutions I discover that very similar factors are now causing major problems to established hydro schemes in both Turkey and Tajikistan, and presumably elsewhere too. I do not merely believe in man-made climate change, I believe it is impacting at a rate far quicker than we have generally appreciated.

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Who’s a Terrorist?

According to Sky News, a former BNP candidate was jailed today for possession of a large number of chemicals including hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and hydrochloric acid, the main ingredients of TATP. This explosive acheived notoriety due to its alleged use in the 7/7 bombs and other incidents.

From Orange

A former British National Party candidate has been jailed for two-and-a-half years for possessing explosive chemicals.

Robert Cottage, 49, was cleared after two trials of conspiracy to cause explosions but had earlier pleaded guilty to amassing the chemicals. Police discovered a huge stockpile of chemicals and food at his home in Colne, Lancashire last September.

Officers mounted the operation after Cottage’s wife told a social worker she was concerned about the substances and her husband’s belief that immigrants were swamping Britain.

The court heard that Cottage feared the country was on the brink of civil war. He appeared at Manchester’s Crown Square Court to be sentenced in relation to the charge of possession.

From The Muslim News

A former British National Party (BNP) candidate and a dentist were cleared of plotting explosions on July 12, despite being accused of possessing the largest sum of chemical explosives of its type ever found domestically in Lancashire….

Former BNP candidate Robert Cottage, of Colne, and David Jackson, of Nelson, had stockpiled chemicals they bought on the internet and discussed using them to cause explosions.

The record haul included the discovery of a rocket launcher, a nuclear biological suit, BB guns, gas masks two 56 kilogram bags of sugar, a box of mini flares, 34 gas canisters, a selection of pellets and an air pistol. Officers also found a series of printed bomb recipes from The Anarchis’s Handbook, downloaded from the internet.

Lancashire police were forced to deny accusations the trial would have been handled differently if one of the terrorism suspects had been Muslim.

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Caught in a Kafkaesque System

There is not much to add to this excellent report, except that some of the “Intelligence material” against these poor people almost certainly comes from foreign torture chambers and the extraordinary rendition system.

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) – Terrorism suspects held under virtual house arrest in Britain suffer “Kafkaesque” treatment in special courts that review secret evidence against them, a committee of legislators said on Monday.

The committee’s report said “no right-minded person” would think the suspects had a fair hearing when they often had no idea of the case against them.

It likened the system to the Star Chamber, a secretive and oppressive English court abolished in 1641.

“This is a process that is offensive both to the basic principles of natural justice as we know it and to British ideas of fair play,” said Andrew Dinsmore, chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights

http://uk.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUKL2936079920070730

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Court of Appeal Issues Secret Rulings on Deportation and Torture Case

From Amnesty International

On 30 July 2007 the Court of Appeal of England and Wales gave judgment in an important test case concerning the appeals of three Algerian men against their deportation to Algeria on “national security” grounds. The judgment is in two parts: an open judgment, and a closed, i.e. secret, judgment not disclosed to the appellants, their lawyers of choice or the public.

In each of the three cases the Court of Appeal ruled that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) should reconsider them. In two of the three, the Court of Appeal reached this conclusion on grounds that are secret. Amnesty International considers that it is doubly disturbing that these two men not only were not told the UK authorities’ case against them, but will not now be told the grounds on which the SIAC is to reconsider that very case. The principle that justice should not only be done but be seen to be done seems to have been turned on its head.

For the full statement go here

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Celebrity Come Blogging

Iain Dale is organising a vote for a publication on the UK’s best political blogs.

In September Harriman House will publish the 2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK, sponsored by APCO Online. It will contain articles on blogging by some of Britain’s leading bloggers, together with a directory of UK political blogs, and a series of Top 20s and Top 10s.

Instead of me picking my Top 100 UK political blogs (as I did last year) I’d like fellow bloggers and blog readers to send me their Top 20 UK Political Blogs by email. I’ll then compile the Top 100 from those that you send in. Just order them from 1 to 20. Your top blog gets 20 points and your twentieth gets 1 point.

The deadline for submitting your Top 20 to me is August 15th. Please email me your list to iain AT iaindale DOT com and type Top 20 in the subject line. You don’t have to send 20, but try to do 10 as a minimum.

If you have a blog, please feel free to encourage your own readers to take part.

I like this kind of thing, just like I watch the Eurovision Song Contest for the voting, not the songs. So do vote. You don’t have to vote for this blog, because I have an unshakeable faith it is the greatest that would not be altered by any result. I am going to vote for Steph, just in case that really is a photo of her. British blogs only, please. And in sending your email note there are a lot of i’s in Iain.

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On Being Sort Of Alan Partridge

Michael Winterbottom has been talking about Murder in Samarkand

Arlington, Va.: Hi Michael! I’m a big fan of yours as well as Steve Coogan’s. I loved “24 Hour Party People” and “Tristram Shandy” (and I’m fairly obsessed with everything Alan Partridge). I saw that you’re going to be reunited again for “Murder in Samarkand,” but I was wondering if you two have any comedies in the works as well?

Michael Winterbottom:”Murder in Samarkand” is hopefully going to be funny. It’s a black comedy about torture in Uzbekistan. Steve will play Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who spends a lot of time in bars and at dancing clubs. It’s sort of Alan Partridge or Tony Wilson, trying to prevent the British government from using information they’ve obtained through torture.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2007/06/12/DI2007061200562.html

If I wasn’t so easy-going, I might be a bit alarmed. But A Mighty Heart seems to show that the US public doesn’t want a serious exploration of the “War on Terror”, no matter how critically acclaimed.

http://living.scotsman.com/film.cfm?id=1175612007

My hope for Murder in Samarkand is that the film might be the MASH or Catch 22 for our generation, helping cement a growing popular cultural consensus on the stupidity of the “War”. That would be worth my coming over personally as an idiot.

Never understimate humour as a political weapon.

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Duck! Here Comes More Whitewash!

I have just got round to reading the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Extraordinary Rendition http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/publications/intelligence/20070725_isc_final.pdf

This really is the most laughable cover-up job I have ever seen. The committee does venture that some things might have happened which were – well perhaps morally difficult. It even in one sentence goes so far as to hint that the United States might have been a bit naughty:

“What the US rendition programme has shown is that these ethical dilemmas are not confined to countries with poor track records on human rights – the UK now has some ethical dilemmas with our closest ally.”

But fortunately, nobody actually did anything wrong and the phrase “No evidence” repeats again and again like a mantra. Nobody ever saw any evidence. British intelligence officers interrogating detainees in the rendition programme never saw any evidence of torture. The police never saw any evidence of rendition flights in the UK. Nor does the committee think that anybody should have looked to see if they could find any evidence – of course the police and security services are too busy protecting us from those dreadful terrorists to worry about the odd British Muslim being tortured by the Americans.

The Committee also fails to address the straightforward question of whether we do or whether we do not obtain intelligence from torture. It dances around the subject with equivocations like:

“These issues are not easily resolved. Intelligence and security services, here and abroad, rarely divulge information on their sources when sharing intelligence with foreign liaison services. The location, circumstances or treatment of a detainee (or even the fact that the source is a detainee) would not usually be shared.”

So there you have the basis of a defence: “We had no idea the Algerians had tortured him to get the information, your Honour.” Except that the statement above from the report is a direct lie. You very often know it is a detainee, and can easily discover from your liaison something about his circumstances, including torture, if you ask. If you’re a good enough liaison officer you’ll find out without asking. The details the Committee claim we “Don’t know” are in fact deliberately sanitised out by the Security Services before the intelligence report is issued, to give Ministers plausible deniability of knowing the information came from torture.

The Committee however have a second line of defence. Torturing people is OK anyway because it saves lives. Take Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“When he was in detention in 2003, place unknown, he provided [The pseudonyms of] six individuals…who were involved in AQ activities in or against the UK. The Americans gave us this information… These included high profile terrorists – an indication of the huge amount of significant information that came from one man in detention in an unknown place.”

In fact, KSM confessed under years of torture to an incredible amount of stuff, much of which could not possibly have been true. The Committee give a lot of space to the “Torture Works” arguments put forward by our security services, but fail to address – or even to meniton – the counter argment that torture gets you not the truth, but what the victim thinks will make the torturer stop. A few hundred years ago we would have succesfully been making KSM confess to communing with the Devil in the form of a cat. That wouldn’t make it true.

My breath is taken away by the moral cowardice of the committee in putting forward the argument that we need intelligence from torture, while pretending not to know if people are actually tortured or not. I could have given them irrefutable evidence that we do have a policy of obtaining evidence through torture – which I presume is why they did not call me to give evidence. I am named in the Report as having given evidence to the European Parliament Report on Extraordinary Rendition, but they make no mention at all of what my evidence was. They then dismiss the European parliament report of having “No real evidence”.

It is a matter of genuine sorrow to me that I have never given evidence in this country to the events outlined in Murder in Samarkand. I was called to give this evidence to both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, but our own parliament – including all three major parties – regard it as far too embarassing. Acknowledging our involvement in torture is inconvenient, because politicians would then have to support or oppose it. Everyone prefers that the security services do it, with government approval, while we all pretend it isn’t happening.

This was the result when I tried to submit evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee:

Dear Mr Murray,

The Committee considered your e-mail at its meeting yesterday, 15 March. As you requested, it was made available to all members.

The Committee decided not to receive the communication as evidence.

Steve Priestley

Clerk of FAC

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Rescuing Gladstone

There was a great fashion among Blair acolytes for comparing their man to Gladstone. Blair himself promoted this, declaring several times, including in a speech at the University of Sofia, that Gladstone was one of his “Political heroes”. In fact I very much doubt the notoriously ill-read Blair had very much idea of what Gladstone once stood for. Anti-interventionism and anti-Imperialism were at the heart of Gladstone’s creed. He was famously reluctant to send troops anywhere, even to rescue General Gordon, who Gladstone regarded as an unhinged imperialist and dangerous evangelical fanatic. Now there are very definite and interesting parallels between the equally preening Blair and Gordon…

Blair made his claim at the University of Sofia to justify his military intervention in Kosovo, by reference to Gladstones stand against Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria. But Blair seemed not to notice that Gladstone’s intervention was strictly non-military.

The difference between the two is most aptly summed up in this great Gladstone quotation, uttered in condemnation of the second Afghan War:

Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God, as can be your own.

William E. Gladstone

Compare that to Blair’s happy inflcition of shock and awe on the poor inhabitants of Baghdad, or the continual bombing of civilian targets in Afghanistan, with every haveli described as a “Taliban compound” and every dead farmer – and his dead family – described as “Taliban fighters”.

Then think of extraordinary rendition and the hundreds of people we helped the CIA to ship to be tortured. Think of the government going to the Law Lords to argue that confessions from torture should be eligible as evidence in British courts. Compare that to Gladstone:

Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.

William E. Gladstone

Gladstone was a great man. It falls to us who actually know something about him, to rescue him from annexation by the neo-cons.

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Parasite News

parasites%20Karimova%20and%20Rothschild.JPG

The cruel and rapacious Karimov family strengthen still further their grip on Uzbekistan’s command economy, and continue to siphon off the money of their people. Karimov’s daughter. Gulnara, is the family’s principal bagman. The bulk of the Karimov billions are securely stored in the Swiss branch of Rothschild’s Bank.

How heartwarming, therefore, to see Gulnara Karimova and Nathaniel Rothschild so happy together. You may print this picture off and find an appropriate use for it. Gulnara, incidentally, is not very tall, so the squit next to her is not merely morally stunted.

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Afghanistan

This blog has been silent for a week because I have been looking at environmental and fair trade projects around Ghana. It does mean that I was not here to say “I told you so”, now it is admitted Blair’s Iran maritime boundary map was a fake. But in my absence I was delighted that the Mail on Sunday published my article about an even bigger deception, the war in Afghanistan:

DYING TO PROTECT THE DRUGS BARONS

This week the 64th British soldier to die in Afghanistan, Corporal Mike Gilyeat, was buried. All the right things were said about this brave soldier, just as, on current trends, they will be said about one or more of his colleagues who follow him next week.

The alarming escalation of the casualty rate among British soldiers in Afghanistan ‘ up to ten per cent ‘ led to discussion this week on whether it could be fairly compared to casualty rates in the Second World War.

But the key question is this: what are our servicemen dying for? There are glib answers to that: bringing democracy and development to Afghanistan, supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai in its attempt to establish order in the country, fighting the Taliban and preventing the further spread of radical Islam into Pakistan.

But do these answers stand up to close analysis?

There has been too easy an acceptance of the lazy notion that the war in Afghanistan is the ‘good’ war, while the war in Iraq is the ‘bad’ war, the blunder. The origins of this view are not irrational. There was a logic to attacking Afghanistan after 9/11.

Afghanistan was indeed the headquarters of Osama Bin Laden and his organisation, who had been installed and financed there by the CIA to fight the Soviets from 1979 until 1989. By comparison, the attack on Iraq ‘ which was an enemy of Al Qaeda and no threat to us ‘ was plainly irrational in terms of the official justification.

So the attack on Afghanistan has enjoyed a much greater sense of public legitimacy. But the operation to remove Bin Laden was one thing. Six years of occupation are clearly another.

Few seem to turn a hair at the officially expressed view that our occupation of Afghanistan may last for decades.

Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell has declared, fatuously, that the Afghan war is ‘winnable’.

Afghanistan was not militarily winnable by the British Empire at the height of its supremacy. It was not winnable by Darius or Alexander, by Shah, Tsar or Great Moghul. It could not be subdued by 240,000 Soviet troops. But what, precisely, are we trying to win?

In six years, the occupation has wrought one massive transformation in Afghanistan, a development so huge that it has increased Afghan GDP by 66 per cent and constitutes 40 per cent of the entire economy. That is a startling achievement, by any standards. Yet we are not trumpeting it. Why not?

The answer is this. The achievement is the highest harvests of opium the world has ever seen.

The Taliban had reduced the opium crop to precisely nil. I would not advocate their methods for doing this, which involved lopping bits, often vital bits, off people. The Taliban were a bunch of mad and deeply unpleasant religious fanatics. But one of the things they were vehemently against was opium.

That is an inconvenient truth that our spin has managed to obscure. Nobody has denied the sincerity of the Taliban’s crazy religious zeal, and they were as unlikely to sell you heroin as a bottle of Johnnie Walker.

They stamped out the opium trade, and impoverished and drove out the drug warlords whose warring and rapacity had ruined what was left of the country after the Soviet war.

That is about the only good thing you can say about the Taliban; there are plenty of very bad things to say about them. But their suppression of the opium trade and the drug barons is undeniable fact.

Now we are occupying the country, that has changed. According to the United Nations, 2006 was the biggest opium harvest in history, smashing the previous record by 60 per cent. This year will be even bigger.

Our economic achievement in Afghanistan goes well beyond the simple production of raw opium. In fact Afghanistan no longer exports much raw opium at all. It has succeeded in what our international aid efforts urge every developing country to do. Afghanistan has gone into manufacturing and ‘value-added’ operations.

It now exports not opium, but heroin. Opium is converted into heroin on an industrial scale, not in kitchens but in factories. Millions of gallons of the chemicals needed for this process are shipped into Afghanistan by tanker. The tankers and bulk opium lorries on the way to the factories share the roads, improved by American aid, with Nato troops.

How can this have happened, and on this scale? The answer is simple. The four largest players in the heroin business are all senior members of the Afghan government ‘ the government that our soldiers are fighting and dying to protect.

When we attacked Afghanistan, America bombed from the air while the CIA paid, armed and equipped the dispirited warlord drug barons ‘ especially those grouped in the Northern Alliance ‘ to do the ground occupation. We bombed the Taliban and their allies into submission, while the warlords moved in to claim the spoils. Then we made them ministers.

President Karzai is a good man. He has never had an opponent killed, which may not sound like much but is highly unusual in this region and possibly unique in an Afghan leader. But nobody really believes he is running the country. He asked America to stop its recent bombing campaign in the south because it was leading to an increase in support for the Taliban. The United States simply ignored him. Above all, he has no control at all over the warlords among his ministers and governors, each of whom runs his own kingdom and whose primary concern is self-enrichment through heroin.

My knowledge of all this comes from my time as British Ambassador in neighbouring Uzbekistan from 2002 until 2004. I stood at the Friendship Bridge at Termez in 2003 and watched the Jeeps with blacked-out windows bringing the heroin through from Afghanistan, en route to Europe.

I watched the tankers of chemicals roaring into Afghanistan.

Yet I could not persuade my country to do anything about it. Alexander Litvinenko ‘ the former agent of the KGB, now the FSB, who died in London last November after being poisoned with polonium 210 ‘ had suffered the same frustration over the same topic.

There are a number of theories as to why Litvinenko had to flee Russia. The most popular blames his support for the theory that FSB agents planted bombs in Russian apartment blocks to stir up anti-Chechen feeling.

But the truth is that his discoveries about the heroin trade were what put his life in danger. Litvinenko was working for the KGB in St Petersburg in 2001 and 2002. He became concerned at the vast amounts of heroin coming from Afghanistan, in particular from the fiefdom of the (now) Head of the Afghan armed forces, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, in north and east Afghanistan.

Dostum is an Uzbek, and the heroin passes over the Friendship Bridge from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, where it is taken over by President Islam Karimov’s people. It is then shipped up the railway line, in bales of cotton, to St Petersburg and Riga.

The heroin Jeeps run from General Dostum to President Karimov. The UK, United States and Germany have all invested large sums in donating the most sophisticated detection and screening equipment to the Uzbek customs centre at Termez to stop the heroin coming through.

But the convoys of Jeeps running between Dostum and Karimov are simply waved around the side of the facility.

Litvinenko uncovered the St Petersburg end and was stunned by the involvement of the city authorities, local police and security services at the most senior levels. He reported in detail to President Vladimir Putin. Putin is, of course, from St Petersburg, and the people Litvinenko named were among Putin’s closest political allies. That is why Litvinenko, having miscalculated badly, had to flee Russia.

I had as little luck as Litvinenko in trying to get official action against this heroin trade. At the St Petersburg end he found those involved had the top protection. In Afghanistan, General Dostum is vital to Karzai’s coalition, and to the West’s pretence of a stable, democratic government.

Opium is produced all over Afghanistan, but especially in the north and north-east ‘ Dostum’s territory. Again, our Government’s spin doctors have tried hard to obscure this fact and make out that the bulk of the heroin is produced in the tiny areas of the south under Taliban control. But these are the most desolate, infertile rocky areas. It is a physical impossibility to produce the bulk of the vast opium harvest there.

That General Dostum is head of the Afghan armed forces and Deputy Minister of Defence is in itself a symbol of the bankruptcy of our policy. Dostum is known for tying opponents to tank tracks and running them over. He crammed prisoners into metal containers in the searing sun, causing scores to die of heat and thirst.

Since we brought ‘democracy’ to Afghanistan, Dostum ordered an MP who annoyed him to be pinned down while he attacked him. The sad thing is that Dostum is probably not the worst of those comprising the Karzai government, or the biggest drug smuggler among them.

Our Afghan policy is still victim to Tony Blair’s simplistic world view and his childish division of all conflicts into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. The truth is that there are seldom any good guys among those vying for power in a country such as Afghanistan. To characterise the Karzai government as good guys is sheer nonsense.

Why then do we continue to send our soldiers to die in Afghanistan? Our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq is the greatest recruiting sergeant for Islamic militants. As the great diplomat, soldier and adventurer Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Alexander Burnes pointed out before his death in the First Afghan War in 1841, there is no point in a military campaign in Afghanistan as every time you beat them, you just swell their numbers. Our only real achievement to date is falling street prices for heroin in London.

Remember this article next time you hear a politician calling for more troops to go into Afghanistan. And when you hear of another brave British life wasted there, remember you can add to the casualty figures all the young lives ruined, made miserable or ended by heroin in the UK.

They, too, are casualties of our Afghan policy.

http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=469983&in_page_id=1770&in_a_source=

I think this is perhaps the most important thing I have published. It is also worth noting that the Mail was the only mainstream paper which would carry at the time my article exposing the fake maritime boundaries map. The Guardian and Independent refused to stand against the “patriotic” flood of lying propaganda. The Mail has since been totally vindicated. I think they deserve full credit for continuing to take challenging material which contradicts the official story.

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British map in Iran crisis ‘inaccurate’

From news.com.au

A BRITISH map of the northern Gulf where Iran seized 15 naval personnel in March was not as accurate as it should have been and Britain was fortunate Iran did not contest it, a review into the crisis said.

The parliamentary report also said Britain’s Foreign Office should name the person who let two sailors sell their stories to the media, a decision widely criticised for handing a propaganda coup to Britain’s enemies and embarrassing serving troops. The report by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) said the Foreign Office’s overall approach could not be faulted, but it said efforts should have been made to contact key Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani sooner.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized 15 British personnel in the northern Gulf in March sparking a 13-day standoff that ended when Iran’s President freed them, a day after Larijani spoke to a senior adviser to then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, is regarded as a pragmatist more amenable to exploring a bargain with the West than hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Britain first applied to speak to Mr Larijani seven days into the crisis. Britain insists the personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters on a UN-backed mission when they were seized. Iran says the British sailors had strayed into its territory.

A British Ministry of Defence map published during the crisis showed a territorial water boundary extending from the Shatt al-Arab waterway that separates Iran and Iraq out to sea. However experts say no maritime boundary between the two countries has been agreed and the line was based on a 1975 land boundary that could have shifted over time if the centre of the waterway had moved due to natural causes.

‘We conclude that there is evidence to suggest that the map of the Shatt al-Arab waterway provided by the Government was less clear than it ought to have been,’ the report said.

‘The Government was fortunate that it was not in Iran’s interests to contest the accuracy of the map.’

‘Uncertainties’

Britain and Iran provided different coordinates for the location of the capture. The report did not make a definitive conclusion on the accuracy of the map or whether the sailors were in Iraqi or Iranian waters.

It quoted Martin Pratt, director of research at the International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University, as saying that if the British coordinates were correct, it was difficult to see how Iran’s claim could be legitimate.

‘Nevertheless, there are sufficient uncertainties over boundary definition in the area to make it inadvisable to state categorically that the vessel was in Iraqi waters,’ he was quoted as saying.

He said the map was ‘certainly an oversimplification’ and could be regarded as ‘deliberately misleading’.

The Foreign Office said it was pleased the report praised its overall approach. It was considering some recommendations and leaving others for the Ministry of Defence to address. The Ministry of Defence also said it would study the report.

Compiled by members of parliament, the report said it was ‘wholly unsatisfactory’ that a previous report into the affair had been unable to say who was responsible for authorising payment for the stories of the personnel after they were freed.

‘We recommend … the (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) set out who specifically took the decision to authorise the naval personnel to sell their stories to the media,’ it said.

See also:

Fake Maritime Boundaries

Iraq/Iran Maritime Boundaries

Location location…

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Overstretch in Iraq and Afghanistan Leaves UK Vulnerable to Attack

The head of the British army has issued a dire warning about the state of the armed forces in the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the current low levels of recruitment, increasing numbers of service men choosing to leave, and the escalating rate of casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan, this is perhaps not that surprising.

From This is London

Britain has virtually no soldiers left to fight abroad or defend the country if there is an ‘unexpected’ development, the head of the Army has told his senior officers.

General Sir Richard Dannatt made his dire assessment in a letter to high-ranking commanders, saying that reinforcements – should they be required – are ‘now almost non-existent’.

General Dannatt, who is well-known for his outspoken comments, issued a private memo declaring that ‘we have almost no capability to react to the unexpected’.

He said that the Army is understrength by 3,500 troops and that only one battalion of 500 troops – known as the ‘spearhead lead element’ – is immediately available to deal with emergencies such as a terrorist attack.

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Executive Order will Limit or Reinforce US Torture?

From the Globe and Mail

WASHINGTON — Facing sharp criticism at home and abroad, President George W. Bush signed an executive order giving interrogators new rules on the treatment of suspected terrorists in the U.S. detention program, but the measures failed to quell criticism that the White House condones torture.

The order, which the White House said is in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, was criticized by human-rights groups as vague. And the guidelines, which will continue to allow harsh, if unspecified interrogation techniques, may breathe new life into the interrogation program by removing the uncertainty that has hung over it since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year cast doubt on its legality.

The new rules set out conditions that interrogators are not allowed to impose on detainees held at U.S. Central Intelligence Agency prisons and other locations, including the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It includes prohibitions against sexual humiliation, religious denigrations, and deprivation of basic necessities.

The move comes 10 months after Mr. Bush, who has repeatedly denied that the United States practises torture, was forced to suspend its secret-prison system. This decision came after a Supreme Court ruling in June of 2006 that undermined the legality of the program.

In response to the executive order, Christopher Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office said:

“The order takes some steps in the right direction, particularly where it explicitly bans CIA practices such as induced hypothermia and prohibits specific acts of humiliation. It also includes broader bans on torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, as defined in the War Crimes Act. But of course, the Executive Order is only as good as the people applying it. If any of the recent past presidents, Republican or Democrat, were applying this order, we wouldn’t have any doubt that it means an end to torture and abuse by the CIA. However, with President Bush’s record of playing word games with anti-torture laws, we do not have the same confidence that the torture and abuse has stopped and will not start up again.”

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The Iraqi Resistance Movement Comes of Age?

In what could be considered an encouraging development, some of the most important elements of the disparate Sunni Iraqi resistance appear to have come together to form a united political front. These include the 1920 Revolution Brigade, named after the 1920 Arab revolt against the previous British occupation, and six other organisations. While fighting to end the presence of foreign troops, they are also apparently pro-Iraq unity, anti-terrorist and looking for international recognition. This development may possibly prove to be a milestone in the long path back to some sort of stability for this conflict ridden country.

From The Guardian

Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the Guardian.

In their first interview with the western media since the US-British invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups – responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed forces and police – said they would continue their armed resistance until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against civilians.

Speaking in Damascus, the spokesmen for the three groups – the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas – said they planned to hold a congress to launch a united front and appealed to Arab governments, other governments and the UN to help them establish a permanent political presence outside Iraq.

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Afghanistan: British Front Line Casualty Rate Claimed to be Higher than the Second World War

The Telegraph is claiming that the rate at which British soldiers are being seriously injured or killed on the front line in Afghanistan is about to exceed that suffered by UK troops during the Second World War. While there are many reasons to be cautious about their analysis, e.g. they may be unfairly comparing frontline casualties from Afghanistan with total casualties in WWII, the claim is nonetheless striking.

The casualty rate in the most dangerous regions of the country is approaching 10 per cent. Senior officers fear it will ultimately pass the 11 per cent experienced by British soldiers at the height of the conflict 60 years ago. The rise is partly driven by a tenfold increase in the number of wounded in action – those injured, but not killed – in the past six months as fighting in Afghanistan has intensified.

Last November, only three British soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan by the Taliban, compared with 38 in May.

Meanwhile in Iraq, British troops are now suffering a higher rate of fatal casualties by proportion than their American colleagues.

In a five-month period this year, there were 23 fatalities among the 5,500 British troops compared with 463 fatalities among the United States’s 165,000 troops, according to the Royal Statistical Society. Military commanders are concerned that the high rate will start to have an impact on operations and morale.

Via LFCM

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Diaries of a vicious Lying Bastard

This is the only comment I shall make on Campbell’s diaries.

I presume Alasdair Campbell’s Diaries are as truthful and unspun as his Dossier on Iraqi WMD. I took this phrase from the publisher’s blurb on Amazon:

here is Tony Blair up close and personal, taking the decisions that affected the lives of millions

“Affected” appears to be a misprint for “Ended”.

I can guarantee you that there is infinitely more genuine insight into how government operated in the Blair era in Murder in Samarkand than in The Blair Years. Yet since the publication of Murder in Samarkand I have had no BBC TV interview about the book and a single BBC Radio interview, on BBC Radio Scotland. Campbell, by contrast, has had eighteen substantial BBC TV programme features so far in addition to a three part serialisation. Christopher Meyer – whose sales I have now overtaken – also received infinitely more BBC coverage than I, as did Lance Price. The distinction is, of course, that they all supported the invasion of Iraq.

The cheerful news is that Murder in Samarkand has now steamed past 20,000 copies sold, even ahead of the US launch in October and, of course, the film version. It also means we have sold nearly six times as many as David Blunkett, who again got infinitely more BBC coverage – and ten times the advance. So, slowly, word of mouth and reader opinion can counter, to some extent, publicity machines. But remember that publishers reckon an endorsement from Richard and Judy adds at least 200,000 to sales.

I think there needs to be an investigation into the practice by publishers of paying massive advances to politicians, which they know will never be recouped. Blunkett got ten times the advance I did, and he sold a sixth of the books. By my reckoning about ‘193,000 of his advance is still outstanding. Campbell will have to sell over half a million books to reach his advance. These are not commercial deals, they are backhanders from publishers. The deals are reached while people are still in office – therefore, it is a bribe. Blair reportedly put the agreed advance for his memoirs against the Connaught Square mansion. He would have to sell over 6 million copies to clear his advance.

Advances, like loans for peerages, are non-repayable if you don’t clear. This is yet another way our politicos are bought by big business groups. Rupert Murdoch is the largest owner of publishing houses in the UK, followed by German conglomerate Bertelsmann.

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Oxford Union Debate

I have just accepted an invitation to speak at the Oxford Union next term, to oppose the motion

This House believes that in the war on terror the best defence is a good offence.

I thought you might enjoy my reply:

Corey,

Thank you for your invitation to speak at the Oxford Union, which I am happy to accept. The debate does sound most enjoyable.

I am slightly concerned that we may have linguistic difficulties. For example Luke Tryl’s kind letter of invitation includes the phrase “Last term alone we were lucky enough to host the likes of President Musharraf, Michael Douglas and Cherie Blair”. Plainly we have different definitions of lucky.

Look forward to seeing you.

Craig

I could do worse than arm myself for the debate with some quotations from this tremendous compendium, into which I somehow snuck.

http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=55710729&blogID=287336913

Now I have had a secret hope to get “Selling our souls for dross” (my official Ambassadorial complaint to London about receiving intelligence from torture) into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. But this one seems to have caught on better.

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Beyond Irony – Tony Blair – Peace Envoy

An excellent article by Felicity Arbuthnot:

Arms from the US., have been flowing in to Israel, with Britain’s backing, to kill Palestinians at crossings, children going to school, families picnicking on beaches. Heavy machinery has demolished family homes, trashed municipal offices, villages, so foreign settlers or multinational businesses can ‘legally’ steal and build on ancient land, the heritage of families, handed down over generations; machinery which destroys their farms, citrus and olive groves. Where has been ‘peace envoy’ Blair’s unequivocal condemnation? Where has been even a bleat of protest? Did he read recent reports of a village where Bedouin have lived for sixty years, where Israeli forces were in such a hurry to demolish for more settlers, they allegedly even dragged babies out of homes, still in their play pens?

‘ “A true friend of the State of Israel,” said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of his outgoing British counterpart Tony Blair “Tony Blair is a very well-appreciated figure in Israel,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. According to an Israeli government statement, Israel “will provide [him] with all necessary assistance in order for him to carry out his duties.” , writes Arjan El Fassad (Electronic Intifada) You bet. Moreover: ‘In his speech at the Annual Reception of Labour Friends of Israel in September 2006, Blair said: “I have never actually found it hard to be a friend of Israel, I am proud to be a friend of Israel.” ‘ No doubt his role to ‘advise’ on ‘institutional reform’ in Palestine will provide him with a front row seat at the sort of ‘reform’ he has been party to in his invasions – destruction of life, limb and that left of Palestine’s civil society.

He should be quite at home in another invading, occupying country, which has also divided Palestine as he and Bush planned to divide Iraq – and where, like Iraq, communities are walled off from each other by the policies of ‘democracy’. The Messianic Blair, having bought lock, stock and barrel in to the neo-cons ‘crusade’, ‘clash of civlisations’, has never openly backed off from some seriously disturbing bedfellows.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=6286

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Drug Smugglers and Guantanamo Prisoners – Compare and Contrast Treatment

I am aware that this article will not meet agreement from many of the regular readers and commenters on this blog. I am a strong believer in individual responsibility. That affected my life personally in a profound way because it means I believe that being a member of an organisation does not absolve you from responsibility for the actions of the organisation. The ‘I was only doing my job’ defence does not make it OK to bomb Iraqi families or fund the Uzbek security services. That is why I am no longer a British Ambassador.

But equally forces and pressures of social inequality do not make it OK to become a criminal. The right will tend to excuse individuals in the first case and condemn those in the second: the left vice versa. I hope my views are not categorisable as right or left.

A media storm has been created by the arrest in Ghana of two 16 year old British girls, Yasemin Vatansever and Yatunde Diya, taking 14lb of cocaine through Accra en route to Heathrow,

Let us get one thing straight. Ghana has a better Human Rights record than the United Kingdom. Nobody in Ghana is detained without charge for a month. Nobody is under house arrest. The average Ghanaian can stand in the street outside the Ghanaian parliament and voice his political opinions without requesting permission. Ghana is not given to invading other countries. It is a genuine democracy, gearing up for very real presidential elections next year, as the President steps down after his second four year term of elected office. I know the elections are free and fair; I was in the Electoral Commission personally leading the international observation missions at President Kuffour’s original election.

The President is a member of the English Bar, as are several other Ministers. The justice system works well. There are, as with any legal system, occasional mistakes. But the Ghanaian system is as good as any in the World at correcting them. In February 2007, two British citizens, David Logan and Frank Laverick, were acquitted by the Ghana Court of Appeal after being convicted three years previously of involvement in a massive drug smuggling plot, involving 588 kilos of cocaine. Logan and Laverick were associates of those in the drug ring, but knew nothing of it. The Ghanaian legal system eventually sorted that out. The British, American and German nationals who were behind the plot remain in jail in Ghana, while more than half a tonne of cocaine was kept off the streets of Britain. We should be grateful to Ghana on both counts.

I have no doubt that Yasemin Vatansever and Yatunde Diya will receive fair justice in Ghana. They may be innocent or guilty, though it doesn’t look good so far. If they are guilty, justice will mean a perhaps lengthy spell in a Ghanaian Borstal. I am sick of the easy presumption by large sections of the media, whenever a British person is arrested abroad on drugs charges, that they are being unfairly dealt with by a tinpot state, and have been set up by evil foreigners.

It is the appetite of our sick society for cocaine that has visited this evil upon Ghana. Ghana does not produce any cocaine at all, and consumes almost none. . Until less than ten years ago, cocaine smuggling through Ghana was almost unheard of. Nigeria, on the other hand, had become a major route since the mid 1980’s, with over a third of all cocaine entering the UK through Nigeria. It came to Nigeria by ship from South America. It then went on to the UK by air. The occasional spectacular might involve suitcases or bales of goods stuffed with cocaine being flown into the UK, but the bread and butter traffic used ‘Mules’.

Desperately poor Nigerians, usually female, would stuff cocaine filled condoms into their anus and vagina, or swallow them down into their stomach. A leak or split would kill the ‘mule,’ and at one stage, while I was working in the British High Commission in Nigeria, we were catching an average of two mules off every single passenger flight into the UK from Nigeria. Eventually, work by HM Customs and Excise Special Investigations Division, at both the London and Lagos ends, became so good that too high a proportion of the cocaine was being intercepted. So the Colombian gangs and their Nigerian middlemen began to look along the border to a new and open route ‘ Ghana, with its excellent air links from Accra to London.

In 2000 I was British Deputy High Commissioner in Accra. Ghana was perhaps Africa’s best kept secret ‘ an oasis of calm where you can live a lifestyle that has sadly been lost in the entire rest of Africa. You could leave your car unlocked in downtown Accra, and it would not be stolen. At night, you could walk freely in the streets between the capital’s exciting bars, restaurants and nightclubs, and be in no danger at all of robbery, let alone assault. Having lived in Lagos ‘ as taut and violent as Johannesburg – it was like a huge boost of oxygen.

All of that remains true, but less so, and it is under threat. The Nigerian drug gangs moved in about the turn of the millennium. It is interesting and possibly will prove relevant that one of these girls is of Nigerian origin. In 2000 the High Commission had to deal with the first case of armed robbery on recent record. The arrival of the drug trade started to have the inevitable consequence of bringing an increase in official and law enforcement corruption. The Ghanaian government has been fighting, manfully, against the consequences ever since.

We should be plain about this ‘ it is not just the Nigerian and Colombian gangs, but the sickness in our own society, with its own criminals and its insatiable appetite for cocaine, that has brought this cancer of crime upon Ghana. Ghana is the victim of this trade.

I was therefore less than chuffed to hear a spokesman for HM Customs and Excise say that they regarded Yasemin Vatansever and and Yatunde Diya as victims in this case. Customs and Excise have also said ‘It is very unlikely they knew that the drugs were in the bags. We think they were recruited in London, but they would serve their sentence in an African jail, which would be very hard.’

So we are, plainly, aiming for yet another campaign where Britons smuggling drugs abroad are declared innocent on no basis other than their Britishness, and in this case their youth. Being female also helps this mawkish approach to drug smugglers.

Sixteen is well past the age of criminal responsibility. Would we take the view that girls caught in London carrying 14lb of cocaine were too young to face charges? No, we wouldn’t. The authorities found 14lb of cocaine. Yesterday Yasemin told Channel 4 news by telephone from prison:

‘There were basically two boys over here who gave us two bags, and told us to bring it (that) it was an empty bag. We never thought anything bad was inside … and they told us to go to the UK and drop it off to some boy … at the airport. The two boys gave us bags in Ghana to bring to London, to give to the boy in London. It was basically like a set up. They didn’t tell us nothing, we didn’t think nothing, ‘cos basically we are innocent. We don’t know nothing about this drugs and stuff, we don’t know nothing.”

Bearing in mind Yasemin’s eloquence, go to your kitchen with two empty bags. Fill each one with 7lb or 3kg of goods from your kitchen cupboard. Then carry them out again and see if you can tell the difference. Bear in mind also that they were flying out from Accra on British Airways. I have done that often ‘ by chance I am doing it again next week. They will have been asked, at check in whether they packed their bags themselves and whether they were given anything to carry.

We have been through all this before. In 1990 Patricia Cahill, age 17, and Karen Smith, age 18, were convicted of smuggling drugs in Thailand. They had 40 kg ‘ nearly 90lbs ‘ of heroin in their luggage, which they too claimed that they didn’t know they had. I can’t ask you to do the kitchen test again because you probably don’t have that much stuff in your kitchen cupboard. Instead, find a 12 year old, pick them up and carry them down the street. Then say you didn’t know you were doing it. They were thankfully sentenced to prison rather than execution.

The full resources of the British government and media then swung into action. Eventually, after intervention led by Prime Minister John Major in person, and involving substantial resources from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Thailand let them go, even though they were guilty as hell.

By that stage I was working as head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Maritime Section, and much preoccupied with winning international cooperation in the fight against drugs. Our pressure on Thailand to release Smith and Cahill was quoted back at me by other countries when I was trying to press them to do more to intercept narcotics. The message we were sending was ‘Crack down on drug smugglers, unless they’re young, female and British.’

That demoralised those of us working in the field, made us an international laughing stock in drug enforcement circles and sent a message that it is good idea to use young, female, British couriers, because if caught they’ll get let off. I hope that we don’t repeat that mistake, but the signs are that we will.

Yes, couriers like Vatansever and Diya, knowing or not, are the small fry. Yes, we have to go after the actual drugs lords with even more vigour. But we should be grateful to the Ghanaians for their vigilance and excellent cooperation, and not assume or imply that they are victimising the innocent. The Ghanaian justice system is quite capable of working that one out. Yes, the girls deserve treatment as minors, not as adults. They will get that. They do not deserve to be too harshly treated, and they will not be. Ghanaians are kind people. But spare me the sneering and sentimentalist British rhetoric.

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