Monthly archives: September 2009

Independent World Report

There is a new international affairs magazine called International World Report. The first issue has a very interesting focus on Central Asia, The article on the Uighurs is a good introduction to the subject. There is also an interview with me. This is perfectly accurate, but as always when you read back a verbatim transcript you think of things you might have put better or explained further.

I don’t know if future issues will maintain a Central Asian focus, but in any event the magazine looks like it could be a good source on lesser known foreign policy areas.

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Iain Dale’s Bracknell Campaign

If I were a resident of Bracknell, I would not vote in the Tory Open Primary as I think the concept of choosing candidates of your political opponents is silly. Taken as given that I am not a Conservative and disagree with him on many points, I would hope that they choose Iain Dale, who is harmless by Tory standards and can be fun.

One person I would not vote for is the crusading neo-Conservative Rory Stewart. It is particularly annoying that he is constantly referred to as a former diplomat. Stewart was an MI6 officer and not a member of the FCO.

Three years ago I received a message from the FCO asking me not to mention this as, at that time, Stewart was still very active for MI6 in Afghanistan and his life could have been endangered. I agreed, and even removed a reference from my blog. However now that he is safely and lucratively ensconsed at Harvard, I see no reason to conceal the truth. I is necessary to reveal this so that people can correctly evaluate his political pronouncements on Iraq and Afghanistan, and his motives in making them.

In putting himself forward for election, Stewart has forfeited the right to conceal his background from the electorate.

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Losing Murdoch May Help Find Their Soul

I cringed throughout Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday. I retain, despite all, a soft spot for Gordon Brown. I know enough people who know him from Edinburgh, to be convinced that Brown basically means well. He is very wrong, but he means well. That is in sharp contrast to Blair, who is just a very talented charlatan devoid of any core belief other than his own self enrichment.

The Labour conference is attended by people whose standard of living depends upon their party having control of the state apparatus. Blair delivered on their personal craving for power and position, but self-evidently cared about none of the social justice issues which the party’s founders really did believe in, and which the conference members like to think they believe in, when they are maudlin drunk. So they followed Tony without loving him, and reserved warmer cheers for Gordon who they sensed was not actually a bad person.

Now, with no Blair to contrast with, Brown’s appeal of being well meaning but crap is less obvious. Watching him make a conference speech is like watching Eddie the Eagle plunge down a ski ramp – he is plucky but utterly unsuited. Indeed these are qualities which are fundamental to Grodon’s world view, as evidence by the execrable ghost written books he churns out, on themes like Courage and Britishness. It as though he is stuck in the Boy’s Own Paper. No wonder he believes he saved the world.

Yesterday’s speech was just excruciating to watch. The “Highlight” was a list of New Labour’s alleged achievements. He emphasised each by an extraordinary jerky hunch of the shoulders accompanied by a swivel of the head. It looked really weird – like a Gerry Anderson puppet, but without the warmth.

It was almost as weird as the previous day’s Mandelson performance. That was the most self-regarding speech I have ever heard, returning again and again to Mandelson himself as the reference point of success. His culminating point – “If I can come back, we can come back” deserves more analysis. What does it mean? “Because this government is so dodgy that a Minister twice sacked for corruption can come back a third time, then people will vote for us”?

Brown has promised us Magdalen homes for pregnant teens and an unspecified further crackdown on yobs. Here again Brown moved into superhero mode. “Whenever and wherever there is anti-social behaviour, we will be there to fight it.” That is plainly not true. It lacks any connection with reality. To seek to reduce anti-social behaviour is a good thing. Much more attention needs to be paid to the causes of the loss of family and community cohesion, and less to immediate recourse to the criminal legal system. But the idea that superheroes will descend “whenever and wherever” goes beyond the realm of legitimate rhetorical aspiration into the realm of delusion.

Brown’s empty rhetoric on banking bonuses could not conceal the fact that he intends to do nothing practical about them.

There is no real connection between yesterday’s speech and the announcement that the Sun will no longer support New Labour, other than being timed to endear Murdoch to the Tories.

New Labour should not be sorry to have lost Murdoch’s support. They should be deeply ashamed that they ever had it. At the last election, the Sun made plain that it was only endorsing New Labour because of Iraq and the “War on Terror” agenda.

Should New Labour ever recover electoral support, it will be after a period in opposition in which it must decide whether to try to outflank the Tories from the right and try to ally again with Murdoch, or try to remember something of what it was founded for.

How long will the “New Labour” brand be retained? It is associated with the liberalisation of banking regulaton and the disatrous collapse that followed, and with the horror of Bush foreign policy. If “New Labour” were a car, it would be eligible for Mandelson’s scrappage scheme.

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Iran, Israel and The Law

One of my passionate convictions is a belief in international law to govern relations between nations and to establish basic rules of humanitarian conduct within nations.

A comment on my last posting asked by what right the Royal Navy was intercepting vessels carrying narcotics on the High Seas. In one sense the answer is straightforward, and contained in Article 108 of the UN Convention on The Law of The Sea:


Illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances

1. All States shall cooperate in the suppression of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances engaged in by ships on the high seas contrary to international conventions.

2. Any State which has reasonable grounds for believing that a ship flying its flag is engaged in illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances may request the cooperation of other States to suppress such traffic.

That is slightly more complicated than it sounds. It is rather ambiguous about whether you need the permission of the flag state (the state where the ship is registered) before you can board a vessel on the High Seas. The most obvious interpretation might be that para 2 indicates you do need permission, and para 1 indicates the flag state should give it.

In most cases you would try to get permission of the flag state before acting against one of its ships, but that may not be practicable in a fast moving operation. The situation is complicated by the fact that the law presumes flag states to be responsible. Although the some of the worst of the abuse has been ameliorated, that is of course far from the case. Liberia and Panama were the most famous examples where the corrupt government of a petty or failed state

sold the right to register ships to unscrupulous businessmen, who granted the flag to any owner who wished to escape serious regulation of the safety of the vessel and crew, qualification requirements for officers, union recognition, and environmental and other regulation which may be practiced by a “real” flag state. The Liberian shipping register was not based in, and had no connection to Liberia other than the formal payment and larger backhanders for the rights.

For those with a Third World Good, First World Bad view of international relations, it is worth noting that attempts to reform the blatant abuse were frustrated for decades by the G77 in the UN.

I am not aware of any case law on the subject. It seems improbable that any flag state would want to go to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea over an intercept on the High Seas which did net a haul of drugs. But if an innocent vessel – let’s say a Venezuelan one – is boarded without permission of Venezuela on the High Seas, the law may be clarified.

The point is an important one; an example is the Proliferation Security Initiative. This was a Bush Blair plan to intercept ships going to North Korea on the High Seas and search them for nuclear components. Interestingly the initial plan adopted in September 2003 was for an international naval patrol by UK, US, Australia and others to intercept ships going to North Korea to prevent passage of “Narcotics and WMD”.

Now there is no right at all in international law to stop vessels on the High Seas and search them for WMD components. But there is the duty under UNCLOS to co-operate against narcotics trafficking. Bush and Blair cannot seriously have expected anybody to believe that their scheme was designed to prevent narcotics being smuggled into North Korea. Plainly the inclusion of narcotics was intended to abuse the powers under that head in order to search for something else. In fact, the Proliferation Security Initiative plainly required a Security Council Resolutin, and China made plain that Bush/Blair were not going to get away with that one.

Another comment on the same thread alluded to the Israeli ramming of an aid/campaigning ship en route to Gaza, and suggested there is no such thig as international law.

Well, the Israeli action was plainly illegal in any number of ways. A naval attack on a peaceful civilian ship not in time of war, a denial of innocent passage or freedom of the High Seas (depending exactly where it took place) and a subsequent failure of the duty to render assistance to a vessel in distress. It is not that there is no international law; the problem is enforcing it.

From 1945 for the next 50 years, international law made tremendous strides in establishing basic rights and norms and regulating relations between states. International judicial institutions made hundreds of landmark judgements, which were indeed in the vast majority of cases complied with. The US had a history of holding out against such developments and then, a couple of decades after everyone else, signing up (as with the Convention on the Law of the Sea).

Then came the Bush/Blair disaster. With Russia in near catatonic economic shock and China just starting to emerge, Bush/Blair argued that the might of a single military superpower equalled right, and that the moral convictions of divinely inspired leaderhip overrode international law. The illegal invasion of Iraq, the use of torture, the abjuring of the Geneva Conventions, were just part of the Bush/Blair attack on the whole concept of being bound by law. It was a Neitzschean view of the US President as Hero.

With the UK and half of Europe following the money, the pier of the largest bulwark of support for the concept of international law was fatally corroded.

One key aspect of the development of international law prior to this was a growing acceptance of the notion that at some point international law obtains a universality, whether or not states have signed up to the specific instrument. This is separate to the question of the number of ratifications needed to bring the Treaty into force, though that is a necessary prior step. Put another way, notions encapsulated in treaties pass into customary international law.

This is, in fact, common sense. Nuremburg confirmed the principle – it would not have been taken as a defence for the Nazi leaders to say that they did not subscribe to the same system of morality as the rest of the world.

Which brings me to Israel. The fact that Israel is one of the handful of countries not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, does not make it any less illegal for Israel to ram civilian vessels. Equally – and contrary to the point made by another commenter on an earlier entry – Israeli nuclear weapons are not legal, just because Israel has not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Israel has no more right than Nazi Germany to choose to be an aggressive rogue state, and cannot simply claim to be above the framework of international law.

It is, of course, perfectly possible for behaviour to be legal yet still reprehensible. It is worth noting that it is perfectly legal for Iran to develop medium range missiles. But to test fire them now is an obvious provocation from a regime that is fanatical and deeply irresponsible.

The annoying thing about Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN was that there were whole swathes of it with which I was entirely in agreement. At least he did not get into holocaust denial on this occasion: if he could have further refrained from the couple of sentences which were indeed anti-semitic, he would have made the walkout appear unjustified and puerile, But the man is plainly deranged. (I expect that Roman Polanski, whose mother died in Auschwitz, would be surprised at the claim that the Holocuast was an invention.)

While Iran is entitled to develop its missiles, to develop nuclear warheads is illegal. I have maintained all along that Iran is indeed seeking to do this, and the admittance of its secret nstallation is pretty hard to construe as part of peaceful nuclear power development.

Incidentally, this is what a secret nuclear installation looks like.

I can think of no justification at all for taking any measures against Iran over its nuclear programme, that we do not take against Israel for its major illegal nuclear arsenal.

The signs are good for the developing US/Russian rapprochement on Iran, and I regard that as a good thing. It moves us further from a scenario in which the US may be involved in a military attack on Iran, and leaves Gordon Brown out of line in the ferocity of his anti-Iranian rhetoric. I expect that New Labour feel they could use a war before the general election, but I don’t think they will get one.

Thanks to Tony for the link.

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A Tale of Two Continents

I congratulate the Royal Navy on their seizure of 5.5 tones of cocaine off the South American coast. In the long term this drug should be legalised, taxed and regulated. But until then, the organised crime caused by prohibition should be combated, and the Royal Navy did a good job.

What an astonishing contrast to Afghanistan, where the massive coalition forces in the country turn an effective blind eye to the industrial scale production of heroin all around them. Between 85 and 90% of heroin production is controlled by the warlords and gangsters of the hideously corrupt and undemocratic Karzai regime, whose rule our soldiers die to enforce.

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The People’s Party

Just a few random facts to help people remember the great tradition of New Labour in supporting ordinary working people:

Tony Blair is chraging between £100,000 and £200,000 per speech – while for just an extra £180, attendees can have their photograph taken with him.

Baroness Scotland paid her husekeeper just £6 per hour.

The visa in the housekeeper’s passport had already expired (irrespective of whether it was genuine or not) before Baroness Scotland claimed to have seen it.

A friend in the FCO has told me that the French proposal for a cap on bankers’ bonuses, against which Gordon Brown fought furiously in the EU, G8 and G20, suggested a limit of 8 million euro per banker per year. Brown said this was too restrictive. Brown will announce to great fanfare in Brighton instead a system where bonuses are delayed and paid part in shares (which saves the bankers 22% in income tax).

These changes are meaningless as the bankers are rather well placed to borrow against their delayed bonuses and shares, and can just up them to defray the cost of doing so…

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Al-Megrahi Was not the Lockerbie Bomber

As I have previously stated, I can affirm that the FCO and MI6 knew that al-Megrahi was not the Lockerbie bomber.

I strongly recommend that you read this devastating article by the great lawyer Gareth Peirce, in the London Review of Books. Virtually every paragraph provides information which in itself demolishes the conviction. The totality of the information Peirce gives is a quite stunning picture of not accidental but deliberate miscarriage of justice.

Here is an excerpt:

Thurman had made the Libyan connection, and its plausibility relied on the accuracy of his statement that the fragment of circuit board proved that it would have been possible for the unaccompanied bag to fly from Malta without the seemingly inevitable mid-air explosion. And thus it was that a witness from Switzerland, Edwin Bollier, the manufacturer of the MEBO circuit board, was called on to provide evidence that such boards had been sold exclusively to Libya. Bollier was described by al-Megrahi’s barrister in his closing speech as an ‘illegitimate arms dealer with morals to match’. The evidence he was clearly intended to provide had begun to unravel even before the trial began. Sales elsewhere in the world were discovered, Thurman did not appear at the trial, and the judges commented that Bollier’s evidence was ‘inconsistent’ and ‘self-contradictory’. Other witnesses, they found, had ‘openly lied to the court’. Despite all this al-Megrahi was convicted.

Bollier had been one of the most potentially dubious of many dubious witnesses for the prosecution. But Dr Kochler, the UN’s observer throughout the trial, recorded that Bollier had been ‘brusquely interrupted’ by the presiding judge when he attempted to raise the issue of the possible manipulation of the timer fragments. Could the MEBO board, or a part of one, have been planted in such a way that it could be conveniently ‘discovered’? After the trial, new evidence that would have been at the centre of al-Megrahi’s now abandoned appeal made this suggestion more credible: a Swiss electronics engineer called Ulrich Lumpert, formerly employed by Bollier’s firm, stated in an affidavit to Kochler that in 1989 he stole a ‘non-operational’ timing board from MEBO and handed it to ‘a person officially investigating in the Lockerbie case’. Bollier himself told Kochler that he was offered $4 million if he would connect the timer to Libya.

There were throughout two aspects of the investigation over which the Scottish authorities exerted little authority: in the US, the activities of the CIA and in particular of Thomas Thurman and the forensic branch of the FBI; in England, the forensic investigations of RARDE, carried out by Hayes and Feraday. Without Hayes’s findings, the Lockerbie prosecution would have been impossible. His evidence was that on 12 May 1989 he discovered and tweezed out from a remnant of cloth an electronic fragment, part of a circuit board. The remnant of cloth, part of a shirt collar, was then traced to a Maltese shop. A number of aspects of the original circuit board find were puzzling. The remnant was originally found in January 1989 by a DC Gilchrist and a DC McColm in the outer reaches of the area over which the bomb-blast debris was spread. It was labelled ‘cloth (charred)’ by him, but then overwritten as ‘debris’ even though the fragment of circuit board had not yet been ‘found’ by Hayes. The fragment found by Hayes, and identified as a MEBO circuit board by Thurman, meant that the thesis of an Air Malta involvement could survive.

Even if one knew nothing of the devastating findings of the public inquiry in the early 1990s into the false science that convicted the Maguire Seven or of the succession of thunderous judgments in the Court of Appeal in case after case in which RARDE scientists had provided the basis for wrongful convictions, Hayes’s key evidence in this case on the key fragment should be viewed as disgraceful. There is a basic necessity for evidential preservation in any criminal case: every inspection must be logged, chronology recorded, detail noted. But at every point in relation to this vital fragment that information was either missing or had been altered, although Hayes had made meticulous notes in respect of every single one of the hundreds of other exhibits he inspected in the Lockerbie investigation.

The entire article really should be read by anybody with any interest in British or US politics.

Thanks to David Rose.

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Horrible Right Wing BBC Agenda

I am watching BBC Question Time, for the first time for many months. I am genuinely astonished at the right wing bias of the panel. That the two “non-party” panel members are Digby Jones and Fraser Nelson shows the determination of the BBC to cover the full spectrum of political opinion from very right to very very right.

That they could not find a single panel member who supports the release of al-Megrahi, or who was prepared to mention that he might well not be the Lockerbie bomber, rendered the whole first fifteen minutes of “debate” otiose

As previously mentioned, I was once invited to be a panelist on Question Time but was cancelled by the BBC at short notice. .The BBC more recently caused a storm by inviting the BNP on to Question Time. I have stood against the BNP in two parliamentary elections – one in Norwich, and one in the very heart of the BNP heartland in Blackburn. Combining both parliamentary elections, as a mere individual I gained just two votes less than the BNP.

Yet, according to the BBC, I am officially banned from politics programmes on the BBC because I have no evidence of popular support for my views, while according to the BBC, the BNP have to be invited because of the extent of the popular support for their views.

The truth is that there is no concept of too right wing at the BBC, while there is a concept of too radical. The one no go area is a questioning of the narrative of the War on Terror.

Fascists are within the pale; sceptics are not.

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Baroness Blackout

Everybody in London with any connection to the media knows that Baroness Scotland’s ex housekeeper, Loloahi Tapui- Zivancevic, is loudly denying that Baroness Scotland checked her immigration documentation, and canvassing selling this story.

So why are both the BBC and Sky reporting Ms Tapui- Zivancevic’s arrest without mentioning the fact that she is calling the Baroness a liar.

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Only Israel Should Have Nuclear Weapons

A friend of mine in MI6 told me earlier this year that for the first time, the Israeli nuclear arsenal is now bigger than the British nuclear arsenal.

Plainly that is of no concern to Gordon Brown, because while he exhibited righteous indignation today at Iran’s attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon, Israel’s large and expanding nuclear arsenal was not mentioned at all. The potential to make a bomb in a few years should bring sanctions; the possession of an illegal arsenal of 162 warheads (in February – probably 165 by now) should not even rate a mention. New Labour have of course been providing heavy water and nuclear components to Israel, with a false paper trail through Norway.

I am very pleased that Brown has put the UK’s nuclear weapons into disarmament talks and has endorsed the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. But with Israel not a party to any of the treaties, and with Brown and Obama refusing to admit even that the World’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal exists, I can only presume they believe that nobody should possess nuclear weapons – except Israel,

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Nick Clegg: Ambition Without Talent or Principle

At 2am I watched a repeat of Nick Clegg’s conference speech in full on the Parliament Channel. The Liberals and the Lib Dems always had a knack of producing leaders who were liked and respected. Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charlie Kennedy were all among the first rank of effective and charismatic parliamentarians of their day (I am not here discussing the merits of their policy positions or extra-parliamentary activities).

But in Menzies Campbell and Nick Clegg the Lib Dems have produced two total duds. Both have the same leaden delivery and both are self evident preeners with an opinion of themselves which far outstrips their talent. I am not sure I have ever seen any conference speech by any leader of any party as devoid of charisma as Nick Clegg’s was yesterday.

You can’t replace charisma, but there are some things which can compensate for its absence. Heartfelt sincerity is the most important of these. That was particularly lacking, too. The only bit of Clegg’s speech that came across as compellingly believable was when he declared that he wanted to be Prime Minister.

I am sure he does. I want to bat at No 3 for England.

But why? There were two areas where the insincerity was so evident that it made my flesh creep. And they were areas where the Lib Dems should be making the running – on Afghanistan and Trident.

On Afghanistan, Clegg started his speech with an attempt to invoke the glib patriotism of The Sun, with a heartfelt tribute to our boys and girls fighting over there. Except they were, of course being let down by the government. They needed more helicopters and equipment to kill Afghans more effectively, (he left out the last phrase).

We should do the job properly or not at all, Clegg declared in a truly pathetic attempt to appease neo-imperialists and anti-imperialists both at the same time. It was a sickeningly cynical bit of politics from someone who was masquerading as a Liberal.

Clegg spent the entire conference attempting to appeal to Thatcherites by proposing cuts in public spending, including in public service pay and pensions. But on the obvious and largest waste of public money he offered only a completely meaningless formula. There should be “No like for like replacement of Trident”, he intoned with a constipated look on his face that was meant to indicate statesmanship. The remarkably small conference audience duly applauded.

“No like for like replacement of Trident”. How can people who are supposed to be thinking Liberals applaud such a transparently meaningless phrase? What a pathetic ducking of the issue. It could mean that the UK retains and pays for a submarine based offshoot of the US nuclear deterrent, but configured differently. It could encompass Brown’s three submarine proposal. It could mean – and this seems to me the most likely meaning – that we should keep and pay for an offshoot of the US based nuclear deterrent but it should not be submarine based. But as with the support for the occupation of Afghanistan, there was no underlying rationale; just a burning desire to try to appeal to all shades of opinion at once.

I shan’t bother to try to deconstruct Clegg’s “Progressive austerity”, which might be the worst political slogan ever conceived. His abandonment of the Lib Dem commitment to abolish univeristy tuition fees is shameful. To pretend that what happens in Scotland is impossible for England is foolish. To prioritise a pointless nuclear deterrent and an imperial war over social progress and mobility is not, in any sense, liberal.

The problem with an increase in the tax threshold to £10,000 is that, while it does lift the low paid out of income tax, it provides precisely the same cash tax cut to everybody earning £10,000 or over. Someone on £10,000 a year will get exactly the same cash boost as the banker on £5 million a year. Both will get a bigger cash boost than someone on £8,000 a year. How is that progressive?

At the last general election the Lib Dems under the excellent Charlie Kennedy offered a viable, radical alternative. At the coming election they will offer Clegg’s carefully crafted attempts not to offend Tory England. As the party has grown, and as the allowances of public money for MPs’ and MEPs’ staff have created a parisitic army of the paid ambitious, the Lib Dems have become merely slaves to the worship of power. I can think of no reason to vote for a party led by Nick Clegg.

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The Arrogance of Baroness Scotland Hides A Bigger Question

Baroness Scotland has an extremely high opinion of herself, and an extremely low opinion of anybody who might question her. She laughed in the House of Lords at Eric Lubbock, when he was making a perfectly correct point about the burdens placed by the government on the immigration service exceeding the capacity of the staff to deliver.

Lord Avebury: …That seems to be of fundamental importance in deciding whether the Immigration and Nationality directorate is capable of coping with any new burdens that are placed on it, let alone the ones that are specified in these regulations. The Minister may snigger, but this is not a laughing matter.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not sniggering. The noble Lord is not right. We have tried extremely hard to deal seriously with this matter. I was merely shaking my head in disbelief

In the same Lords debate on 23 April 2004 Baroness Scotland went on to pooh-pooh the idea that proposed requirements on small employers to check and to keep copies of employees’ immigration status and documents, were difficult or excessive.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal … The employer has then simply to take a copy of the application form or other document proving exemption. That would provide them with their statutory defence and authorise them to employ the person

She was not at that moment referring to the precise category of immigrant in which her housekeeper fell, but she was to pilot legislation through the Lords which did cover her housekeeper, and to defend the obligations it placed on employers.

Plainly Baroness Scotland would not have been fined £5,000 if she had not done something wrong. Plainly she was aware in general of the legal obligations on employees to keep copies of employees’ immigration status documents, and plainly she did not do this.

Any sin of omission can be described as “Accidental”, like failing to pay your income tax. But coming from the high-handed sneerer who pushed the very legislation through the Lords, of course she should resign.

I do not believe her story that she did check the documents but did not keep copies. The basic document to check is the visa, which states very clearly the position on entitlement to work. Is she claiming she saw but did not copy forged documents? What precisely is she claiming?

There is of course the wider question of our hypocrisy on immigration. Major British cities are heavily dependent on illegal immigrants. Every middle class Londoner has been served by an illegal immigrant in a cafe, restaurant or pub, been inside offices cleaned by illegal immigrants and often had work done in their house by illegal immigrants. I personally have several friends who are illegal immigrants, and several more who are fictional students at fake language schools.

If you look at remittances from workers in the UK back to their families in poor countries, these cash flows would be impossible on the basis of the “official” ethnic community in the UK. Ghana, for example, receives personal remittances which are greater than the country’s exports; the UK is the biggest source. I would put just the Ghanaian illegal immigrant community in the UK at well over 100,000.

The total number of illegal immigrants in the UK is almost certainly well over a million.

Boris Johnson has been the only prominent politician I can recall who has been brave enough to face the facts and call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Most of the political class simply prefer to pretend the problem does not exist. The illegal immigrants are not going to go home and you can’t deport over a million people without becoming still more of a police state. The economy couldn’t cope if you did, as British people won’t do many of the jobs involved – like being the sniggering bitch’s housekeeper.

It is indeed anomalous that illegal immigrants can very easily get National Insurance numbers. But it is also a good thing. It is much better for them to be working and contributing.

Baroness Scotland has been revealed as a hypocrite of remarkable proportions. But until their is a serious effort to address the status of our massive illegal immigrant workforce, we continue to be dependent on an entire class of non-people.

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On Missiles and Missile Defence

Gordon Brown is making the headlines this morning with an offer to cut the Trident II deterrent from four to three submarines. While something of an improvement on New Labour’s previous stance of unthinking macho pro-nuclear posturing, it still goes nowhere near addressing the fundamental futility of Trident.

Who is it meant to deter? In all the analysis on the attempts of Iran and North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, I don’t recall any serious commentator from any political perspective even mentioning the British nuclear deterrent as a factor in the equation.

I am no fan of Putin, but neither can I now conceive a nuclear standoff with Russia or with China, as the ideological divide has effectively collapsed.

New Labour’s original proposal forTrident II was a huge increase in killing power over the current Trident. We need more detail on the number of not just submarines but also the number of independently targetable warheads and their size, but it remains probable that Brown’s proposed three nuclear submarines of Trident II will still represent an increase, not a decrease, in the already massive destructive power of the four nuclear submarines of Trident I.

But I fail to understand why we are discussing at all the huge expenditure on this extraordinary monument to human evil, when we are going to have to pay for it entirely from borrowing on top of already over-massive government debt.

The government have already announced they are planning to slash secondary school teachers. Incredibly they are planning to introduce yet more internal market “reform” into the National Health Service, as a means of saving money, in face of overwhelming evidence that this approach hugely increases spending on accounting and administration without delivering service improvements or savings.

Trident missiles; immoral, useless and ruinously unaffordable. But Gordon Brown isn’t going to increase their killing power by as much as he had originally planned to increase it. So that’s alright then.

Brown’s hand has been forced, of course, by Obama’s consistent and generally laudable initiatives. We await the meat of his proposed nuclear weapon reductions. But the cancellation of the Bush plans for a new interceptor missile system in Eastern Europe should be applauded – with caveats.

It was always a pathetic fiction that the system was intended to defend against non-existent intercontinental ballistic missiles from Iran carrying non-existent Iranian nuclear warheads. The Russians were quite right to suspect that the defences were primarily against Russian missiles. It is a fascinating thing that the most passionate advocates of Mutual Assured Destruction spend a great deal of their time, and billions of taxpayers’ money, on trying to take the mutual out of it.

Under Putin, Russia has moved in a highly unpleasant authoritarian and nationalist direction. Russian schools once again elide the Stalin-Hitler pact. The Great Patriotic War only started in 1941, while Stalin’s appalling crimes are minimised and his image burnished. The murder of independent journalists continues apace, almost unreported in the West. Opposition political parties cannot campaign, and the space for independent media has almost completely vanished.

But the Bush administration’s standoff with Putin was not connected to Russia’s internal authoritarianism. Dictatorship did not worry Bush in the least in the US/Uzbek alliance, for example. The US/Russia standoff was a retreat into the Cold War postures and hard sphere of influence politics. It was a return to they system that was so profitable for the arms industry and military complex throughout the Cold War. US attitudes, summed up by forcing the missile defence scheme onto Russia’s borders, helped create the Russian paranoia which boosted Putin’s nationalist support.

A warming of US/Russian relations will be no bad thing, and may open the way to more sensible ways of interacting with Iran. But there are other aspects to this which are more worrying.

The Obama administration has been at pains to emphasise that the missile defence scheme is being reconfigured, not being abandoned. The Russians had earlier made an offer to the Americans to share their radar system monitoring Iranian airspace from Baku. This would have involved stationing of US forces in Azerbaijan.

According to one of my FCO sources, the US have now indicated to the Russians that they wish to revisit this Russian proposal. There is more to this than joint cooperation over Iran. Russia had effectively rolled back US influence in the ex-Soviet space of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Gazprom had tied up the gas of the Central Asian states, and the US was evicted from its airbase in Uzbekistan and had received marching orders to withdraw from Kirghizstan. Its major remaining ally, Georgia, was militarily humiliated by Russia, driving home a hard lesson in the realities of power in the region.

The Obama administration has been carefully and slowly clawing back ground, in particular seeking to rebuild its supply access to Afghanistan through Central Asia. A transit agreement with President Karimov of Uzbekistan in March this year was a key step. A US military presence in Baku would be a major part of the jigsaw.

But the regime of President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, whose father was once Putin’s KGB boss, is almost as brutal as that of President Karimov. For the US to seek to back up its Afghan policy by forging alliances wth such regimes, will dismay many of Obama’s supporters.

This comes as any last vestige of moral justification for the occupation of Afghanistan disappears in the light of a massively fraudulent election and increasing public understanding of the huge corruption, warlordism and misogynism of the Karzai government, floated on a sea of heroin production.

The “return” of General Dostum, the vicious Uzbek warlord, drug baron and mass killer who heads the Northern Alliance, is a symbol of the moral bankruptcy of Obama on Afghanistan. Dostum had officially been exiled to Turkey by Karzai for murdering a number of political rivals. In fact he spent very little time in Turkey but was running his fiefdom from a home near Mazar e Sharif and supervising his heroin trade. But he was officially brought back from Turkey by Karzai for the election, with US approval, and duly delivered votes of over 100% for Karzai in many Uzbek areas of Afghanistan.

Now the Pentagon is proposing to initiate weapons supply on a massive scale to Dostum’s private army, to fight the Taliban. They believe this would have more chance of success than building the hopeless Afghan army (of which Dostum remains nominal Chief of Staff).

Dostum used to tie dissidents within his own ranks to tank tracks to be driven in front of his men as an example. He had hundreds of alleged Taliban supporters killed by crowding them into sealed containers in the desert sun. He is believed to have killed some 3,000 “Taliban” prisoners, and controls the drug trade through Uzbekistan to the Baltic and Europe.

Obama’s foreign policy is undoubtedly an improvement on his predecessor and in the area of missiles and nuclear weaponry deserves to be labelled progressive. But the moral poison of the Afghan War is fatal to his efforts.

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Blogging Again

Sorry about that false dawn – seems I was sicker than I thought. Three days ago I decided I was well enough to go out for a walk, and after just four hundred yards I collapsed in the street, which was dead embarassing. First everything went orange then my legs wouldn’t hold me anymore. I was helped home by a young couple from Kosovo.

Unfortunately, I think the damage to my lungs caused by the extraordinary near fatal episode detailed in Murder in Samarkand, most likely an attempt to kill me, has left me less able to cope with routine stuff like flu. But I think I really have recovered now – I feel fine. I have lost just over a stone, which is probably no bad thing.

Nadira and Cameron are fine, neither show any signs of catching anything.

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Great Novel Plot

That was a nasty flu. No idea if it was a swine flu or not, but I finally have recovered a little energy today. I feel like I’ve been punched in the face, but I can manage the stairs again.

Talking of flu, this is an interesting story which could be a great mine for conspiracy theorists:

Craig Murray, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, stumbles across the fact that the British government is routinely receiving intelligence from torture, through the CIA. He knows that the CIA is flying people in to Uzbekistan to be tortured. He directly documents a number of false flag bombings and other devices designed to exaggerate the al-Qaida threat in Central Asia.

He dutifully reports all this back to his superiors in London. He is recalled, told that this is UK policy and he should shut up. Continuing his investigations in Tashkent, he is suddenly faced with eighteen serious disciplinary allegations. They include criminal allegations like selling visas for sex, and an accusation that he is an alcohlic.

He is told the allegations will be heard in secret and he is not allowed to tell anyone, not even to prepare a defence. He has a nervous breakdown. Downing St leaks details of the more lurid allegations to the tabloids but this backfires. Murray is known in media circles and his human rights work is respected. The accusations meet with widespread media derision, and Murray is acquitted on all counts.

Returning to Tashkent in triumph, he collapses after two days with multiple pulmonary emboli (blood clots in both lungs). He nearly dies and is in a coma for five days. There is never an explanation of the cause of so many blood clots, and doctors are suspicious. Unexpectedly he recovers, but is given six months to three years to live due to resulting pulmonary hypertension. He is dismissed as Ambassador when one of his telegrams on torture and intelligence is leaked to the Financial Times – who nonetheless do not publish the most damning bits.

Murray proves to have the extremely rare ability to regrow the arteries in his lungs, and starts to recover. He tries to make public the British government’s complicity in torture, releasing documents on the internet and publishing Murder in Samarkand, which tells the above story.

Murray stands against Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Blackburn in the 2005 General Election. The BBC make a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Murray. Esther Oxford, the Assistant Director and cinematographer on the documentary, lives with Murray for four weeks to film it. After the election Oxford and her camera are even admitted to the operating theatre for Murray’s heart surgery.

Murray becomes good friends with Oxford and presenter John Sweeney. But when the documentary is made, The Ambassador’s Last Stand concentrates heavily on Murray’s personal eccentricities and thus discounts his allegations of British government complicity in torture. The Murrays and Oxfords remain friends, however. Murray meets Esther’s father, the virologist Professor John Oxford, and Murray’s wife Nadira dances at Esther’s wedding.

Murray gives evidence to the European Parliament on UK complicity in torture. Returning on the Eurostar, he sits with a Tory MEP, a descendant of T E Lawrence. The MEP shows Murray on the train Lawrence’s original map of proposed boundaries for the Middle East.

In researching the possible dangers from avian flu, Prof Oxford exhumes a victim of the Spanish flu of 1919, who was buried in a lead coffin. The corpse is not just anybody – it is Sir Mark Sykes. Sykes is the diplomat who negotiated the infamous Sykes-Picot map, dividing the Middle East on colonial lines between British and French puppet regimes. This is done contrary to the hopes of Lawrence for a strong Arab nation, and behind the back of Woodrow Wilson. Sykes dies on the way home from the negotiations.

Six months after Sykes is exhumed, a global flu pandemic is first identified in Mexico.

All of the above is true.

The first half of the story, as contained in Murder in Samarkand, is the tale of a genuine government conspiracy to use torture, falsify intelligence and smear an innocent man to cover it up.

In the second half I conflate my tenuous connection with John Oxford, an interesting meeting on a train and the Sykes/Lawrence link, plus the timing of Sykes’ exhumation and the outbreak of swine flu. I really don’t believe those are any more than mild coincidences. But I can see inspiration for a novel in there if they were beefed up a bit.

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We Are All Sex Offenders Now

In another example of the mad obsession with seeking a delusory security no matter what the impact on liberty, the government is bringing in a screening scheme which means that, at the government’s own estimate, 11.4 million people who come into contact with children will need to obtain a certificate to show that they have no relevant criminal record. This will cost them £64 each.

Statistically the chance of any given child being harmed by someone other than a family member is extremely small – and almost certainly no larger than it ever was. This is an extraordinary, even ludicrous, apotheosis of the idea that the state should attempt to pre-empt all evil.

If we can pull back from the manipulation of fear and the exaggeration of risk, the madness of the scheme is evident. Not only Scoutleaders, choirmasters and football coaches will need to be certified, but so will parents who give a lift to other people’s children to school, and authors who enter schools to chat about their books (including me). If you give a lift to school to a neighbour’s children a few times without beiing certified, you will get a criminal record and a £5,000 fine.

Relatives, of course, are exempt – which as they are statistically by a huge degree the most likely people to harm the kids, only further points up the nonsense.

I hesitated to write that, lest the government has the wheeze of bringing in a certificate you need to be an uncle.

The scheme represents a monstrous new bureaucracy and yet a further radical extension of government databases on ordinary people. It will not stop child abuse at all. To take as one example the recent high profile case of Vanessa George, Plymouth nursery teacher accused of child sex abuse. Ms George could have easily obtained a certificate as she had no prior convictions.

Of the 0.00001% of those coming into voluntary and helpful contact with children, who have a secret motive to harm them, most will be volunteering because that is their only opportunity of access. The man who wants to be a scout assistant because he wants access to molest children is not likely to have other access and therefore not likely to have a record which the check will show up – if he’s daft enough to apply in his own name.

There are already other mechanisms which help stop convicted sex offenders committing crime again. They are not perfect, but you will never stop all evil. The determined criminal will get hold of certificates through aliases or forgery if they really wish, or just snatch kids from playgrounds.

This scheme makes as much sense as would a requirement to produce a certificate saying that you are not a bank robber, before you are permitted to enter a bank. A society that can support this scheme has been firghtened out of its senses. The government seeks to treat everyone as a sex offender unless they can prove otherwise. It is crazy. The effect will be to stigmatise normal relationships with children, to point suspicion at anybody who chooses to interact with other people’s children, and to reduce participation in scouts, guides, sports and many other voluntary activities.

Sooner or later an “Agency” run by some of the government’s business friends will be coining money from running the scheme. It’s an ill wind…

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Should Stephen Farrell Have Been Rescued

Stephen Farrell is coming in for a lot of criticism. But let us start by remembering what he was doing. He was investigating a bombing by the United States, in co-operation with Germany, which killed at least seventy Afghans, over fifty of them non-combatants. The government would love all journalists to be “embedded” with the military, giving out messages like the pure state propaganda on BBC News today from a female reporter who concluded that the British troops were making excellent progress in winning hearts and minds, but needed many more years in Afghanistan to do so.

If any truth is ever to break through, it needs brave men and women like Farrell to go out and get the truth. He should not be condemned.

Today it is credibly reported that the military hostage rescue was not in fact necessary as the Afghans were close to a negotiated release. That may be true. However I understand from FCO sources which I trust that the military option was taken in genuine good faith. It was thought there was one last moment to rescue Farrell before he might be taken beyond reach.

It is not possible now to tell what would have been the outcome otherwise. But I do not believe the military option was taken from nefarious motives.

There remains the moral dilemma of whether rescuing Farrell was worth the British soldier, Afghan interpreter and Afghan civilians who were shot. It seems likely that all the Afghan casualties, including the interpreter and woman, were killed by the British soldiers. Whether the British soldier also died from “Friendly fire” remains to be seen.

I am tempted to say that the solution to the ethical dilemma is for journalists entering dangerous areas to inform their governments that they do not wish to be rescued militarily if anything goes wrong. But that is not so simple. What is a dangerous area? One thing this incident underlines yet again is that neither the Karzai regime nor NATO has any control on the ground over vast swathes of Afghanistan – indeed probably in 80% of the land area “Government” writ does not run.

But it is our responsibility as part of the coalition. We chose to be an occupying power. That gives us responsibility to maintain law and order in the land we occupied. Those in Afghanistan – Afghan or foreign – have every right to expect the occupying powers to fulfil their duty. If we don’t want to, we should leave.

If we have bit off more than we can chew, that is not Stephen Farrell’s fault, He is only trying to report the fact.

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The Mystery of Rashid Rauf

Finally, with its second jury, the State obtained the conviction of three people for attempting to blow up airliners with liquid bombs, as the end result of the greatest of all terrorist plot media hypes. We are left with the continuing War on Shampoo at the airports.

Let us for now accept the convictions as safe, although the whole history of “terrorist” trials in the UK calls for especial scepticism at this point. It does indeed appear that some British born men of Pakistani origin were motivated to attempt a terrorist atrocity. What more does the case tell us?

Well, firstly this is yet more proof of the alienation of British born Muslims from their natural affection for the country of their birth, by Blair and Bush’s policy of securing access to mineral resources by war in Islamic lands. It counters exactly the Gordon Brown claim that occupying Afghanistan somehow keeps us safe here. Every civilian death from NATO action in Afghanistan and Pakistan actually stokes terrorist sympathies here. We are creating, not combating, terrorist sympathies.

Secondly, there is little evidence that the plot was actually viable. There remains great doubt about the ability of the bombers to create liquid explosive of sufficient potency. The airport security idea that liquids are somehow more dangerous than powders or solids is a nonsense.

But the key question, as with the “Islamic Jihad Union” trial in Germany, the “La Guardia” plot in the US and the “Sears Tower” plot in Canada, is who put these useless idiots up to it? How far does surveillance and penetration blend into instigation by agents provocateurs?

Which leads us to the quite extraordinary story of Rashid Rauf, said by the UK and US governments to have been the “mastermind” of this plot Rauf was allegedly the source of the initial information, through the Pakistani ISI. Whether under torture, or whether as a double agent, remains obscure.

The extraordinary thing is that although Rauf was the so-called “mastermind”, and although he was already wanted as a suspect in the UK for the alleged (non-political) murder of an uncle, the British authorities were so keen for him not to appear in a witness box that for over a year they failed to put in any request to Pakistan for his extradition to trial in the UK.

Then, still more amazingly,Rauf mysteriously “escaped” from maximum security detention in Pakistan, in circumstances which have yet to be explained. Finally in November last year the US government announced they had killed Rauf in a targeted drone bombing in Pakistan – a non-judicial execution which (if true) is illegal under Pakistani, US, UK and international law. Rauf was a British citizen, but there was no protest at his murder from the UK authorities.

(His family’s theory is that he was killed in captivity, and the “escape” and subsequent bombing death are simply a twist on the old “Shot while escaping” line.)

We will, therefore, never know the truth of the genesis of the infamous so-called liquid bomb plot. Everything indicates that the British government never had any interest in us knowng the truth, made no attempt to secure Rauf’s appearance at the trial, and appeared unperturbed, to say the least, by his murder.

What conclusions should we draw from that?

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UK and Libya

The advantage of a break fron blogging is the chance to give a digested view rather than the momentary reaction to events that blogging encourages. Juan Cole is the only blogger who consistently produces up to the second considered brilliance; but then he has a brain the size of a small planet.

So here are a few well-digested thoughts on the recent ructions over UK/Libyan relations.

It was absolutely right to release al-Megrahi. Every dying person deserves what comfort, pain alleviation and disease amelioration can be provided by the presence of family and by medical treatment. There should be no place in a justice system for the cruel vindictiveness of making a now harmless person die in jail. Scotland and the SNP have shown a civilised example; those who attack them have shown ugliness. There is a secondary but also valid utilitarian argument that to keep al-Megrahi in strict confinement while providing necessary medical treatment would have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of pounds. to no purpose other than making some vicious people happy.

The Tories have shown their blood-baying, American bum-sucking true colours. New Labour have been caught in their usual horrible hypocrisy, attempting to capitalise on anti-SNP right wing media reaction, while having been deliberately paving the way for the release for years.

Those who believe that al-Megrahi was the Lockerbie bomber. believe he acted on Colonel Gadaffi’s orders. I have neard no-one argue that al-Megrahi acted alone. Even mad Aaronovitch, who loves attacking conspiracy theories, appears to believe that there was a Libyan government organised conspiracy to blow up the plane. So if Gadaffi was responsible, what logic is there in a view that it is fine for Blair and Brown to be pictured smiling with Gadaffi, but al-Megrahi must rot in jail? Who is more guilty, the man who gave the order, or his tool? But New Labour have been doing everything they can to give the impression that Gadaffi is now absolutely fine and rehabilitated, but the SNP were wrong to release his agent. Where is the logic in that?

Jack Straw has admitted that trade was the deciding factor in his agreeing that al-Megrahi should not be excluded from the prisoner exchange agreement. Bill Rammell has admitted that as an FCO Minister he told the Libyans that Gordon Brown did not want to see al-Megrahi die in jail. There is no room to doubt that the UK’s assiduous courting of LIbya saw all kinds of positive signals given quietly on al-Megrahi, whose release was an obvious Libyan demand in the normalisation of relations.

The infuriating thing is that New Labour actually did the right thing in their dealings with the Libyans. Jack Straw’s positions and Gordon Brown’s message were the right ones. But a combination of fear of the United States, a right wing populist media instinct and a desire to attack the SNP has led New Labour to tyy to hide the truth – and try so badly as to bring down more media scorn than if they had just come out and supported the release in the first place.

Al-Megrahi was not the Lockerbie bomber. The scandal is not that trade deals and the realpolitik of relationship normalisation led to his release. The scandal is that trade deals and the realpolitik of relationship normalisation were what led the Libyans to hand him over in the first place – very much in the way their ancestors had given hostages to Imperial Rome. His family were richly rewarded, made wealthy for generations by his acceptance of the role of sacrificial lamb, and there was the hope that he would be acquitted. That he was convicted on very dubious evidence shocked many, especially Dr Jim Swire, representative of the victims’ families, who followed the evidence painstakingly and has never accepted al-Megrahi’s guilt.

Syria was responsible for the Lockerbie bomb. But in the first Iraq war, we needed Syria’s support, while Libya remained a supporter of Iraq. Lockerbie was a bar to our new alliance with Damascus, so extremely conveniently, and with perfect timing, it was discovered that actually it was the Libyans!! Anyone who believes that fake intelligence started with Iraqi WMD is an idiot.

It haunts me that I had a chance to read the intelligence reports which, I was told by a shocked FCO colleague in Aviation and Maritime Department where I then worked, showed that the new anti-Libyan narrative was false. I say in self-defence that at the time I was literally working day and night, sleeping on a camp bed. I was organising the Embargo Surveillance Centre and I was convinced that a watertight full physical embargo could remove the need to invade Iraq. I was impatient of the interruption. I listened to my colleague only distractedly and did not want to go through the rigmarole of signing for and transporting the reports I hadn’t got time to look at then. Events overtook me, and I never did see them.

Which is not to say the Libyan regime was not a sponsor of terrorism. It was. It just didn’t do Lockerbie. It did indeed supply Semtex to the IRA. I have an obvious sympathy with the victims of IRA bombing, and their desire to obtain compensation.

But think of this. Why just Libya?

Is the United States offering to pay compensation to the tens of thousands of victims of CIA sponsored insurgents in Central and South America? Are we and the US going to pay compensation to the victims of UNITA? Are we going to pay compensation to the victims of British made cluster bombs in the Lebanon? Are we going to pay compensation to the victims of Executive Outcomes? Are the Americans going to pay compensation to the Russian and Uzbek victims of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the days when he was a US sponsored terrorist? I could go on for a week.

Ultimately, negotiating with “terrorists” and “rogue states” has to be done. The strange thing is that New Labour’s Libyan policy has been one of its genuine successes – and makes a nonsense of its argument that we could deal with Saddam no other way. There should be more human rights emphasis in the relationship, but the apporach has been basically the right one, just as it was right to settle with the IRA, and just as it is long overdue to settle with the Taliban.

On a rare occasion when this government has shown wisdom, it appears ashamed of it.

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