Daily Archives: January 18, 2017


Chelsea Manning Adds a Glow to the Day

I cannot tell you how delighted I am that Chelsea Manning is going to be released. Having done so much to reveal the truly sordid nature on the ground of the USA’s neo-Imperial aggression, Manning is a true hero. It is a shame that Obama is forcing her to undergo another five months of a truly hellish prison sentence, but still there is now an end in sight.

All of which adds to the mystery of Obama. He launched the most vicious War on Whistleblowers ever in American history. Obama’s people even went for whistleblowers like Bill Binney and Tom Drake of the NSA, whose whistleblowing happened pre-Obama but who Bush had not sought to persecute. So freeing a whistleblower is the least likely act of clemency to be expected.

Of course this all feeds in to the question of whether Obama is a good man frustrated or a charlatan all along, as a tick in the good man frustrated column. I still tend to the man with decent instincts who at the end of the day didn’t care enough to really fight for them.

The other good news is that Abdel Hakim Belhadj has been granted permission by the Supreme Court to sue Jack Straw and Mark Allen for his extraordinary rendition and torture. The unanimous dismissal of the argument of sovereign immunity is extremely important, as it rolls back the assertion that we have no protection from the state.

It is worth recalling Jack Straw lying through his teeth to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on 24 October 2005. Every single statement on the substantive issues which Straw makes here is now known to be an outright lie:

Q105 Sandra Osborne: I would like to ask you about the issue of extraordinary rendition. In response to this Committee’s report of last year on the war against terrorism, the government said that it was not aware of the use of its territory or air space for the purposes of extraordinary rendition. However, it appears that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the UK air space is indeed being utilised for this purpose, albeit mainly in the media. Some of the suggestions seem to be extremely detailed. For example, the Guardian has reported that aircraft involved in operations have flown into the UK at least 210 times since 9/11, an average of one flight a week. It appears that the favourite destination is Prestwick Airport, which is next to my constituency, as it happens. Can you comment on that? What role is the UK playing in extraordinary rendition?

Mr Straw: The position in respect of extraordinary rendition was set out in the letter that the head of our parliamentary team wrote to Mr Priestly, your Clerk, on 11 March; and the position has not changed. We are not aware of the use of our territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition. We have not received any requests or granted any permissions for use of UK territory or air space for such purposes. It is perfectly possible that there have been two hundred movements of United States aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom and I would have thought it was many more; but that is because we have a number of UN air force bases here, which, under the Visiting Forces Act and other arrangements they are entitled to use under certain conditions. I do not see for a second how the conclusion could be drawn from the fact that there have been some scores of movements of US military aircraft – well, so what – that that therefore means they have been used for rendition. That is a very long chain!

Q106 Sandra Osborne: The UN Commission on Human Rights has started an inquiry into the British Government’s role in this. Is the Government co-operating fully with that inquiry? Why would they start an inquiry if there were no reason to believe that this was actually happening?

Mr Straw: People start inquiries for all sorts of reasons. I assume we are co-operating with it. I am not aware of any requests, but we always co-operate with such requests.

Q107 Mr Keetch: They are not flying under US military flags; these are Gulfstream aircraft used by the CIA. They have a 26-strong fleet of Gulfstream aircraft that are used for this purpose. These aircraft are not coming into British spaces; they are coming into airports. Some are into bases like Northolt, and some into bases like Prestwick. Whilst it is always good to have the head of your parliamentary staff respond to our Clerk, Mr Priestley, could you give us an assurance that you will investigate these specific flights; and, if it is the case that these flights are being used for the process of extraordinary rendition, which is contrary to international law and indeed contrary to the stated policy of Her Majesty’s Government, would you attempt to see if they should stop?

Mr Straw: I would like to see what it is that is being talked about here. I am very happy to endorse, as you would expect, and I did endorse, the letter sent by our parliamentary team to your Clerk on 11 March. I am happy, for the avoidance of any doubt, to say that I specifically endorse its contents. If there is evidence, we will look at it, but a suggestion in a newspaper that there have been flights by unspecified foreign aircraft in and out of the United Kingdom cannot possibly add up to evidence that our air space or our facilities have been used for the purpose of unlawful rendition. It just does not.

Q108 Mr Keetch: I accept that, but if there were evidence of that, you would join with us, presumably, in condemning —–
Mr Straw: I am not going to pre-judge an inquiry. If there were evidence, we would look at it. So far there we have not seen any evidence.
Q109 Richard Younger-Ross: Our former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has stated in a document to us: “I can confirm it is a positive policy decision by the US and UK to use Uzbek torture material.” He states that the evidence is that the aircraft that my colleague referred to earlier, the Gulfstreams, are taking detainees back to Uzbekistan who are then being tortured. Is that not some indication that these detainees are being transferred through the UK?

Mr Straw: It is Mr Murray’s opinion. Mr Murray, as you may know, stood in my constituency. He got fewer votes than the British National Party, and notwithstanding the fact that he assured the widest possible audience within the constituency to his views about use of torture. I set out the British Government’s position on this issue on a number of occasions, including in evidence both here and to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I wrote a pretty detailed letter to a constituent of mine back in June, setting out our position. As I said there, there are no circumstances in which British officials use torture, nor any question of the British Government seeking to justify the use of torture. Again, the British Government, including the terrorist and security agencies, has never used torture for any purpose including for information, nor would we instigate or connive with others in doing so. People have to make their own judgment whether they think I am being accurate or not.

Q110 Mr Illsley: Foreign Secretary, the letter which you supplied to the Committee in March which gave the conclusion that the British Government is not aware of the use of its territory or air space for the purpose of extraordinary rendition was taken at face value by most members of the Committee at that time, before the election. We took that to mean that we were not aware of any extraordinary rendition, and that it was not happening. The press reports were therefore something of a surprise. Would our Government be contacted by any country using our airspace, taking suspects to other countries? Would we be asked for permission or would there be any circumstances where we would be contacted; or is it the case that it could well be happening but that our Government is not aware of it simply because we have not been informed, or our permission is not necessary?

Mr Straw: Mr Illsley, on the precise circumstances in which foreign governments apply for permission to use British air space, I have to write to you, because it is important that I make that accurate. What Mr Stanton on my behalf said in the letter is exactly the same: why would I, for a second, knowingly provide this Committee with false information, if I had had information about rendition? We do not practise rendition, full-stop. I ought to say that whether rendition is contrary to international law depends on the particular circumstances of the case; it depends on each case, but we do not practise it. I would have to come back to you on that question.

Chairman: We will expect a letter. Thank you very much

Yesterday, we had Theresa May’s unremitting hard Brexit speech, which made plain that pandering to racism on immigration was going to be the priority over every possible interest in her approach to negotiations on leaving the EU. The pound stirred slightly on hopes that her announcement that Parliament would be given a vote on the final deal, could give hope that the whole thing might be avoided. However it is plain that she meant that Parliament could vote on a leaving with a deal or just leaving with no deal.

I feel pleased with May’s speech on two grounds. The first is that its contemptuous dismissal of the views of the 2 to 1 majority in Scotland which wishes to remain in the EU, brings Scottish Independence palpably closer. Even after three centuries of subservience, at some stage a natural reaction to having your face ground into the dog food must set in. A second Independence referendum is now inevitable.

Secondly, the EU is actually an extremely successful union and the euro an extremely successful currency, perceptions which a rabid nationalist UK media have successfully distorted. It is impossible that the UK will find replacement relationships in fields from trade to external relations to security to education and scientific research, which are anything like as economically beneficial. It is not just internal EU trade – the EU’s external market access will never be bettered by the UK, and the common external tariff is much more liberal than commonly realised. For example there are effectively no tariffs on manufactured goods from Africa. I confidently predict a Brexit Britain will both impose and face higher external tariffs than the EU.

My optimism arises from the fact that the May thesis is so barmy – that all of this should be sacrificed to pander to the daft xenophobia of the English and Welsh who don’t like “foreigners coming in” – that I still cannot believe that the political system will allow it to happen. The idea that the basis of the country’s economy can be destroyed on the basis of the sloganizing of the semi-educated, will meet institutional resistance. I want Scotland independent, but I also want England to avoid the self-harm of leaving the EU. I am farily confident both options are simultaneously achievable.

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