Category Archives: police state

eleven Taser deaths in as many years – RIP Dalian Atkinson

Well-loved ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson (aged 48) lost his life last week (in the early hours of Monday, August 15th) shortly after he was Tasered by police outside his father’s home in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire. This is testimony of Paula Quinn, an eyewitness to the events leading up to Atkinson’s violent death:

“They were shouting and kicking so much all I could hear were the boots hitting him. And then the officer who released the Taser stepped back while the other officer still continued to kick and then I could hear him shout to the other officer that was still kicking, ‘Back off, back off, back off.’ And then the officer with the Taser asked the gentleman to put his hands behind his back and did so probably two or three times and reactivated the Taser another four or five times after that.” 1

[bold highlight added]

On Thursday [August 18th], following a postmortem examination determining the cause of his death as ‘inconclusive’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission released a statement that two West Mercia police officers were being served with gross misconduct notices and put under criminal investigation:

The IPCC commissioner Derrick Campbell said: “Having carefully considered the evidence gathered so far, we are undertaking a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Atkinson’s death and the level and type of force used. Two police officers will be interviewed under criminal caution by IPCC investigators.

As this is a criminal investigation, the IPCC is limited in the amount of information which can be released into the public domain. I would ask people to be patient during the progress of our investigation and not to add to speculation about the circumstances of Mr Atkinson’s death. Speculation across the media as a whole can risk prejudice to the investigation process. 2

The IPCC says there will be “a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the death” but sadly there are historical reasons to be doubtful, and Atkinson’s death inevitably adds extra weight to already confirmed suspicions that in Britain, as in America and elsewhere, black people are still disproportionate victims of police brutality – including being Tasered. 3

Moreover, Atkinson’s tragic death highlights the often overlooked fact that Tasers, which deliver a 50,000 Volt shock, are not non-lethal weapons but classified as “less lethal” firearms. In fact, according to official statistics there has been at least one ‘Taser-related’ death in Britain every year for the last ten years – 11 in total. 4 Meanwhile, in America, where Taser use is more established, the number of fatalities may well be in the hundreds 5, although deaths are often attributed instead to ‘excited delirium’.

The introduction and, inevitably, the increasing use of the Taser is, in truth, indicative of unsettling trend in our culture – which unfortunately once again takes its lead from America. For as law enforcement does away with the blunter instruments of previous decades and centuries, the public is trained instead to tolerate the semi-detached, hi-tech violence administered by twenty-first century technology: yesterday’s more savage methods of coercion continually upgraded and superseded by less bloody, more hands-free techniques of ‘pain compliance’ – and Tasers do not simply disable the victim, they are torture devices too, as countless internet videos testify, and as the UN’s Committee against Torture declared in 2007:

“The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use,” the committee said in a statement.

“Well, it means that it’s a very serious thing,” Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox told CBS Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. “These are people that have seen torture around the world, all kinds of torture. So they don’t use the word lightly.” 6

[bold highlight as original]

So let us take stock. Beneath the science fiction brand name, these ‘stun guns’ are more literally cattle-prods for people. Is this how we expect fellow humans to be treated in modern Britain?

At this stage the IPCC is justifiably asking the media to refrain from detailed speculation about the circumstances surrounding Dalian Atkinson’s death since it could be prejudicial to the inquiry. Obviously I respect this request. Whatever the eventual findings of the IPCC, however, it is irrefutably the case that Dalian Atkinson was just the latest victim of the creeping militarisation of the British police force. Tasers torture and kill – they should be banned.

Click here to add your support to a petition calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to hold an urgent review of Tasers and the medical implications of their use.

R.I.P. Dalian.

*

1 From a BBC news report entitled “Dalian Atkinson dies after being Tasered in Telford by police” published on August 15, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37082207

2 From an article entitled “Police officiers investigated over Dalian Atkinson Taser death”, written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on August 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/18/police-officers-investigated-over-dalian-atkinson-taser-death

3

Black people are three times more likely have a Taser used against them by police than white people, according to figures that have raised the alarm among race relations campaigners.

From an article entitled “Black people ‘three times more likely’ to be Tasered” written by Damien Gayle, published in the Guardian  on October 13, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/13/black-people-three-times-more-likely-to-have-taser-used-against-them

4 IPCC files show ten people have died following the police discharging a Taser. They are:

  • John Butler: Wigan, May 2006 – shot himself after Taser fired
  • Robert Haines: New Romney, Oct 2006 – Taser fired after police shot him
  • Brian Loan: County Durham, Oct 2006 – died from heart disease three days after Taser fired
  • Justin Petty: Bedford, Jan 2008 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Raoul Moat: Rothbury, July 2010 – shot himself dead after Taser fired
  • Dale Burns: Barrow, Aug 2011 – died of drug poisoning after Taser fired
  • Philip Hulmes: Bolton, Aug 2011 – a Taser was fired after he stabbed himself
  • Ernestas Anikinas: Gatwick, Feb 2012 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Andrew Pimlott: Plymouth, April 2013 – Liquid he had doused himself in caught fire after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)
  • Jordan Begley: Gorton, July 2013 – died after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)

Source: Danny Shaw, BBC Home Affairs correspondent

From an article entitled “Man dies after police use Taser in Manchester” published by BBC news on July 11, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23265905

5 Jared Feuer, who heads the U.S. southern regional office of Amnesty International, said the group has documented that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser since June 2001.

From an article entitled “Police use of Tasers causes few injuries: study” writteb by Will Dunham, published in Reuters October 8, 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-weapons-stun-idUSN0523646320071008

6 From an article entitled “U.N.: Tasers Are A Form Of Torture” published by CBS news on November 25, 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-tasers-are-a-form-of-torture/

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two years after ‘Euromaidan’, human rights activist Volodymyr Chemerys speaks out

We have to admit: after winning ‘Euromaidan’, the human rights situation in Ukraine has deteriorated significantly.

This trend became apparent already in 2014, evidenced by a number of laws approved during the post-Maidan wave. In particular, we are talking about the law allowing preventive detention of citizens for thirty days, despite the fact that under the Constitution a person may be detained only for 72 hours. Also, changes have been made to the Criminal Code to enable cases to open against a Ukrainian citizen for making critical comments about the military draft of citizens in the “Anti-Terrorist Operation zone”.

In 2015, this trend continued. A law was passed on “de-communization” which is in conflict with a number of fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. These include freedom of assembly and association (Article 11 of the Convention), freedom of expression (Article 10) and freedom of speech.

writes Volodymyr Chemerys on Tuesday [Jan 19th] in an article translated into English by Liva.com and published yesterday [Jan 22nd] by Counterpunch.

Chemerys, who was a founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union – a Ukrainian human rights organisation that was set up in the Soviet Union during perestroika in 1976 – as well as co-founder of the “Ukraine without Kuchma” campaign (2000 – 2001) a few years prior to the Orange Revolution, continues:

As a consequence, in Ukraine there are a large number of political prisoners. In this regard, it should be emphasized that the people usually referred to as “political prisoners” in our media are typically representatives of right-wing organizations, arrested for the murder of a renowned journalist or involved in the grenade explosion near the Verkhovna Rada last August – in other words, people who are accused of committing serious criminal offenses.

The real political prisoners are journalists such as Ruslan Kotsaba, arrested and charged in early 2015 for expressing his views on the Internet, or communists such as Alexander Bondarchuk, who was distributing newspapers and leaflets containing oppositional texts. These are just two examples of many more that could be cited.

After recalling recent actions by the extreme right to disrupt public events organised by the opposition including “a rally in Kyiv aimed to commemorate two Russian antifascists, the lawyers Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova who were killed in Russia in 2009”, he continues:

It can be said that today in Ukraine, carrying out public actions advocating for social, political or economic rights is almost impossible. Actions in support of civil peace are immediately declared “separatist”. At the beginning of 2015 in Ukraine, there were large and frequent spontaneous demonstrations against military draft mobilizations. These were broad, grassroots initiatives by a dissatisfied population. But their organizers and participants have been hit with administrative penalties or, worse, have been tried in courts.

In general, it seems that the Parliament, the government and the president are able to offer the population nothing but usurious tariff increases, unemployment, anti-social reforms and further impoverishment. Dissatisfaction is increasingly punished by persecution. We are repeatedly told that that there is a war in our country, and the opposition should be imprisoned while “patriots” should be forgiven even for acts of murder because they kill so-called separatists. Never mind that members of the ‘Tornado’ and ‘Aidar’ battalions have tortured people – you must understand that they wanted to defend the rights and freedoms of Ukrainians!

Adding:

Alas, this patriotic propaganda that dominates today in the Ukrainian society is, in fact, no different from the Russian variant. We have returned to the realities of the Soviet era, when it was impossible to freely express a point of view or watch this or that film. Ukraine has proscribed the Russian film ‘Irony of Fate’ and many other films. And the Institute of National Remembrance, a kind of ‘Ministry of Truth’, refused to give permission to register a newspaper called ‘Left March’ because the name is the same as the title of the well-known poem by the communist poet Vladimir Mayakovski.

So the human rights situation in Ukraine has deteriorated significantly and it is a real challenge for human rights activists to do their work. If similar thing had happened during the regimes of Yanukovych (2010-14), Yushchenko (2005-09) and Kuchma (1994-2005), all human rights activists would unanimously have said that systemic violations of civil rights are taking place. If during the time of President Yanukovych, a journalist were placed on trial, an opposition political party were banned– as today the Communist Party is banned, or opposition parties were prevented from participating in local election, it would certainly have provoked a huge outcry among Ukrainian human rights activists.

Unfortunately, today, the powerful voices of human rights defenders are practically silent. This is due, first of all, to the fact that talking about such things is potentially dangerous. Critical voices run the risk of being labeled “agents of the Kremlin” or “separatists” by both the authorities and the members of ultra-right organizations. [bold emphasis added]

Chemerys ends with this simple plea to human rights groups and his fellow compatriots:

One cannot remain silent about what is going on now in our country.

Click here to read the full article by Volodymyr Chemerys.

 

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the sole difference between me and an extremist is that I’m not extreme

Before reading my own thoughts on Cameron’s latest “anti-terror” initiative, I very much encourage readers to follow the link to read Nafeez Ahmed’s “Open Letter to Britain’s Violent Extremist” which begins as follows:

It is with deep disappointment that I read excerpts of your speech provided by Downing Street to the press, purporting to set out a five-year strategy to tackle fundamentalist terrorism, which — whatever its intentions — is thoroughly misguided, and destined to plunge this country, as well as the Middle East, into further chaos and misery.

I am writing this open letter to request you, as a matter of urgency, to abide by your obligations as a human being, a British citizen, a Member of Parliament, and as our Prime Minister: to undertake proper due-diligence in the formulation of Britain’s foreign, counter-terrorism and security policies, based on the vast array of evidence from scientific and academic studies of foreign policy, terrorism and radicalisation, rather than the influence of far-right extremist ideology, and of narrow vested interest groups keen to profit from war and fear. 1

Click here to read the whole of Nafeez Ahmed’s informed and impassioned response to David Cameron.

*

EDOs: a brief introduction

“Theresa May will also announce that the Conservative manifesto will contain pledges to introduce banning orders for extremist groups and extremism disruption orders for extremists who spread hate but do not break existing laws.” Conservative briefing note.

The home secretary’s manifesto plan to silence extremists by banning their access to the web and television is cast far wider than the Islamist “preachers of hate” of tabloid headlines. As David Cameron pointed out, the Conservatives now want to look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now. [bold highlight as original]

That comes from a Guardian article published nearly a year ago after ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ (EDOs) were first announced by Home Secretary, Theresa May, at the Conservative Party’s Birmingham conference. May had told an enthusiastic audience that they would feature as a central part of the party’s 2015 election manifesto.

The article continues:

So what would an “extremism disruption order” involve? The police will be able to apply to the high court for an order to restrict the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder or even a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or the vague-sounding “threat to the functioning of democracy”. These are very low thresholds. The restrictions would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or in print. Taking part in public protests or speaking at any public event would also be banned.

Click here to read the full Guardian article.

Here is BBC news reporting on May’s announcement on the same day:

Under the Tories’ new proposals, groups that cannot currently be proscribed could be subject to banning orders should ministers “reasonably believe” that they intend to incite religious or racial hatred, to threaten democracy or if there is a pressing need to protect the public from harm, either from a risk of violence, public disorder, harassment or other criminal acts.

The granting of a ban, which would be subject to immediate review by the High Court, would make membership or funding of the organisation concerned a criminal offence.

The police would also be given new powers to apply to a court to impose extreme disruption orders on individuals, using the same criteria.

This could result in those targeted being stopped from taking part in public protests, from being present at all in certain public locations, from associating with named people, from using of conventional broadcast media and from “obtaining any position of authority in an institution where they would have influence over vulnerable individuals or children”.

Breach of the restrictions – which would be time limited – would be a criminal offence.

And though as the Guardian was keen to point out, “the Liberal Democrats blocked the plan’s immediate introduction on free speech grounds”, as the BBC added:

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not think some of the measures were sufficiently tough, and called on Mrs May to reintroduce powers to relocate terror suspects to other parts of the country.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Please note that I added the above section with a view to better framing the latest “anti-extremism” initiatives. The post originally opened with the quote from and link to Nafeez Ahmed’s article (as above) directly followed by my own views below.

*

On Monday [July 20th], David Cameron set forth the government’s ‘five-year strategy’ to tackle what he calls the “struggle of our generation”. During a long-winded and propagandistic pep talk, he drilled the nation on our collective need to face up to the threat posed by Islamic extremism:

[Our effort “to confront and defeat this poison”] begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine.

And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview.

The real sickness, Cameron informed us throughout, is its subversive and “sick worldview”.  Although in place of “worldview” (the term he returns to six times) he might instead have substituted Weltanschauung – “worldview” in German – a word that has a dreadful history all of its own. A dreadful history that is distressingly pertinent.

For the parallel Cameron tacitly draws between Islamist extremism and Nazism is clear enough, not that Cameron was first to draw it. With the black uniforms, the love of militarism, and the longing to return to the strict social order of a golden age, not to mention such unquenchable thirst for blood; if Nazism was a religion founded upon hatred of the other, which it was (and still is), then al-Qaeda and ISIS might be regarded as its identical twin nemesis.

However, in calling for a clampdown not upon terrorists themselves, but upon on a “subversive worldview” (words repeatedly applied by Cameron and conjoined by me), Cameron is setting his sights far beyond the violent extremists of al-Qaeda and its offspring ISIS and casting the net much wider again:

But you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.

Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.

Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.

Ideas – like those of the despicable far right – which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.

And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached – that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan; that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.

And like so many ideologies that have existed before – whether fascist or communist – many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it. We need to understand why it is proving so attractive. 2

Yet, in spite of Cameron’s claims to seek to “understand” the attraction to ISIS (limited as it is in reality – the vast majority of Muslims despise it as much as the rest of us), he presents no “understanding” whatsoever. Instead, what he does is to conflate everything he finds disagreeable beneath a single label. The Islamists, the far-right, the far-left, along with anyone who disavows the official narrative of certain pivotal terrorist events; all are “extremists”.

Following which he speaks of “confronting groups and organisations that may not advocate violence – but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative.” Indeed, if we listen more carefully to Cameron it begins to sound like every act of violent extremism stems from… well, read for yourself:

… we should together challenge the ludicrous conspiracy theories of the extremists. The world is not conspiring against Islam; the security services aren’t behind terrorist attacks; our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children. This is paranoia in the extreme.

In fact that duty will empower parents and teachers to protect children from all forms of extremism – whether Islamist or neo-Nazi.

We should challenge together the conspiracy theories about our Muslim communities too and I know how much pain these can cause.

We must stand up to those who try to suggest that there is some kind of secret Muslim conspiracy to take over our government, or that Islam and Britain are somehow incompatible.

People who say these things are trying to undermine our shared values and make Muslims feel like they don’t belong here, and we will not let these conspiracy theorists win.

Or there is this (again from his speech):

We must demand that people also condemn the wild conspiracy theories, the anti-Semitism, and the sectarianism too. Being tough on this is entirely keeping with our values. We should challenge every part of the hateful ideology spread by neo-Nazis – so why shouldn’t we here?

And this (also from his speech):

It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination.

Do you remember when cannabis was talked about as “the gateway” to harder drugs? This was once given as the primary justification for its criminalisation. Well, here Cameron is saying that an “extremist world view is the gateway” to “violence”. So ought we therefore to infer that he intends to see the “extremist world view” criminalised too? – thoughtcrime prosecuted in order to fight the “war on terror”, just as dope smokers were jailed as we intensified our futile and reprehensible “war on drugs”.

It is little more than six months since the pen-waving spectacle of Je Suis Charlie, with Cameron and the rest of the leaders of the ‘free world’ hailing our inalienable right to have freedom of speech, and already Cameron is asking us to reconsider:

Ask yourself, how is it possible that when young teenagers leave their London homes to fight for ISIL, the debate all too often focuses on whether the security services are to blame? And how can it be that after the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, weeks were spent discussing the limits of free speech and satire, rather than whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?

When we allow the extremists to set the terms of the debate in this way, is it any wonder that people are attracted to this ideology?

So does Cameron really believe that we need to have some kind of a debate on “whether terrorists should be executing people full stop?” No, that’s a rhetorical question – his rhetorical question. He is telling us to shut up.

To reiterate: “you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.” That’s according to Cameron remember. So what according to our current legislation makes an extremist, an extremist?

Following the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, the UK government produced its own definition in a report produced by a newly formed Extremism Task Force chaired by Cameron. The report, released in December, also outlined the government’s reformulated definition of “the ideology of Islamic extremism”:

Islamist extremists deem Western intervention in Muslim-majority countries as a ‘war on Islam’, creating a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’. They seek to impose a global Islamic state governed by their interpretation of Shari’ah as state law, rejecting liberal values such as democracy, the rule of law and equality. Their ideology also includes the uncompromising belief that people cannot be Muslim and British, and insists that those who do not agree with them are not true Muslims. 3

[bold emphasis added]

I have highlighted the opening section not only to underscore the unremitting hypocrisy of our “war on terror”, which is hinged upon a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’ as declared by George W. Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but also because this statement usefully redefines how combatants of today’s ever-murkier battlefield are distinguished and identified. Some factions of the Islamists denounced and bombed (like AQAP and ISIS) whilst other factions are differentiated as “moderates” (Jahbat al-Nusra perhaps the best example), not because they refrain from the massacre of unbelievers or from committing atrocities like beheadings and crucifixions, but simply because the western powers feel able to do business with them – temporarily, at least.

cartoon by Brian Gable

Returning to Cameron’s official report, and we read how extremism, more generally, has been conveniently redefined as follows (and in full):

“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”. 4

[bold emphasis added]

Beyond this definition the document then adds:

There is a range of extremist individuals and organisations, including Islamists, the far right and others.

Note that “…and others.” Reflect upon it.

On BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today, Theresa May has also recently argued [May 13th] that the British government’s strategy to tackle extremism was to combat people who are “seeking to divide us”. When pressed she added that “the key values that underline our society are being undermined by extremists”. Once again, and in strict accordance with the government’s redefinition, May returned to the refrain that, “extremism” becomes identifiable once it challenges our “fundamental British values”. In response, veteran interviewer John Humphrys described the new definition as ‘woolly’, but in view of historical precedents a better word would surely be ‘sinister’:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02r8z20/player

Since then, and in the immediate aftermath of last week’s Chattanooga shooting, when asked by msnbc news anchor Thomas Roberts “how do we fix self-radicalised lone wolfs domestically” (a leading question if ever there was one), General Wesley Clark replied:

Well we’ve got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalised. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning. There are always a certain number of young people who are alienated – they don’t get a job, they lost a girlfriend, their family doesn’t feel happy here – and we can watch the signs for that, and there are members of the community who will reach out to those people and bring them back again and encourage them to look at their blessings here.

Reading between the lines, here is another chilling statement. “Cut[ting] this off at the beginning” by “identify[ing] people who are most likely to be radicalised” might have come straight out of Science Fiction thriller Minority Report, with its specialised PreCrime police units. Not that the idea of PreCrime is quite as novel as it may sound, but just the renaming of an old pseudoscience tracing back to Late Victorian Social Darwinist notions of criminal atavism.

Clark then goes on to justify the need for the introduction of more draconian measures on the grounds that we are already at war – and pay close attention to his choice of language throughout:

But I do think on a national policy level, we need to look at what self-radicalisation means, because we are at war with this group of terrorists; they do have an ideology. In World War Two if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp. They were prisoners of war.

“Self-radicalisation” means what precisely? That this person – this “lone wolf” – became “radicalised” because they read a few pamphlets and (most importantly) visited some internet sites. This formed their extremist ideology, complete. Somehow they were alienated and indoctrinated in a perfectly isolated bubble. Society had little to no influence, and therefore, takes little to no blame.

Additionally, the “lone wolf” is particularly hard to find and to track. They lie low and strike when you least expect it. It follows therefore that we must heighten surveillance. Indeed, what better case for mass surveillance could anyone make? Although, given how the cause of their radicalisation was contact with an extreme ideology then we must also restrict access to sources of those ideologies. So what better justification could there be for placing restrictions on the internet, and on freedom of speech more generally? But then perhaps I am an extremist for distrusting the motives of the powers-that-be…?

Of course, this war Clark speaks of is the very same “war on terror” that Bush Jnr declared as the rubble of the Twin Towers still lay smouldering. Ostensibly, the goal had been to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice, although the ensuing war was destined instead to bring political instability to almost the entire Middle East region as well as North Africa, as the flames were steadily fanned such that this first war of the Twenty-First Century might go on forever and ever.

But then, this spread of wars across the Middle East and beyond had been the true neo-con intention from the outset, as Wesley Clark famously told us; leaking to the world that notorious hit list of ‘seven countries in five years’. Back then, Clark was eager to distance himself from The Pentagon’s loonier inner circle, and so he said that he was shocked by what he’d heard. Evidently Clark is now back with programme, and keen to push ahead all guns blazing:

So, if these people are radicalised, and they don’t support the United States, and they’re disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle, fine that’s their right – it’s our right and our obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this. Not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain and German and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.

[bold emphasis added]

For as the new hundred years’ war (on terror) serves as the excuse for neo-imperialist adventuring in perpetuity, the threat posed by those “self-radicalised lone wolf domestic terrorists” provides rationale for the steady erosion of our rights, which is why presumably, as Cameron announced his new ‘five-year strategy’ to deal with the “struggle of our generation”, he reminded us again of the official root cause of this never-ending battle:

Some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship. This argument, what I call the grievance justification, must be challenged.

So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War. 5

As with Nazism, the poisonous doctrine of Islamism has only been able to grow in strength and thrive because of perceived injustices, both real and imagined. As with Nazism (and fascism more broadly), support for such extremist ideologies bursts forth not from nowhere and for no reason, but out of political vacuums created by regional instability. To state the obvious, says Cameron, is to offer “grievance justification”.

Instead, the important point is to be afraid, be very afraid… of the terrorists. And to forget all about Saddam’s yellowcake and those missing WMDs in Iraq (the falsification of which involved conspiracies at the highest levels) because the attacks of September 11th permit every evil inflicted by the western powers – and always will. So says every neo-con and so parrots David Cameron.

Meanwhile, if you are in any doubt about who the ‘domestic extremists’ really are – since both David Cameron and Theresa May are unable to provide clear definitions, whereas Wesley Clark says only that those who “don’t support the United States” need to be “segregate[d]… from the normal community for the duration of the conflict”– then I refer you to a presentation given by our City of London police:

The presentation, which was obtained by the Guardian following a Freedom of Information request, is part of an expanding City of London police initiative dubbed Project Fawn.

It is aimed at preparing nursery and school staff for the possibility that London could be hit by attacks such as on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Mumbai and the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, which it names. However, it also refers to domestic extremism, student protests and climate issues.

The presentation – which gives advice on dealing with bomb threats, screening mail and hostile reconnaissance – covers the threat posed and methodologies used by Isis, al-Qaida, so-called lone actors and dissident Irish Republicans.

Under the heading of domestic extremism, it also refers to “xrw” and “xlw” (apparent acronyms for extreme left and right wing), as well as single issue groups, animal rights and politics. 6

Click here to read the full report in last weekend’s [July 19th] Guardian.

As we enter a phase of worsening hardships due to the never-ending economic broadside called “austerity” piling up our agonies at home whilst unremitting wars unleash horrors abroad, the officially sanctioned “clash of civilisations” narrative serves both as an excuse for the latter and a wonderful distraction from the former. Furthermore, whilst the violence inflicted by our own western forces is routinely legitimised with euphemisms such as ‘surgical’ and ‘humanitarian’, by stripping ‘terror’ out of ‘terrorism’ the violence of the other has been decontextualised, and made to appear as if it erupts volcanically without real justification or good cause. But Cameron now goes further saying, in effect, how dare our opponents hold grievances over “historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship” when we are their liberators! And though it is sheer madness to try to destroy any ideology whatsoever by simply blasting it with bombs, we keep on bombing because as Wesley Clark reminds us “we are at war”.

Meanwhile, those who dare to oppose the official line too vehemently – irrespective of religious, political or other affiliations – might be lumped together under this loose categorisation of “domestic extremist”. As I say, according to the definitions given, as one who opposes the official line in so many ways, I am certainly an extremist – a proud one. Since you are reading this, you very possibly qualify as an extremist too.

I am extremist whenever I point to how the Islamist cause has been furthered not only as a consequence of “blowback”, but due to the backing of our Gulf State allies. When I point out how Nato’s role in the bombing of Libya prepared the way for the Islamist factions to get a foothold in North Africa. If I add that Turkey has further enabled Islamist fighters free access across its porous border into Syria. Or that by training “the rebels” who fight in Syria, we deliberately enabled the Islamist fighters to gain an advantage over the forces of the Syrian army?

For now at least, Cameron wishes to lay the blame for all of the hatred and the violence at the door of the “conspiracy theorists” – and in his speech he returned to this theme no less than eight times. It is a theme he borrowed directly from neo-con lawyer Cass Sunstein, the husband of US Ambassador to the United Nations and pre-eminent warmonger, Samantha Power.

Sunstein proposed cognitive infiltration as the best method for undermining such subversive beliefs and opinions, whereas Cameron, May and Wesley Clark are intending now to criminalise dissident voices altogether. If they succeed, then soon we will all become “domestic extremists” – all of us who disagree, that is. Those of us who refuse to adopt the authorised Weltanschauung as our own. And the more loudly we speak out against the sanctioned “worldview”, the more extremist we shall be!

A full transcript of Cameron’s speech was reprinted by the Independent.

*

Update:

If suggested parallels with the PreCrime units in the movie Minority Report sound far-fetched then please reflect upon this story entitled “London child aged THREE in terror alert of radicalisation” published by the London Evening Standard on July 27th [the day after I posted]:

A three-year-old child is among hundreds of young Londoners who have been identified as potential future extremists or at risk of radicalisation.

The same article continues:

Although most counter-extremism schemes focus on older children and adults, primary or nursery age youngsters can also be referred under the Prevent scheme because of concerns about the conduct of their families. Police have used the family courts 30 times to bring care proceedings to protect young children. Measures include removing the children’s passports.

Click here to read more about the ‘Prevent’ scheme.

*

1 From “An Open Letter to Britain’s Leading Violent Extremist: David Cameron” written by Nafez Ahmed, published in INSURGE intelligence on July 20, 2015. https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/an-open-letter-to-britain-s-leading-violent-extremist-david-cameron-abb568861784

2 Taken from Cameron’s “extremism speech” delivered at Ninestiles School, Birmingham on July 20, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-extremism-speech-read-the-transcript-in-full-10401948.html

3 From Section 1.3 of the HM Government report “Tackling extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” published December 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf

4 From Section 1.4 of the HM Government report “Tackling extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism” published December 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/263181/ETF_FINAL.pdf

5 Taken from Cameron’s “extremism speech” delivered at Ninestiles School, Birmingham on July 20, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-extremism-speech-read-the-transcript-in-full-10401948.html

6 From an article entitled “City of London police put Occupy London on counter-terrorism presentation with al-Qaida” written by Ben Quinn, published on July 19, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/19/occupy-london-counter-terrorism-presentation-al-qaida

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, police state, USA

another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

*

When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

*

Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

*

Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

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I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

*

Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

*

1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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the horror, the horror… can be found in the subtext too

The only person to have been put on trial and convicted for any reason relating to America’s use of torture against prisoners is the former CIA analyst John Kiriakou. Kiriakou was the first insider to disclose the use of waterboarding and like many whistleblowers, he paid a heavy price.

Three years ago, in January 2012, just weeks after Obama had signed his name under the now notorious NDAA 2012 with its “indefinite detention” clauses, Kiriakou had been formally charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act as well as the Espionage Act of 1917 – and please note that under Obama’s administration, this act has been used to bring more indictments against whistleblowers than under all other presidents combined. A year later, after a plea deal had been reached with federal prosecutors, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The judge at the trial described Kiriakou’s sentence as “way too light.”1

Kiriakou was recently released from prison, although he remains under house arrest while finishing his two-and-a-half-year sentence. And following his release, he was interviewed from his home on yesterday’s Democracy Now! These are selected excerpts from what he had to say, beginning with the extraordinary case of Abu Zubaydah.

During his capture in Pakistan, Zubaydah was shot three times and gravely wounded. He was then sent to a secret location, where the CIA brought in a trauma surgeon from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center to treat him:

When we first captured him, we took him to a hospital, a military hospital in Pakistan. He had lost so much blood, we needed to transfuse him. And he was initially in a coma. He came out of the coma a couple of times, and we were able, at first, to just exchange an initial comment, later on, in the next couple of days, to have short conversations. For example, when he first came out of his coma, he asked me for a glass of red wine. He was delirious. Later in the evening, he asked me if I would take the pillow and smother him. And then, the next day, we talked about poetry. We talked about Islam. We talked about the fact that he had never supported the attacks on the United States. He wanted to attack Israel.

Well, he was sent from Pakistan to this secret location. And once he was healthy enough to withstand interrogation, a group of CIA interrogators—I’m sorry, a group of FBI interrogators interviewed him, appeared to have been successful in gathering some information, but then were replaced by CIA interrogators, that we’ve now learned were untrained, unprepared, and was subjected to waterboarding in addition to other torture techniques, placed into a cage. He had a fear of bugs, so they put him in a small box and put bugs in the box with him. He was subject to a cold cell, to lights on 24 hours a day, booming music so that he couldn’t sleep. There were several different things that the CIA did to him.

Torture is wrong under any circumstances. You know, we know from the Second World War, when the Justice Department was interrogating Nazi war criminals, we know that the establishment of a rapport, the establishment of a relationship with someone, results in actionable information, if that prisoner has actionable information which he’s willing to give. That wasn’t the case with Abu Zubaydah. He was beaten. He was waterboarded. He was subject to sleep deprivation. He had ice water poured on him in a 50-degree cell every several hours. The man just simply didn’t have any information to give.

I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives. It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific.

It was in 2007, Amy [Goodman], that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, “We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.” And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true. Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people.

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded no less than 83 times and yet we now know that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge.

I will return to Kiriakou’s interview later. But first would like to address the bigger issues here. For instance, why does Guantánamo remain open at all, especially since more than half of its inmates have long since been acquitted of terrorist charges? Leaving aside the logistical and legalistic excuses, one of the unspoken reasons concerns us all. It is the same reason Obama was determined to surreptitiously sign into law the NDAA 2012. And part of the reason why we are seeing no serious repercussions following last December’s release of the long-delayed Senate report which detailed the horrendous catalogue of crimes committed by the CIA (and only those committed by the CIA – which actually lets the Pentagon off the hook): crimes of torture nowadays chillingly redefined as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Reading through those horrendous descriptions of what the spy agency has routinely been doing to prisoners in the name of “freedom and democracy” is painful. Not that these “revelations” come as much of a surprise. Other than the most lurid details, we already knew all of this, didn’t we? But then think about it this way, and imagine for a moment the public outcry if an ordinary citizen (a civilian, to use the preferred label attached by today’s news media) confessed to having chained their victims to a wall, repeatedly half-drowned them and also forcibly inserted a variety of objects into their anus (so-called “rectal feeding” is an abuse more straightforwardly described as rape). Such an individual would rightly be publicly judged to be a depraved monster and hurriedly locked away in a very secure facility (somewhere not so very different from Guantánamo, but without the torture regime). Yet instead, these open admissions of crimes committed by an extremely depraved “intelligence” arm of our terribly depraved system are met with little more than a grimace and a whimper. After the obligatory week of media coverage, the news of this systemic cruelty has largely been forgotten, and in spite of the weight of harrowing evidence, it appears that no-one at all will be prosecuted.

With Kiriakou locked away in jail for speaking out of turn, here is what CIA Director John Brennan had to say by way of apology for those most heinous of crimes:

CIA Director John Brennan has defended the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation methods but admitted some techniques were “harsh” and “abhorrent”.

Speaking at CIA headquarters, he said some officers acted beyond their authority but most did their duty.

So begins a report from BBC news entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy”. The implication being that torture is a “strategy”. Well, yes, if we listen to neo-con voices such as John Brennan, echoed without contradiction thanks to the drones at the BBC.  But before returning to the BBC and their article, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of John Brennan’s prior approval of the CIA’s use of torture. Indeed, it helps to go back two years to his Senate confirmation hearing when he was appointed CIA Director. The following is taken from a Guardian article published in February 2013:

Brennan faced lengthy questioning over the CIA’s abduction and abuse of alleged terrorists at secret “black sites”, following a confidential 6,000-page Senate report that Brennan described as “very concerning and disturbing” in its evidence that the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. […]

Brennan defended an interview with CBS in 2007 in which he said that IETs [sic] “saved lives” by gathering valuable intelligence.

“The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out,” he said.2

Click here to read the full article.

Likewise, The Atlantic then reported:

In nominating John Brennan to head the CIA, President Obama has made it more urgent that the report be declassified. It is one of several sources that could help us to answer an important question: Are the American people being asked to entrust our clandestine spy agency and its killing and interrogation apparatuses to a man who was complicit in illegal torture?

There is strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes. At minimum, Brennan favored rendition and what he called “enhanced interrogation tactics” other than waterboarding. As Andrew Sullivan put it in 2008, when Obama first considered Brennan as CIA chief, “if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals.”3

Incidentally, this latest release is merely a 525-page summary of the aforementioned 6,000-page report. Two years after it was approved by Senate, the full report remains highly classified. In any case, the White House needed time for the torture-happy Hollywood fantasy Zero Dark Thirty to seep deeply into the American collective unconscious before any part of this lesser report could be publicly released. Think I exaggerate…? Well then read how the Huffington Post reported on the story two years ago:

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve a report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program that could shed light on the debate over torture. But for now, even as the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” stirs up public debate about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public could take months, if not longer. […]

While “Zero Dark Thirty” suggests that a critical piece of information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was extracted from a prisoner by using “enhanced interrogation,” top senators speaking to The Huffington Post dismissed the proposition.

Nevertheless the idea that torture can provide valuable information was very helpfully implanted by the film – and it is still being repeated by Brennan and his ilk. Just as a different meme was being embedded at the very same time, and in this case by neo-con apologist Dianne Feinstein:

“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the vote. “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”4 [my bold highlight]

So we are supposed to swallow this ludicrous defence that torturing was a terrible mistake. Just an accidental error of judgement. Which it obviously isn’t and never could be. And so let’s come back to the BBC news report already quoted above, because it then continues:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose committee produced the report, said torture should now be banned by law. 5

But torture IS banned by law! It is already against the law because it was ‘banned’ (i.e., criminalised) a long time ago. For instance, “cruel and unusual punishments” are in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. On top of which, torture contravenes the UN Convention against Torture that was signed by President Reagan in 1988 and then ratified by the Senate in October 1990. But more importantly, torture is internationally outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and legally defined as a war crime. So why does the BBC insist on perpetuating this kind of claptrap?

Deliberate or not (I leave the reader to judge), uncritical repetition of this sort of nonsense as if it were impartially reporting facts serves to acclimate readers to accept the unacceptable and to tolerate the intolerable. Torture may or may not be a necessary evil, they imply in this way, but regardless of the ethical concerns it was lawfully sanctionable. As I say, this is absolute rubbish – and patently so.

Incidentally, John Kiriakou describes Senator Feinstein as “one of the CIA’s leading supporters on Capitol Hill”. He adds: “So for Dianne Feinstein to come out with a report as critical as this report was just shows you how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was.”

But now we must come to an even more shocking illustration of how public perceptions are being shifted and reframed. And the author on this occasion happens to be Anthony Romero, who is none other than the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Romero writes:

BEFORE President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal. 6

I will not bother to outline the kinds of doublethink which encourage Mr Romero to reach such a startling and illogical conclusion. If you can stomach any more then I direct you read his New York Times op-ed.

So what we have in summary is one extremely shocking although highly redacted text that has been released in such a fashion as to make believe the rule of law is extant. As with child abuse, the offending authorities have taken care to draw an historical line so as to make it appear a problem of past failures. Torture was “a mistake”. And thus, like a fashion that disappeared for no more discernible reason than footballers stopped wearing moustaches and perms, all the torturing has since stopped, or so we are encouraged to believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary that the ‘black sites’ never went away), because the perpetrators, who were previously misguided in the actions, have since spontaneously and miraculously come to their senses.

After John Kiriakou had heard about the release of the Senate report whilst in jail, he says that “like most other Americans, [he] was absolutely shocked and appalled at some of the details”:

We need to prosecute some of these cases. I understand that reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether or not case officers who really believed they were carrying out a legal activity should be prosecuted. I understand that. But what about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with everything Kiriakou says in this interview.) 7

The BBC may feel obliged to keep up this pretence that torture is not in itself illegal, and one of the largest civil rights organisations may actually believe that even though torture was and is illegal, for legal reasons it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, but as it happens John Kiriakou begs to differ. Likewise, I believe that the proper response must be to demand criminal prosecutions for those who were most responsible: beginning from the top with Cheney and Bush and working down. Kiriakou also believes that Cheney should now be tried and he makes this perhaps more important point:

We’ve seen Vice President Cheney, we’ve seen former CIA directors, several of them, former senior CIA officers go on the network news programs and defend, defend, defend their actions during the torture regime. The reason that they’re doing that is because torture is their legacy. When their obituaries are written, those obituaries are going to say that they were instrumental in the torture program. And the only thing they can do at this point to save their reputations is to keep repeating this lie that torture worked and hope that the American people eventually believe it.

Yes, torture is still being normalised. Doubtless, for the reason Kiriakou states above, but also because there remains a sinister determination by some at the top to undo the well-established justice process and take us back into the dark ages. So the horror of December’s report is not entirely contained within the text per se, but very much exists within the surrounding subtext too. That under a given pretext (which our never-ending “war on terror” usefully sustains) torture can be inflicted with absolute impunity on whosoever America and her close allies deems an enemy, because might is right and the rule of law be damned.

Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

If you are wondering in what ways our own authorities in Britain have also been complicit in these torture programmes, then I recommend reading an article by former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, published in the Daily Mail last December, immediately following the release of the summary of the Senate report. It begins:

In the summer of 2004, I warned Tony Blair’s Foreign Office that Britain was using intelligence material which had been obtained by the CIA under torture. Two months later I was sacked as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan on the orders of Downing Street, bringing to an end my 20-year diplomatic career.

When I then went public with the news that Uzbek territory was part of a global CIA torture programme, I was dismissed as a fantasist by Mr Blair’s henchmen. Now finally, a decade later, I have been vindicated by last week’s shocking Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Over 500 pages it details the CIA’s brutal abuse of Al Qaeda suspects, who were flown around the world to be tortured in a network of secret prisons. One of these was in Uzbekistan, where the US had an air base.

Murray continues later:

The British Government continues to cover up the truth even today. We should not forget that the climate of public and media opinion which made it possible for this US Senate report to be published at all was generated entirely by the work of whistleblowers. I was the first of these, but at least I remain at liberty: two subsequent whistleblowers – soldier Chelsea Manning and CIA agent John Kiriakou – are serving long stretches in prison. Although it is in no way comparable to the horrifying abuses suffered by the torture victims, we truth-tellers have also been through hell.

It is very strange to now hear Westminster politicians calling for a judicial inquiry into our involvement in rendition. There has already been one, headed by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. He started to gather evidence, and ordered the Foreign Office to give me full access to all the classified documentation on the subject from my time as Ambassador. Indeed, Gibson gave every appearance of being a man of integrity, appointed to lead an investigation into governmental wrongdoing.

It was therefore no surprise when the Gibson inquiry was cancelled and his duties handed to politicians on the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. Incredibly, its members include Hazel Blears, one of Tony Blair’s Ministers at a time when the Government had a policy of using intelligence from torture. She is therefore investigating herself.

No wonder a source on the Intelligence and Security Committee told journalists last week that they would only scrutinise members of the security services, not the politicians who instructed them.

He concludes with a call for both Tony Blair and Jack Straw to be put on trial:

Recent scandals, such as the alleged cover-up of an Establishment paedophile ring, highlight the apparent impunity of our political class in the face of the honest forces of law and order.
We don’t need an inquiry into British complicity in torture. We need a trial. And it should be Tony Blair and Jack Straw in the dock.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full statement.

 *

1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/former-cia-officer-john-kiriakou-sentenced-to-30-months-in-prison-for-leaks/2013/01/25/49ea0cc0-6704-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html

2 From an article entitled “Brennan rejects CIA torture claims in confident display at Senate hearing” written by Chris McGreal, published by the Guardian on February 7, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/07/john-brennan-cia-torture-claims-senate-hearing

3 From an article entitled “Does It Matter if John Brennan Was Complicit in Illegal Torture?” written by Conor Friedersdorf, published in The Atlantic on January 8, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/01/does-it-matter-if-john-brennan-was-complicit-in-illegal-torture/266918/

4 From an article entitled “CIA Torture Report Approved By Senate Intelligence Committee” published by the Huffington Post on December 13, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/13/cia-torture-report_n_2295083.html

5 From an article entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy” published by BBC news on December 12, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-30437804

6 From an article entitled “Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured” written by Anthony D. Romero, published by the New York Times on December 8, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=2

7 Kiriakou adds that: “I understand that President Obama is not going to seek the prosecution of the CIA leaders who carried out the torture, the case officers involved in the day-to-day torture program. I understand that. The lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, I understand. No problem. But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death? What about the torturers of Hassan Ghul? Hassan Ghul was killed during an interrogation session.”

I strongly disagree with him on these points. All those in charge must be prosecuted and the lawyers who sanctioned these crimes doubly so.

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first ‘flaregate’ – now police beat up disabled man at Barton Moss protest: solidarity march on Sunday 26th

Police are conducting searches at an anti-fracking protest camp after a flare was allegedly fired at a police helicopter.

So begins a report in The Independent from a fortnight ago. It continues:

A flare was aimed directly at the approach path of the aircraft as it came into land at Barton airfield in Eccles, Greater Manchester, police said.

The aircrew said it appeared to come from the nearby campsite in Barton Moss Road at about 12.15am on Saturday. […]

Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts, of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said: “This was an unbelievably stupid act of criminality which was extremely dangerous, not only for the police helicopter, but all other aircraft that use the nearby Barton airfields and the wider public.

“Had this flare caused an emergency situation it would not only have been catastrophic for the aircraft and its crew but potentially for numerous homes near the airfield, the M62 motorway and a children’s residential facility.1

These are, of course, extremely serious allegations. To fire a flare at an aircraft is indeed an “unbelievably stupid act of criminality” and has to be promptly investigated and prosecuted. So it was little surprise that soon after the alleged incident the Greater Manchester Police were issued a warrant by a local court to systematically search the anti-fracking camp. But they found nothing. In response, the protesters themselves called for an inquiry:

“The only violence that we have seen has been conducted by Greater Manchester Police. This is just an excuse to search our through our property and gather evidence.”

Rachel Thompson, from Frack Free Greater Manchester, added: “We refute this claim. Greater Manchester Police have refused to show any evidence of this alleged incident. The behaviour of Greater Manchester Police has been outrageous throughout this whole campaign. In our eyes this is just another aggressive tactic aimed at isolating the camp from the community and to put them in a bad light.

“‘We have asked for a meeting with the Police Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, to discuss the disgusting behaviour of his officers and have been refused. This matter is now with our lawyers but we wish to make it clear that we stand by Barton Moss Community Protection Camp and we call for an inquiry into this alleged incident.”

Click here to read the full report in The Independent.

By Monday 6th this story was mainstream, but by the 7th it is all but lost. Two weeks later, and the story has faded away altogether – try a google search yourself, I can find nothing new.

Now there are only really three possibilities: i) that one or more genuine protesters at the camp really did fire a flare at a police helicopter; ii) that a flare was fired by an agent provocateur; or iii) that the entire story is a police fabrication concocted with intent to tar the image of the Barton Moss camp and the anti-fracking protest movement more widely.

Given the total absence of physical evidence, whether in the form of surveillance footage (for instance from the helicopter itself), or materials subsequently recovered during the search of the camp, we must give credence to this third possibility. That yet another police force is involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. But then, given the comparative seriousness of these latest allegations, the potential ramifications of ‘flaregate’ must far outweigh the more publicised story of ‘plebgate‘. Surely, therefore, a fully independent inquiry – as demanded by the protest organisers themselves – ought be set up to establish the truth or otherwise of these police allegations.

But irrespective of the truth or falsehood of the alleged flare incident, and also putting aside the invasive search of the camp that resulted, protesters at the camp report being routinely subjected to many forms of police harassment and intimidation. For instance, on Wednesday 8th, the day after Manchester magistrates removed all bail conditions that had initially been imposed on protesters arrested by the Greater Manchester Police, GMP officers nevertheless took the decision to rearrest protester Colin Gong on the grounds that he was breaching those same revoked bail conditions. Here is footage both of Colin Gong’s wrongful arrest and also the officers’ shamefaced volte-face:

However, the most savage instance of police intimidation occurred yesterday [January 20th] when a disabled legal observer, Sean O’Donnell, who was filming and reporting a crime to a senior chief inspector was, apparently without provocation, violently accosted by members of GMP TAU (Tactical Aid Unit), who allegedly kicked his legs (one false) from under him while threatening to arrest and detain him for “obstruction”. The footage he recorded is extremely incriminating and very shocking:

If the video is taken down for any reason, the same footage is available at http://bambuser.com/v/4284486.

Sean O’Donnell, who is known as Kris, was later reported to be vomiting and was only taken to hospital at the custody sergeant’s insistence – the arresting officers having wanted to put him in a cell. It’s reported that he had requested medical assistance at the site but was told none was available.

There is also a report of the same incident in today’s Guardian which reads:

O’Donnell claims he vomited before being put in a police van and taken to Swinton police station, with officers ignoring his pleas for a paramedic to attend.

He said the custody sergeant agreed to call an ambulance when he got to the station, and he was taken to Salford’s royal hospital.

After a CT scan and X-ray under police guard he was released back to the police station after receiving treatment, and was later charged.

Simon Pook, a lawyer from Robert Lizar solicitors, representing O’Donell and 35 other arrested protesters from the site, said police refused to let him visit his client in his hospital bed.

The lawyer said he lodged a formal complaint with GMP after an officer allegedly pushed him in the chest at the hospital and told him to “fuck off”.

According to the same article, lawyer, Simon Pook, will “lodge a legal argument in Manchester magistrates court on behalf of the protesters” on January 27th.

*

Update & Correction:

On Wednesday [Jan 22nd], Sean ‘Kris’ O’Donnell was interviewed about Monday night’s incident by Ian Crane on the internet news show “Fracking Nightmare”. It transpires that contrary to earlier statements Kris O’Donnell does not have a prosthetic limb but that he does suffer from severe disability in one leg.

In an extended 45 minute interview, Kris O’Donnell confirms that his legs were kicked from under him and that he then remembers his head being forced into the ground. He says that he immediately lost consciousness but then woke up vomiting. He says that he was then taken away and refused medical assistance in spite of making ten requests. He claims that he was then forced into a tiny cell and locked up sitting in his own vomit for “upwards of one hour”.

Kris O’Donnell further alleges that he had “fully intended refusing any bail conditions and going to court the next morning” adding that he was “not once cautioned at the point of arrest – the only caution I ever received was [during] the final five minutes at the police station”. He also says that “the police refused to allow me to be interviewed under the standard conditions of a recorded interview with my lawyer present”. He has now been formally charged with obstructing the highway and resisting arrest. In the interview, he also questions why the government is allowing the use of heavy-handed police teams like TAU (Tactical Aid Unit) against peaceful protesters. You can watch the interview 25 mins in:

 

On January 20th Greater Manchester Police released the following statement:

“Greater Manchester Police is aware of the footage relating to yesterday’s arrest and this has now been passed to GMP’s Professional Standards Branch. Officers are also looking into allegations that a lorry attending the site had an unlawful number plate. Enquiries are ongoing.”

*

The protest at Barton Moss against IGas gas fracking exploration is set to continue until April when the drilling is expected to halt (at least temporarily). This coming weekend [Sunday 26th] will be marked by another “Solidarity Sunday”. The last solidarity march two weeks earlier on January 12th attracted in the region of five hundred to a thousand people:

There is a coach courtesy of “Frack Free South Yorkshire” leaving from Sheffield train station (outside the Sheffield Tap pub) at 10:30 am. The details for booking a seat and other pick-up points from Doncaster to Sheffield as well as drop-off times for the return journey are listed at the very end of the article.

The main assembly point for the demonstration will again be at the Salford City Reds’ Stadium car park, Stadium Way, Eccles, M30 7EY with the march setting off at 1.00pm. On the following map, the location of the stadium is marked:

Arriving from the East, you need to take the south side of the M60 Manchester ring road. Come off at Junction 11. It’s then the first exit after you go over the huge Manchester Ship Canal bridge. You’ll see the Reds Stadium on your left as you go over the bridge. Go left on the roundabout, sign posted A57 Irlam. As you leave the built up area keep an eye out for a sign that says “Demo Parking next left”. It’s left at the traffic lights (just in case someone nicks the sign). There will also be stewards to direct you. Here is higher resolution map of the final stages of the route:

You will find a map of the protest site along with details for travel (by bus and rail) and for contacting the protest organisers here.

A gallery of photos of the protest so far is also available on the Guardian website [from Monday 13th].

*

Frack Free South Yorkshire have arranged a coach for our region. Just a £3 contribution is needed and any extra given will go towards funds for your local group. Details of the trip are below.

Date: Sunday 26th January

Coach – 49 seats with Browns Coaches Ltd

Pick up times

09.00 Doncaster (Ward Brothers (Furnishers) Limited, 29-40 Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3EZ)

09.30 Maltby (Queens Hotel, Tickhill Road, Maltby, S667NQ)

10.00 Rotherham (Parkgate Shopping, Stadium Way, Rotherham, S60 1TG)

10.30 Sheffield (Train Station – outside the Sheffield Tap pub – to the far left of the train station)

12.00 Eccles, Stadium Way, Manchester (Coach drop-off + meeting place for start of rally – 12min walk to the site)

17.00 COACH DEPARTS: Eccles, Stadium Way, Manchester

Approximate drop-off times

18.30 Sheffield (Train Station – outside the Sheffield Tap pub – to the far left of the train station)

19.00 Rotherham (Parkgate Shopping, Stadium Way, Rotherham, S60 1TG)

19.30 Maltby (Queens Hotel, Tickhill Road, Maltby, S667NQ)

20.00 Doncaster (Ward Brothers (Furnishers) Limited, 29-40 Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3EZ)

If you wish to go please email us at (jay_ffsy@live.com) with the following details

1) Name

2) Pick up point

3) Mobile number (optional)

Things to bring

Banner/signage representing your community and the extreme energy development you’re resisting
Warm/waterproof clothes
Food & water
Plus Anything from the camp’s wish-list: http://northerngasgala.org.uk/whattobring/(PLEASE NOTE: the items will have to fit in the coach luggage space & nothing flammable.

*

Further update:

On Sunday, an estimated thousand protesters arrived on about fifteen coaches from all across the country. It was the first nationwide anti-fracking gathering of its kind. There were also a number of TV companies who covered the event including ITN and a team from France 24.

One of those interviewed was Vanessa Vine whose live debate with Conservative MP Peter Lilley was broadcast on Channel 4 news and can be watched here.

For further coverage of Sunday’s Barton Moss solidarity demonstration, including interviews with other protesters, I also recommend the latest offering (episode 13) of the internet news show “Fracking Nightmare”:

*

1 From an article entitled “Anti-fracking protesters claim police using incident involving flare ‘aimed at aircraft’ as an excuse to search through the camp”, published in The Independent on January 6, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/antifracking-protesters-claim-police-using-incident-involving-flare-aimed-at-aircraft-as-an-excuse-to-search-through-camp-9041763.html

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two important campaigns aiming to protect our civil liberties: stop the gagging law & review Schedule 7

On August 30th I received a message from the campaign group 38 Degrees about another major government assault on our civil liberties and right to protest. The message began as follows:

I’ve just got back from my summer holiday. I read last week’s email, “38 Degrees under threat”, whilst I was away camping. [1] Not exactly what you want to see when you’re trying to relax!

I must admit I hoped I’d get back in the office and find my colleagues had been guilty of some exaggeration. I’ve spent the last couple of days speaking to lawyers and other experts, to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

I’m afraid it’s really bad. The proposed gagging law would have a chilling effect on British democracy and our right to speak up on issues that matter to us.

The draft law could effectively stop organisations like 38 Degrees from speaking out for the whole year before a general election. From May 2014, we would be banned from holding politicians and political parties to account in ways we do all the time at present. [2]

Community groups, charities and campaigning organisations would all be hit. On the big issues of the day – whether or not to go to war, the future of our NHS, the environment, welfare, immigration, etc – we’d all be gagged.

Why are they proposing this? It’s hard to say for sure. Maybe it’s an unintended consequence of a badly written draft law. Or maybe it’s a deliberate attempt by politicians to silence their critics.

Either way, they’re trying to rush it through. MPs have their first chance to debate it this coming Tuesday, with crunch votes lined up for soon after that. [3]

Please can you help stand up for democracy and send an urgent email to your MP now?
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-bill-MPs

Notes:

[1] 38 Degrees Blog: 38 Degrees under threat http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2013/08/22/38-degrees-under-threat/
[2] BWB legal opinion http://www.bwbllp.com/knowledge/2013/08/29/bwb-warns-new-laws-on-non-party-campaigners-pose-a-serious-threat/
[3] Bill documents — Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/transparencyoflobbyingnonpartycampaigningandtradeunionadministration/documents.html

38 Degrees also produced their own short film with contributions from Guido Fawkes, Friends of the Earth, Baston Legal & HOPE not hate, which is entitled “What is the Gagging Law?” and embedded below:

And here is further information about the bill with links

News Coverage:

BBC – Lobbying bill could silence us, say charities
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23808996
Charity lawyer warns new lobbying bill poses ‘existential threat to charity campaigning
http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/15918/charity_lawyer_warns_new_lobbying_bill_poses_existential_threat_to_charity_campaigning
The Independent View: Concerns about lobbying bill are not alarmist
http://www.libdemvoice.org/the-independent-view-its-not-alarmist-to-raise-concerns-about-government-plans-for-nonparty-campaigning-35927.html

Reports from experts:

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has made a statement on the bill:
Transparency of Lobbying Bill – unintended consequences or Trojan horse?
http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2013/08/18/transparency-of-lobbying-bill-unintended-consequences-or-trojan-horse/

And here is a full briefing on the bill from the NCVO:
http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/our-briefing-on-the-Transparency-of-lobbying-bill.pdf

The Electoral Commission has said it has “significant concerns” about the bill and that it “may be unenforceable”.
http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/156580/Transparency-of-Lobbying-Non-Party-Campaigning-and-Trade-Union-Administration-Bill-Second-Reading-Briefing.pdf

Then, Thursday [Sept 19th], I received the following update from 38 Degrees which includes a very detailed breakdown regarding the various claims now being made by the government in its response to opponents of the proposed legislation:

In three weeks, MPs have their final vote on the gagging law – a law that would mean ordinary people, campaigning groups and charities would be severely restricted in how they can campaign in the year leading up to an election.

The most recent debate was last Tuesday, and we lost a key vote by only a whisker – if just 16 more government MPs had switched sides, a key part of the gagging law would have been defeated. [1]

The growing MP rebellion was in part thanks to you – tens of thousands of 38 Degrees members flooded MPs with emails, phone calls and tweets. 80 local groups of 38 Degrees members went to see their MP face-to-face. Together, we proved that ordinary people are prepared to fight for their right to campaign on important issues.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs are clearly feeling the heat: a growing number of them have started trying to fob us off. They’ve started making all sorts of claims about what the law will and won’t do. They say we have nothing to worry about.

Ros Baston, an independent political law and election solicitor, has taken a look at some of the most common lines MPs have been using when responding to 38 Degrees members and written a detailed document. [2] Here’s 38 Degrees take on that document and why we still think we have something to worry about.

Myth 1: The new law will stop “big money” buying / influencing elections.
The government claims that this law is needed to stop US-style “super-PACs”, run by millionaires, flooding the airwaves with negative political advertising. But they can’t point to any examples of millionaire-backed “super-PACS” in the UK actually existing. Perhaps that’s because we already have laws banning big money radio and TV advertising.

The way “big money” actually influences elections in the UK is through massive donations to political parties. That’s a huge problem, with wealthy donors basically buying influence and peerages. The gagging law does nothing to stop this – millionaire party donors like Lord Ashcroft or Lord Sainsbury can continue to funnel as much cash into their chosen party as they like.

If the government really wanted to stop “big money” influencing politics, they could introduce a maximum donation limit for both political parties and independent groups. That would tackle the current problem and prevent any future rise in “super-PACs”, and it’s a measure 38 Degrees members would certainly support. Why are they instead targeting charities, community groups and campaigners?

Myth 2. Civil society will still be allowed to talk about issues – as long as they don’t get involved in party politics.
Important issues which ordinary people care about, like trying to protect the NHS, will be a key election issue for most of the political parties. The gagging law would apply to campaigning on most issues that are being contested by different political parties – i.e. any big issue of the day! For example, if one political party made privatising NHS services a key part of its manifesto, then a 38 Degrees campaign against privatising the NHS would be considered ‘for election purposes’ and be subject to the gagging law. [3]

Myth 3. £390,000 is a lot of money. Why should organisations be allowed to spend more?
In a free society, charities, local groups and ordinary people should be able to come together and campaign effectively. £390,000 is only 2% of what political parties are allowed to spend. Also, the new law says that charities and campaign groups will have to include core staff costs in this limit – something political parties aren’t expected to do.

Groups like 38 Degrees don’t need as much money as political parties – we rely on people power rather than expensive advertising agencies. But organising people power does cost some money. 38 Degrees currently costs around £1.1 million per year to run – money spent on maintaining a powerful and secure web site, a small office, a staff team of 15, printing leaflets and posters, hiring church halls for member meetings, and so on. That’s all funded by small donations (average donation £10.78) and reported in full in the annual audited accounts. [4]

Banning 38 Degrees from spending more than £390,000 would mean big people powered campaigns like Save our NHS or Save our Forests would be impossible to run.

Myth 4. Charities are happy now that some concessions have been promised
This isn’t true. A wide range of organisations including NCVO, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Countryside Alliance and Friends of the Earth are still warning that the gagging law will have a huge impact on what they can campaign on. [5]

MPs have been claiming that NCVO are now happy with the amendments the government has committed to drafting. In fact the NCVO wrote a piece in The Guardian last week highlighting the problems they still think need solving [6]:

“NCVO and the wider voluntary sector have made it clear that the legislation remains ambiguous and potentially damaging in a number of places. In particular:

  • The proposed list of activities that could count towards controlled expenditure remains neither clear nor workable
  • The expenditure thresholds proposed in the new bill, both for registration with the Electoral Commission and as a maximum cap allowed, will be damaging
  • The question of how to sensibly regulate groups working in coalition remains to be addressed.”

The government is rushing the gagging law through parliament, but we now have just over two weeks to try to convince MPs to vote the right way. The office team are working hard to pull together some ideas of ways to beat this law and you’ll get an email about this soon. But if you want to get back in touch with your MP and ask him or her about some of these myths, please click the link below:

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-email-mp

If your MP has replied to your email about the gagging law and sent through a different claim you’d like help answering, or if you have some ideas on what we should do next in the campaign, then please get in touch at emailtheteam@38degrees.org.uk.

Notes:
[1] The Public Whip: Clause 27 – changes to existing limits: vote breakdown: http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2013-09-10&number=82
Twitter: Labour Whips twitter posts, 10 Sept: https://twitter.com/labourwhips
[2] Mythbuster document written by Ros Baston, independent political law and election solicitor, and was formerly Lead Adviser on Party and Election Finance at the Electoral Commission: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/-/Ros%20Baston%20MP%20replies%20mythbuster.pdf
[3] Daily Mirror: Lobby bill: Doctors face being gagged from concerns about NHS privatisation:http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lobby-bill-doctors-face-being-2263099#.UjiWppM9XMo.facebook
[4] Read our donations policy and see our accounts here: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/pages/donations-to-38-degrees
[5] Oxfam: Lobbying Bill represents a real threat to quality of debate in this country: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/blogs/2013/09/lobbying-bill-represents-a-real-threat-to-quality-of-debate-in-this-country-says-oxfam
Christian Aid: Christian Aid remains deeply concerned at Lobbying Bill: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/september-2013/christian-aid-remains-deeply-concerned-at-lobbying-bill.aspx
Countryside Alliance: The Alliance’s concerns over the Lobbying Bill: http://www.countryside-alliance.org/ca/communities/the-alliances-concerns-over-the-lobbying-bill
Friends of the Earth: U-turn? Nope, the Gagging Bill still gags us: http://www.foe.co.uk/news/gagging_bill_41124.html
[6] The Guardian: The problems posed by the lobbying bill are not completely solved: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2013/sep/13/charities-lobbying-bill-problems-not-solved

*

Meanwhile, another campaign is underway to challenge the increasing use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which UK human rights group Liberty describes “as a breathtakingly broad and intrusive power to stop, search and hold individuals at ports, airports and international rail stations”:

It can be exercised without the need for any grounds of suspecting the person has any involvement in terrorism – or any other criminal activity. This means it can be used against anyone a police, immigration or customs officer chooses. Powers like this are ripe for overuse and abuse. They are invariably used in discriminatory fashion, with stops based on stereotype rather than genuine suspicion.

Click here to read more about Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on Liberty‘s website.

A petition calling for a government review of the use of Schedule 7 has been launched by Adeel Akhtar – Akhtar, a stage and screen actor, being perhaps best known for a starring role in the black comedy “Four Lions”, Chris Morris’ satire about a group of Sheffield-based would-be jihadi terrorists.

So far Akhtar’s petition has attracted signatures from over 70,000 supporters. And following the detainment of David Miranda – partner of a Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald – Akhtar’s campaign also received a further boost when he was interviewed on the subject by the Huffington Post, Channel 4 News and BBC Breakfast.

MPs are due to review Schedule 7 in October, and Akhtar believes that his change.org campaign may prove crucial in getting the law changed. Before then, he says, he would like the petition to reach 100,000 signatures so that when the time comes, the government will see just how many people are calling for their human rights to be protected.

Click here if you would like to add your own name to this change.org petition calling for the government to review the use of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.

*

Update:

On Thursday 10th October I received a follow-up email from 38 degrees. It informed me that sadly, though hardly surprisingly, the government yesterday voted in favour of the new legislation. So it has passed the Commons and now awaits progress through the Lords. Here is part of the message I received:

Yesterday evening, MPs narrowly voted in favour of the gagging law. It now moves to the House of Lords, where it will start being debated in two weeks.

So we haven’t yet seen off this threat to democracy. This is disappointing – I’d love to be emailing today to let you know we’d stopped it once and for all. But it’s in no sense the end. By making the vote so close, we’ve got a strong chance of reversing it in the House of Lords.

I wanted to update you on what’s happened and what happens next. And I wanted to ask for your feedback on what we should do next. But above all I wanted to say THANK YOU, for everything that 38 Degrees members have done so far. It’s been truly amazing and has had a huge impact. […]

There was a fiery debate and a big rebellion in parliament yesterday. Only Lib Dem and Conservative MPs voted in favour. In total, across three crunch votes, it looks like 19 coalition MPs rebelled. [1]

To get 19 Lib Dem and Conservative MPs to vote against the gagging law was in no small part down to the amazing efforts of 38 Degrees members. Working together with some of Britain’s most loved voluntary organisations, we made sure every MP felt under pressure.

Several more Lib Dem MPs rebelled compared to previous votes on the gagging law – after 38 Degrees members and many other organisations ramped up the pressure on them. The leaflets, posters, and meetings we organised made a clear difference. […]

So, what will happen next?

In the coming weeks, the gagging law will be voted on by the House of Lords. We need to try to persuade the Lords to get stuck in and block it. I think we can do it. There are reasons why convincing the Lords won’t be that easy:

  • The Lords are unelected. So we can’t try to influence them “as their voters” in the way we can with MPs.
  • A large number of peers are Lib Dems or Conservatives – and they will be under pressure from their party bosses to toe the government line.

But there are also some reasons to be optimistic:

  • Lords tend to be more willing to challenge government legislation when it has been rushed through and where there hasn’t been proper consultation. That definitely applies this time!
  • Many peers are patrons and board members of voluntary organisations and charities which would be hit by the gagging law. This means they should have reason to be concerned.
  • An independent “commission on civil society and democracy” has been set up with the support of dozens of voluntary organisations – and will provide the Lords with serious recommendations. It is chaired by an influential, nonparty Lord – Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford. [2]
  • 38 Degrees members learnt a lot about how to influence members of the House of Lords from our NHS campaign last year. [3]

NOTES:
[1] There were three vital votes in Parliament last night on the gagging law. The first (amendment 101) was a vote on what sort of expenditure would fall within the law, whilst the second (amendment 102) was a vote to raise the spending limits imposed by the law on non-party organisations. The third important vote was the “Third Reading”, which was a vote on the whole gagging law.

On amendment 101, ten Coalition MPs rebelled (7 Conservative and 3 Liberal Democrats). On amendment 102, fourteen Coalition MPs rebelled (10 Conservative and 4 Liberal Democrats). On the Third Reading, eleven Coalition MPs rebelled (4 Conservative and 7 Liberal Democrats).

In total, it looks like nineteen Coalition MPs rebelled on at least one of the important votes (10 Conservatives and 9 Liberal Democrats). The office team will crunch together the data on the various votes over the next few days and send you info on how your MP voted as soon as we’re confident it’s 100% accurate.
[2] Civil Society Commission website: http://civilsocietycommission.info/

[3] Save our NHS action centre: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/pages/save_our_nhs_action_centre

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campaign to stop secret courts in UK — MPs may vote as soon as February 25th

The following message from the 38 Degrees team was received earlier today. It encourages people to urgently lobby their MPs to vote against the introduction of secret trials in the UK:

Is this the end of the principle that no one is above the law? The government are currently pushing drastic changes to our justice system through parliament, which would allow trials to take place in secret. If they’re successful, it could mean serious abuses like torture, or detention without trial, never come to light. [1] This would make government cover ups much easier, and make it much harder to get a truly fair trial.

Your MP could be voting on secret courts as early as the 25th February. And it looks like the vote could be very close.

There’s already been a massive rebellion in the House of Lords, key Liberal Democrats, Labour and top Conservatives have all spoken out against the government’s plans. [2] With some pressure from us, their voters, we might just persuade enough MPs to stop this attack on British justice.

Time is running out to stop these changes. Click here to email your MP to stand up for justice and vote against secret courts now:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/secret-courts

Of course, the state has an interest in keeping the cases against it quiet. From Iraqi torture claims against the Ministry of Defence to the long-running cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster, and from the silence over the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations to phone-hacking at News International, it’s clear that when things aren’t out in the open abuse is more likely. [3]

But the government’s proposals are more than simply a way to dodge responsibility. Our British legal system isn’t flawless – but these new measures are an attack on its founding principles.

Secret courts have no place in a truly just legal system. Email your MP now to make sure they vote the right way:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/secret-courts

Thanks for being involved,

Belinda, Becky, Hannah and the 38 Degrees team

PS: Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy at Liberty, said: “This Bill would overturn 400 proud years of open justice and equality before the law in Britain and allow for grave state errors and abuses to be covered up for good.

“Opposition to secret courts is growing and MPs will soon vote on the plans – now is the time to apply real pressure and 38 Degrees members can make all the difference by coming together and taking action.”

NOTES
[1] Liberty – For their eyes only campaign briefing: http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigns/for-their-eyes-only/for-their-eyes-only.php
The Guardian – The justice and security bill is a chilling affront to British Justice: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/17/justice-security-bill-secret-courts
[2] The Telegraph – Secret courts suffer humiliating defeat in the House of Lords: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9694776/Secret-courts-suffer-humiliating-defeat-in-House-of-Lords.html
[3] Liberty – What kind of cases would this Bill help hide: http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigns/for-their-eyes-only/justice-and-security-bill-case-studies.php

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John Kiriakou jailed after exposing CIA’s use of torture

John Kiriakou has recently become the only CIA officer to yet face imprisonment for any reason relating to use of torture in the post-9/11 “war on terror”. His supposed crime, however, was not any complicity in America’s on-going crimes against humanity, but rather the result of his decision to blow the whistle on the CIA and White House sanctioned torture programme and, specifically, their use of ‘waterboarding’ for purposes of so-called “enhanced interrogation”.

Having just been sentenced to spend the next two and a half years behind bars, John Kiriakou gave an extended interview on yesterday’s Democracy Now! [Jan 30th]. He began by explaining how he had become a whistleblower more or less by accident, and what the immediate consequences had been for himself and his family:

In 2002, I was the chief of counterterrorism operations for the CIA in Pakistan, and my job was to try to locate al-Qaeda fighters or al-Qaeda leaders and capture them, to turn them over to the Justice Department and have them face trial. That was the original—the original idea, not to have them sit in Cuba for the next decade.

But we caught Abu Zubaydah. He was shot three times by Pakistani police as he was trying to escape from his safe house. And I was the first person to have custody of him, to sit with him. We spoke to each other extensively, I mean, talked about everything from September 11th to poetry that he had been writing to his family. And then he was moved on to a secret prison after that. Once I got back to headquarters, I heard that he had been subject to harsh techniques, then euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and I was asked by one of the leaders in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center if I wanted to be trained in the use of these techniques. I told him that I had a moral problem with them, and I did not want to be involved.

So, fast-forward to 2007. By then, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had reported that al-Qaeda prisoners had been tortured, and ABC News called and said that they had information that I had tortured Abu Zubaydah. I said that was absolutely untrue. I was the only person who was kind to Abu Zubaydah, and I had never tortured anybody. So, they asked me to go on their show and defend myself. I did that. And in the course of the interview, I said that not only was the CIA torturing prisoners, but that it was official U.S. government policy. This was not the result of some rogue CIA officer just beating up a prisoner every once in a while; this was official policy that went all the way up to the president of the United States.

Within 24 hours, the CIA filed what’s called a crimes report against me with the Justice Department, saying that I had revealed classified information, which was the torture program, and asking for an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting me. The Justice Department decided at the time that I had not revealed classified information, that the information was already in the public domain. But immediately, within weeks, I was audited by the IRS. I’ve been audited by the IRS every single year since giving that interview in 2007.

But a more important bit of fallout from that interview was that every time I would write an op-ed, every time I would give a television interview or give a speech at a university, the CIA would file a crimes report against me, accusing me of leaking additional classified information. Each time, the Justice Department determined that I did not leak any classified information. In fact, I would get those op-eds and those speeches cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board in advance.

Then the CIA started harassing my wife, who at the time was a senior CIA officer, particularly over an op-ed I had written. They accused her of leaking classified information to me for the purpose of writing the op-ed. Well, I said I had gotten the information in the op-ed from two UPI reports and from a South American Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. And they would back off.

But this sort of became our life. We would be under FBI surveillance. She would be called into the CIA’s Office of Security. I would have trouble getting a security clearance when I went to Capitol Hill. It just became this pattern of harassment.

A pattern of harassment that will no doubt be familiar to other high-level whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake and Sibel Edmonds.

Click here to watch the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

Democracy Now! also spoke to Kiriakou’s attorney Jesselyn Radack. She has previously represented Tom Drake, the National Security Agency (NSA) insider who helped to expose the massive fraud and waste within the organisation, whilst also bringing public attention to the illegal, although once again government sanctioned, programme of warrantless wiretaps. Radack says:

But in the grander scheme, the prosecution of John Kiriakou and the war on whistleblowers, using the heavy handed Espionage Act, by charging people who dare to tell the truth as being enemies of the state, sends a very chilling message. And Judge Brinkema [who presided over Kiriakou’s trial] herself acknowledged that a strong message had to be sent, that secrets must be kept. But apparently, that only applies to people who are trying to reveal government abuses and illegality, because all of the people in the White House and the CIA who revealed classified information and—of undercover identities to the makers of a Hollywood film, Zero Dark Thirty, have done so with impunity and with lavish praise. […]

Specifically, the White House and the CIA were very involved in the making of Zero Dark Thirty, which pretends to be some kind of neutral film that implies torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, which it absolutely did not. In that process, a high-level Defense Department official, Michael Vickers, revealed the identity of an undercover Special Operations Command officer, but was not held to account for that. And the CIA revealed numerous classified pieces of information, including sources and methods. […]

So when the United States talks about the sanctity of keeping secrets, and both the judge and multiple statements by United States officials discussed that, they are the biggest leakers of all. And they do so with impunity.

With mainstream news coverage focusing considerable attention on President Obama’s nomination of the seemingly rather moderate Chuck Hagel to replace well-known drone attack enthusiast Leon Panetta as US Secretary of Defense, surprisingly little concern is being raised about Obama’s other nomination of neo-con hawk and torture-endorsing John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Kiriakou, who had worked directly with Brennan twice, says Brennan “is a terrible choice to lead the CIA”:

Obviously I can’t read John Brennan’s mind, but I can tell you that at the time that the torture techniques were being implemented, John Brennan was President Bush’s director of the National Counterterrorist Center. He was also, a little earlier than that, the deputy executive director and then, I believe, executive director of the CIA. That’s the number three ranking position in the CIA. So, he would have had to have been intimately involved in—not necessarily in carrying out the torture techniques, but in the policy, the torture policy—either that or he had to be brain dead, because you can’t be in positions like that, director of the National Counterterrorist Center and executive director of the CIA, without knowing what the CIA’s torture policies are.

Now, I’m surprised, frankly, also, at the fact that there’s no outrage in the human rights community now that Mr. Brennan’s nomination has been made official. There was a great hue and cry in 2009 when he was initially floated for the position of CIA director. And I’m not sure why there’s a difference between four years ago and now. John Brennan certainly hasn’t changed.

Click here to watch the second part of the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Wade Hicks in Limbo: how an innocent person lands up on the FBI no-fly list

On October 14th, Wade Hicks was en route to a US Navy base in Japan to visit his wife when he was escorted off his plane during a routine re-fueling stop on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, and detained by armed military guards. Hicks, who has no criminal record, had previously worked as a contractor for the US Department of Defense, and had also undergone recent and extensive background checks in Mississippi in order to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Regardless of his impeccable credentials and without any further explanation, however, Hicks was told by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent that he had been put on the federal no-fly list, and that, as a consequence, he wouldn’t be allowed back on the flight, or to leave the island on any other flight. Suddenly stranded, Hicks was at least able to speak to talk-show host Doug Hagmann, and he told him:

They have given me no reason. They just basically are telling me, ‘You can’t fly because we said so.’ They didn’t know how I even left Travis Air Force Base.

I said, ‘If I could find a way off the island, I could leave’? They said, ‘Yes, as long as you don’t fly.’

In the same interview, Hicks told Hagmann that he believed the reason he had been singled out is down to his vocal opposition to the on-going erosion of civil rights in America and, in particular, to the signing of the NDAA 2012 indefinite detention bill:

I was very, very vocal about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and I did contact my representative.

I do believe that this is tied in some way to my free speech and my political view.

Click here to read a full report on Russia Today.

Hicks says that while trapped in Hawaii, “he called politicians in Mississippi and Hawaii and brainstormed ways to get home with friends, speculating on taking a private plane, a cruise ship or even a fishing boat from Alaska.” Then, on October 18th , almost a week after he had landed up in Hawaii, he suddenly received a phone call saying he had now been removed from the no-fly list. Once again, no explanation was given:

The list can be updated within minutes, so it’s possible Hicks was added to the list while in midair from Travis Air Force Base in California to Hawaii.

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s office said passengers who fly standby on military flights are screened against the FBI’s list only on international flights. Domestic passengers are screened only through an internal military system, not the Advanced Passenger Information System run by Customs and Border Protection.

“It’s scary to know that something like this can happen in a free country. You’re not accused of any crime. You haven’t been contacted by anyone. No investigation has been done. No due process has taken place,” [Hicks] said.1

Click here to read the full report on ABC news.

So could anyone end up on the FBI no-fly list, and if you did, would you even know, and if you did know, is there any way to clear your name again? Here’s what the FBI’s own FAQ has to say about its Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) and the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB):

Who gets included in the TSDB?

Per HSPD-6, only individuals who are known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB.

In case you’re wondering, HSPD-6 is the Homeland Security Presidential Direction instituted by George W. Bush in September 2003.

Can I find out if I am in the TSDB?

The TSC cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. The TSDB remains an effective tool in the government’s counterterrorism efforts because its contents are not disclosed. If TSC revealed who was in the TSDB, terrorist organizations would be able to circumvent the purpose of the terrorist watchlist by determining in advance which of their members are likely to be questioned or detained.

Are individuals removed from the TSDB?

Yes. The TSC works with partner agencies through a formal process to remove individuals who no longer meet the HSPD-6 terrorism criteria.

How does TSC ensure that the TSDB is accurate?

The TSC has a staff dedicated to redress and quality assurance that conducts comprehensive as well as case-specific reviews of TSDB records to ensure they are current, accurate, and thorough. TSC conducts research and coordinates with other federal agencies to ensure the terrorist record is as complete, accurate, and thorough as possible. TSC’s redress and quality assurance process has resulted in the correction or removal of hundreds of records in TSDB.

A quality assurance process… whatever happened to due process? But then reading through the FBI’s own explanatory notes, there’s something more than a little Kafkaesque about the whole system of self-appointed arbiters at the TSC, running their TSDB, under the framework of HSPD-6. A shadowy, secretive, and tortuously bureaucratic approximation to justice that operates without any public oversight whatsoever.

Here’s what Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the FBI no-fly list in an article published by the Atlantic back in May:

[So] In addition to the hundreds of people put on the list wrongfully and eventually rescued and the unknown number of people who are on it wrongfully to this day, there are thousands more American citizens made so paranoid by their own government that they’re convinced they are on a terrorist list, which the government will neither confirm nor deny. I’m with J.D. Tucille: “Invoking Kafka tends to draw the oh-so-jaded cliché police, but it seems appropriate enough here.”

Click here to read the full article.

1 From an article entitled “No-Fly List Strands Man on Island in Hawaii” from Associated Press, published by ABC news on October 20, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/fly-list-strands-man-island-hawaii-17521926#.UJMYnWdv9hc

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