A Tale of Two Tortures

First pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

It was with some dis­be­lief that I read of two tor­ture-related stor­ies emer­ging around the same time last week. The first was about the leg­al vic­tory of Abdul Hakim Bel­haj, Liby­an dis­sid­ent, kid­nap vic­tim of MI6 and the CIA, and tor­ture vic­tim of Col­on­el Gad­dafi. UK gov­ern­ment­al apo­lo­gies were finally made and repar­a­tion paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of tor­ture con­demned.

Mean­while, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full dis­gust­ing dis­play. Our Amer­ic­an chums are in the pro­cess of attempt­ing to appoint an alleged notori­ous tor­turer as the head of the CIA.

While nom­in­ee Gina Haspel had soft-ball ques­tions lobbed at her by a tame pack of sen­at­ors at her con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, retired CIA seni­or ana­lyst, former pres­id­en­tial briefer, and now justice act­iv­ist, Ray McGov­ern, who stood up and said what the Sen­at­ors knew, but would not say; namely that she super­vised — dir­ectly, on site — the water­board­ing of Al Nashiri, who had been kid­napped and brought to the first secret CIA pris­on abroad (in Thai­l­and) for “inter­rog­a­tion.” McGov­ern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when addi­tion­al police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By jux­ta­pos­ing these two incid­ents I am not try­ing to make the point that the UK is mor­ally bet­ter than the USA when it comes to tor­ture over the last 17 years – mani­festly it has not been – but cer­tainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of tor­ture was ver­boten. Partly for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but mainly because the Brit­ish Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-pro­duct­ive the use of tor­ture and illeg­al impris­on­ment could be dur­ing the early stages of the bit­ter civil war in North­ern Ire­land in the 1970s.

Unfor­tu­nately those hard-won les­sons were gen­er­a­tion­al, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a res­ult, come the after­math of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh mil­it­ary retali­ation, illeg­al war, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture, the com­pli­ant Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies fol­lowed hel­ter-skel­ter down the same path, all in the name of the spe­cial intel­li­gence rela­tion­ship.

So, back to the Bel­haj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to trans­port you back to 1995. Although the US-fun­ded Mujahideen in Afgh­anistan was by then morph­ing into Al Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emer­gent, if region­al threat, peace seemed to be break­ing out all over the world: the Cold War was offi­cially over, a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion to the civil war in North­ern Ire­land was in the mak­ing, and there even seemed to be some pro­gress with the run­ning polit­ic­al sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occu­pa­tion, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

How­ever, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the West­ern intel­li­gence hit list. Partly because it was sus­pec­ted by the UK gov­ern­ment to have been behind the Lock­er­bie bomb­ing in 1988 and the search for the per­pet­rat­ors was a top level pri­or­ity for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any pro­gress, and partly because Gad­dafi had largely closed the huge Liby­an oil reserves to West­ern oil com­pan­ies.

So when, in 1995, a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer (sub­sequently code­named TUNWORTH) walked into the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gad­dafi, solve the Lock­er­bie case, and allow Bri­tain and its allies to once again plun­der the vast Liby­an oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islam­ist extrem­ists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted sup­port and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illeg­al under UK law, which required a min­is­teri­al sign-off before such an oper­a­tion, it went wrong, and it killed inno­cent people. How much hein­ous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Bel­haj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group (LIFG), the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had fun­ded for this attack. As a res­ult, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the inter­na­tion­al fold fol­low­ing his notori­ous deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Min­is­ter, Tony Blair, in 2004, Bel­haj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his preg­nant wife were tracked down and inter­cep­ted by MI6 in Kuala Lum­pur, Malay­sia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thai­l­and and held in a CIA black site, before onward trans­it to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Bel­haj and his preg­nant wife were lashed to the floor of a US mil­it­ary trans­port plan for the dur­a­tion.

Bel­haj was sub­sequently held in the notori­ous Abu Selim pris­on for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tor­tured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

All that might have been that, except the West made a cata­stroph­ic decision to once again try to depose Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its Pres­id­ent at the time, Nic­olas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reli­able UK and USA, in a “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tion” to pro­tect the cit­izens of Islam­ist Benghazi – which by the way was not under dir­ect threat at the time. Anoth­er fab­ric­ated excuse for a West­ern war of aggres­sion.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is cur­rently under invest­ig­a­tion for illeg­ally accept­ing fifty mil­lion euros from Gad­dafi to fund his bid for the French Pres­id­ency in the 2007 elec­tion, and in the same year Gad­dafi was awar­ded a full state vis­it to France.)

This time the West achieved openly and shame­lessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shame­fully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gad­dafi, who was caught, bru­tal­ised and buggered with a bay­on­et, murdered, and his mutil­ated corpse  left on dis­play for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was cap­tured, tor­tured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-enter­ing the polit­ic­al fray in Libya.

In the chaos that fol­lowed the over­throw of Gad­dafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of doc­u­ments left in the office of notori­ous intel­li­gence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the coun­try ini­tially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these doc­u­ments was a let­ter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Ter­ror­ism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facil­it­ate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a con­grat­u­lat­ory let­ter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facil­it­ate the cap­ture of Bel­haj, and effect­ively to see him as a “gift” to the Liby­an régime in 2004, as a ges­ture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s let­ter to Musa Kusa, sub­mit­ted by Belhaj’s law­yers:

I con­grat­u­late you on the safe arrival of [Mr Bel­haj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demon­strate the remark­able rela­tion­ship we have built over recent years.….Amusingly, we got a request from the Amer­ic­ans to chan­nel requests for inform­a­tion from [Mr Bel­haj] through the Amer­ic­ans. I have no inten­tion of doing any such thing. The intel­li­gence about [Mr Bel­haj] was Brit­ish… I feel I have the right to deal with you dir­ect on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gad­dafi régime fatally trus­ted its new rela­tion­ship with the West; and a man and his preg­nant wife suffered, and the coun­try as a whole con­tin­ues to suf­fer immensely from the ensu­ing civil war that fol­lowed Gaddafi’s assas­sin­a­tion..

The court case last week in the UK was a vic­tory for them. Bel­haj him­self, des­pite suc­cess­ive UK gov­ern­ments offer­ing one mil­lion pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknow­ledge­ment and apo­logy from the UK gov­ern­ment about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accep­ted half of the amount offered. The three UK key play­ers – PM Tony Blair, For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen nat­ur­ally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blem­ish to their repu­ta­tions….

So are we likely to see the same admis­sion of guilt from the instig­at­ors of the US tor­ture pro­gramme?

Far from it. Even if the Gina Haspel con­firm­a­tion hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton goes against her, the fact she was even con­sidered for the post of head­ing the CIA is utterly shame­less. As was the dis­gust­ing treat­ment of CIA pen­sion­er and peace pro­test­er, Ray McGov­ern.

The NSA and Guantanamo Bay

Yes­ter­day The Inter­cept released more doc­u­ments from the Edward Snowden trove.  These high­lighted the hitherto sus­pec­ted by unproven involve­ment of the NSA in Guantanamo Bay, extraordin­ary rendi­tion, tor­ture and inter­rog­a­tion.

Here is my inter­view on RT about the sub­ject:

Snowden dis­clos­ures about NSA and Guantanamo from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Interview with George Galloway

Here is my recent inter­view with Brit­ish MP George Gal­lo­way on his RT show, “Sput­nik”.

george_galloway.cleaned

Niemoeller Redux

Pub­lished on RT Op Edge and Con­sor­ti­um News.

I reg­u­larly revis­it the fam­ous Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller poem from the Nazi era as his words remain res­on­ant in our post-9/11, “war on ter­ror” world. Over the last week threads of vari­ous alarm­ing stor­ies have con­verged, so here is my latest update:

First they came for the Muslims, but I was not a Muslim so did not speak up.

Then they came for the whis­tleblowers, but I was not a whis­tleblower so did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domest­ic extrem­ists”, but I was not an act­iv­ist so did not speak up.

And when they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me.

Allow me to explain this cur­rent ver­sion. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will be well aware of my hor­ror at the glob­al rape of basic human rights in the West’s fight against the “war on ter­ror” since 9/11: the kid­nap­pings, the tor­ture, the CIA pres­id­en­tially-approved weekly assas­sin­a­tion lists, the drone bomb­ings, the illeg­al wars.…

All these meas­ures have indeed tar­geted and ter­ror­ised the Muslim com­munity around the world. In the UK I have heard many stor­ies of Brit­ish Muslims wary of attend­ing a fam­ily event such as a wed­ding of their cous­ins in Pakistan or wherever, in case they get snatched, tor­tured or drone bombed.

Now it appears that even Brit­ish cit­izens who choose to donate to UK char­it­ies offer­ing human­it­ari­an relief in war zones such as Syr­ia can be arres­ted under counter-ter­ror­ism laws.

moazzam_beggMoazzam Begg, the dir­ect­or of Cage (the UK NGO cam­paign­ing about the com­munity impact of the war on ter­ror) was again seized last week. As I have writ­ten before, this is a man who has already exper­i­enced the hor­rors of Bagram air­base and Guantanamo. When he was released he became a cam­paign­er for oth­ers in the same plight and set up the Cage cam­paign which has gained quite some trac­tion over the last few years.

Over a year ago he vis­ited Syr­ia on a fact-find­ing mis­sion, invest­ig­at­ing those who had been sum­mar­ily detained and tor­tured in the con­flict. Last Decem­ber he had his pass­port seized on spuri­ous grounds He wrote about this trip quite openly, and yet now, a year on, has been arres­ted and charged with “train­ing ter­ror­ists and fund rais­ing” in Syr­ia. This is a high-pro­file cam­paign­er who oper­ates in the full glare of the media. How cred­u­lous does one have to be to believe that Begg, after all his exper­i­ences and run­ning this cam­paign, is now involved in “ter­ror­ism”?  Really, any­one?

Since then oth­er people involved in Brit­ish char­it­ies offer­ing aid to the dis­placed peoples of Syr­ia have also been scooped up. But this is just affect­ing the Brit­ish Muslim com­munity, right? There’s “no smoke without fire”, and it does not impinge the lives of most people in the UK, so there has been no wide­spread out­cry.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

Then we have the ongo­ing “war on whis­tleblowers” that I have dis­cussed extens­ively. This affects every sec­tor of soci­ety in every coun­try, but most ser­i­ously affects whis­tleblowers emer­ging from cent­ral gov­ern­ment, the mil­it­ary and the intel­li­gence agen­cies. They are the ones most likely to wit­ness the most hein­ous crimes, and they are the ones auto­mat­ic­ally crim­in­al­ised by secrecy laws.

This is most appar­ent in the UK, where the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) spe­cific­ally crim­in­al­ises whis­tleblow­ing, and in the USA, where Pres­id­ent Obama has invoked the 1917 Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers more times than all oth­er pres­id­ents com­bined over the last cen­tury. If that is not a “war on whis­tleblowers”, I don’t know what is.

This, of course, is a para­noid over-reac­tion to the work of Wikileaks, and the brave actions of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. This is what Obama’s gov­ern­ment deems to be the “insider threat”.  Yet it is only through great­er trans­par­ency that we can oper­ate as informed cit­izens; it is only through great­er account­ab­il­ity that we can hope to obtain justice. And in this era, when we are routinely lied into illeg­al wars, what could be more import­ant?

But intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers are rare, spe­cial­ised and easy to stig­mat­ise as the “oth­er” and now, the insider threat — not quite of the nor­mal world. The issues they dis­close can seem a bit remote, not linked to most people’s daily exper­i­ences.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

But now to my third revamped line of the Pas­tor Niemoeller poem: the act­iv­ists or, to use cur­rent police ter­min­o­logy, the “domest­ic extrem­ists”. This, surely, does impinge on more people’s exper­i­ence of life. If you want to go out and demon­strate against a war, in sup­port of Occupy, for the envir­on­ment, whatever, you are surely exer­cising your demo­crat­ic rights as cit­izens, right?

Er, well no, not these days. I have writ­ten before about how act­iv­ists can be crim­in­al­ised and even deemed to be ter­ror­ists by the police (think Lon­don Occupy in 2011 here). I’m think­ing of the ongo­ing Brit­ish under­cov­er cop scan­dal which con­tin­ues to rumble on.

For those of you out­side the UK, this is a scan­dal that erup­ted in 2010. There is was a sec­tion of secret police who were infilt­rated into act­iv­ist groups under secret iden­tit­ies to live the life, report back, and even poten­tially work as ena­blers or agents pro­vocateurs. As the scan­dal has grown it appears that some of these cops fathered chil­dren with their tar­gets and spied on the griev­ing fam­il­ies of murder vic­tims.

This sounds like the East Ger­man Stasi, but was hap­pen­ing in the UK in the last couple of dec­ades. A gov­ern­ment enquiry has just been announced and many old cases against act­iv­ists will be reviewed to see if tar­nished “evid­ence” was involved in the tri­als and sub­sequent con­vic­tions.

But again this does not affect most people bey­ond the act­iv­ist com­munity.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

jesselyn_radackNow, people who have always assumed they have cer­tain pro­tec­tions because of their pro­fes­sions, such as law­yers and journ­al­ists, are also being caught in this drag­net. Juli­an Assange’s law­yer, Jen­nifer Robin­son, dis­covered she was on a flight watch list a few years ago. More recently Jes­selyn Radack, human rights dir­ect­or of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject and leg­al advisor to Edward Snowden, was stopped and inter­rog­ated at the UK bor­der.

And just this week a Dutch invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist, Brenno de Winter, was unable to do his job since his name was placed on alert in all nation­al gov­ern­ment build­ings. The police accused him of hack­ing-related crimes and burg­lary. They had to retract this when the smear cam­paign came to light.

Brenno has made his name by free­dom of inform­a­tion requests from the Dutch pub­lic sec­tor and his sub­sequent invest­ig­a­tions, for which he was named Dutch Journ­al­ist of the Year in 2011. Hardly sub­ver­sion, red in tooth and claw, but obvi­ously now deemed to be an exist­en­tial, nation­al secur­ity threat to the Neth­er­lands.

Nor is this a Dutch prob­lem — we have seen this in the US, where journ­al­ists such as James Ris­en and Bar­rett Brown have been houn­ded merely for doing their jobs, and the Glenn Greenwald’s part­ner, Dav­id Mir­anda, was detained at Lon­don Heath­row air­port under counter-ter­ror­ism laws.

Journ­al­ists, who always some­what com­pla­cently thought they had spe­cial pro­tec­tions in West­ern coun­tries, are being increas­ingly tar­geted when try­ing to report on issues such as pri­vacy, sur­veil­lance, whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures and wars.

Only a few are being tar­geted now, but I hope these cases will be enough to wake the rest up, while there is still the chance for them to take action.…

.…before there is nobody left to speak up for us.

Rendition and torture — interview on RT

Here’s my recent inter­view on RT’s excel­lent and incis­ive new UK polit­ics pro­gramme, “Going Under­ground”.  In it I dis­cuss rendi­tion, tor­ture, spy over­sight and much more:

Going Under­ground Ep 22 1 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tion­al Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the sub­ject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bol­ic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­crat­ic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the glob­al impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cov­er cop in the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­cred­it the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Steph­en Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­gin­al invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tion­al police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­in­al tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Steph­en Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wag­on, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish Nation­al Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cov­er officers were try­ing to gath­er advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cov­er cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­gin­al scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­ment­al protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to nation­al secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Ger­many.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the form­al hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­crat­ic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  With­in a notion­al demo­cracy, this is just gobsmack­ing.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by seni­or spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-over­due nation­al debate becomes ever more neces­sary.

Journalists need to tool up

Pub­lished in the Huff­ing­ton Post UK:

Over the last week more sound, fury and indig­na­tion has cas­caded forth from the US media, spill­ing into the European news, about the Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment and the Asso­ci­ated Press spy­ing scan­dal.

Last week it emerged that the US Depart­ment of Justice mon­itored the tele­phones of, gasp, journ­al­ists work­ing at AP. Appar­ently this was done to try to invest­ig­ate who might have been the source for a story about a foiled ter­ror­ist plot in Yemen. How­ever, the drag­net seems to have widened to cov­er almost 100 journ­al­ists and poten­tially threatened gov­ern­ment­al leak­ers and whis­tleblowers who, in these days of sys­tem­at­ic secur­ity crack­downs in the US, are fast becom­ing Pub­lic Enemy No 1.

Now it appears that the US DoJ has been read­ing the emails of a seni­or Fox News report­er. And this has got the US hacks into a fright­ful tizz. What about the First Amend­ment?

Well, what about the fact that the Pat­ri­ot Act shred­ded most of the US Con­sti­tu­tion a dec­ade ago?

Also, who is actu­ally facing the secur­ity crack­down here? The US journ­al­ists are bleat­ing that their sources are dry­ing up in the face of a sys­tem­at­ic witch hunt by the US admin­is­tra­tion. That must be hard for the journ­al­ists — hard at least to get the stor­ies and by-lines that ensure their con­tin­ued employ­ment and the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.

Er, yes, but how much harder for the poten­tial whis­tleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increas­ingly facing dra­coni­an pris­on sen­tences under the recently rean­im­ated and cur­rently much-deployed US 1917 Espi­on­age Act for expos­ing issues in the pub­lic interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced dec­ades in pris­on for expos­ing cor­rup­tion and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in pris­on for expos­ing the use of tor­ture.

The US gov­ern­ment has learned well from the example of the UK’s Offi­cial Secrets Acts — laws that nev­er actu­ally seem to be wiel­ded against real estab­lish­ment trait­ors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used fre­quently and effect­ively to stifle dis­sent, cov­er up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Estab­lish­ment.

So, two points:

Firstly, the old media could and should have learned from the new mod­el that is Wikileaks and its ilk. Rather than asset strip­ping the organ­isa­tion for inform­a­tion, while abandon­ing the alleged source, Brad­ley Man­ning, and the founder, Juli­an Assange, to their fates, Wikileaks’s erstwhile allies could and mor­ally should cam­paign for them. The issues of the free flow of inform­a­tion, demo­cracy and justice are big­ger than petty argu­ments about per­son­al­ity traits.

Plus, the old media appear to have a death wish: to quote the words of the former New York Times edit­or and Wikileaks col­lab­or­at­or Bill Keller, Wikileaks is not a pub­lish­er — it is a source, pure and simple. But surely, if Wikileaks is “only” a source, it must be pro­tec­ted at all costs — that is the media’s prime dir­ect­ive. Journ­al­ists have his­tor­ic­ally gone to pris­on rather than give away their sources.

How­ever, if Wikileaks is indeed deemed to be a pub­lish­er and can be per­se­cuted this way, then all the old media are equally vul­ner­able. And indeed that is what we are wit­ness­ing now with these spy­ing scan­dals.

Secondly, these so-called invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists are sur­prised that their phones were tapped?  Really?

If they are doing prop­er, worth­while journ­al­ism, of course their comms will be tapped in a post-Pat­ri­ot Act, sur­veil­lance-state world. Why on earth are they not tak­ing their own and their sources’ secur­ity ser­i­ously? Is it ama­teur night?

In this day and age, any ser­i­ous journ­al­ist (and there are still a few hon­our­able examples) will be tak­ing steps to pro­tect the secur­ity of their sources. They will be tooled up, tech-savvy, and they will have atten­ded Crypto-parties to learn secur­ity skills. They will also be pain­fully aware that a whis­tleblower is a per­son poten­tially facing pris­on, rather than just the source of a career-mak­ing story.

If main­stream journ­al­ists are ser­i­ous about expos­ing cor­rup­tion, hold­ing power to account, and fight­ing for justice they need to get ser­i­ous about source pro­tec­tion too and get teched-up. Help is widely avail­able to those who are inter­ested. Indeed, this sum­mer the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism is host­ing talks in Lon­don on this sub­ject, and many oth­er inter­na­tion­al journ­al­ism con­fer­ences have done the same over the last few years.

Sadly, the level of interest and aware­ness remains rel­at­ively low — many journ­al­ists retain a naïve trust in the gen­er­al leg­al­ity of their government’s actions: the author­it­ies may bend the rules a little for “ter­ror­ists”, but of course they will abide by the rules when it comes to the media.….

.…or not. Water­gate now looks rather quaint in com­par­is­on.

As for me: well, I have had some help and have indeed been teched-up. My laptop runs the free Ubuntu Linux (the 64 bit ver­sion for grown-ups) from an encryp­ted sol­id state hard drive. I have long and dif­fer­ent pass­words for every online ser­vice I use. My mail and web serv­er are in Switzer­land and I encrypt as much of my email as pos­sible. It’s at least a start.

And here’s what I have to say about why journ­al­ists should think about these issues and how they can pro­tect both them­selves and their sources: Open­ing key­note “The Big Dig Con­fer­ence” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Security and liberty — the aftermath of the Boston bombings

An abbre­vi­ated ver­sion of this art­icle was pub­lished by RT Op-Edge yes­ter­day.

News of the two bombs in Boston, in which 3 people have so far died and more than 100 have been injured, has rico­cheted around the world.  Bey­ond the grim stat­ist­ics, there is little con­crete evid­ence about the who and the why, and nor will there be pos­sibly for days or even weeks.  This con­fu­sion is inev­it­able in the wake of such an attack, as the intel­li­gence agen­cies and police play frantic catch-up to identi­fy the per­pet­rat­ors and, we hope, bring them to justice — although of course in post-Pat­ri­ot Act, post-NDAA Amer­ica, the per­pet­rat­ors are more likely to find their names on the CIA’s pres­id­en­tially-approved kill list.

In the absence of facts, the media fills its air­waves with spec­u­la­tion and repe­ti­tion, thereby inad­vert­ently whip­ping up yet more fear and uncer­tainty.  The fall-out from this is an erup­tion of pre­ju­dice in the social media, with desk bound her­oes jump­ing to con­clu­sions and advoc­at­ing viol­ent repris­als against whole swathes of the Middle East.  And this fear and hate plays straight into the hands of the “enemy-indus­tri­al com­plex” so aptly described by Tom Engel­hardt recently.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to pay our respects to those who died in ter­ror­ist attacks on Monday. Even a quick surf through the inter­net pro­duces a grim and no doubt incom­plete tally: Iraq (55); Afgh­anistan (7); Somalia (30); Syr­ia (18); Pakistan (4); USA (3). All these num­bers rep­res­ent someone’s child, moth­er, friend, broth­er, loved one, and all will be mourned.

Alas, not all of these vic­tims will receive as much air-time as the unfor­tu­nates caught up in the Boston attacks. And this is espe­cially the case where attacks are car­ried out by the Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary against sus­pec­ted “insur­gents” across the Middle East.

Indeed, on the same day The Tele­graph repor­ted that the UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on counter-ter­ror­ism and human rights, fam­ous Brit­ish bar­ris­ter Ben Emmer­son (Queen’s Coun­sel), had stated that drone strikes across the Middle East were illeg­al under inter­na­tion­al law. Their con­tin­ued use only served to legit­im­ise Al Qaeda attacks against the US mil­it­ary and its infra­struc­ture in the region.

bradley_manningAs we saw in 2010 when Wikileaks released the video, “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, such atro­cit­ies are covered up for years, denied by the gov­ern­ment, nor will the per­pet­rat­ors be held to account — they are prob­ably still serving in the mil­it­ary. Instead the whis­tleblower who exposed this crime, Brad­ley Man­ning, lan­guishes in pris­on facing a court mar­tial, and the pub­lish­er of the mater­i­al, Wikileaks, faces glob­al repres­sion and a secret fed­er­al grand jury indict­ment.

With its end­less, spec­u­lat­ive scare­mon­ger­ing about the Boston attacks, the US media plays a diabol­ic­al role in fur­ther­ing the work of the attack­ers — ie ter­ror­ising the pop­u­la­tion, indu­cing them to live in a state of abject fear.  Of course, once suit­ably ter­ror­ised, the US people will be even more will­ing to give away what remains of their his­tor­ic freedoms, all in the name of increas­ing their secur­ity.  Well, we know the views of one late, great Amer­ic­an on this sub­ject, Ben­jamin Frank­lin: “those who would give up essen­tial liberty to pur­chase a little tem­por­ary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

Indeed, the abrog­a­tion of liberty in the USA has pat­ently not res­ul­ted in great­er secur­ity, as Boston has so bru­tally demon­strated. No soci­ety can pro­tect itself abso­lutely against ter­ror­ism.

In a demo­cracy, just as rights come with respons­ib­il­it­ies, so freedoms come with risk. And we need to remem­ber that those freedoms were hard-won by our ancest­ors and will be equally dif­fi­cult to win back if we heed­lessly throw them away now, while the risks remain stat­ist­ic­ally neg­li­gible.

Guantanamo_BaySuc­cess­ive US gov­ern­ments have already decim­ated the basic rights of the US people in the post-9/11 secur­ity pan­ic. At the sharp end, people, both glob­ally and now also in Amer­ica, can be extraordin­ar­ily rendered (kid­napped) to black pris­on sites and tor­tured for years on the word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, they can be denied due leg­al pro­cess, and they can be killed on pres­id­en­tial decree by drone strikes — a real-world ver­sion of the snuff video.

Addi­tion­ally, the US has des­cen­ded into a pan­op­tic­an sur­veil­lance state, with endem­ic data-min­ing of com­mu­nic­a­tions, air­borne drone spy­ing, and the cat­egor­isa­tion of pro­test­ers as “domest­ic extrem­ists” or even “ter­ror­ists” who are then beaten up by mil­it­ar­ised police forces. This oti­ose secur­ity theatre con­stantly reminds US cit­izens to be afraid, be very afraid, of the enemy with­in.

Ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are crim­in­al acts, they are not a sep­ar­ate form of “evil­tude”, to use George Bush-era ter­min­o­logy.  As such, the crim­in­als behind such attacks should be invest­ig­ated, evid­ence gathered, and they should be tried in front of a jury of their peers, where justice can be done and be seen to be done. So it is troub­ling that the Boston FBI bur­eau chief, Richard Des­Laur­i­ers, is today quoted in the New York Times as say­ing he is work­ing on “a crim­in­al invest­ig­a­tion that is a poten­tial ter­ror­ist invest­ig­a­tion”. The pre­cise dif­fer­ence being?

Like­wise, ter­ror­ist attacks are not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation, even events on the scale of 9/11.  How­ever, I would sug­gest that the response of the secur­ity-indus­tri­al com­plex poses a great­er exist­en­tial threat to the future well-being of the USA. The post-9/11 secur­ity crack­down in the USA has eroded core demo­crat­ic val­ues, while the mil­it­ary response across the Middle East has bank­rup­ted Amer­ica and cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion of poten­tial enemies.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Com­pare and con­trast the response of the Nor­we­gi­an people in the after­math of the ter­ror­ist attacks and murder of 77 people by Anders Breivik. As a coun­try, there was a need to see justice done, but not to allow such an appalling attack to com­prom­ise the val­ues of the soci­ety and des­troy a cher­ished way of life for all.  And this the Nor­we­gi­an people achieved.

BishopsgateSim­il­arly between the late 1980s and the late 1990s the UK endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now?

Dur­ing the 1990s, at the height of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA’s bomb­ing cam­paign on main­land Bri­tain, I lived in cent­ral Lon­don and worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5). Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sion­al life, I have per­sonal memor­ies of what it was like to live under the shad­ow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­toria train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 1990s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­doner was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.

Lon­don­ers grew used to such incon­veni­ence; they grumbled a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then got on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to London’s diurn­al rhythm was that there were few­er US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

In con­trast to the post-9/11 years, the UK did not then react by shred­ding the basic freedoms of its people.  There were cer­tainly con­tro­ver­sial cases and heated debates about how long you could hold a ter­ror­ist sus­pect without charge, but the way of life con­tin­ued much as before. Now, twelve years after 9/11 — an attack on a dif­fer­ent con­tin­ent — the UK has all the laws in place to enact a de facto police state with­in days.

Life and liberty are both pre­cious. It is always tra­gic when lives are be lost in the name of some twis­ted or arcane polit­ic­al cause; it is even more tra­gic when the liberty of all is also lost as a res­ult.

Statue_of_Liberty_7My heart goes out to those who were injured and to the friends and fam­il­ies who have lost loved ones in the Boston attacks, in the same way it goes out to all those who were killed and maimed across the Middle East yes­ter­day.

How­ever, I do urge cau­tion in the US response; evid­ence needs to be gathered and justice seen to be done. Anoth­er secur­ity crack­down on a fear­ful US pop­u­la­tion will hurt Amer­ic­ans much more than two bombs in Boston ever could, while yet more remotely-con­trolled revenge killings across the Middle East will kill, maim and dis­place many more thou­sands.

I shall leave you with a quote from anoth­er great Amer­ic­an, Thomas Jef­fer­son:

Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the acci­dent­al opin­ion of the day; but a series of oppres­sions, begun at a dis­tin­guished peri­od, and pur­sued unal­ter­ably through every change of min­is­ters too plainly proves a delib­er­ate, sys­tem­at­ic plan of redu­cing us to slavery.

The Free Speech Debate

My recent inter­view for the excel­lent Oxford Uni­ver­sity Free Speech Debate pro­ject, run by Pro­fess­or Timothy Gar­ton Ash.  I dis­cuss whis­tleblow­ing, the Offi­cial Secrets Act, Wikileaks and much more:

Gestapo Courts

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 30 Septem­ber 2012

Pub­lished in The Real News Net­work, 30 Septem­ber 2012

A lot of sound and fury has been expen­ded in the Brit­ish media over the last few months about the Coali­tion government’s pro­pos­al to enact secret courts via the pro­posed Justice and Secur­ity Bill — purely for ter­ror­ist cases, you under­stand. Which, of course, is OK as we all know ter­ror­ists are by defin­i­tion the Bad­dies.

Except we need to drill down into the detail of the pro­pos­als, have a look at some his­tory, and think through the future implic­a­tions.

The concept of secret courts emerged from the offi­cial UK spook sec­tor — MI5 and MI6 have been lob­by­ing hard for such pro­tec­tion over recent years.  Their argu­ment revolves around a num­ber of civil cases, where Brit­ish vic­tims of extraordin­ary rendi­tion and sub­sequent tor­ture have sued the pants off the spies through civil courts and received some recom­pense for their years of suf­fer­ing.

The most notori­ous case was that of Binyam Mohamed, who was repeatedly tor­tured in a black pris­on in Morocco, with Brit­ish spies allegedly con­trib­ut­ing to his ques­tion­ing. And we’re not talk­ing about a few stress pos­i­tions, awful as they are. Mohamed was strung up and had his penis repeatedly slashed with a razor.

MI5 and MI6 are aggrieved because they could not defend them­selves in the res­ult­ant civil actions brought against them, and they (and their former polit­ic­al mas­ter Jack Straw) are par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about future cases around the MI6-organ­ised Liby­an rendi­tions exposed last year.  The spies’ argu­ment is that hav­ing to pro­duce evid­ence in their own defence would dam­age that ever-flex­ible but curi­ously vague concept of “nation­al secur­ity”.

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

The spooks have tra­di­tion­ally used the “nation­al secur­ity” argu­ment as the ulti­mate get-out-of-jail-free card.  It has nev­er been leg­ally defined, but it is unfail­ingly effect­ive with judges and politi­cians.

We saw sim­il­ar argu­ments dur­ing the post-9/11 secur­ity flap, when many ter­ror­ist sus­pects were scooped up and interned in high secur­ity Brit­ish pris­ons such as Bel­marsh on the say-so of face­less intel­li­gence officers. No evid­ence needed to be adduced, nor could it be chal­lenged. The sub­sequent con­trol order sys­tem was equally Kafkaesque.

That’s not to say that cer­tain interned indi­vidu­als might not have been an act­ive threat to the UK.  How­ever, in the “good” old days (god, I sound ancient), sus­pects would have had evid­ence gathered against them, been tried by a jury, con­victed and imprisoned. The sys­tem was nev­er per­fect and evid­ence could be egre­giously with­held, but at least appeals were pos­sible, most not­ably in the case of the Birm­ing­ham Six.

Since 9/11 even breath­ing the word “ter­ror­ist” has meant that all these his­tor­ic com­mon law prin­ciples seem to have been jet­tisoned.  Even before the pro­posed enshrine­ment of “secret courts” in the new Bill, they are already being used in the UK — the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeal Com­mis­sion (SIAC) tribunals hear secret evid­ence and the defendant’s chosen law­yer is not allowed to attend. Instead a spe­cial, gov­ern­ment-approved advoc­ate is appoin­ted to “rep­res­ent the interests” of the defend­ant who is not allowed to know what his accusers have to say. And there was no appeal.

But all this is so unne­ces­sary.  The powers are already in place to be used (and abused) to shroud our notion­ally open court pro­cess in secrecy.  Judges can exclude the press and the pub­lic from court rooms by declar­ing the ses­sion in cam­era for all or part of the pro­ceed­ings.  Plus, in nation­al secur­ity cases, gov­ern­ment min­is­ters can also issue Pub­lic Interest Immunity Cer­ti­fic­ates (PIIs) that not only bar the press from report­ing the pro­ceed­ings, but can also ban them from report­ing they are gagged — the gov­ern­ment­al super-injunc­tion.

So the powers already exist to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity”.  No, the real point of the new secret courts is to ensure that the defend­ant and, par­tic­u­larly in my view, their chosen law­yers can­not hear the alleg­a­tions if based on intel­li­gence of any kind. Yet even the spies them­selves agree that the only type of intel­li­gence that really needs to be kept secret involves ongo­ing oper­a­tions, agent names, and sens­it­ive oper­a­tion­al tech­niques.

 And as for the right to be tried by a jury of your peers — for­get it.  Of course jur­ies will have no place in such secret courts.  The only time we have seen such dra­coni­an judi­cial meas­ures in the UK out­side a time of offi­cial war was dur­ing the Troubles in North­ern Ire­land — the infam­ous Dip­lock Courts — begin­ning in the 1970s and which incred­ibly were still in use this year.

I am not an apo­lo­gist of ter­ror­ism although I can under­stand the social injustice that can lead to it.  How­ever, I’m also very aware that the threat can be arti­fi­cially ramped up and manip­u­lated to achieve pre­con­ceived polit­ic­al goals.

I would sug­gest that the concept of secret courts will prove fatally dan­ger­ous to our demo­cracy.  It may start with the concept of get­ting the Big Bad Ter­ror­ist, but in more polit­ic­ally unstable or strin­gent eco­nom­ic times this concept is wide open to mis­sion creep.

We are already see­ing a slide towards expand­ing the defin­i­tion of “ter­ror­ist” to include “domest­ic extrem­ists”, act­iv­ists, single issue cam­paign­ers et al, as I have writ­ten before. And just recently inform­a­tion was leaked about a new pub­lic-private EU ini­ti­at­ive, Clean IT, that pro­poses ever more invas­ive and dra­coni­an poli­cing powers to hunt down “ter­ror­ists” on the inter­net. This pro­pos­al fails to define ter­ror­ism, but does provide for endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance of the EU. Pure cor­por­at­ism.

Allow­ing secret courts to try people on the say-so of a shad­owy, unac­count­able and bur­geon­ing spy com­munity lands us straight back in the pages of his­tory: La Ter­reur of revolu­tion­ary France, the creepy sur­veil­lance of the Stasi, or the dis­ap­pear­ances and tor­ture of the Gestapo.

Have we learned noth­ing?

21st Century Pacificism (The Old Stuff)

The_ScreamI have always been ideo­lo­gic­ally opposed to war and all the hor­rors that flow in its wake: agon­ising fear and death, fam­ine, dis­place­ment, maim­ing, tor­ture, rape, intern­ment and the break­down of all the hard-won val­ues of civ­il­ised human law and beha­viour.

Look­ing back, I think that was partly why I was attrac­ted to work in dip­lomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intel­li­gence. These worlds, although by no means per­fect, could con­ceiv­ably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a coun­try goes bel­low­ing into all-out war.

I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meet­ings, worked with Make Wars His­tory, and have cease­lessly spoken out and writ­ten about these and related issues.

Alastair_Campbell_1Today in the UK we have reached a con­sensus that Blair’s gov­ern­ment lied to the coun­try into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruc­tion, and sub­sequently enabled the Bush admin­is­tra­tion to do the same in the USA, hyp­ing up the threat of a nuc­le­ar Iraq using false intel­li­gence provided by MI6.

Mil­lions of people marched then, and mil­lions of people con­tin­ue to protest against the ongo­ing engorge­ment of the military/intelligence com­plex, but noth­ing ever seems to change.  It’s demo­crat­ic­ally dis­em­power­ing and an ener­vat­ing exper­i­ence.  What can we do about it?

I have a couple of sug­ges­tions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egre­gious cur­rent fake real­it­ies.

David_CameronLast year we had the spec­tacle of the cur­rent No 10 incum­bent, Dave Camer­on, stat­ing that the Liby­an inter­ven­tion would be noth­ing like Iraq — it would be “neces­sary, leg­al and right”. But there was no sub­sequent joined-up think­ing, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq gen­o­cide, des­pite prima facie breaches of inter­na­tion­al war law and of the Offi­cial Secrets Act.…

Abdelhakim-BelhajBut help might be at hand for those inter­ested in justice, cour­tesy of Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, former Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group lead­er, MI6 kid­nap­ping and tor­ture vic­tim, and cur­rent mil­it­ary com­mand­er in Tripoli.

After NATO’s human­it­ari­an bomb­ing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s régime, some ser­i­ously embar­rass­ing paper­work was found in the aban­doned office of Liby­an For­eign Min­is­ter and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and sub­sequently on to Qatar).

These let­ters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Ter­ror­ism and cur­rent BP con­sult­ant, Sir Mark Allen, gloat­ingly offer up the hap­less Bel­haj to the Liby­ans for tor­ture.  It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new best­est friends.

Bel­haj, under­stand­ably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a res­ult, a frantic dam­age-lim­it­a­tion exer­cise is going on, with MI6 try­ing to buy his silence with a mil­lion quid, and scat­ter­ing unat­trib­uted quotes across the Brit­ish media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, gov­ern­ment.…”.

Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eye­brow-deep in the stink­ing cesspit. One or oth­er of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kid­nap­ping, know­ing he would be tor­tured in Tripoli. Or per­haps they actu­ally are inno­cent of this.…. but if they didn’t sign off on the Bel­haj extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping, then MI6 was run­ning rampant, work­ing out­side the law on their watch.

Either way, there are ser­i­ous ques­tions to be answered.

Jack_StrawBoth these upstand­ing politi­cians are, of course, suf­fer­ing from polit­ic­al amne­sia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time of the kid­nap­ping, has said that he can­not have been expec­ted to know everything the spies got up to — even though that was pre­cisely his job, as he was respons­ible for them under the terms of the Intel­li­gence Secur­ity Act 1994, and should cer­tainly have had to clear an oper­a­tion so polit­ic­ally sens­it­ive.

In the wake of Afgh­anistan, Iraq and Libya, what wor­ries me now is that exactly the same reas­ons, with politi­cians mouth­ing exactly the same plat­it­ud­in­ous “truths”, are being pushed to jus­ti­fy an increas­ingly inev­it­able strike against Iran.

Depress­ing as this all is, I would sug­gest that protest­ing each new, indi­vidu­al war is not the neces­sar­ily the most effect­ive response.  Just as the world’s mar­kets have been glob­al­ised, so mani­festly to the bene­fit of all we 99%-ers, have many oth­er issues.

Unlike Dave Camer­on, we need to apply some joined-up think­ing.  Glob­al protest groups need to counter more than indi­vidu­al wars in Iraq, Afgh­anistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syr­ia, Iran.….. sorry, I’m get­ting writer’s cramp just enu­mer­at­ing all the cur­rent wars.

Give me a while to over­come my mor­al spasm, and I shall return with a few sug­ges­tions about pos­sible ways for­ward — 21st Cen­tury Paci­fism; the New Stuff.

Iran_and_US_bases

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hit­ting the head­lines this week, is that of Jord­ani­an-born alleged ter­ror­ist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged pass­port almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absen­tia of ter­ror­ist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in sev­en oth­er coun­tries for ter­ror­ist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been vari­ously interned, placed under con­trol order, and held in max­im­um secur­ity pris­ons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be depor­ted to stand tri­al in his nat­ive coun­try, but these rul­ings were recently over­turned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had con­cerns that Jord­ani­an dip­lo­mat­ic assur­ances that he would not be tor­tured could not be relied on, and that evid­ence against him in any retri­al there might have been obtained using tor­ture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a res­ult, Mr Justice Mit­ting of the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeals Com­mis­sion (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new con­trol order).  This decision has pre­dict­ably roused the froth­ing wrath of the Home Office and the read­er­ship of the Daily Mail.  Politi­cians of all fla­vours have rushed out their sound bites con­demning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the com­pla­cency and the very dis­dain for law that the Brit­ish polit­ic­al and intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture has dis­played for the last dec­ade that has cre­ated this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion, and indeed intern­ment without tri­al with­in the UK, the rule of law had been fol­lowed, the coun­try would not cur­rently find itself in this leg­al quag­mire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due pro­cess to invest­ig­ate a ter­ror­ist sus­pect as you would any oth­er sus­pec­ted crim­in­al: gath­er the evid­ence, present the case to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, hold a tri­al in front of a jury, and work towards a con­vic­tion. 

How quaintly old-fash­ioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the incep­tion of the hys­ter­ic­ally bru­tal “war on ter­ror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into pris­on for years on the secret word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, where even the sus­pects’ law­yers are not allowed to see the inform­a­tion against their cli­ents.  The Brit­ish leg­al sys­tem has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yesterday’s Guard­i­an about the Abu Qatada rul­ing:

The Con­ser­vat­ive back­bench­er Domin­ic Raab echoed Blunkett’s anger: “This res­ult is a dir­ect res­ult of the per­verse rul­ing by the Stras­bourg court. It makes a mock­ery of human rights law that a ter­ror­ist sus­pect deemed ‘dan­ger­ous’ by our courts can’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tor­tured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jord­ani­an justice sys­tem.”

Julian_assangeIn the case of Juli­an Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice sys­tem? While the Swedish judi­cial sys­tem may have an ostens­ibly more fra­grant repu­ta­tion than that of Jordan, it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair tri­al.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the leg­al terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”.  And, to bas­tard­ise the above quote, who now really trusts the Amer­ic­an justice sys­tem?

A secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­gin­ia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

For­get about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-break­ing new form of high-tech journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retali­ation for the embar­rass­ment he has caused by expos­ing US double deal­ing and war crimes over the last dec­ade, and no doubt as a dread­ful example to deter oth­ers.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US sol­dier Private Brad­ley Man­ning, has been kept in inhu­mane and degrad­ing con­di­tions for well over a year and will now be court-mar­tialed.  The gen­er­al assump­tion is that this pro­cess was designed to break him, so that he would implic­ate Assange and pos­sibly oth­er Wikileaks asso­ci­ates.  

In my view, that means that any US tri­al of Assange could essen­tially be rely­ing on evid­ence obtained under tor­ture.  And if Assange is extra­dited and and judi­cially rendered to the US, he too will face tor­tur­ous con­di­tions.

So, to sum­mar­ise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight coun­tries for ter­ror­ist offences, has already been con­victed twice in his home coun­try, but who can­not be extra­dited.

And on the oth­er hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or con­victed of any­thing, but is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing on minor and appar­ently trumped up charges in anoth­er coun­try, yet who has also been imprisoned in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the Brit­ish author­it­ies are happy to col­lude in his extra­di­tion.

Both these men poten­tially face a mis­tri­al and both may poten­tially exper­i­ence what is now euphemist­ic­ally known as “degrad­ing and inhu­mane treat­ment”.

But because one faces being sent back to his home coun­try — now seen for the pur­poses of his case as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture — he shall prob­ably not be extra­dited.  How­ever, the oth­er faces being sent to an ali­en coun­try well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judi­cial sys­tem oops, sorry, as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a leg­al laugh­ing stock around the world and our judi­cial frame­work has been bent com­pletely out of shape by the require­ments of the “war on ter­ror” and the rap­idly devel­op­ing cor­por­ate fas­cism of our gov­ern­ment.  

The UK is cur­rently cel­eb­rat­ing the bicen­ten­ary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens.  Per­haps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he dis­cussed in one of his best-known nov­els, “A Tale of Two Cit­ies”.  Do we want our coun­try to slide fur­ther down the path of state ter­ror­ism — a phrase adop­ted from the ori­gin­al Grande Ter­reur of the French Revolu­tion? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due pro­cess of law, and justice.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist

Here we go again.  In this heart­warm­ing art­icle in today’s Guard­i­an news­pa­per, Brit­ish MPs on the Home Affairs Com­mit­tee have decided that the inter­net is the most sig­ni­fic­ant factor in the rad­ic­al­isa­tion of viol­ent extrem­ists and con­clude that Some­thing Must Be Done.

One para­graph leapt out at me:

The Com­mons home affairs com­mit­tee says inter­net ser­vice pro­viders need to be as effect­ive at remov­ing mater­i­al that pro­motes viol­ent extrem­ism as they are in remov­ing con­tent that is sexu­al or breaches copy­right.” (My emphas­is.)

Anti_SOPA_cartoonMost of us are aware of the recent dog­fight in the US about the pro­posed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copy­right infringe­ment and, as a res­ult, there is a some­what belated but stead­ily increas­ing out­cry in Europe about the immin­ent impos­i­tion of ACTA across the con­tin­ent.  

I have writ­ten before about how such laws provide the mil­it­ary-intel­li­gence com­plex with the per­fect stalk­ing horse for a pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance state, and the cam­paign­ing writer, Cory Doc­torow, summed it up beau­ti­fully when he wrote that “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.

And, lo, it is now appar­ently com­ing to pass.  The Par­lia­ment­ary half-wits are now pro­pos­ing to use com­mer­cial legis­la­tion such as the utterly undemo­crat­ic ACTA as a bench­mark for coun­ter­ing poten­tial ter­ror­ists and extrem­ists.  Might they have failed to notice the pleth­ora of exist­ing counter-ter­ror­ism and eaves­drop­ping legis­la­tion, put in place for this very pur­pose and already much used and abused by a wide range of pub­lic bod­ies in the UK?

This yet again high­lights the mis­sion-creepy Big Broth­er cor­por­at­ist group-think.  Rather than hav­ing to spell it out in bor­ing old lin­ear text, here is some use­ful link­age — what I like to think of as 3-D writ­ing: 

Pro­test­er = act­iv­ist = domest­ic extrem­ist = viol­ent extrem­ist = ter­ror­ist  

G20_kettling

I’m sure you can see where I am head­ing.  To name but a few notori­ous abuses, we already live in a world where west­ern gov­ern­ments and spy agen­cies col­lude in the kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and assas­sin­a­tion of alleged ter­ror­ist sus­pects; the NDAA now endorses these prac­tices with­in the US; Brit­ish police spy on inno­cent protest groups for years; legit­im­ate pro­test­ers can be “kettled”, beaten up and maced; act­iv­ists can be pre-empt­ively arres­ted as eas­ily in the UK as in Syr­ia; and where Amer­ic­an politi­cians want to des­ig­nate the high-tech pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion Wikileaks as a ter­ror­ist group.

There is an old aph­or­ism that one man’s ter­ror­ist was anoth­er man’s free­dom fight­er.  I think the time has come for an update:

One man’s ter­ror­ist is anoth­er man’s act­iv­ist.  

And we are all increas­ingly at risk.