Discussing the Belhaj Torture Case with George Galloway

I enjoyed my inter­view on UK Talk Radio with George Gal­lo­way this even­ing about the set­tle­ment of the shock­ing Liy­ban Bel­haj tor­ture case — I have been fol­low­ing this for years and am very glad to see that he finally got justice.

Annie Machon, former MI5 Officer, dis­cusses Bel­haj rendi­tion case with George Gal­lo­way from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

I have been fol­low­ing the case since it star­ted, as you can see here from my art­icle in 2012. But I do now fear for Iran, after what has happened to Libya and Syr­ia.

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.

MI5 officer has evidence of torture?

Well, this story is inter­est­ing me extremely, and for the obvi­ous as well as the per­haps more arcanely leg­al reas­ons.

Appar­ently a former seni­or MI5 officer is ask­ing per­mis­sion to give evid­ence to the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment about the Secur­ity Service’s col­lu­sion in the US tor­ture pro­gramme that was the pyro­clast­ic flow from the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

I have long spec­u­lated about how people with whom I used to work, social­ise with, have din­ner with in the 1990s might have evolved from ideal­ist­ic young officers into people who could con­done or even par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture of oth­er human beings once the war on ter­ror was unleashed in the last dec­ade.

Dur­ing the 1990s MI5 abso­lutely did not con­done the use of tor­ture — not only for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but also because an older gen­er­a­tion was still knock­ing around and they had seen in the civil war in North­ern Ire­land quite how counter-pro­duct­ive such prac­tices were.  Intern­ment, secret courts, stress pos­i­tions, sleep depriva­tion — all these policies acted as a recruit­ing ser­geant for the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA.

My gen­er­a­tion — the first tasked with invest­ig­at­ing the IRA in the UK and Al Qaeda glob­ally — under­stood this.  We were there to run intel­li­gence oper­a­tions, help gath­er evid­ence, and if pos­sible put sus­pec­ted mal­efact­ors on tri­al. Even then, when eth­ic­al bound­ar­ies were breached, many raised con­cerns and many resigned.  A few of us even went pub­lic about our con­cerns.

But that is so much his­tory.  As I said above, I have always wondered how those I knew could have stayed silent once the intel­li­gence gloves came off after 9/11 and MI5 was effect­ively shang­haied into fol­low­ing the bru­tish Amer­ic­an over-reac­tion.

Now it appears that there were indeed doubters with­in, there was indeed a divided opin­ion. And now it appears that someone with seni­or­ity is try­ing to use what few chan­nels exist for whis­tleblowers in the UK to rec­ti­fy this.

In fact, my con­tem­por­ar­ies who stayed on the inside would now be the seni­or officers, so I really won­der who this is — I hope an old friend!

No doubt they will have voiced their con­cerns over the years and no doubt they will have been told just to fol­low orders.

I have said pub­licly over many years that there should be a mean­ing­ful chan­nel for those with eth­ic­al con­cerns to present evid­ence and have them prop­erly invest­ig­ated. In fact, I have even said that the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment should be that chan­nel if — and it’s a big if — they can have real invest­ig­at­ory powers and can be trus­ted not just to brush evid­ence under the car­pet and pro­tect the spies’ repu­ta­tion.

So this takes me to the arcane leg­al­it­ies I alluded to at the start. Dur­ing the Dav­id Shayler whis­tleblow­ing tri­als (1997−2003) all the leg­al argu­ment was around the fact that he could have taken his con­cerns to any crown ser­vant — up to the ISC or his MP and down to and includ­ing the bobby on the beat — and he would not have breached the Offi­cial Secrets Act. That was the argu­ment upon which he was con­victed.

Yet at the same time the pro­sec­u­tion also suc­cess­fully argued dur­ing his tri­al in 2002 in the Old Bailey that there was a “clear bright line” against dis­clos­ure to any­one out­side MI5 — (Sec­tion 1(1) OSA (1989) — without that organisation’s pri­or writ­ten con­sent.

The new case rather proves the lat­ter pos­i­tion — that someone with eth­ic­al con­cerns has to “ask per­mis­sion” to give evid­ence to the “over­sight body”.

Only in the UK.

Now, surely in this uncer­tain and allegedly ter­ror­ist-stricken world, we have nev­er had great­er need for a mean­ing­ful over­sight body and mean­ing­ful reform to our intel­li­gence agen­cies if they go off-beam. Only by learn­ing via safe extern­al vent­il­a­tion, learn­ing from mis­takes, reform­ing and avoid­ing group-think, can they oper­ate in a way that is pro­por­tion­ate in a demo­cracy and best pro­tects us all.

Interview with George Galloway

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

george_galloway.cleaned

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.

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.

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?

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. 

Judicial rendition — the UK-US extradition treaty is a farce

Some­times I sit here read­ing the news —  on sub­jects in which I take a deep interest such as the recent police invest­ig­a­tion into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture, where the police decided not to pro­sec­ute — and feel that I should com­ment.  But really, what would be the point?  Of course the police would not find enough con­crete evid­ence, of course no indi­vidu­al spies would be held to account, des­pite the fact that the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment has already paid massive set­tle­ments to the vic­tims.

BelhadjNow there are reports that the police will be invest­ig­at­ing MI6 involve­ment in the extraordin­ary rendi­tion and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  The case appears bang to rights, with doc­u­ment­ary evid­ence that high-rank­ing MI6 officers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters were involved in and approved the oper­a­tion.  Yet I’m will­ing to bet that the plods at Scot­land Yard will still not be able to find the requis­ite evid­ence to pro­sec­ute any­body. 

The inev­it­able (and prob­ably wished-for out­come on the part of the author­it­ies) is that people become so weary and cyn­ic­al about the lack of justice that they stop fight­ing for it.  And they can tem­por­ar­ily suc­ceed, when we suc­cumb to cyn­ic­al burnout.

But the case repor­ted in today’s Daily Mail, that of a young Brit­ish stu­dent facing extra­di­tion to the US des­pite hav­ing broken no laws in the UK, suc­ceeded in rous­ing my wrath. 

Richard_ODwyerThe hap­less 23-year old Richard O’Dwyer faces 10 years in a max­im­um secur­ity Amer­ic­an pris­on.  His crime, accord­ing to the US, is that he set up a UK-based web­site that provided links to oth­er inter­na­tion­al web­sites that allegedly hos­ted copy­right mater­i­al.

This case is so troub­ling on so many levels it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.  There are issues around the crack­down of US cor­por­ate copy­right law, issues around the inequal­ity of the uni­lat­er­al Extra­di­tion Act 2003, and his­tor­ic ques­tions of US hypo­crisy about extra­di­tion.

So let’s start with the unsup­por­ted alleg­a­tions against poor Richard O’Dwyer.  He is a stu­dent who built a web­site that col­lated a list of sites in oth­er coun­tries that host films, books and music for free down­load.  O’Dwyer did not him­self down­load any copy­righted mater­i­al, and the web­sites he linked to were appar­ently with­in jur­is­dic­tions where such down­loads are not illeg­al.  Provid­ing a sign­post to oth­er leg­al inter­na­tion­al sites is mani­festly not a crime in the UK and he has nev­er been charged.

How­ever, over the last couple of dec­ades the US enter­tain­ment lobby has been fight­ing a vicious rear­guard action against copy­right infringe­ment, start­ing with the music, then the film, and now the pub­lish­ing industry.  The lob­by­ists have proved vic­tori­ous and the invi­di­ous SOPA and PIPA laws are soon to be passed by the US Con­gress.  All well and good you might think — it’s one of those mad US issues.  But oh no, these laws have glob­al reach.  What might be leg­al with­in the UK might still mean that you fall foul of US legis­la­tion.

Gary_McKinnon2Which is where the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 becomes par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.  This law means that any UK cit­izen can be deman­ded by and handed over to the US with no prima facie evid­ence.  As we have seen in the appalling case of alleged hack­er Gary McKin­non, it mat­ters not if the “crime” were com­mit­ted on UK soil (as you can see here, McKinnon’s case was not pro­sec­uted by the UK author­it­ies in 2002.  If it had been, he would have received a max­im­um sen­tence of 6 months’ com­munity ser­vice: if extra­dited he is facing up to 70 years in a US max­im­um secur­ity pris­on).

The UK gov­ern­ment has tried to spin the egre­gious Liby­an cases as “judi­cial rendi­tion” rather than “extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping” or whatever it’s sup­posed to be.  So I think it would be accur­ate to call Gary McKinnon’s case “judi­cial rendi­tion” too, rather than bor­ing old extra­di­tion.

Richard O’Dwyer appar­ently didn’t com­mit any­thing that could be deemed to be a crime in the UK, and yet he is still facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch.  The new US laws like SOPA threaten all of us, and not just with judi­cial rendi­tion. 

As I have men­tioned before, digit­al rights act­iv­ist Cory Doc­torow summed it up best: “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.  These cor­por­ate inter­net laws are a Tro­jan horse that will threaten our basic civil liber­ties across the board.

So now to my third point.  The hypo­crisy around the Amer­ic­an stance on extra­di­tion with the UK is breath­tak­ing.   The UK has been dis­patch­ing its own cit­izens off at an alarm­ing rate to the “tender” mer­cies of the US judi­cial sys­tem since 2004, with no prima facie evid­ence required.  In fact, the leg­al proof required to get a UK cit­izen extra­dited to the US is less than that required for someone to be extra­dited from one US state to anoth­er. 

The US, on the oth­er hand, delayed rat­i­fy­ing the law until 2006, and the bur­den of proof required to extra­dite someone to the UK remains high, so it is unbal­anced not only in concept but also in prac­tice.  And this des­pite the fact that the law was seen as cru­cial to facil­it­ate the trans­fer of highly dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the end­less “war on ter­ror”.

Why has this happened?  One can but spec­u­late about the power of the Irish lobby in the US gov­ern­ment, as Sir Men­zies Camp­bell did dur­ing a par­lia­ment­ary debate about the Act in 2006.   How­ever, it is well known that the US was remark­ably coy about extra­dit­ing IRA sus­pects back to the UK to stand tri­al dur­ing the 30-year “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land.  We even have well-known apo­lo­gists such as Con­gress­man Peter King, the Chair­man of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee attempt­ing to demon­ise organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks as ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions, while at the same being a life-long sup­port­er of Sinn Féin, the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA.

UK_poodleThe double stand­ards are breath-tak­ing.  The US dic­tates an extra­di­tion treaty with the UK to stop ter­ror­ism, but then uses this law to tar­get those who might poten­tially, tan­gen­tially, minutely threaten the profits of the US enter­tain­ment mega-corps; and then it delays rat­i­fy­ing and imple­ment­ing its own law for poten­tially dubi­ous polit­ic­al reas­ons.

And the UK gov­ern­ment yet again rolls over and takes it, while inno­cent stu­dents such as Richard O’Dwyer must pay the price.  As his moth­er is quoted as say­ing: “if they can come for Richard, they can come for any­one”.

Libya, MI6, and torture — interview on Press TV

Libya, MI6, tor­ture, and more happy sub­jects dis­cussed recently on “Africa Today” on Press TV

The pro­gramme was inter­est­ing, informed and bal­anced.  Do have a watch:

Libyans caught between a rock and a hard place

This art­icle in today’s New York Times, par­tic­u­larly these fol­low­ing two para­graphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Liby­an people:

Abdelhakim-Belhaj“The most power­ful mil­it­ary lead­er is now Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, the former lead­er of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The grow­ing influ­ence of Islam­ists in Libya raises hard ques­tions about the ulti­mate char­ac­ter of the gov­ern­ment and soci­ety that will rise in place of Col. Muam­mar el-Qaddafi’s auto­cracy.….

.…Mr. Bel­haj has become so much an insider lately that he is seek­ing to unseat Mah­moud Jib­ril, the Amer­ic­an-trained eco­nom­ist who is the nom­in­al prime min­is­ter of the inter­im gov­ern­ment, after Mr. Jib­ril obliquely cri­ti­cized the Islam­ists.”

The Liby­ans, finally free of Gaddafi’s 42-year dic­tat­or­ship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islam­ist fac­tion that has stated pub­licly that it wants to base the new con­sti­tu­tion on Sharia — a state­ment that must have caused a few ripples amongst Libya’s edu­cated and rel­at­ively  eman­cip­ated women — or a new gov­ern­ment headed up by an Amer­ic­an-trained eco­nom­ist. 

Shock_DoctrineAnd we all know what hap­pens to coun­tries when such eco­nom­ists move in: asset strip­ping, the syphon­ing off of the nation­al wealth to transna­tion­al mega-corps, and a plunge in the people’s liv­ing stand­ards.  If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein’s excel­lent “Shock Doc­trine” — required read­ing for any­one who wants to truly under­stand the grow­ing glob­al fin­an­cial crisis.

Of course, this would be an ideal out­come for the US, UK and oth­er west­ern forces who inter­vened in Libya. 

Mr Bel­haj is, of course, anoth­er mat­ter.  Not only would an Islam­ist Libya be a poten­tially dan­ger­ous res­ult for the West, but should Bel­haj come to power he is likely to be some­what hos­tile to US and par­tic­u­larly Brit­ish interests.  

Why?  Well, Abdul Hakim Bel­haj has form.  He was a lead­ing light in the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, a ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion which bought into the ideo­logy of “Al Qaeda” and which had made many attempts to depose or assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi, some­times with the fin­an­cial back­ing of the Brit­ish spies, most not­ably in the failed assas­sin­a­tion plot of 1996.

Of course, after 9/11 and Gaddafi’s rap­proche­ment with the West, this col­lab­or­a­tion was all air-brushed out of his­tory — to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instru­ment­al in  kid­nap­ping Bel­haj, with the say-so of the CIA, and “extraordin­ar­ily ren­der­ing” him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years’ tor­ture at the hands of Libya’s bru­tal intel­li­gences ser­vices.  After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK com­pan­ies.

So I’m will­ing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes med­dling from our spooks, to ensure the ascend­ency of Jib­ril in the new gov­ern­ment.  Which will be great for West­ern busi­ness, but not so great for the poor Liby­ans.….

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Liby­an spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-pro­file defect­or, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mand­er of the rebel Liby­an forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­teri­al sign-off to be leg­al under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” with­in the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of Dav­id Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to pris­on twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Liby­an and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Liby­an Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletch­er in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illeg­al and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence community’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But wheth­er an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…

RTTV Interview: Libya — the perfect storm

My RTTV inter­view today about Libya, tor­ture, and UK double-deal­ing: