Monday, May 31, 2004

Why was Mr. C receiving funds from the Liberian shipping register?

Our friend Richard Chichakli, Texan accountant and business identity, would surely agree that some of his customers have been other than controversial. After all, in his capacity as president of San Air General Trading he would surely have been delighted to see some US$925,000 in two months come into the company. The source of these funds was interesting, according to the House Armed Services Committee. The US-based company which manages the Liberian shipping register, LISCR, had paid this sum in two tranches to San Air's Sharjah account with the Standard Chartered Bank (no.01015712572). Later, the ways of commerce would bless San Air with a further US$697,980. What a body set up to register companies and ships with the Liberian government was doing paying an airline this sort of money is not clear. The UN Expert Panel seems to believe that this was in the nature of a consideration for services rendered, specifically the supply of war material.

So they say. No alternative explanation has yet been put forward, however. At the time, a consignment of Bulgarian-made rifles was making its way to the Liberian ruler Charles Taylor by means of an Ilyushin 18 aircraft registered to Centrafricain Airlines, supposedly owned by a Bulgarian firm, chartered by MoldTransavia and re-chartered by Centrafricain. It was supposedly a replacement at short notice for another aircraft (a Tupolev 154) leased by Mold from San Air, which in any case was insuring the Il-18. The original charter was signed by the Bulgarians and Centrafricain, but the payment was made by San Air. The conclusion that San Air paid because it received the LISCR money would seem the simplest explanation.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The RGS opens its archives

The Royal Geographical Society is going to open its archive to the public. And if you are a map freak like me, that's very good news. Two million of them, in fact.

If you're such a patriot....

Off to buy the newspapers this morning, I passed a huge red Chrysler Cruiser (the one that tries to look like a thirties gangster wagon) with - what? - a UK Independence Party poster plastered to the window. And a UKIP sticker in the rear windscreen. And another on the opposite side, and UKIP literature liberally (hah!) scattered about the interior. Outside the shop stood a chap waving a UKIP poster, canvassing the public at large. There was a question I wanted to ask him.

Accepting a flyer, I casually inquired "If you are fully committed to absolute economic sovereignty, why do you drive a German car? Why not a Rover?" "It's not a German car." "Oh yes it is. Daimler-Chrysler - it's a German company. Designed in Germany, head office in Germany, listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange." "It's American! Made in Mexico." (What?) "It's a German company. Anyway, they make them in Austria too."

"Well, I'm not a racist about it." And that was it. I thought he was going to say "I am not a racist, but..", but no such luck. He did, though, hand me a document that rather gave the lie to this. "IMMIGRATION TO SOAR!" howls the headline of UKIP's election leaflet.
"With enlargement of the EU in May 2004, Britain will allow 73 million eastern European citizens the right of entry, despite our one million unemployed. Why doesn't France and Germany share this burden? Only UKIP MEPs voted against enlargement."
Well, to start with, why doesn't you learn to write English properly? Or at least use a spellcheck? But let that pass. Note the quite insane suggestion that all of them - all 73 million! - are coming right here. That's right - soon tumbleweeds from the untended fields of Hungary will blow through the deserted streets of a Prague abandoned by its people. Or perhaps not, eh? A little professionalism would have allowed that in fact, France and Germany have allowed them the "right of entry". (How else did the Polish motorhome I saw yesterday get here - airfreight?) This unsavoury document was illustrated with a cartoon showing "GREAT BRITAIN - STANDING ROOM ONLY" with houses built on stilts in the sea, threatened by crowds pushing through the "Channel Funnel". Helpful roadsigns indicate that they are coming from various places in central Europe.

It is not defensible, in my view, to argue that this is not xenophobia. This is an anti-immigrant campaign. Unfortunately, history tells us that you cannot campaign painlessly against immigrants in general. The particular, human immigrant is the target. Only through the individual, they used to say, can you attack the class. That goes for right-wing extremists as much as for the left-wing ones who coined the phrase.

The degree of reality that the UKIP's platform contains is well demonstrated by that cartoon. Looking from the mouth of the channel tunnel, a sign to "Poland, Hungary, Slovakia" points to the left. Or to put it another way, south-west.

Friday, May 28, 2004

The tribal solution in Najaf - why now?

It is reported that agreement has been reached to terminate the US offensive in Najaf and to hand over security to a force drawn from local tribal militias. Moqtada al-Sadr's army will, supposedly, evacuate the city and cease operations, though not necessarily disband. All very good, but why didn't it all happen much earlier? Back on the 5th of May, I blogged that the US Army and Shia powerbrokers had come around to something like that, quoting this from Informed Comment. However, it didn't happen, allegedly due pressure from the CPA, and the battering began. Question: if this option had been taken then, wouldn't it have wound up the fight for Najaf just as much as it has now - without shooting up the Imam Ali mosque or driving tanks all over the cemetery?

British deployment to Iraq: bad timing

Our favourite defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, surprised everyone recently when he announced a further deployment of British troops to Iraq. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise, because every media source in the kingdom has trailed the deployment of some 3,000 additional soldiers for weeks, and the idea of calling on Britain for more has been current since the Spanish elections. Hoon's surprise was that he didn't announce a mass move. He announced a reinforcement of some 370 soldiers. This was a net figure, and conceals more than it explains. The force going is made up of an armoured infantry battalion - about 600 - and a squadron of engineers, around 170, plus some military police. The explanation of this difference is that these reinforcements are going to replace the last lot of reinforcements, sent out earlier this year as a short-term measure. The Argylls are coming back, and the Black Watch are going out. The difference is that the Watch are armoured, bringing their Warrior fighting vehicles. Now that doesn't sound much like the official task of the reinforcements, which was to speed up efforts to train locally recruited forces.

In fact, the heavy metal is needed because of the frequent fighting around Amara in the north of the British zone. The Argylls, being a light unit, were short on armour, firepower and mobility. Clearly, they are taking no chances on a repeat of their bayonet charge of an ambush as a policy. At the same time, Hoon announced that 40 Commando, Royal Marines, was being placed on notice to move. This may be more important, as one of the major moves under discussion was to send the Marines of 3 Commando Brigade to the ex-Spanish sector. Alternatively, there was talk of sending a British-led NATO headquarters and one battalion to take charge. Either way, it appears that the government has been doing two things - haggling with the US about the role of any further forces, and less creditably attempting to put the movement off until after the elections. It is now said that the military are unhappy that this might mean going in after the handover deadline. Standing-to as many of the units involved now might well be a response to this concern. And, failing all else, they would at least serve as a reserve if the 30th of June turns out to be a black day...

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

And what about Air Bas?

Another of those fuel contracts was signed with Air Bas Transportation, UAE. The only address given is a Sharjah PO box number (8299), and the billing details are the same. Oddly enough, the DODAAC contract is number TBTC02. The British Gulf one is TBTC03! Now, the best known Bout airline, Air Cess, was made to disappear during 2001, no doubt in order to conceal the ownership of its assets. Many of its activities continued under the new title Air Bas. In fact, most of its fleet were stripped of their (minimal) markings and re-registered to get them off the Kazakh registry, before they re-appeared in Air Bas titles and new regs. Especially interesting is the history of an An-12, serial no. 9346509 that worked for Cess under the Kazakh registration UN-11007, and was also registered to "GST AeroCompany" under the same reg. It then re-appeared as an Air Bas-er registered 3C-00Z. The significance is that, although BGIA is a recent development, Bas has never been anything other than "Stadtbekannt" or "known to the city" as a sheister outfit. This defeats any claim of ignorance.

It will come as no surprise that they are also connected with British Gulf. And - as a starter for 10 - I wonder who Sky Traffic Facilitators of Sharjah, contract no. TBTC01, are? They appear to be a charter broker based in Sharjah. And the contact given for them by Air Cargo World is one Kirill Pilgorov. Strange, given that Kirill is better known as a Russian movie star.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Admin: recent problems

Due to very bad Blogger/Blogspot performance during an edit, much of the sidebar was lost this morning. It should now be working again, but progress has been very slow, not least due to the incredibly poor service from Blogger (did I mention that?) - dropping out during publish attempts 7 times out of 10, incredibly slow page generation etc. If you cannot see sidebar items at the moment, please wait as download time beyond the weather graphic is inexplicably slow at the moment.

If you noticed an unpleasant picture on this blog yesterday, this was due to a hack (not that kind). Sorry.



More Bout - or could this be the reason?

The Centre for Public Integrity, some time ago now, ran this story: Link to saved copy
"From 1979 to 1986, Chichakli lived most of the time in Saudi Arabia, first studying at Riyadh University, and later working for a variety of businesses. During his university days, he told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that he used to "sit around and eat sandwiches and sing songs" with Osama bin Laden and his siblings, back when "Osama was OK." He added that he probably knew about 40 bin Laden family members and that most of them were nice people. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Chichakli claims he was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist bin Laden family members living in the United States. "FBI acted absolutely wonderfully," he said, then remarked of the bin Laden family that that's how it goes when one has friends in high places.

Chichakli moved to Texas in 1986 and married; at some point obtaining U.S. citizenship. According his military service record and résumé, both of which were obtained by ICIJ, Chichakli served in the U.S. Army from 1990 to 1993, specializing in fields such as aviation, first aid, interrogation and intelligence. He also earned FAA certification as an air traffic controller with military control-tower rating. He took courses at the Defense Language Institute and the Army's academy for non-commissioned officers, in addition to receiving training in conventional and unconventional warfare. He left the military as a decorated veteran. Chichakli claimed in an interview with ICIJ that his service to the United States was not limited to his three-year tour in the military. He said he spent some 18 years working in intelligence.

After his honorable discharge from the Army, Chichakli returned to the Gulf States, specifically the United Arab Emirates, and became the commercial manager of the free zone in Sharjah. From 1993 to 1996, he was responsible for much of the liaison and commercial activity at the airport where, according to the United Nations, most of Victor Bout's companies had their operations base.

Chichakli has held several senior positions in companies owned by Bout, U.N. documents say, including chief financial manager with responsibilities such as accounting, financial and reporting activities, and overall responsibility for the financial systems. Chichakli downplayed his role. "I did provide some accounting advice here and there," he said. "Making companies public, prepare business plan etc. … I helped him advance his cargo business." He also denied any involvement in the arms trade. But he did say that Bout had taken part in at least one operation with a military purpose. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Chichakli told ICIJ, Bout organized three flights ferrying U.S. personnel to Afghanistan, but he refused to elaborate."

This raises interesting questions. A Machiavellian view might suggest that, if Bout really had done the state some service in Afghanistan, his past is of no interest to us. But the period when Chichakli was running the SAFZ - 1993 to 1996 - precedes his swing from supporting the warlords who became the Northern Alliance to supplying the Taliban and eventually al-Qa'ida. In fact he seems to have swung with the wind once the Taliban took power. The UAE, of course, was one of only three countries to recognise them. If he had been serving US interests, he would surely have been brought to heel after 1999, by which time the Western line on Afghanistan had become explicitly hostile to the Taliban. But his Afghan business continued to grow. The questions are as follows: what did the Coalition hire BGIA to do, and what did they know of its background? Further to that, why was such a seedy outfit chosen? The date may be of importance - the 5th of April was during one of the worst weeks of the Shia uprising, the day before Moqtada al-Sadr's militia took over Najaf. Within a week there were reports of a logistics crisis due to the insurgency on the roads. Could that be a connection? That is, of course, speculation.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Central European economies surge ahead

An Austrian report suggests that the new members of the EU will see something like 4.2% GDP growth this year and 4.4% next, which implies a rapid catching-up process between them and the rich EU. (What of those migrant hordes now? If you're reading this and you spotted a horde, can you make yourself known? There's a good chap.) Not only that, but they should benefit further as the growth rate in the rich EU picks up (2% this year, 2.4% next. Which isn't going to set the Rhine alight, but it's a sight better than media-popular belief would suggest). And, I suppose, the rest of the EU ought to feel the benefit too as investment there pays off. There is, to be sure, a distinction between small and large - Lithuania will see 6.9% growth, the Czech Republic 3.0% this year. But I suspect this is bearable. The figures for the Czechs, for example, show an uptick to 3.5% next year. Can anyone say they would not have settled for 3.5% GDP growth in practically any year post-war in the UK?

Whatever the unevennesses, it is worth noting that even Macedonia is seeing 4% annual growth. I remember thinking when I lived in Vienna that the Austrians weren't so much worried about immigrants and "welfare tourists" as the poisoned political discourse suggested - in fact, as many were worried about the competition. Enlargement may yet turn out to be the best decision the EU ever made.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Viktor Bout: the story splits!

New developments on the story that the international gun runner Viktor Bout has been taken off a UN sanctions list apparently at the behest of the US, despite his links with the Taliban and (allegedly) Osama bin Laden. My Way of Thinking, who seems to have been the first blogger to pick up on the story, reports that the UK has reversed its position on the issue and is now backing the proposal to freeze Bout's assets, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage being quoted as saying that "he deserves to be on an asset freeze list and anything else you can do to him". But the story thickens. Le Monde reported the day before (really the same day because it is an evening paper) that a Bout airline operating under the name "British Gulf" was transporting goods for the US forces in Iraq, with the strong suggestion that his removal from the blacklist was a quid pro quo.

British Gulf International Airlines appears to be based in Sharjah, but registered in Kyrgyzstan (does this sound ominous yet?), and was formed from the assets of a company of the same name registered in Sao Tome of all places, but interestingly also based in Sharjah, in the Sharjah Airport Free Zone. (Its phone number is 06-5570316. Isn't the net great?) It would appear that the owners of BGIA folded their shelf company in Sao Tome and formed another with the same aeroplanes. It apparently operates some four Antonov 12s, of which at least 2 and possibly another were originally registered to old BGIA. The old version of the company possessed some four An12s and an An26. lists one of those An12s as "ultimate fate obscure" but does reveal that the An26 was given its registration, S9-BOV. Oddly enough, although as far as is known the "new" BGIA took over the "old" one's entire fleet, this aircraft is still listed as being with the "old" firm. Another An-12, S9-CAQ, is in storage in Sharjah under the "old" company's name. This stored ship, serial number 3341408, has a past. Its last owner was an outfit called Savanair based in Luanda, Angola. There, some five of its sisters were leased from none other than the Bout company Santa Cruz Imperial. Its friend S9-BOT (serial 5343305) was last registered to a "private operator in Angola". Who could that possibly be?

Now, you might be wondering if we - the Glorious Coalition - would really have dealings with this bunch of pirates. What about this? It is a record of purchase agreements signed between the US Defence Energy Support Centre and commercial enterprises. At the top of page 29, there is a listing for:
British Gulf International Airlines, TC
SAIF Zone, A3-24
PO BOX 26078
Sharjah, UAE.
The date of the agreement is given as the 5th of April, 2004. Now, what exactly is a Defence Energy Support Centre? In its own words:
"In 1973, DFSC progressed from a wholesale fuel central procurement activity to a more comprehensive mission as the Integrated Materiel Manager (IMM) for the Department of Defense petroleum requirements. Under Phase I, DFSC added management of the acquisition, storage, distribution and sale of fuel with responsibility ending at the Service installation boundary. In 1991 Phase II began, which expanded DLA's ownership of bulk petroleum products to include most bulk storage installations. This effort was divided into two parts, Phase IIA which capitalized aviation fuel and Phase IIB which will capitalize all ground fuels.
Once Phase II is completed DLA will own all bulk petroleum products from the point of purchase until its final point of issue to power aircraft, ships, and ground equipment."
So, it is the US armed forces' organisation for the supply of fuel. Looking up the DESC's contract instruction manual (aren't you glad I did it and not you), here, we find the details of how to interpret those purchase agreements. The "Signal Code" on the agreement shows "which activity receives the fuel and which activity receives the bill". On the one in question it is A, which according to the manual means "Ship to requisitioner/Bill requisitioner". That would appear to mean that the fuel is to be shipped to the billing address.

Which means that, without a doubt, British Gulf is working in our names. We are supplying its fuel.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Well, I suppose I'd better say something about Paintgate

Well, after yesterday's Commons protest by the Fathers' Rights activists who hurled purple dye over Tony Blair, one of the traditional rituals or standard operating procedures of British political life has clicked into action. This is the way in which, whenever an unusually spectacular demonstration occurs, politicians and the media take on a very special tone. Broadly, they suddenly discover a schoolmarmish and ultra-punctilious concern for the prevention of minor crimes, the maintenance of "security" and the like, whilst also having great difficulty in containing their mirth and satisfaction. It always happens this way, and all the ducks are now lined up for this one.

The Sun led with a screamer headline "They Could All Be Dead", notwithstanding the fact that they couldn't. This is a prime example of media reaction to dramatic protest. To go by the bulk of its output, few things would please the Sun more than the instantaneous elimination of the Cabinet. But the ritual requires that everyone, including the most embittered enemies, agree that it was all terribly outrageous. Radio commentary this morning gave prominence to the view that the protestors were guilty of awful crimes. A typical feature of these is, of course, the demand for draconian prosecutions for normally minimal offences. This often leads to a second phase of politicised court proceedings (anti-nuke protestors seem to have mastered these). Whilst piously declaring that this is no way to seek publicity, all media outlets promptly publicise the perpetrator with all the means at their disposal.

Soon, the responsible minister (usually the Home Secretary) is summoned to the House to make a statement. This also follows a pattern - they always announce a high-level investigation, and a review of security. Then everyone goes away and the matter is forgotten. It is routine for the investigation to peter out without discovering who was at fault. This time, Blunkett's hunt seems to have been a little more effective, having already identified the peer who let the protestors in. It should not be assumed that he will not take the opportunity to force through some further horrible assault on our civil liberties, but there you go. What this did show, though, was that the glass wall across the Commons was just as useless as I predicted it would be.
"If I had a pass, I could probably get close enough to the chamber to release it anyway - wall or no wall."
Indeed. The fact that members of the House of Lords can sign you in to the Commons is especially worrying given the state of some of them - all you'd need to do would be to ply them with sherry and guide their shaky old hands at the foot of the form. And the chaotic response to the "attack" - people who supposedly could have been contaminated with germs or poison being allowed to wander around the House and indeed the metropolis at large - only shows the sense of another of my proposals:
"I say we build the glass wall, and big enough to enclose the whole Palace of Westminster in a seamless box"
Apart from that, I'd just like to say that, as the protestors were a good 50 feet from Blair, it was a damn good shot.

Chalabi's house raided by US

Yahoo! News - U.S. Troops Raid Chalabi's House in Iraq
Ahmed Chalabi, the former hope of the Pentagon's true believers, is finally on the skids. The Iraqi exile politician whose Iraqi National Congress was the source of many of the wilder tales about nuclear weapons and Iraqis greeting the US Army with flowers as opposed to RPGs, small arms, kitchen sinks etc has just seen his act topple, as the Pentagon cut off his $340,000 monthly subsidy and the US Military Police paid his house a visit. Apparently the affair has something to do with the investigation of alleged abuses in the Oil for Food programme. As Chalabi ended up in possession of the Ba'athist files, which he has used to blackmail political rivals, and seems to have been the source for many of the "oil money" stories, I wonder if the Americans are trying to get to the bottom of those leaks - as well as recovering the intelligence files he allegedly grabbed immediately after the war.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Don't Worry - Leaving Gaza will not, repeat not, affect the apocalypse

""Everything that you're discussing is information you're not supposed to have," barked Pentecostal minister Robert G. Upton when asked about the off-the-record briefing his delegation received on March 25. Details of that meeting appear in a confidential memo signed by Upton and obtained by the Voice.

The e-mailed meeting summary reveals NSC Near East and North African Affairs director Elliott Abrams sitting down with the Apostolic Congress and massaging their theological concerns. Claiming to be "the Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital," the members vociferously oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and David's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.

Abrams attempted to assuage their concerns by stating that "the Gaza Strip had no significant Biblical influence such as Joseph's tomb or Rachel's tomb and therefore is a piece of land that can be sacrificed for the cause of peace."

Three weeks after the confab, President George W. Bush reversed long-standing U.S. policy, endorsing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in exchange for Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip."

Read the rest, you couldn't make it up

Obfuscation Case Study: William Safire in the NY Times

Now, having done the obfusc lesson, we can proceed to a practical exercise. William Safire, the New York Times' pet neocon, has been expressing himself on the subject of the sarin shell. (Link) We shall see some examples in the text.
"a small, crude weapon of mass destruction may have been used by Saddam's terrorists in Iraq this week.
The apparent weapon was sarin gas, a highly toxic nerve agent that causes victims to choke to death. Developed by the Nazis, it has been used in the past by terrorists in Japan to kill a dozen subway riders and panic thousands, and by Saddam Hussein, who produced tons of it to kill Iraqi Kurds.
Rigged as an "improvised explosive device," or roadside bomb, the 155-millimeter howitzer shell was accidentally detonated by a U.S. ordnance team. Two men were treated for what an Army spokesman called "minor exposure" to the nerve gas.
You never saw such a rush to dismiss this as not news. U.N. weapons inspectors whose reputations rest on denial of Saddam's W.M.D. pooh-poohed the report. "It doesn't strike me as a big deal," said David Kay."
Note that Strategy 2 is in operation from the first paragraph. Safire goes to town on scary details about sarin, without mentioning too much about the facts of the case. Apparently it was a weapon of mass destruction used by Saddam's terrorists. No mention that the US Army thought it was a botched attempt to rig a high-explosive bomb. The amalgamation is in the house. Although the details that debunk the story are there, there is no comment - the idea is given that it was meant as a roadside chemical bomb (impossible - the shell needed to be fired from a gun to work). False consistency. Also note Concern 3: the "rush", the "inspectors whose reputation rest on denial". It's that hazy power structure again, even though the only one he manages to quote is the CIA's man David Kay.
"In this rush to misjudgment, we can see an example of the "Four Noes" that have become the defeatists' platform. (Would that be concern 1?)

The first "no" is no stockpiles of W.M.D., used to justify the war, were found. With the qualifier "so far" left out, the absence of evidence is taken to be evidence of absence. In weeks or years to come — when the pendulum has swung, and it becomes newsworthy to show how cut-and-runners in 2004 were mistaken — logic suggests we will see a rash of articles and blockbuster books to that end."

And here is strategy 1! Yes, you've guessed it, more time will solve everything. Partly because of the "absence of evidence" bit, a good example of using Strat 1 to argue that because no weapons were found they will be. Note some more concern 3 near the end. Now, in the next four paragraphs, Strategy 1 becomes a whole philosophy of history. In a string of sweeping assertions based entirely on the idea of future vindication, we are promised that those blockbusters "may well reveal the successful concealment of W.M.D., as well as prewar shipments thereof to Syria and plans for production and missile delivery, by Saddam's Special Republican Guard and fedayeen, as part of his planned guerrilla war — the grandmother of all battles." Note that the only reason Safire can give for this is Strategy 1 - a spectacular demonstration of the power of obfusc!

It goes on. Strategy 2 is called in to use an unsupported assertion about terrorist links to back up the unrelated Strat 1 about weapons. (Recall my point that the logic doesn't matter.) The last few lines are a perfect example of 1 and 2 in harmony:
"The fourth "no" is no Arab nation is culturally ready for political freedom and our attempt to impose democracy in Iraq is arrogant Wilsonian idealism.
In coming years, this will be blasted by revisionist reportage as an ignoble ethnic-racist slur. Iraqis will gain the power, with our help, to put down the terrorists and find their own brand of political equilibrium.
Will today's defeatists then admit they were wrong? That's a fifth "no.""
First we have Strategy 2. The invented charge about racism is called in to prove that WMD exist. Then Strat 1 is in with the bit about "revisionist reportage". He's actually invented a future intellectual movement to justify his current prejudices retroactively. This article, in short, is a mixture of high-grade obfuscation and dishonest shite.

How to be a modern obfuscator

Obfuscatin'! It's the way of today - the all-purpose debating tactic that defends all kinds of otherwise indefensible abuses from climate change through the war against Iraq to speeding. As a service, the Yorkshire Ranter offers a brief guide on how to employ this scientifically proven technique to win your ideological battles tool. Yes, you too could appear on the BBC as the "balanced" guy opposing whatever the scientists have come up with. You thought only neo-cons and reactionaries could obfuscate - but those days are over!

1. We need More Research
This is a devastating move in the right hands. After all, you can hardly be accused of anything for saying there ought to be more research into a problem, right? It sounds reasonable, respectable, balanced. And if your opponent is a scientist, they are hardly going to say no. The key is this. If the matter isn't settled, it's much easier to put it aside. This plays to the instinct for the quiet life. After all, if we ignore it - it might go away, or the researchers might discover that it was all right all along. The point is to make sure that it remains in question. Hence you demand further investigation, more research, or more patience. This morning's Radio 5 discussion had a man from a rightwing motorist lobby who used this brilliantly. He declared that there should be more research into accidents caused by people driving too slowly. This was meant to be an argument against speed cameras. The point being that he could not be accused of extremism because he wanted - more research! The world political version is the argument that, if we just give it time, everything Tony Blair said about weapons of mass destruction will be vindicated. It's like Schrödinger's Cat - until the Final Investigation reports, you're not wrong yet!

2. False consistency.
The Speed Camera Guy demonstrated this one beautifully. That remark about people who drive too slowly is, of course, not an argument against speed cameras at all. He didn't actually try to say that driving like a nut is entirely safe. Instead he amalgamated the entirely different question to it. This is one that shouldn't work but does - it can't stand up logically, but if you do it quickly enough and with conviction people don't challenge you. Another example, on global warming, is the chap who says "What about the sunspot cycle/increased plant growth/trees?" The point being that even granted those, the problem still exists. But including them gives the impression that somehow they devalue it. It also has the benefit of using up a lot of time in subsidiary debating about trifles. It serves to keep you off the real issue, too. Which brings us nicely to...

3. Fake concessions give respectability.
This is the classic technique when faced with someone who is inconveniently right. As the degree of scientific certainty about global warming increased, the right has had to use more and more of these to support its self-interest. As you can no longer seriously argue that carbon dioxide emissions are fluffy and nice, or that driving fast is safer, or that Iraq in 2003 could have nuked us all in 45 minutes, you use technique 3. This is to throw out a pre-emptive concession on the central issue. ("Of course, climate change is one of our major concerns for the 21st century, but..insert 1 or 2 here", "I'm all in favour of road safety, but..", "I'm sorry if we did not fully explain our concerns about Iraqi weapons, but") Having secured the centre, you then implement 1 or 2, safe in the knowledge that you cannot be accused of extremism or unreason. The way to spot these, incidentally, is the concession-but phrase. The classic is, of course, "I am not a racist, but..."

There are also a few standard concerns to use. You can rely on saying that something is happening too quickly (often in conjunction with 1), that the public has lost confidence (this is a great one, because you can effectively say that it doesn't matter if the other side are right), or that some sort of hazy power structure is behind it.

With that, I hope you'll all be able to go out and be happy little obfuscators.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

More on the Viktor Bout story

I've just been doing some more searches about this. Need to read the docs first, thought. The names to watch are "Flying Dolphin", "Air Cess", "Santa Cruz Imperial", and "Centrafricain Airlines". As far as folk go, apart from the man himself, look out for Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nayhan(link), Sanjivan Ruprah(link), and Leonid Minim(link). It's a curious feature of the story just how many photos of these characters' aeroplanes are lying around the web. For example, try this pic of Ilyushin-76 registration TL-ACU, belonging to Viktor Bout's Air Pass.
Or this, Leonid Minim's BAC111 as mentioned above:

Weird, eh?

The Times: that "sarin bomb" and a curious photo

Well, I may have said that the neo-cons weren't trying to claim that the alleged sarin bomb justified the invasion of Iraq. I wasn't entirely right. The Times, that sad ruin of a newspaper, illustrated the story with a large picture of various chemical-looking tubes and instruction leaflets printed in Arabic, English and Russian. The caption stated that these were "vials of sarin found in Iraq". But there was something very odd about the picture.

I'd seen it before, during the invasion. Back then it had been correctly captioned as a chemical warfare antidote kit. Which is precisely what it was. Yes, the instruction leaflet in the photo is headed "SARIN, SOMAN, V-GASES". But the text begins "Definition:" and details a procedure to test for the presence of sarin. The object next to it is clearly marked "AUTOMATIC INJECTOR" and "ATROPINE SULPHATE" in English. Come on, it's not hard. An automatic injector of atropine is the standard personal first-aid for the effects of nerve gas. This was a personal protection kit as issued to every semi-competent army in the world, as well as Israeli civilians in time of war. It's even got it written on it. So - how did the same photo change from being a defensive and innocuous antidote to being evil and deadly WMD? You don't think there was a degree of distortion here?

It's a great pity that the Times website is so poor that it is impossible to link to the pic. Or, to look at it another way, perhaps it's good?

This is the best the Loyal Opposition can come up with?

Michael Howard stakes out a radical challenge to Blair
"Mr Howard is thinking of ways within the parliamentary rules of presenting Mr Blair with some oysters at Prime Minister's questions tomorrow (Wednesday). "The thing that disturbs me,'' he said, "is that the in-fighting that is taking place at the highest levels of the Labour Party and the extent to which John Prescott has acknowledged that people are positioning themselves for what might happen after that, means that the interests of the country are coming a poor second.'' The Tories sent Mr Howard's battle bus to Gibraltar with the message "Putting Britain First''.

On Thursday, the Tory leader will go to Tony Blair's back yard for a speech over lunch in Sedgefield. He could not say whether oysters will be on the menu."

Right. So - we're up to our necks in Iraq with the shit level rising fast, the oil price is going through the roof, the government is discredited in every way possible, the housing shortage, the asylum obsession aargh! - and the best line the opposition have is a braying public schoolboy stunt like this. Jesus. This just gets on my nerves. I can already see Howard smugging around the chamber. Aren't I just a wild and crazy guy! Why not go for the John Prescott route to popularity and smack a right cross in his chops as he leans over the dispatch box - it's about as intelligent and relevant to our real national problems, and it would be much more expressive.

Why no WMD victory parade?

Despite yesterday's discovery of a sarin-filled artillery shell in Iraq, the Americans seem strangely reluctant to trumpet the obvious fact that their mission has now been justified. A weapon of mass destruction has been found? So - where are the victory parades?

Of course, there were a couple of flies in the sarin. The shell was being used as a roadside bomb, and whoever planted it did not seem to know that it wasn't an ordinary high-explosive job. There is so far only one round, and no sign of any units prepared to use them. (Artillery-delivered chemical weapons are used by firing off a barrage of shells into the area of the target. You need a battery of guns and a lot of rounds.) It didn't even go off. For once, both Hans Blix and Brig.Gen. Mark Kimmett were in agreement - both said the shell was likely a relic from pre-1991 stocks, overlooked both by Iraq and by the UN. (I wonder if it might have been an Iran-Iraq dud?) Link:
"Kay, the former leader of the Iraq Survey Group, said the shell was likely one of thousands produced for the Iran-Iraq war. While the Hussein government claimed that all leftover chemical munitions had been destroyed in accordance with U.N. Security Council requirements, it is possible that some were overlooked, hidden or stolen. Before the U.S.-led invasion last year, U.N. weapons inspectors found several empty chemical warheads for rockets and a small number of artillery shells filled with mustard gas."

It's a Dustbin Lorry; It's an Industrial Oven; It's a Disaster!

It is reported that the Health & Safety Executive is concentrating on an industrial oven at the Glasgow plastics factory that blew up and killed nine people. This oven is not like other ovens because this one is special. In fact, it's that special it used to be a dustbin lorry!Report
"Jim Fletcher, 33, a former employee of the plant, told the Mail on Sunday that staff had been concerned.

"We felt very uneasy about the whole idea of a bin lorry being used as an industrial oven, but we had to follow orders," he said."

Now that's what I call recycling. Or perhaps it's the flexibility we're meant to be striving for - one day an industrial oven, one day a worker-splattering horror, one day a truckload of rubbish! This may speak volumes (link):
"New industrial gas ovens must, under European law, incorporate two safety features: an explosion relief panel, which directs an explosion through a deliberately weak panel into a safe area, and also a safety valve which prevents a build-up of gas.

However, the rule, which was introduced 10 years ago, does not apply retrospectively and if the ovens at the Glasgow factory had been purchased before this date then they would not necessarily carry these safety features."

Monday, May 17, 2004

Astonishing. We are protecting the Taliban's gun runner!

This leaves me utterly shocked. According to the Financial Times, (thanks to My Way of Thinking) the British Government is supporting efforts by the United States to prevent the international arms dealer and aerial smuggler Viktor Bout's assets being frozen. Now this is insane. Not just immoral, but insane. Mr. Bout is a former KGB agent with a record like looking into the abyss - and thinking it isn't that deep. His activities basically include operating a network of freight aircraft to run weapons to anybody who will pay, and back loading whatever resources they can offer. He is currently the subject of a UN travel ban due to his activities running diamonds out of and guns into the Congo and Angola. To give an idea of the scale, he was at one point in the Angolan civil war running a Boeing 707 into Unita territory to deliver guns and fuel, coming back with diamonds.

This sort of thing was what induced Peter Hain, back when he was the Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa, to denounce Bout in the House of Commons as an effort to smoke out the authorities of whichever country he was hiding in. But there's worse.
Try this Amnesty International report:
"Al-Qa'ida's funds were said to come from Osama bin Laden's businesses based in Sudan, Arab and Pakistani donations, as well as from the illicit sale in Belgium of diamonds mined by the armed opposition in Sierra Leone and traded through Liberia since 1998, a claim supported by witnesses. In February 2002, a Kenyan diamond dealer based in Liberia was arrested in Belgium on charges of criminal association and using a false passport. According to United Nations (UN) investigators, he was a key associate of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman who was resident in the United Arab Emirates and is accused in recent UN sanctions reports of illegal trafficking of arms to armed opposition groups in Angola, Central Africa and Sierra Leone......In November 2001, Pakistani officials claimed to have discovered a letter sent from Russian businessmen to Afghan traders in June that year referring to a meeting in May which agreed secret air routes for forthcoming arms deliveries to be listed in the flight manifests as ''fish from Tanzania'' and sent via several countries including the United Arab Emirates."
Or you could check this out. Or this. Or this:
"Denis MacShane, a deputy to British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, also discussed Mr. Bout's purported dealings with the Taliban during an April question session in Parliament.

Prior to September 11th, this aircraft had reportedly been frequently overflying Iran from Saudi Arabia to Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan, Mr. MacShane said of one of Mr. Bout's cargo planes. It is now reportedly parked at Jidda in Saudi Arabia."

Well, Denis, perhaps you can tell us why Vic is such a nice chap all of a sudden? Would this have anything to do with it?
"A former UN official familiar with the sanctions process said he had also heard of Mr Bout's Iraq connection. The ex-official said he had been told by a reliable source about a month ago that "the American defence forces are using Victor's planes for their logistics".

A senior western diplomat close to the UN negotiations said: "We are disgusted that Bout won't be on the list, even though he is the principal arms dealer in the region. If we want peace in that region [of West Africa], it seems evident that he should be on that list."
Ye gods, from Air America to Air Taliban. If anyone can tell me why a great chunk of our real counter-terrorist policy just evaporated, please comment? Mind you, it's only fair to let Mr. Bout have the right of reply. CNN link So that's all right then - after all it was on CNN...

The Wedding Theory of conflict resolution

It is being widely reported that the General Staff have proposed a new policy in Iraq to the Government. Details are hazy at least as far as the public go, but it seems to suggest another huge deployment of troops - talking 3,000 rifles plus - to take over the Multinational Division South-Centre, the area around Najaf where serious fighting has been going on. In fact, Nasiriyah, in the Italian area of responsibility, erupted last night and the Italian army was forced to retreat from the city centre. (link) This is worrying - in the initial outburst of the Shia uprising, the Italians were one of the few contingents in South-Central Iraq not to be run out of town despite being heavily attacked (comments about tanks with more reverse than forward gears are NOT welcome, all right?). Juan Cole reports that both the Italian government and (of all people) Ahmed Chalabi have protested to the Americans about their assault on Najaf, where the Imam Ali shrine is reported to have been damaged. Not to mention the Shia cemetery being driven over by tanks - haven't they heard the phrase "dancing on their ancestors' graves"? Cole also claims that the US general Martin Dempsey's plan to recruit members of the militias to keep order in Najaf was kiboshed by the CPA. No surprises that Bremer's ability to take the worst possible decision in a given situation continues strong.

So that is a brief situation report of the area it is proposed to take over. The other half of the strategy is apparently that this is conditional on the withdrawal of forces by this time next year. A sort of last-push policy, partly determined by the problems of maintaining such a grandiose commitment for very long. It seems sensible to set a term to this adventure, but the historic precedents are not good. The idea of setting a fixed date for unilateral action, in order to press other parties to agree, has often been used in world politics. I call it the Wedding Theory - surely, once she names the day he can't back out? The Good Friday Agreement is one of its successes - the name recalls the fact that the parties to the talks were given a deadline, although in the end it was extended overnight. (That is why Ulster Unionists call it the "Belfast Agreement".) Another was the Bosnian settlement at Dayton, where Richard Holbrooke put all the factions in a room and announced that they had a fixed period to agree or have a settlement imposed by force. Those are examples of success. There are also examples of failure. Setting a deadline has some bad effects - one is to reward brinkmanship, the idea of hanging on to the last moment to let the pressure of time tell on the other side. This played a role in the failure of the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations in the spring of 2000. Another is that whoever sets the deadline effectively terminates much of their bargaining strength. This was so in India in 1947, where the British decision to set a fixed independence day created a reward for intransigence. Congress would get what they wanted in the end - independence - and, without further progress, so would Jinnah (partition). There was no incentive to agree, and every incentive to create, in the grim phrase, facts on the ground.

It's very possible - damn it, it's a fact - that the run-up to the formal handover on the 30th of June is going to be like that. I predict that the run-up to any withdrawal next year is going to be very bloody indeed - more so, because that will be the real handover of power. It's all rather similar to the position of the army in Aden, 1967. After the government had declared the date for withdrawal, there was no hope of ending the struggle early except for an early retreat. The military were left to fight it out to no purpose whatsoever.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Interesting blog

Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden, the former assistant chief of the defence staff and current head of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College, has a blog!

Grim - no hope left for plastics workers

The search for survivors from the plastics factory blast in Glasgow has been called off after another body was found. (link)
"However, the void that rescuers had anticipated would contain the one remaining individual proved to be empty. They moved their efforts to another area of the site earlier today, but the discovery of the body was announced shortly before noon.

The ninth victim has not been named but police have identified the eight others. They included 27-year-old receptionist Tracey McErlane, who had only recently returned to work following maternity leave to care for her seven-month-old son, Ryan.

Stewart McColl, 60, the managing director of Stockline/ICL Plastics was also among the dead, and his daughter Sheena, 32, who worked in the factory's offices, is still in a serious condition in hospital."

Why we shouldn't care about fuel scares

As the oil price goes through the roof (all about oil was it? Ha!) the now-traditional news stories (Freudian - I just wrote "tories" for "stories". The unconscious speaks, or rather it blogs..)about renewed fuel protests have duly emerged. The BBC reported today that ministers have been meeting with oilmen, Petrol Retailers' Association reps, Army and police officers, and if you believe some newspapers' version, spooks to prepare for possible blockades of oil targets by "fuel protestors". With oil at $41 a barrel, you might think there was something in it. But that would discount the element of ritual involved. These stories have been regular ever since the September 2000 refinery blockades - whenever the oil price takes an uptick and the government doesn't look too good, the same tales of protestors preparing and draconian menaces by government reappear in the rightwing press. David Handley and Bryne Williams pop up and rant, and a few days later, the oil market adjusts and the news agenda moves on. Les chiens aboient, la caravane passe. The threatened blockades are never delivered.

That is the giveaway. The weird days of September, 2000, with their closed petrol stations, plotting and sense of national hysteria were like that not because the fuel protestors had vast mass support but because the government was asleep at the wheel. A limited bunch of Welsh right-wing wing nuts camped about refinery gates, but the government missed it for the main reason that it happened in the north, far from any politically legitimate concern. London was barely affected, and at first not at all. I remember most of all the strange inactivity of the powerful - there were plenty of legal pretexts to arrest anyone who physically barred the tankers' way out, but nothing much seemed to happen. In the end, the right things were done, of course. A combination of a direct challenge to the blockade (at Grangemouth refinery) and trimming (the end of the fuel-duty escalator) sorted the matter. That is how power-political problems are solved without war. It took a long time, though, for government to get a grip, a gasping vacuum of authority in which wild talk about plots to subvert the Labour government helped no-one. And the government's capability to deal with a civil-defence/crisis management problem was badly shown up. The grim winter of train wrecks, foot&mouth and floods that followed only underlined that.

There was mass support for cheaper petrol, sure, but that is a silly question. Nobody will tell an opinion pollster they want less money, still less vote for it. There wasn't support for not having any petrol, which doomed the Right's wannabe revolutionaries from the start. The lessons of the fuel crisis were that our industrial system is vulnerable to the acts of small but determined groups of disrupters (sound familiar?), that a considerable degree of tribal loathing for Blair existed whatever the polls said, and that when the chips were down only the Left could be relied upon by the Left. The entire press swung anti-government with tthe exceptions of the Daily Mirror and the Guardian. The solution was achieved by the intervention of the trade unions - the TGWU drivers at Grangemouth who decided to go out despite the protestors, which permitted the police to arrest anyone who attacked them, which discredited the blockades everywhere. All the supposed Sun support evaporated. No-one outside the organised Left would stand by Labour in its first crisis. Needless to say, the prime minister who missed the crisis also missed this, with results well documented in the archives of this blog.

The relevance? Despite this, it's been amply shown that Handley and Williams are a busted flush. Every one of the dozens of times their spectre has been summoned by the Murdoch and Rothermere papers, the genie has failed to appear. Williams, of course, comprehensively nixed his claims of impartiality by becoming a Tory member of the Welsh Assembly. Handley's Farmers For Action shows no sign of being able to organise any action (remember when he was going to blockade all supermarket distribution centres?). It only remains to giggle at the strangeness of the Right, supporters of the view that all prices must be determined by market forces, and their eternal belief that this doesn't apply to whichever one affects them.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

This is a No Smoking blog


UKIP on TV last night

Now, this is a serious confession. I'm such a politics geek that I actually decided to watch a Party Election Broadcast last night. After all, our dear friends from the UK Independence Party were on and I dearly wanted to see how they managed. I wasn't disappointed. The spot looked something like a Yorkshire TV ad for "Mike's Carpets" or Tong Garden Centre circa 1992. A variety of odd-looking men in dated suits made their pitches in a mysteriously seaside-compere, aren't I kerazy voice. And who chose that colour scheme? Purple and yellow? The substance was poor, of course - a variety of dodgy statistics, wild hyperbole and thinly disguised xenophobia, and a couple of factual errors. The delivery was worse. There were signs of an effort being made - a token black member made an appearance - but it was still dominated by the dodgy estate agent characters who typify this lot. Why they didn't put Kilroy-Silk on it I've no idea - he may be a failed talk show host, but at least he used to be a pro. But - what do you expect from a party with folk like Mike Narrass, their national chairman who played a prominent role in the ad, in it?

Mike was a member of the New Britain party in the 70s, a far-right, anti-immigration, pro-Rhodesian/South African outfit founded (weirdly) by Patrick Moore with the support of General Sir Walter Walker's paramilitary GB75 group. This was a weird gaggle of retired officers, spooks and wealthy rightwingers that fantasised about a military coup and influenced various organisations as fronts and as political vehicles (especially the National Federation of Ratepayers and New Britain), as well as setting up a network of supporters known as "Civil Assistance". (NOTE: Most information on the web about this episode should be treated with extreme scepticism, as it usually either comes from paranoid far-left conspiracy nuts or hagiographic fascists.)This lot were ostensibly meant to offer aid to the constituted authorities in the event of a breakdown of law and order, and did things like drawing up lists of "trusted citizens". It was all very sinister but slightly ridiculous, and in the long run all it achieved was to legitimise the NF and to give lefties some good stories. (Mind you, some say they played all kinds of spooky roles in the miners' strike, Northern Ireland, Thatcher's election..) He's not the only one - another of their candidates at the last election, Alastair Harper (Dunfermline West), was the editor of something called "Northern World", a "Nordicist" magazine whose conferences had in the past greeted former SS officers. Mr H doesn't seem to be standing this time around, more's the pity. But who needs him when your party name appears in places like this?

UKIP - the BNP it's OK to like!

Held under water and made to believe he might drown

"In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown."
NYT link
Sounds like torture to me...

Things slide again in Iraq - did we really just collapse a Masjid?

It is being reported (here, and via Juan Cole) that the US Army in Karbala has destroyed half the Al-Mukhayyam Mosque as heavy fighting went on in the city. How stupid is that? This stupid - recent reports have suggested that a political solution between the coalition and Al-Sadr was imminent. There is talk of a "Najaf Brigade" on the Fallujah pattern being formed - perhaps a sign of a strategy of recruiting the party and religious gunmen into a real Iraqi army in embryo? Other reports suggested recently that the Shia religious authorities had convinced Sadr that he would have to quit Najaf, and that the governor of Najaf had offered him immunity from prosecution on condition that he demobilise his army (mind you, they also sent their families out of the city..) But there seems to be a deep inconsistency between this military-political line, although Cole attributes it to General Dempsey of the 1st Armoured Division, and the tactics being employed by that same formation.
"One Iraqi who witnessed the carnage said the even Saddam had not used that kind of firepower in Karbala."

Well, that's really going to repair the damage to our reputation. It seems that the machine inertia is on the side of the Bushist demand to "kill and capture" al-Sadr. (I still can't believe they really said they would kill him and capture him.) This also had a bearing on the departure of the Spanish army - (link) - apparently the US command wanted them to thrash into Najaf, an operation their intelligence on the ground suggested was foolhardy. The Spaniards requested guidance from Madrid, where international lawyers for the government concluded that a major offensive operation would be incompatible with UN Security Council Resolution 1511, the legal basis for their presence, and should be left to the official Occupiers. And, their officers added, should not militarily be attempted!
"The highest-ranking Spanish military officers in charge in Iraq sent a report at the beginning of April to the North American command in which they observed that increased harassment of Al Sadr and his devotees would aggravate the situation in Iraq and would provoke "a large-scale military operation"."

And that's exactly what they got: here.
"Tuesday night, the Americans made a high-risk gamble by trying to breach the Mukhaiyam Mosque, situated just west of the Shrine of Hussein. The attack was one of the largest operations carried out in the past year by the First Armored Division, which until now was responsible for controlling Baghdad. Fighting raged on all sides of the mosque, with soldiers scrambling through rubble-strewn streets and ducking sniper shots and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Americans relied heavily on the devastating cannons and machine guns of their M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, which pounded surrounding buildings, setting many on fire."

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Competitive savagery, terrorism, and failure

Since the torture scandal broke, we have now seen within the space of two days an American civilian being beheaded and a Hamas member waving a bag of body parts to a furious mob in Gaza. You could despair. If there is a war on terrorism, by the way, it is a war fought in terms of propaganda. Some would say "soft power" in Joseph Nye's words - much the same thing as Hans Morgenthau's notion of national power being subdivided into military, economic and persuasive power. Because we are the status quo, we are the ones who have to persuade by our example. The enemy doesn't want to be seen as good or legitimate - they want to show the maximum degree of horror. It's the essence of terrorism, and it is the source of their myth. The heroic myth of revenge and resistance is the heart of terrorist propaganda, both externally (recruiting) and internally (validation). It's truly astonishing the degree to which the reckless wielding of the military arm has been allowed to poison the other two. What is happening is that we are getting into a savagery contest, one that cannot do us any good.

See what I mean?
"The Web site showing the video also carries a photograph of a naked Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib cowering before a growling police dog."

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Fake photos, real problem, still no ICRC publication

Reports are increasing that the Daily Mirror photos have been debunked (BBC link. Further, Mirror Group issued a statement saying that they were confident that the pictures "accurately illustrated" serious abuse - a wording that suggests backtracking. Among other things, I've heard that the army's inventory of trucks was used to trace where they might have been taken - some suggest a territorial barracks in Preston of all places. As a health warning, it should be recalled that the Daily Torygraph has a record of publishing sensational defence-related stories that later fail to stack up. And who really wants Geoff Hoon to be right? In his statement yesterday, he provided chapter and verse on how he didn't manage to see the Red Cross report on detention in the British zone. Typically for Hoon, it was all someone else's fault - those people at the Permanent Joint HQ in Northwood decided it wasn't important, he says. I'm sure a minister with his honed sense of self preservation might have realised it could be dangerous. But naturally he knew nothing.

In the statement, he referred to three allegations made by the ICRC - the case of Baha Mousa, the practice of hooding suspects, and the case of a man who claimed his car had been stolen. It could have been much worse, I suppose. But if this is the case, the ICRC didn't consider any of the shooting incidents - which now seem worse than the detention allegations. Really? That doesn't seem convincing to me. Why not publish the document? Alternatively, why not resign anyway dammit? There is no other way to salvage any decency in this but complete openness. Not that it will do any good, of course, but sometimes "things should be done simply because they are right" in John Smith's words. Full disclosure would fall in that category. So would Hoon's departure...

Meanwhile in Iraq: that Fallujah "solution"

The FT is reporting that friction has developed between the so-called Fallujah Protection Army/1st Battalion Fallujah Brigade (depends on terminology, see below) and the various "notables" who are now to be in charge there. It would appear that they are not happy with the idea of this force co-operating as expected with the Americans, nor with the fact that it's made up of old Ba'athists. After all, its commander has apparently been sidelined on the advice of Ali Allawi, an IGC member with a slightly unsavoury background himself. General Mohammed Saleh was, as blogged below, the deputy chief of the Iraqi general staff during the suppression of the Shia after 1991. Why the FT should say he is "accused" of being a a former Republican Guard commander is obscure to me. That doesn't sound promising, and neither does this:
""We will welcome police and the civil defence corps back to their posts provided they come from Falluja," said one of his guests, Kais Nazzal, who owns Falluja's largest factory. "But the Mujahideen must continue to give orders - if the police co-operate with the Americans against the people of Falluja they will be killed."

Well, surely that does for any hope of those "local caucuses" of "notables" ever playing the part assigned to them by the CPA? Saleh's solution to his dilemma appears to be to say that all the nasty people they sent him to get have gone away, conveniently for his chances of survival. After all, he has a point - looking for "foreign fighters" among the people who really were fighting could have some negative effects, both by showing up that there weren't any and by stirring the real fighters up all over again. And this is weird:
""The angels fought with the people," says Mr Nazzal's cousin Jawad, a colonel in the former Iraqi army. "They sent forth huge spiders to support right against wrong."

Still, in times like these..

Monday, May 10, 2004

"An extremely ineffective commander and leader"

Washington Post story on conditions in Abu Ghraibh and the internal politics of the Military Police there.
""Detainee care appears to have been made up as the operations developed with reliance on, and guidance from, junior members of the unit who had civilian corrections experience," Taguba later found.

Those members included Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, 37, who had worked as a correctional officer at Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia, and Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., 35, a divorced father of two who worked as a prison guard in Greene County, Pa. Frederick was the top enlisted man in charge of 1A, where he and Graner worked closely with intelligence officers, their colleagues said.

The officer in charge of the prison was Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, a reservist who commanded the 320th Military Police Battalion. Taguba found that Phillabaum was "an extremely ineffective commander and leader" who did little after the Camp Bucca beating incident five months earlier to put his soldiers on notice about proper detainee treatment."

Torture and Media, part 2

I'm not sure I really expressed myself accurately in the last post, so here goes again. I'm beginning to suspect that in the last few years our political systems have been polluted by the possibilities of the networked world. Not that "it's all the fault of the media" - it's the fault of politicians. It seems to me that the Abu Ghraibh torturers' obsession with photographing their own crimes - in effect, preparing the evidence for their own trial - is similar to the politics that put them there. They seem to have transferred a trash culture of bizarre porn images and yelling patriotism into action (it is no surprise that in among the war crimes, they also filmed themselves having sex) - after all, according to the New York Times, the same kind of sadism has been reported in ordinary civilian jails in the US. Several of the people involved were screws in civil life, and the chap responsible for reopening the Iraqi prisons (or should that be "reclosing"?)was forced to resign from his job running Utah's state prisons after
"an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time."

A vicious prison-gang culture plus a media world driven by sensation and horror, transplanted into a distant war in conditions of seems simple enough. I think much of the current British migrant-basher hysteria has a similar source in the combination of unchallenged scare propaganda and a government obsessed with trying to get ahead of its press opponents - it just provides the validation.

I suppose this also supplies some of the answers to our situation. The US authorities have already said that the Abu Ghraibh torturers will be tried publicly in Baghdad. This makes sense. Robin Cook's suggestion of demolishing it does too. From a British point of view, though, this is already losing out. The government is currently refusing to publish the Red Cross report on detention in the British zone, whilst protesting that they did not know about the report - this demonstrates Alan Watkins' view that scandals in Britain always concern whether or not someone had the right to say what they did, not the facts, and also demonstrates that the government is still obsessed with trying to show mythical "toughness" in the belief that the Murdoch press will love them again. They will not, and the cruelty increasingly evident in the government's every idea (demanding that doctors refuse treatment to failed asylum-seekers..)will only increase this way.

Note - The London News Review is of a similar view about the torturers - apparently Graner had a record of stalking his ex-wife with guns and setting up secret video cameras...

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Have we built a cruel society? Torture and media...

The torrent of filth didn't stop all week. I didn't blog - I'm sorry - really because I couldn't see any useful angle to cover. Torture's evil. I'm ashamed. That was about it - it's not very original, is it? Best to wait and let the pressure build....until it has to get out. We have seen the complete collapse of our legitimacy, our minimal claim to decency. The pictures, especially the latest menacing deliveries from Abu Ghraibh, are the western version of the 11th September TV footage. That attack, with its calculated use of the world communication system, was conceived to deliver violence to everyone like poison in the water supply. The torture pictures have done exactly the same in reverse, permeating the Islamic world with a total message of hatred, contempt, and sordidness. They will, of course, generate over time their own self-amplifying waves of conspiracy and nonsense, the equivalent of those people who think the airliners were flown by remote control into the buildings by Mossad - or who think Iraq was behind it all. It's already happening - see the Basra preacher who yesterday waved papers he claimed showed the rape of Iraqi women by British soldiers at his congregation. Unless it's much, much worse than anyone thinks, he is lying; but it doesn't matter. Bloggerheads reports that a porno site called exists that claims to show rapes committed in US custody in Iraq - some of its product has already turned up in the Middle East, being treated as genuine. What a world this is.

What do we know? We know that the US Army's 800th Military Police Brigade managed to recruit a considerable number of people who were potential torturers, and failed to hold them in check. We know that they were at least tacitly encouraged by members of military intelligence, and that a grimly exotic variety of privatised spooks were also torturing, far more seriously. These men - outside the military law and the Iraqi law, and according to Robert Fisk not even US citizens - were hired by "other government agencies", presumably the secret services. It seems clear that their purpose is or was to provide deniable interrogators, to allow the intelligence services to escape the laws of the US. The effect was unsurprising - apart from their own actions, their very existence will have gone a long way to providing the validation, the sense of rightness, needed to trigger the rest of the guards. The US prisons in Iraq were allowed, to go no further, to become enclaves outside law run by true-believer spooks and halfwitted thugs.

Simultaneously, we have had our own thug eruption. Even less seems to be firmly known about the treatment of prisoners in the British zone - what is clear is that there is a case to answer. Currently, it is said that out of some 33 cases, 15 were dismissed and 6 have been referred for prosecution. They are all many months old. It would be good if the Army Prosecuting Authority could finally produce, and either issue charges or give reasons, no? The scandal has meant that there are now a clutch of cases before the High Court, another with the APA, and no-one seems to know whether more have emerged. Some of the cases are of a pattern - they involve the apparently accidental or negligent shooting of persons in the streets, often after gunfire had been heard. This is horrible - but why do I feel that it is less so than the allegations of torture? Those are harder to pin. There is the grim case of Baha Mousa, allegedly (and almost certainly) beaten to death. There are the Daily Mirror's allegations - or are they the same case? I am sceptical of the Mirror's photos, but (curiously) less so of the allegations. If Piers Morgan deserves criticism, it will be because his lunge for the pictures discredited the real story.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Stealth ID strikes again! Education cards this time

The Guardian reported yesterday that the Government wants to introduce an identity card for everyone involved in education. This would carry a Unique Learner Number and a wide variety of information: "such information as a person's qualifications, course aims, employment situation and possibly income details." Income details? It gets worse: "The most sophisticated system would allow any agencies permitted to do so "to track what happens to people, matching what work they end up in, what their earnings are"...Employers might be able to buy data equipment to read details of individuals' qualifications and previous periods of employment and unemployment, which would help defray costs." Isn't this just a little bit intrusive? Especially as it would link up with a national ID scheme nicely.

This is one of several pseudo- or stealth-ID schemes currently active. There is the planned national Unique Child Number, and the associated database as blogged here. Like that one, it would throw off a large database covering a chunk of the population almost completely - after all, practically everyone goes to school, and a lot of adults take on further education. As there's no mention of the data being deleted when you turn 18 or leave, it's a database that can only grow. Much of the information involved would parallel that proposed for the national ID scheme, but these sub-IDs would also bring in much more, like those income details. It seems that the government is doing its level best to launch as many expandable, mutable ID schemes as possible in the hope that even if some are shot down, enough will get through. After all, the only other justification Charles Clarke could give for this massive invasion of privacy was that it might stop people applying to be further education lecturers under false pretences. Even he couldn't say that this was a problem, though. But who needs excuses when we've got civil servants like this one:
"Our view is that we can do this without a national ID card. It doesn't mean we're anti it - we're not particularly pro it either, but if we're going to have one we'll bolt all this on," said the civil servant. "What we're saying is that ID cards could be helpful in terms of some of the things that we are going to do anyway."

Well, that brings up the possibility of a whole range of new abuses no-one had ever thought of. Hell, you could use an ID card "security check" to keep people below a certain income out of - say - an upmarket shopping centre or gated community. Or alternatively, you could block a certain educational profile...I'm told that during the 1970s, German government anti-terrorist ads on TV said that reading Kant was a risk factor for being a terrorist. Wouldn't it be great if our cities ended up like Manchester in the time of Friedrich Engels, the rich and poor not architecturally but electronically segregated this time?

The Law of Goats

The Yorkshire Ranter is the only Google result for "the law of goats". I'm not sure what the nameless netizen from New Zealand was after when they punched that one in, but it nailed my remark that some business types had "all the respect for the law of goats". I hope they weren't too disappointed.

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