Monday, 30 March 2009

Hard times and the lure of fascism

- The (Canada)

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, two of the world's most "successful" economies were those of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

In hindsight, this sounds perverse – even obscene. But at the time, political leaders from around the world watched the Italian and German economic experiments and, in many cases, lauded them.

During a 1937 visit to Germany, Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King noted in his diary how impressed he was by Adolf Hitler's labour policies.

In the U.S., as German cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch recounts in his book Three New Deals, then president Franklin Roosevelt pronounced himself "deeply impressed by what (Italian dictator Benito Mussolini) has accomplished..."

King and Roosevelt made these comments not because they favoured Hitler's murderous anti-Semitism or Mussolini's brutal blackshirt tactics.

Rather they were intrigued by the combination of authoritarianism and capitalism that the two dictators used to reduce unemployment and revive their respective economies.

Both Hitler and Mussolini spent massive amounts of government funds on public works and rearmament.

At the same time, their bans on independent trade unions ensured that workers wouldn't interfere with any recovery by demanding higher wages – an example of labour-management co-operation that appealed particularly to King.

Even more important than the praise of foreign leaders, however, was the fact that many, if not most, Germans and Italians liked what their dictators were doing.

The reason is fairly simple. With the notable exceptions of Jews, Communists, social democrats, liberals, Roma, gays, dissident pastors and anyone with a shred of conscience – most Germans and Italians were materially better off than they had been.

All of this is worth keeping in mind today as the world heads into what many economists believe will be the worst slump since the 1930s.

Because the Great Depression teaches us two things. First, capitalism doesn't need liberalism or even democracy to be successful. In fact, in the '30s, many came to the not illogical conclusion that an authoritarian market economy could provide a higher standard of living.

Second, in times of stress, people are susceptible. They want strong leaders and fear outsiders. They are desperate to hold on to what they have and anxious to find scapegoats.

A version of this kind of right-wing populism aimed at Muslims swept the U.S., and to a lesser extent Canada, after the terror attacks of 9/11.

An economic version is waiting in the wings today.

The signs are there. In the U.S., right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh is treated by much of the media as a fool. His rantings against President Barack Obama are deemed so beyond the pale that even Canadian-born, conservative ideologue David Frum has weighed in against him.

Yet Limbaugh is still avidly listened to by an estimated 20 million Americans each week, far more than read Frum's learned treatises.

What's more, Limbaugh's message of anger and resentment resonates. Many Americans are increasingly turning their rage against migrant Mexican workers believed to be stealing jobs. That's a Rush Limbaugh issue that's now raised by even Hispanic members of the U.S. Congress.

As the economy worsens, the message of right-wing populism will almost surely resonate more.

In Europe, there are similar rumblings.

British workers have protested against Italian and Portuguese labourers imported to do local jobs. While insisting that it is maintaining its open-door policy to other European Union members, the government there has quietly made it harder for non-EU immigrants to get work visas.

In France, the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has persuaded carmaker Renault – in exchange for government aid – to move some of its auto production from Slovenia to Paris.

Sarkozy insists the move won't cost Slovenia any jobs. But the decision has unnerved Eastern Europe's low-wage countries that, until recently, were big fans of global trade.

Indeed, the recession has already brought political instability to Eastern Europe. With export markets drying up and their currencies foundering, Hungary and Ukraine face bankruptcy.

Bulgaria and Lithuania have been hit by protests. On Tuesday, the Czech government fell.

Meanwhile, the promises of those advocating the more liberal version of capitalism have proven remarkably hollow.

In the fall, leaders of the world's 20 main economies, the so-called G-20, promised not to raise any new trade barriers – even those permitted under international treaties.

Yet since then, almost all of these countries have broken this vow. The U.S. was the most flagrant with its Buy America provisions imbedded in President Barack Obama's stimulus package.

But the World Bank calculates that at least 16 other members of the G-20, including Canada, have introduced similar trade-restrictions measures since November.

The international body targets Canada's decision to subsidize North American auto plants in this country as one such measure that has caused distortions in the international trading economy.

None of which is to say that fascism is just around the corner. History rarely repeats itself in such an obvious manner.

Indeed, the modern version of authoritarian capitalism, Chinese capitalism, is neither racist nor (for the time being at least) imperialist.

Besides, if governments are willing to admit the failings of the market economy, there are ways to deal with this slump that do not require dictatorship.

But simplistic and dangerous ideas do exist out there. And if, as former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge suggested this week, the crisis continues for several years, and if governments can provide nothing more than ineffective market nostrums, these dangerous ideas will gain popular appeal.

That's the part of history that does repeat itself.

Thomas Walkom's column appears Wednesday and Saturday.

Friday, 27 March 2009

G20 summit: Fears that anarchists plan to hijack march

A march involving tens of thousands of people to raise awareness of world poverty and climate change on Saturday could be hijacked by anarchists and masked 'Black Bloc' radicals who are intent on causing mayhem.

Increased security at London's excel centre: G20 summit: Fears that anarchists plan to hijack march
Increased security at London's excel centre: The London Metropolitan Police are stepping up security around the Excel centre at London's Docklands Photo: AP

The 'Put People First' march will be held in Central London, organised by an unprecedented alliance of 150 groups, including unions, charities, environmental campaigners, development and faith organisations.

Today's demonstrations will kick-start a week of protests in London ahead of Thursday's G20 summit, when police and business leaders are bracing themselves for across central London.

As many as 20,000 people are expected to march from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park for a rally with speakers and entertainment including Luke Pritchard of the Kooks and comedian Mark Thomas.

However there are fears that the march could be hijacked by anarchists who are known to create tight, hard-to-break blocks which can smash through police lines.

Yesterday authorities were tidying away discarded bricks, wooden stakes and scaffolding poles left on roadworks and building sites so that they cannot be used as potential weapons.

These direct action protesters – in black clothing, motorcycle helmets, steel-toed boots and often carrying shields and truncheons – have been the catalysts for trouble at previous anti-capitalist protests in Rostock, Germany in 2007 during the G8 rally, and at an anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, when hundreds of masked anarchists attacked retail chains including GAP and Starbucks.

Many hardened protesters were said to be flying in from around the world from as far afield as the United States last night to stay in student union accommodation and squats and with British protesters.

In an email to activists last week, the group's leaders wrote: "We are their crisis. Reclaim the struggle for a global community fit for all, not the undeserving rich elite who are happy to see our lives ruined.

"As the bankers continue to cream off billions of pounds of our money let's put the call out, RECLAIM THE MONEY, storm the banks and send them packing."

One anarchist group from Whitechapel, east London, yesterday published promotional a large picture of Sir Fred Goodwin on their website in a target site, headlined "We're closing in – targeting benefit thieves".

The anarchists, marked out by their red and black flags, are planning to meet in Victoria Palace gardens, near the Houses of Parliament, before infiltrating the main march.

After the march, when the anarchists will encourage others to join them, they plan to break away from the main Hyde Park demonstration and set up their own alternative rally at Speaker's Corner at 3pm.

From there they will fan out in the late afternoon and, with some groups planning to force companies to "put out the lights" as part of the planned worldwide hour of darkness to mark "Earth Hour" at 8.30 tonight, as revealed by The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday,

Businesses in London are already starting to prepare for the worst by putting up boards over their windows. Yesterday the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly put up boards to protect its windows.

Glen Tarman, who has helped organise the Put People First march, said he had no evidence that anyone intended to break the law or commit acts of violence.

Up to 2,000 police officers are expected on the streets, with all leave cancelled next week. The Metropolitan Police is understood to have established rapid reaction units around the City to respond to the first sign of trouble.

A Metropolitan police spokesman said: "An appropriate policing plan for Saturday's march has been put in place. If anybody causes trouble they will be arrested."

Campaigners criticised the escalating cost of the summit, after Lord Malloch-Brown, a minister at the Foreign Office, said it could cost as much as £19 million – far outstripping the current £7.2 million policing budget.

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, which is organising a series of events over the next week, said: "Many millions of pounds are being spent of policing, closing roads, travel and bringing entourages to the UK, but the politicians are fiddling while Rome burns."

Police leave in the capital has been cancelled for the summit amid Scotland Yard warnings that some campaigners were planning disruptions around the City's Square Mile.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Danish T-shirt sellers convicted of financing terrorism

Activists planned to send share of profits to Farc in Colombia and Palestinian movement

Fighters + Lovers found guilty in Denmark

Ulrik Kohl aka Bobby Shultz (l) and Katrine Willumsen (r) of Fighters+Lovers. Photograph: Fighters+Lovers

Six Danish activists who sold T-shirts bearing the logos of two groups classified by the EU as terrorist organisations have been found guilty of financing terrorism.

Denmark's supreme court ruled that the six — all members of the Fighters+Lovers collective — were found to have contravened the country's anti-terror laws by selling T-shirts to help fund the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

All the defendants received suspended prison sentences of between two and six months.

The case, which has prompted Denmark's biggest debate over freedom of expression since the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad four years ago, began in January 2006, when Fighters+Lovers launched a collection of T-shirts under the slogan "Look Great And Stand Up For Freedom".

The shirts were sold on the internet for £15 — with about £3.50 of the purchase price going to support "humanitarian projects" carried out by Farc and the PFLP. But the collective, which describes itself as "a brand, a cloth company and a record label" working "on the borderline between fashion, culture and politics", soon fell foul of the law.

In February 2006, the defendants were arrested after extensive police surveillance. All the T-shirts were seized and the group's bank account was frozen before any money could reach Farc and the PFLP.

The accused denied committing any crime, arguing that the EU "terror list" is undemocratic because it is drawn up behind closed doors according to unknown criteria. They also maintained that both the PFLP and Farc are not terrorist groups but legitimate resistance movements comparable to Denmark's own resistance fighters, who took on the Nazis during the second world war.

But today, after a 17-month trial, they were convicted of sponsoring terrorism.

One of the defendants, Katrine Willumsen, a 26-year-old student, said that she and her fellow campaigners were examining their options and considering an appeal. "We have taken this to the highest level in Denmark but we are considering applying to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg," she said.

"First we have to read the judgment and see what we can do. The verdict is very bad and it's not just a problem for us; it's a problem for the whole of Denmark. A lot of people here are getting very frustrated."

However, Ulrik Kohl, who was given a six-month suspended sentence, said that the group's plight had inspired others across Denmark and the rest of the world to fight for freedom of expression. "We have seen a new movement evolve — a movement that dares to go against the attacks on our democratic rights, a movement for dialogue, peace and the right to speak up for justice," he said.

"This movement counts old resistance fighters from the Danish resistance against the Nazi occupation in the 40s, it counts trade unionists, politicians and a lot of people from all over the world that want to defend democratic rights."

Willumsen told the Guardian that while Fighters+Lovers did not always agree with all the actions of the groups they supported, they were committed to their aims.

"A lot of the accusations [against Farc] are not true," she said. "But we are aware that Farc sometimes does stuff that is not OK. We do not believe that the Farc are angels, but they are not demons either. People must see the difference between terrorists and people fighting for freedom, and Danish law does not make that distinction."

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Anti-capitalist group boasts of attack on Sir Fred Goodwin's home

An anti-capitalist vigilante group calling itself Bank Bosses Are Criminals has claimed responsibility for an attack on the home and car of Sir Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The ex-banker’s £3 million Edinburgh house was targeted in the early hours, with at least four ground-floor windows smashed and a black Mercedes vandalised. Police were called at around 4.15am to Morningside, a leafy suburb of the Scottish capital lined with substantial, stone-built homes.

A storm of controversy has engulfed Sir Fred over the £16.9 million pension he negotiated as he was made to leave RBS last October for his part in bringing the bank to its knees. The 50-year-old financier has already started to collect an annual pension of around £700,000, and refused invitations to hand it back..

Less than an hour after the attack, an e-mail was sent to local media outlets, signed by Moira McLeod, claiming responsibility and threatening further vigilante assaults. The e-mail account used to send the warning was named “Bank Bosses Are Criminals”.

“This is just the beginning.”

As plainclothes and uniformed police officers inspected the damage to Sir Fred’s house and car, neighbours told of their disgust at the “greed” of the former RBS chief executive.

Many in the smart Edinburgh neighbourhood had, they believed, lost money as a direct result of Sir Fred’s actions.

John Llewelyn, a neighbour who has retired, said: “My wife and I are seeing an independent financial adviser together and we have suddenly realised our investments and savings have been dramatically affected, like everyone’s.

"We put Sir Fred in that context. He is part of the story. We can’t help feeling that way. It is upsetting.”

Mr Llewelyn said that the only other incident he was aware of at the large, detached property was when a bunch of flowers was left in the garden and police were alerted in case it was suspicious.

He said that security personnel had been parked in the area overnight on regular occasions throughout the last year.

nother neighbour said one security officer had told her that the Goodwins seemed very aloof and had not even offered a cup of tea.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister refused to be drawn on whether he had sympathy for Sir Fred. “On the specific question of damage to his property, there can be no excuse for people breaking the law,” he said.

A 20-strong press pack congregated outside the property, in the Grange area of the city, since the early hours. They watched as Lothian and Borders police officers investigated and joiners assessed the damage.

In the courtyard, a black Mercedes S600 was parked. Small cracks were visible in the rear windscreen and back left passenger door.

In the house itself, the front bottom right bay window was cracked, as were two other lower windows. The holes were up to a metre wide.

Locals walking by stopped to stare. One, who asked only to be identified as Deidre and was in her 70s, said: “People should not go round breaking windows, but I can understand why if they have lost their jobs. It is not right, but I can understand why they would do it.

”I do have an account with RBS in Marchmont. It’s not the fault of the young people who work with RBS that this has happened. I don’t understand how people can be so greedy with everything.

"If I won the lottery, I would just pay off my four kids’ mortgages. What can you do with that kind of money (Sir Fred’s pension pot)?”

Another local, Maggie Anderson, who was on her way to the shop, said: “I was walking past here last night and I wondered why this had not happened before. I know he’s left the property now, but I am not surprised. I don’t approve.”

Sir Fred's whereabouts are unknown. It is believed he is considering leaving Britain to avoid the growing row over his pension.

The Times has reported that friends have advised him to go abroad for several months and that he is considering his options. He is especially concerned about his children, John and Honor, who are believed to have been taken out of their schools temporarily last year after fears over their safety.

Sir Fred's home has already attracted the attention of protesters, with hostile banners posted outside, branding him a "scumbag millionaire".

The violent assault on Sir Fred’s home came two days after Sir Max Hastings, a military historian and former newspaper editor, called for members of the public to throw stones through the windows of failed bankers.

“The time has come to address the entire robber banker culture,” he wrote in the Daily Mail on Monday. “Investment banks have been run not for the benefit of society, customers, or even shareholders, but exclusively for the advantage of the bankers themselves. . . This is why we must stand outside their homes throwing rocks through the windows until they do.”

The row over the pension has sparked a bitter war of words between Sir Tom McKillop, the former chairman of RBS, and Lord Myners, the City Minister, over who knew what when the payments were agreed. Sir Tom is threatening to publish key correspondence between the two.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Riots break out in Arab Israeli town during ultra-nationalist Jewish march

Barak agrees to join Netanyahu coalition

Rising ethnic tensions were underscored in Israel today as violent clashes took place in one of Israel's biggest Arab towns between Jewish ultra-nationalists and local youths.

Police dispersed rock-throwing Arab residents of Umm el-Fahm with stun grenades and tear gas in the town, which is close to Israel's boundary with the occupied West Bank.

The outbreak of violence took place following a march by right-wing Jews aiming to demonstrate sovereignty over the town, which has a strong Islamic movement.

Michael Ben-Ari, a lawmaker from the far-right National Union party who took part in the march, said: “I want to say that if we don’t wave the flag in Umm el-Fahm ... we will bring a state of Palestine all the way to Tel Aviv."

Among the leaders of the march was Baruch Marzel, who led the anti-Arab Kach party that was banned in 1994 and who has been questioned several times by police in connection with attacks on Arabs.

Umm el-Fahm is in an area of Israel where many of the country’s 1.5 million Arab citizens live, and which Mr Lieberman wants to to cede to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Mr Lieberman has been slated to become foreign minister in the Netanyahu coalition.

More than 2,000 police were deployed as a buffer between the flag-waving Israelis, including many from openly anti-Arab political groups, and residents of Umm el-Fahm. Toward the end of the march, scores of townspeople, some bearing Palestinian flags, threw rocks at the Jewish demonstrators and at police, who responded with teargas and water cannon. At least 16 residents and 15 police were injured. Reports suggested that a senior police chief was also hurt.

Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab MP, slammed the Jewish demonstrators as racists. “Racism is not freedom of expression, it’s a criminal act and the law should punish it," he said.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Johann Hari: She showed the brutal reality of Britain

In her short life, this big-hearted and big-mouthed woman reflected our own bigotry and stupidity

Monday, 23 March 2009

Jade leaves the Big Brother house at Elstree studios in 2002


Jade leaves the Big Brother house at Elstree studios in 2002

    Sunday, 22 March 2009

    Kim Jong Il vows to consolidate DPRK-China friendship

    It is the invariable will of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to further consolidate and develop the friendship with China, DPRK's state media quoted top leader Kim Jong Il as saying on Sunday.

    While watching an opera rehearsal, Kim said cultural exchange plays an important role in boosting the precious DPRK-China friendship established by late President Kim Il Sung and leaders of the elder generation of China for a long period.

    Kim watched the rehearsal of opera "the Dream of the Red Chamber" which was adapted and performed by the DPRK Phibada (Sea of Blood) Opera Troupe.

    Kim Jong-il (2nd R front row), top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) watches an opera rehearsal in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 22, 2009. It is the invariable will of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to further consolidate and develop the friendship with China, DPRK's state media quoted top leader Kim Jong Il as saying on Sunday. (Xinhua/Liu Xin)

    Under Kim's instruction, the Chinese ancient classic, which had been staged in the DPRK since the 1960s, is going to be performed by the troupe widely this year -- "the Year of DPRK-China Friendship."

    Kim was satisfied that the artists of the troupe produced a splendid opera with all its elements, including the songs, orchestration, stage decor and costumes on a high artistic level.

    Performers of the DPRK Phibada (Sea of Blood) Opera Troupe perform during the rehearsal of "the Dream of the Red Chamber" in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 22, 2009. (Xinhua/Liu Xin)

    The two counties have set this year "the Year of Friendship" to mark the 60th anniversary of China-DPRK ties. The inauguration ceremony was held on March 18 in Beijing.

    Friday, 20 March 2009

    Israeli soldiers admit to deliberate killing of Gaza civilians

    Palestinian women sit next to the rubble of their destroyed houses in the Rafah border between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip

    (Ali Ali/EPA)

    Palestininian women beside the rubble of their houses. Israeli soldiers were allegedly ordered to throw furniture out of homes

    The Israeli army has been forced to open an investigation into the conduct of its troops in Gaza after damning testimony from its own front line soldiers revealed the killing of civilians and rules of engagement so lax that one combatant said that they amounted on occasion to “cold-blooded murder”.

    The revelations, compiled by the head of an Israel military academy who declared that he was “shocked” at the findings, come as international rights groups are calling for independent inquiries into the conduct of both sides in the three-week Israeli offensive against Palestinian Islamists.

    The soldiers’ testimonies include accounts of an unarmed old woman being shot at a distance of 100 yards, a woman and her two children being killed after Israeli soldiers ordered them from their house into the line of fire of a sniper and soldiers clearing houses by shooting anyone they encountered on sight.

    “That’s the beauty of Gaza. You see a man walking, he doesn’t have to have a weapon, and you can shoot him,” one soldier told Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin pre-military academy, who asked him why a company commander ordered an elderly woman to be shot.

    "I gathered the graduate students of the course who fought in Gaza, to hear their impressions from the fighting. I wasn't prepared for any of the stuff I heard there. I was shocked,” Mr Zamir said. “I think that the writing was on the wall, but we just didn't want to see it, we didn't want to face it."

    One non-commissioned officer told Mr Zamir, himself a deputy battalion commander in the reserves, that the army “fired a lot of rounds and killed a lot of people in order for us not to be injured or shot at.

    "When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up storey by storey… I call that murder. Each storey, if we identify a person, we shoot them. I asked myself – how is this reasonable?"

    The same unnamed NCO said that his commanding officer ordered soldiers on to a rooftop to shoot an old woman crossing a main street during the fighting, which a Palestinian rights groups said left 1,434 people dead, 960 of them civilians.

    "I don't know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don't know her story,” the NCO said. “I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out… It was cold-blooded murder."

    Another NCO recounted a military blunder that led to a mother and her two children being shot dead by an Israeli sniper. "We had taken over the house… and the family was released and told to go right. A mother and two children got confused and went left… The sniper on the roof wasn't told that this was okay and that he shouldn't shoot… you can say he just did what he was told… he was told not to let anyone approach the left flank and he shot at them.

    "I don't know whether he first shot at their feet or not, but he killed them," the soldier said.

    The soldiers’ accounts were submitted anonymously at a meeting at the academy around a month ago. The Israel army said that it had started an investigation, but that this was the first time it had heard such testimony, despite having debriefed troops itself.

    Breaking The Silence, an organisation of former soldiers who gather witness accounts from troops in the Palestinian territories, said that its own investigation into Operation Cast Lead, as the war was known in Israel, had revealed a similar picture of the fighting.

    “It’s definitely in line with what we are hearing,” said one of the researchers.

    Another disturbing element reported by the soldiers was the role of military rabbis in distributing booklets that framed the fighting as a religious war. “All these articles had a clear message: we are the Jewish people, we have come to the land by miraculous means, and now we have to fight to remove the Gentiles who are getting in our way and preventing us from occupying the Holy Land… a great many soldiers had a feeling throughout this operation of a religious war,” said one soldier.

    There were also accounts of soldiers being ordered to throw all the furniture out of Palestinians’ homes as they were taken over.

    “We simply threw everything out the windows to make room and order. The entire contents of the house flew out the windows: refrigerator, plates, furniture. The order was to remove the entire contents of the house.”

    The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights released the names of 1,417 Gazans that it says were killed in the war, saying that 926 were civilians. The Israeli Government contends that most of those killed were combatants or legitimate targets.

    Thursday, 19 March 2009

    MI5 faces new rules on terror interrogations

    PM orders code on questioning abroad

    The government yesterday bowed to growing pressure over allegations of Britain's complicity in torture by promising to draw up and publish new guidelines for the security and intelligence agencies when they are involved in interrogating detainees abroad.

    Announcing the unexpected move to MPs, Gordon Brown said he condemned torture "absolutely" but had asked the intelligence and security committee (ISC) to help draw up new guidelines "in order to have systems that are robust".

    In a separate move, the prime minister told MPs that compliance with the new guidelines would be monitored by intelligence services commissioner Sir Peter Gibson, a former appeal court judge, who will report annually.

    Brown's announcement, which follows a succession of revelations in the Guardian about the ill-treatment and torture of UK nationals and residents abroad, appeared to be a tacit admission that existing guidelines were open to abuse. It was also seen as an attempt to resist calls for an independent inquiry into growing evidence of British complicity in the interrogation of suspects held in Pakistan and Morocco.

    But it did not satisfy campaigners and parliamentary critics who want a full independent inquiry into torture, rendition and alleged British collusion.

    Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the all- party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, said: "The prime minister's announcement is inadequate ... Lord Carlile, the government's own independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has concluded that a judge-led inquiry is necessary. I agree."

    Amnesty's UK campaigns director, Tim Hancock, said: "If the prime minister thinks this will silence calls for a full, impartial inquiry into UK collusion in torture and rendition, he should think again".

    Brown's statement came after the ISC took the unprecedented step of reopening its investigation into the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident recently released from Guantánamo Bay. Kim Howells, former Foreign Office minister and new chairman of the ISC, said it had taken the decision because of new information on the case provided by Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5.

    The committee, which has oversight of the security services, has been criticised for not being sufficiently independent. It meets in private and sends reports to No 10 for vetting before publication.

    Howells said yesterday that its role was to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the security and intelligence agencies. He added: "However, in this instance we considered that this new evidence had a far wider significance that went beyond an individual case, and that it raised questions about the policy and procedures that our security and intelligence agencies follow."

    He said they had made recommendations to the prime minister. Although Howells did not say what they were, it seems clear that they related to the lack of rigour in existing guidelines.

    Well-placed Whitehall officials said last night that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the US, "proper procedures" were not kept. They also said Britain's security and intelligence agencies had to co-operate with foreign agencies which had lower standards.

    Brown told MPs: "I have faith in our security services, we must ensure that the public also have all the faith that is necessary in our security services and we condemn absolutely the use of torture."

    He said earlier in a prepared written statement: "They take significant personal risks to make Britain more secure and operate across the world in circumstances they do not control."

    Reprieve, the legal charity that represents Mohamed, welcomed the statement. But Clare Algar, its executive director, said Brown was "trusting people who were deeply involved in the security services to check their conduct. It is ludicrous to suggest that this will restore public confidence."

    Tuesday, 17 March 2009

    Terrorist suspect 'beaten' by Metropolitan police

    A terrorism suspect was beaten by Metropolitan police officers before being forced to kneel and asked: "Where is your god now"? a court heard.

    Babar Ahmad, a 34-year-old IT support analyst, claims that a "prolonged and violent series of gratuitous assaults" by Territorial Support Group officers were intended to "humiliate and debase him and make him fear for his life."

    Ahmad, from Tooting, South London, is suing the force for damages over the alleged "gross brutality" of the attacks.

    He claims he was pushed headfirst into a window and then punched and kneed.

    He says officers swore at him, commenting "So this is the tough nut, is it?" as they struck him repeatedly and that one officer grabbed at his testicles.

    He claims he was dragged downstairs then forced on to his knees and asked "Where is your god now?" and instructed to pray.

    Ahmad, who is fighting extradition to the US where he is wanted for raising money for al-Qaeda through a website, claims that he suffered injuries to his ear drums, wrists, forearms and feet, as well as a psychiatric injury.

    The police say that while force was used to affect the arrest, it was reasonable in the circumstances and they deny the allegations.

    They say Ahmad kept moving from side to side apparently looking for something and that a samurai sword was subsequently found nearby.

    In the police van, they claim Ahmad was lashing out with his fists and that he continued to struggle, bashing his head and back against the seats.

    Ahmad, who followed proceedings by videolink from Long Lartin prison, Worcs, is claiming aggravated and exemplary damages for assault.

    Phillippa Kaufmann, for Ahmad, told the court that the case was of "great concern" for the Muslim community.

    She said that during the dawn arrest in December 2003, Ahmad "was subjected to a prolonged and violent series of gratuitous assaults by punching, kneeing, stamping on his feet , deliberately manipulating handcuffs which had been applied to his wrists and by twice placing him in a neck hold that left him feeling that he could not breathe and was about to lose consciousness."

    She said it was his case that a number of police officers "perpetrated the assaults deliberately," and "in the knowledge that the amount of force they were using was excessive and not justified in the circumstances as they believed them to be."

    Miss Kaufmann said "the use of handcuffs was known by the officers to cause excruciating pain," and added: "The neck hold is an extremely dangerous hold, as the officer would well have known.

    "It can only have been intended to cause the claimant to experience a state of utter terror, at the thought that he was about to die."

    Miss Kaufmann said that the arresting officers had been briefed that Ahmad, who had worked at Imperial College for six years and was married with no children, was believed to be connected to al-Qaeda and was the head of a South London terrorist group.

    The officers told Ahmad was potentially a very dangerous man who it was believed had been trained in terrorist camps.

    As a result, they were told to wear full protective clothing including helmets and use a strategy called "deck and dominate."

    She said that Ahmad took up a passive position when the police arrived with his arms aloft in surrender.

    He was released without charge but rearrested in August 2004 on the US arrest warrant.

    The case continues

    Friday, 13 March 2009

    US warships head for South China Sea after standoff

    A potential conflict was brewing last night in the South China Sea after President Obama dispatched heavily armed American destroyers to the scene of a naval standoff between the US and China at the weekend.

    Mr Obama’s decision to send an armed escort for US surveillance ships in the area follows the aggressive and co-ordinated manoeuvres of five Chinese boats on Sunday. They harassed and nearly collided with an unarmed American vessel.

    Washington accused the Chinese ships of moving directly in front of the US Navy surveillance ship Impeccable, forcing its crew to take emergency action, and to deploy a high-pressure water hose to deter the Chinese ships. Formal protests were lodged with Beijing after the incident.

    On a day that Mr Obama and his senior officials met the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, in Washington, Beijing showed no sign of backing down. Its military chiefs accused the unarmed US Navy ship of being on a spying mission.

    The US keeps a close eye on China’s arsenal, including its expanding fleet of submarines in the area. Washington says that the confrontation occurred in international waters, but Beijing claims nearly all the South China Sea as its own, putting it in conflict with five other nations that have claims over different parts of the waters.

    The episode complicated fragile military relations between the US and China, which appeared to have improved after the two held defence talks in Beijing last month.

    Mr Obama yesterday urged more military dialogue with China to avoid similar incidents after talks with Mr Yang, the White House said. “The President also stressed the importance of raising the level and frequency of military-to-military dialogue,” it said.

    A hotline was established between the Chinese Defence Ministry and the Pentagon in April last year, but it was not used during or after Sunday’s standoff, defence officials said. The US Government immediately protested to Chinese authorities after the incident, about 75 miles south of Hainan Island.

    Beijing has rejected the US account and demanded that the United States cease what it calls illegal activities in the South China Sea. The Chinese maintain the area is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone.

    Washington insists that the area is part of international waters and that US ships have a legal right to operate there.

    Thursday, 12 March 2009

    US intelligence chief blames 'Israel lobby' for his resignation

    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington

    (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

    Ehud Olmert at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington. The group is at the centre of claims by the former intelligence chief

    The withdrawal of a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from his new post as chairman of the National Intelligence Council has ignited a debate in Washington over whether the "Israel lobby'' is exercising too much influence over who serves in the Obama Administration.

    Charles Freeman resigned this week from his new post as chair of the NIC — which oversees the production of reports representing the view of the nation's 16 intelligence agencies — after lamenting in an e-mail "the barrage of libelous distortions of my record [that] would not cease upon my entry into office".

    "The libels on me and their easily traceable e-mail trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East,'' Mr Freeman wrote in the e-mail.

    Referring to what he called "the Israel Lobby", he wrote: "The aim of this lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views.''

    This resulted in the "the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics'".

    Mr Freeman has aggressively criticised the Israeli Government, the war in Iraq and the War on Terror. In the past two weeks almost three dozen politicians, primarily Republicans, have questioned his ability to be objective in his analysis.

    Mr Freeman's financial, personal and business ties with the governments of China and Saudi Arabia have also been called into account. He was president of the Middle East Policy Council, which received some funding from the Saudi Government, and he is on the international board of advisers to a Chinese-government owned oil company.

    The congressional complaints resulted in an inspector-general's investigation into Mr Freeman's ties to the Saudi Government.

    Most of the campaign against him, however, has focused on his past critical statements about Israel. These include a 2005 speech that he gave to the National Council on US-Arab Relations, in which he referred to Israel's "high-handed and self-defeating policies'' stemming from the "occupation and settlement of Arab lands,'' which he called "inherently violent''.

    The Washington Post reported today that only a few Jewish organisations came out publicly against Mr Freeman's appointment, but a handful of pro-Israeli bloggers and employees of other organisations worked behind the scenes to raise concerns with members of Congress, their staffs and the media.

    For example, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), often described as the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, "took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it'", spokesman Josh Block told the paper.

    But Mr Block responded to reporters' questions and provided critical material about Mr Freeman, albeit always on background, meaning that his comments could not be attributed to him, according to three journalists who spoke to him, The Post reported.

    Stephen Walt, a Harvard academic who, with Chicago academic John Mearsheimer in 2006, famously described the influence of the Israel lobby on Washington as dangerous, wrote on today: "For all of you out there who may have questioned whether there was a powerful 'Israel lobby', or who admitted that it existed but didn't think it had much influence . . . think again.''

    Time magazine's Joe Klein blogged that Mr Freeman "was the victim of a mob, not a lobby. The mob was composed primarily of Jewish neoconservatives — abetted by less than courageous public servants . . . [who have] made Washington even less hospitable for those who aren't afraid to speak their minds, for those who are reflexively contentious, who would defy the conventional wisdom"

    Wednesday, 11 March 2009

    More than 1,000 police have criminal records

    Serving officers convicted of assault, burglary and dishonesty, according to data obtained under freedom of information law

    More than 1,000 serving police have criminal convictions ranging from assault to burglary, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

    The data, obtained by the Liberal Democrats, showed 1,063 officers with criminal records, including 59 for assault, 36 for theft and 96 for dishonesty. Other offences include battery, fraud, perverting the course of justice and forgery.

    Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said the figures showed that some officers who committed violent offences while serving or were proved dishonest were being allowed to keep their jobs.

    He said police chiefs needed to "get tough on bad apples" in their teams.

    "It is staggering that so many of the people entrusted to protect us from crime have criminal convictions themselves. It is even more worrying that so many police officers convicted of serious crimes involving dishonesty or violence have been allowed to keep their jobs. The public entrust the police with the use of legal force precisely because they are self-disciplined and restrained, which is why anyone convicted of a violent offence should be dismissed. I cannot see how a police officer convicted of dishonesty can perform their duty effectively.

    "The trust that is absolutely vital in policing is seriously undermined when police officers are being convicted of crimes of dishonesty. Allowing police officers convicted of offences of violence or dishonesty to continue serving merely brings the vast majority of law-abiding and diligent officers into disrepute."

    Although there were vetting procedures for dealing with new applicants, there was no Home Office guidance for dealing with officers committing offences while serving, Huhne said.

    "There is a disturbing lack of consistency in how police forces deal with officers who are convicted of crimes. The Home Office recognises this decisive problem for applicants but not for serving officers."

    According to the data, obtained from 41 of 52 forces, a further 210 officers have resigned or been dismissed from their jobs since 2004 because of their convictions. Only 37 have been dismissed for dishonesty.

    The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said officers convicted of crimes would not automatically lose their jobs.

    Peter Fahy, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester and head of workforce development for Acpo, said: "The police service expects good conduct and probity from its officers and staff at all times. Where wrongdoing is alleged, police officers are investigated and action taken as appropriate to each case.

    "It should be remembered that there are just over 140,000 police officers in the country. It is very rare that a person with a criminal conviction will be recruited into the police service.

    "Where an officer has committed misconduct, which can include a criminal offence, a range of disciplinary actions can be taken. Each case is judged on its merit. The force concerned will then take action depending on a range of factors including the severity of the offence and its impact on an officer's ability to carry out their duties."

    According to the figures, the forces with the highest number of police with convictions are the Metropolitan police with 274, West Midlands with 121 and Strathclyde, 107. Merseyside has 82, while Manchester and Kent have 44. Grampian has 34 and South Wales 31.

    The forces with the highest percentage of officers with criminal convictions are Merseyside and West Midlands, followed by the Met and South Wales police.

    Tuesday, 10 March 2009

    Dalai Lama's utter distortion of Tibet history 2009-03-11 00:18:32

    BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- On March 10, 1959, the Dalai Lama and his supporters started an armed rebellion in a desperate attempt to preserve Tibet's feudal serfdom and split the region from China.

    On Tuesday, exactly 50 years later, the Dalai Lama claimed that Tibetans have been living in "hell on earth," as if the Tibet under the former feudal serfdom ruled by him were a heaven.

    The Dalai Lama also alleged at a gathering in India's Dharamsala to mark his 50 years in exile that "these 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet."

    Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama has not only been on the wrong side of history, but also has got the history upside down. Miseries of "hell on earth" and "untold suffering" occurred nowhere but in the slavery Tibet symbolized by the Dalai Lama.

    Even from historical books written by Western scholars, people can draw the conclusion that Tibet under the rule of the Dalai Lama clique was a society of feudal serfdom that trampled human rights and easily reminded visitors of the dark age of medieval Europe.

    The feudal serfdom had truly brought "untold suffering and destruction" to the serfs and slaves who accounted for 90 percent of the then population.

    The slavery Tibet was just "hell on earth" as Carles Bell, who lived in Lhasa as a British trade representative in the 1920s, observed that the Dalai Lama's theocratic position enabled him to administer rewards and punishments as he wished. That was because he held absolute sway over both this life and the next of the serfs and coerced them with that power.

    In 1959, after the failed rebellion by the Dalai Lama and his followers, the central government of China carried out the long-delayed emancipation of millions of serfs and slaves in Tibet.

    Great achievements have been made in Tibet since then in various fields such as politics, economy and culture. The following are just a few examples of those achievements:

    -- The central government has adopted a policy of "political unity, freedom of religious belief and separation of politics and religion" in Tibet to ensure locals' political rights and that all religious beliefs are politically equal.

    -- Tibet has seen its gross domestic product soar from 174 million yuan (25.4 million U.S. dollars) in 1959 to 39.591 billion Yuan (5.78 billion dollars) in 2008, with an annual growth rate of8.9 percent.

    -- Tibet's roads totaled 51,300 km in 2008, a sharp increase from the 7,300 km in 1959.

    -- The average life expectancy in Tibet has increased from 35.5years in 1959 to 67 years at present.

    Anyone without prejudice will recognize the remarkable progress in Tibet.

    "Tibet has achieved remarkable economic progress and undergone profound changes since 1959 when its democratic reform began," Argemiro Procopio, a professor of international relations at the University of Brasilia, said after a trip to Tibet.

    Louise T. Blouin Macbain, a well-known publisher and philanthropist, said after traveling to Tibet that "what I have seen is positive and I am especially thankful to the great efforts made by China over the years in preserving Tibetan cultural independence and its monasteries."

    When the Dalai Lama claimed there is "cultural genocide" in Tibet, "I don't know which Tibet is he actually describing," she said. "As for me, it's not the one that I have seen with my own eyes."

    Why then such a distortion of historical facts by the so-called Nobel Peace Prize winner? Because it is only through the distortion of history could he deceive Western audiences and disguise his true intentions.

    Since their exile, the Dalai Lama and his followers have never stopped pursuing activities to split Tibet from China and restore their theocratic rule despite his claims to the opposite.

    But just as the rebellion by the Dalai Lama clique failed disgracefully 50 years ago, its fantasy of "Tibet Independence" is also doomed to failure, because of the firm opposition from the Chinese people, including the Tibetans in Tibet.

    Special Report: Focus on Tibet

    Monday, 9 March 2009

    Revealed: police databank on thousands of protesters

    Films and details of campaigners and journalists may breach Human Rights Act

    Shocking footage shot by police, accompanied by their own critical commentary, shows how their officers monitored campaigners and the media – and demanded personal information – at last August's climate camp demonstration in Kent Link to this video

    Police are targeting thousands of political campaigners in surveillance operations and storing their details on a database for at least seven years, an investigation by the Guardian can reveal.

    Photographs, names and video ­footage of people attending protests are ­routinely obtained by surveillance units and stored on an "intelligence system". The ­Metropolitan police, which has ­pioneered surveillance at demonstrations and advises other forces on the tactic, stores details of protesters on Crimint, the general database used daily by all police staff to catalogue criminal intelligence. It lists campaigners by name, allowing police to search which demonstrations or political meetings individuals have attended.

    Disclosures through the Freedom of Information Act, court testimony, an interview with a senior Met officer and police surveillance footage obtained by the Guardian have ­established that ­private information about activists ­gathered through surveillance is being stored without the knowledge of the people monitored.

    Police surveillance teams are also ­targeting journalists who cover demonstrations, and are believed to have ­monitored members of the press during at least eight protests over the last year.

    Videographer Jason Parkinson and photographer Jess Hurd describe to Paul Lewis how they have been followed by police while covering protests Link to this audio

    The Guardian has found:

    • Activists "seen on a regular basis" as well as those deemed on the "periphery" of demonstrations are included on the police databases, regardless of whether they have been convicted or arrested.

    • Names, political associations and photographs of protesters from across the political spectrum – from campaigners against the third runway at Heathrow to anti-war activists – are catalogued.

    • Police forces are exchanging information about pro­testers stored on their intelligence systems, enabling officers from different forces to search which political events an individual has attended.

    Lawyers said tonight they expect the Guardian's investigation to form the basis of a legal challenge against the use of police surveillance tactics.

    Liberty, the human rights group, is challenging the police surveillance tactics in a judicial review at the court of appeal. But police appear not to have disclosed to the court that they were transferring private details of campaigners to a database.

    Corinna Ferguson, Liberty's legal officer, said: "A searchable database containing photographs of people who are not even suspected of criminal activity may well violate privacy rights under article 8 of the Human Rights Act. It is particularly worrying if peaceful protesters are being singled out for surveillance."

    Police surveillance footage from the climate camp demonstration in Kent last August, obtained by the Guardian, reveals how journalists are monitored as well as the often clumsy nature of the ­surveillance.

    It shows police are interested in the names, clothing, whereabouts, and personal details of protesters and journalists. Three members of an ITV news crew, a Sky News cameraman and several photo­graphers were among members of the press monitored as they left the camp. Later in the day journalists at a protest against the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, were followed by ­surveillance officers to a McDonald's restaurant. Police filmed them as they used the restaurant's Wi-Fi ­connection to file their material.

    Kent police have already apologised after official complaints about the incident and intrusive stop and searches of journalists covering the demonstration.

    The National Union of Journalists has been assured ­that members of the press were not being ­targeted after it took concerns to the Home Office and senior police ­officers. The union documented at least eight ­protests since last March where its ­members were "routinely" photographed and filmed by police. Several journalists said police officers they had never met knew their names. "We have put this to police and the Home Office several times but they have always denied the practice or sought to avoid answering the question," said Jeremy Dear, the union's general secretary. "With this evidence there is no credibility in doing so any longer."

    Police have not disclosed the number of activists on the database. But court testimony by surveillance officers has confirmed the existence of a large intelligence system which, according to one officer, contains "thousands" of campaigners.

    Overt surveillance by police forward intelligence teams (Fits) or evidence ­gatherers (EGs) is designed to record potential criminal activity and gather ­useful intelligence. Pioneered by the Met's public order branch in the late 1990s, the technique is used regularly across the country. Surveillance officers use ­"spotter cards" to identify activists. Police have always denied surveillance is conducted for the purposes of storing information on a database.

    Information released by Scotland Yard under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that while raw surveillance material is stored in a warehouse, material on certain individuals "is added to a corporate intelligence database". Scotland Yard's disclosure, in response to questions from NUJ lawyers , stated "generally, records are retained for seven years".

    Superintendent David Hartshorn, from the Met's public order branch, conceded law-abiding campaigners were being added to the database. He said individuals on the system included people convicted or suspected of public order offences.

    But he added "people we have seen on a regular basis involved but may not have been charged or arrested" were also stored on the database. He added that the data was reviewed every year. "In relation to what we can keep on databases, we are governed quite strictly on that. Obviously you've got the Data Protection Act but also, in terms of intelligence, we have to justify what we are able to keep."