Sunday, 18 May 2008

Craig Murray and British Human Rights

Since this blog began, its aim was to provide an unspun and indeed, a ground-breaking platform upon which stories that are neglected or immediately consigned to history, are discussed and revived for the purposes of alleviating our society from its amnesia and to remind society of what is done in our name. Today, I have found such a story...

Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan was sacked by the foreign office in 2004, under the watch of then Forgein Minister Jack Straw, now Justice Minister, for informing the British public of human rights abuses by Uzbeki police. The results of this torture, which was conducted with the knowledge of American and British officials, was intelligence that was to utilised in the global 'war on terror'.

Murray, whose website details all the abuses as well as his private memos on the issues of torture, which were made known to the British Foreign Office and largely ignored, demonstrate the callousness of British officials and indeed the government, as well as their inability to perform a moral duty, namely to hold the US to task or at the very least to support their ambassador's claims of human rights abuses conducted by Islom Karimov's regime.

According to Murray, the US government funded the Karimov government to the tune of $100million dollars per year with US tax payers money. The ties were further cemented by the deal struck by Enron to begin extracting natural gas from Uzbekistan. Central Asia contains some of the largest untapped natural gas reserves in the world, of which Uzbekistan is by far the largest country in the region.

The former ambassador's story is chilling, to its very core. He details how he saw pictures, which he passed on to the Foreign Office, of a young boy, Muzafar Avazov, who had died at the hands of Karimov's police after suffering from physical abuse (teeth smashed, fingernails pulled out) as well as immersion in boiling water. The photographs were also sent to the University of Glasgow's pathology department for verification by the Foreign Office, after which no further action was taken. The mother, Fatima Mukhadirova a vegetable seller, was subsequently sentenced to six years hard labour in a maximum security prison.

Such abuses were conducted in the government's efforts to crack down on 'Islamic Militants'. A tragic lie, culminating in the massacre of up to 5000 unarmed civilians in the town of Andijan on May 13 2005. The US government's response at the time was to request that "both sides exercise restraint." Murray in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now questioned this statement, "should the people of Andijan have died more peacefully?"

What does all this mean in our context? Since the beginning of the war on terror, when congress provided the office of the President of the United States carte blanche in its capacity and capability to conduct the war on terror, Britain has tagged along hoping to seeking political and economic gifts in return for its unwavering, unstinting and unquestionable 'cooperation', we have seen a rise in human rights abuse conducted by Britain at home and overseas. At home the case of one Barbar Ahmed, still detained for more then twelve months after being incarcerated for alleged terror plots abroad has yet to stand trial for his alleged crimes. Overseas, the complicit involvement of British servicemen (diplomats and soldiers) in facilitating torture, or at the very least attempting nothing to prevent it alongside continuing to engage in an illegal war and occupation of a sovereign country has done much in the way of placing our citizens in harms way as well as harming our interests.

To top it off, we have a Justice Minister who did nothing to commend a valiant and courageous diplomat for exposing torture of a vigilante regime, and rather turned a blind eye instead of observing both the spirit and letter of international law. Perhaps the only justice one can expect is that sooner or later this government will join the ranks of the defilers, savages and brutes of history.

"Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts" - Aristotle

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


What an eventful week its been! Cyclones, Earthquakes and the beginning of a new era in Lebanese politics, to which we shall now turn our attention to...

Whilst the British press has mainly lambasted Hezbollah for its 'provocative' stance towards the Sinoira government, and Western governments, as well as their Arab allies, have towed the line asserting a coup (failed?) was taking place in Lebanon, as well the beginning of degeneration of the Lebanese government, pertinent questions remain unanswered.

1. What did Hezbollah have in mind with this action?
2. To which audience was this theatre aimed at?
3. What has been achieved and what has been lost?

There are many opinions in the 'air'. Which ones should be counted? Taken note of? Plausible?

Whilst none except Hezbollah can confirm, or deny their intentions it becomes necessary to go to the source. Some have called it a failed coup; Nasrallah's emphatic response, "if it was a coup, you would have woken up with your leaders in jail or thrown in the sea." (See his speech here) Militarily, there is little to prevent us to assume that this would not have been the case. A guerilla army that defeated the most powerful army in the Middle East in 2006, renown for their organisation, tactical effectiveness and discipline fighting an ill equipped and disorganised opposition was no contest as events demonstrated. The silent march and occupation of the capital as well as its closure, points to the direction that this was a meticulously planned operation, no doubt the plan was in existence prior to May 7.

Superior military might, as well as tactical genius alone do not account however for the course of action. With internal tensions already simmering, such provocative action was undoubtedly a last resort. Whilst the history to this latest conflict demonstrate that diplomatic efforts between the Parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri and the Sinoira governments were well under way to avoid a confrontation, the red line had been crossed and negotiations had failed. Hezbollah have thus demonstrated numerous key capabilities in taking unilateral action:
1. The organisation to take and hold the capital city marking the creation of a precedent for future showdowns
2. The strength of their relationship with the army (paradoxically also demonstrating the fragile nature of the army in the face of internal Lebanese opposition)
3. Their strength in comparison to the militias of Hariri and Jumblatt

Whilst the world was the intended audience, more specifically three must be singled out for special consideration:
1. Sinoira: He has shown weakness and resolve in addition to being politically impotent. Whilst it remains to be observed whether he complies with the army's suggestion, it is unlikely he will be willing to risk further confrontations
2. The US: Sabre rattling on the US part as well as the lack of sufficient support, also served to demonstrate that the US was toothless in the face of Hezbollah. Practical considerations for the deployment of troops are not on the agenda, extending to its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US has shown its inability to engage and gain victory over guerilla forces using conventional means (both diplomatic and militarily), further undermining its military deterrent and empty rhetoric
3. Israel. All sides are expecting another round of Hezbollah vs Israel but one can now expect this to be delayed even further by this show of force. Hezbollah's arms have proven to be impervious to Israeli fire power and now the Lebanese government has also demonstrated its inability to place control over them. UNIFIL of course, neither has the mandate nor the might, as well as the will to take on Hezbollah directly.

So it seems that all the fireworks will be flying over the Hezbollah camp. Not so. Such unilateral action has only served for further polarisation, and whilst it seems that Hezbollah is able to act on its own accord, there is little doubt that it is beginning to run thin on political capital. Whilst outwardly Hezbollah may dismiss the Arab position, it would not be something to be scoffed at in the long term. Only the most superficial commentators would label this as a sectarian issue, it is profoundly political, but Arab state machinery may avoid that notion altogether which will harm Hezbollah's standing with the Arab people. Al-Qaeda has already announced its intention to defend the "Sunni community." (See here) No doubts attempts will also be made by the outside powers, Israel and the US, to exploit the cleavages exposed with placing particular emphasis on Hariri, as Jumblatt seems to have resigned from hope. Bush recently announced support for the Lebanese army, one questions the wisdom of this decision, as the army have demonstrated aptly to have learnt their lesson from the civil war. Syria and Iran, will also have lost out on important diplomatic efforts to gain consensus for their respective concerns. Again, polarisation on the international scene is becoming increasingly visible, the US and its allies and an unswerving Arab league - bar Syria - on one side, Iran and the latter on the other.

The end of Lebanon? Unlikely, the end of the beginning more likely, as we now enter a new phase of mobilisation, tension and low thresholds for escalation.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Middle East and British Work Culture

A rather odd concoction to say the least, but bear with me...

In July 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed us, in the thick of another round of Israel vs Lebanon, we were witnessing the "birth pangs of a new Middle East." Au contraire Madam Secretary. A rather sadistic description of the death and destruction that was wreaked over Southern Lebanon as well as the death of over a hundred Israeli soldiers one may retort. Quite how the miracle of life has become synonymous with war crimes is beyond any intellectual or reasonable explanation.

It was Franz Fanon who articulated the 'culture of violence' thesis, which has effectively portrayed the developments of post-apartheid South Africa and many other nations, which also seems to have found currency within mainstream political discourse. Recently, an Iraqi lost her parents, her two brothers along with their pregnant wives and four nephews and nieces. Another lost her husband and three children aged six, four and two. A twenty four year old mother watched her 18 month toddler killed by a rocket. Whoever pulled the trigger, it seems the cement between Iraqis and violence has set (see here).

How are such tragedies treated by politicians? "Unfortunate," "unintentional," and most prolifically, "unavoidable." If these events are continually marginalised, outrightly dismissed and even contested in the public arena, is there any wonder that those on the ground behave as equally dismissively, immune to the repercussions (psychological and others) of their actions? More pertinently, are they then justifiable if they see no moral deficit in such actions? (Applying equally to nation states too.. Abu Ghraib, Srebrenica, Qanaa - let us not have amnesia, intentional or otherwise)

Secretary Rice believes it is "an achievable goal to have an agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis by the end of the year." Effective political discourse requires a cohesion of sorts between rhetoric and action, which also serves to espouse intentions. Hence, whilst settlements continue to expand, the wall continues to grow and rights are not fulfilled one is entitled to question this. Apologies Madam Secretary, but US actions are not matching your rhetoric, whose being disingenuous I hear you whisper?

In the local news one comes across a rather interesting assessment of the new British work culture that is gripping us. Apparently we work so hard, we forget to take care of our children prompting schools to remain open office hours, 8am to 6pm. Children receive their breakfast, lunch and probably dinner at the hands of the state. Is this simply work culture? Or is it economic survival? Materialism, consumerism and self-indulgence one may also suggest. Many parents work hard to give their children a more pleasurable life, no doubt, but with the recent spate of child killings (Rhys Jones etc.) one wonders whether we prefer for our children a material life or alternatively, no life at all!

So how does the latter relate to the former, or is this all hopscotch? Family life underpins society, and in both the above cases whilst a strong, morally upright and ethical framework does not exist amongst family relations, one can not expect social cohesion and social rectification to ward off bombs, knives, ASBOs or teenage killings.

"Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to this country and to mankind is to bring up a family" : George Bernard Shaw

Boris + The Rest of Humanity

After the euphoria over the London Mayoral, it now seems appropriate to turn our attention abroad where, believe it or not, the world has continued to revolve...

Perhaps once the papers can overcome their excitement / intrigue with the election of Boris Johnson, a man to whom a number of 'gaffes' and potentially racist and xenophobic remarks can be attributed to (see here), how is the rest of the world dealing with it I hear you cry?

Iraq is still in chaos, apparently more "militants" have been killed in Sadr city today. I have always wondered at how one differentiates between militants and civilians when conducting air raids from tens of thousands of feet up in the air? I suspect there to be some civilian deaths within that figure, but as US General Tommy Franks said, "We don't do body counts," hence I don't expect any questions to be asked. Where are the humanists when you need them?

When placed in addition to the recent revelations by General Sanchez, whom in his book writes "hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty." Would it be cynical to dream that any competent commentators of analysts would pick up on this 'minor' statement? Well they brushed of Nobel prize economist Joseph Stiglitz estimation of the cost of war falling between $1-2 trillion dollars (yes - a twelve zeroed sum) and his accusation of Bush misleading the public, so one can not be too hopeful that anyone would pick up on the comments of a three star General (discharged for the Abu Ghraib crimes).

I don't mean to continue the theme of 'anti-Americanism' but that Al-Jazeera cameraman did finally make it back home, after almost seven years of detention. Notice detention is used as opposed to incarceration. No trial was conducted, no evidence was brought forward and he must now rebuild his life without any help - as if he could have expected any - he was after all only bringing a new media perspective of the consequences of a NATO invasion of Afghanistan.

Finally, before I hit the sack, the small issue of a people without a land, for a land - well I don't thinks its empty any more or indeed ever was. A severe water shortage in addition to fuel plus a lack of humanitarian assistance makes one wonder at the civility of those imposing the blockade on Gaza. Did the Gazans bring this on themselves? A poignant question one can not disregard. They do however deserve the basic human right to security, shelter and food one would retort. Continued rocket fire into Israel, I believe is not a conducive long term strategy. But to be fair, diplomacy and democracy does not seem to offer any vantage points either (remember Oslo and the 2006 elections?).

Olmert being questioned by the police on corruption charges does not bode well, it was only recently that Katsav pleaded guilty to sexual harassment charges and Sharon's son, Omri, was indicted on corruption charges.

The result, one may enquire perhaps? Endemic injustice as well as a disproportionate and misdirected foreign and national policy. I'll leave you to decide which nation I'm talking about...

"Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruption" : Jonathen Swift

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Beginning - Boris and New Labour

As I write this post, the first of its kind mind you, I wonder at how the next few years will pan out...

A heavyweight politician has been upended - to say the least - by a man whom many in his own party found / find it difficult to support. Yes its true, Boris did beat Ken fair and square, and Labour did lose nine councils in addition to over three hundred seats, but these are not my concerns.

We have indeed turned a new corner, those in the Labour party may feel to have hit a dead end, whilst those in opposition are feel they finally walk on the yellow brick road - or have they?

Yes and no. Its time to see what Brown is made of, for how much longer will he continue Blairite policies, fumbling along - something we generally accuse Boris of - neither adding nor subtracting to New Labour in any sense?

What happened to the "change" imbued with "courage", that we were so enthusiastically promised as the man next door finally got his foot in the door at number 10? How quickly we forgot that it was Brown's industriousness that funded Blair's bombs. This is not cynicism, its the cold water after a deep slumber.

The romance which New Labour courted through the divorce of Toryism has finally blossomed, and we find students facing top-up fees in spite of "education, education, education," British troops still serving in Iraq in spite of entering an era where "we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war" and of course a party, most ashamedly failing miserably at being "purer then pure."

The road ahead one may wonder? Its certainly not bleak. Cameron is doing well to remove the perception of elitism and cronyism endemic to the Torys, whilst Boris graciously accepted the mayoral position with promises for better transport, lower crime and affordable housing.

For the Conservatives, life could not be better. For Labour, life could be worse. But this could be the impetus required for courage to differentiate and cast aside the (Blairite) shadows, and we may yet see a rejuvenated Brown in the weeks to come, and an emphatic Boris no doubt!

he past is always a rebuke to the present" : Robert Penn Warren