Archive for the ‘moral horror’ Category

Why has the Guardian gone so soft on George Osborne? Today’s paper is a fine example of the art of journalism as practiced to obscure rather than reveal. On the front page, we have this story headlined: George Osborne exploits fall in borrowing costs to boost growth

Now, that’s pretty much precisely what the chancellor would want on the front page, so it’s suspect in itself. But you might think there was another major UK economy story about. Something about the OECD estimating that we’re back in recession? Or you might even have heard another, something about the Treasury/OBR expecting much lower economic growth? Or that the OBR thinks things are so bad the deficit will rise despite the cuts? Strangely, none of these were considered worthy of front page treatment and were shoved back down the ticket to pages 6 and 2 respectively. Page 2 is of course the classic newspaper graveyard – people flip open the rag and immediately see Page 3, which is why what is on Page 3 is on Page 3 if you see what I mean.

The first number that appears on the front page is the figure of £21.5bn, which is apparently “lower borrowing costs” because gilt rates have fallen since last June. It’s not said anywhere how much this is relative to the total bill for debt service (£44bn), or to the government budget (£696bn), so it’s impossible for the reader to know if it’s a lot of money. It’s also completely mysterious whether this is annual, over a parliament, over a Comprehensive Spending Review planning cycle, or what. It is not said, but it is strongly implied, that this money is available now and will be used as an economic stimulus.

But the Chancellor isn’t doing that, and if it is a 5-year figure, the money isn’t available now. We only find out what’s going on over the page, buried on page 2, where we find out without much surprise that it is indeed a figure for the next 5 years, so 80% of it is promises, and anyway the annual figure of £5.3bn is 0.76% of government spending.

The piece moves on to recite a list of eye-catching initiatives – £380 million (woo, isn’t it a lot? Or a little?) by 2014-5 (does that mean rising to £380 million annually by 2015, or £380 million divided by five? They’re not saying, I’d take the short) for childcare (aww, babies), a “£300 million package of tax breaks for small businesses”, “a seed investment enterprise scheme” with no price tag, and – I am not making this up – £50 million for the Caledonian Sleeper.

I mean, it’s very cool and all – I took it in July 2005 to get out of town after terrorweek – but it’s hardly something that belongs in a front page economics story, is it? It’s an utterly trivial and vacuous eye-catching sunday-fer-monday initiative with a canny bit of marginal seat fan service in there too.

So, about that £300 million. Sounds like a lot of money! (After all, we have nothing to compare it with. Again.) You have to read on to page 7 and a story by an actual business desk reporter to find out that £210 million of it is a rates holiday for some small businesses that was sort-of going to end next October, that’s now going to end six months – six whole months! – later. To put it another way, it’s not new money and it’s a trivial amount and it doesn’t happen for a year yet.

Let’s adjust the £300 million – that’s more like £90 million, and we’re getting into Caledonian Sleeper levels of insignificance here. Experienced observers will guess that the unpriced “seed investment scheme” is probably included in the £90 million, thus getting twice the propaganda for the money, and they’d be right. Again, you’ve got to turn to page 7 for this, but not being the New York Times or the Craven Herald & Pioneer, there’s no way of telling that you need to. Government sources apparently think it’s worth £50 million. That leaves us with £40m to account for, and page 7 tells us that £50m is coming for “co-investment” from the “regional growth fund”. Well, the £10m difference can be accounted for by journos trying to add up. But it’s worth pointing out that the £1.5bn regional growth fund has been re-announced so many times you wouldn’t count on there being anything left in it.

And obviously, this doesn’t add up to anything like £21.5bn or even £5.3bn of stimulus.

So what’s going on here? It’s not as if the OECD or OBR stories weren’t running before the Guardian went to press. They’re right there in the paper! But by the time you read them, you’ll already have had your expectations anchors set by the front page, so you’re going to think things aren’t so bad. This is of course why the Treasury briefers gave the story to Nicholas Watt, Larry Elliott and Severin Carrell – to inject their own spin ahead of the news. In fact, Elliott is probably innocent, as he wrote both the real news stories, and the other two just quoted some of his work (chunks are identical).

Why Watt or Carrell, or the Guardian editor they answer to, still don’t either understand this or don’t mind is the real question.

Also, you’d have to read down to the bottom of Elliott’s piece on page 7 to learn that the Bank of England is apparently refusing to carry out the government’s policy even when it only involves the government’s money, rather than the central bank’s, and Osborne has cracked and given in.

The measures will augment the £20bn that the chancellor is announcing for so-called “credit easing” — money that will be channelled from existing promises that had been made by the Treasury to the Bank of England to enable Threadneedle Street to buy corporate bonds. The Bank has not purchased many corporate bonds and some of the £50bn of guarantees will now be used, instead, to help banks raise money more cheaply on the markets – and in turn reduce the price of loans to small businesses.
…..
Will Hutton, co-author of a report on how to revive small business lending, said: “As it is structured, this won’t add £1 extra of new credit.” His report, written with academic Ken Peasnell, argues that the government would have been more effective if it had created a vehicle to buy up small business loans from banks, freeing up their balance sheets. Under the government’s scheme, the cost of loans to small businesses should fall by one percentage point, according to Treasury projections, although this may be less if the government does decide to levy a fee for the guarantee.

So, the £20bn – or is it £50bn? – “credit easing” just isn’t going to happen, because the Bank doesn’t want to do it and Osborne is too weak to sack Mervyn King and appoint someone who will, and too proud to resign and leave the job to someone with balls. Instead, the Treasury’s money (i.e. ours) will be used to buy bonds (probably government bonds) off the banks. We’re already doing this with money the Bank prints, which costs nothing, but this exercise is funded by government borrowing, which we have to pay back. Why isn’t this on the front page?

In an effort to clear some of the NOTWFail stuff out of my mind, I thought I’d try to come up with some useful pointers for further investigation.

1. The Daniel Morgan/Southern Investigations line of inquiry

This is by far the most serious accusation, in every sense. It has police corruption, a murder, and the unusual sight of a police surveillance team following the NOTW’s private detectives following Detective Chief Inspector David Cook around London as he tried to investigate them. (Isn’t the movie going to be great?) And wasn’t it an amazing moment this morning when Patrick “for once, bracingly chilly” Wintour brought it up in the No.10 press conference? It wasn’t that long ago that only Fleet Street or London underworld obsessives knew the story and were unrespectable enough to talk about it.

Here’s the Nick Davies version, which is nicely condensed. The whole affair has a strong taste of noir and this boils it down to a bitter, sticky, toxic, but powerfully caffeinated residue.

As editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks was confronted with evidence that her paper’s resources had been used on behalf of two murder suspects to spy on the senior detective who was investigating their alleged crime.

Brooks was summoned to a meeting at Scotland Yard where she was told that one of her most senior journalists, Alex Marunchak, had apparently agreed to use photographers and vans leased to the paper to run surveillance on behalf of Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery, two private investigators who were suspected of murdering their former partner, Daniel Morgan.

Note the involvement of Fillery, who was the investigating officer in the original case and took over Morgan’s business afterwards, and who was later done for child porn offences. It’s also worth noting that Marunchak was accused of being crooked in both directions – not only was he accused of bribing the police for information, he was accused of trousering a share of the money paid out, as a kickback in exchange for putting business their way.

If anyone needs investigating, surely he should be interviewed as soon as possible – and also Greg Miskiw, who comes up in the story. Compared to these two, the royal correspondent is a bit pathetic. Miskiw is an American citizen. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if he was to turn up in the States, protected against extradition?

2. The Met Press Office

So, who’s the guy who briefs the News of the World? This blog asked the question repeatedly after the de Menezes and Forest Gate cases. Might that be Dick Fedorcio, the then Met press chief who insisted on going easy on the papers after they were caught spying on DCI David Cook?

On a related theme, Andy Hayman and Lord Macdonald’s roles at NI are surely now completely unacceptable.

3. Andy Coulson’s Background Check

This was also one of the things that made it a morning to remember. The prime minister explained that he had commissioned “a private company” – yet more private detectives! – to look into Coulson’s career before hiring him. What company? Also, I’m not sure whether these enquiries were made when he joined the Tory press office or when he joined the Government.

Further, we know Alistair Campbell and other Government press officers had access to highly secret intelligence in the past. (Not a press officer, but the only politician outside the inner-cabinet who knew about Suez in advance was the then chief whip Ted Heath – it’s a precedent for someone with a wholly political/propaganda role being clued in.) Obviously, the dossier was a bit of an outlier, but you’d be a fool to think that the practice of deep integration between government media staff and policymakers had vanished.

So, did Coulson have an official security clearance? Was he ever positively-vetted? If so, what did the DVA’s notoriously nosy investigators say about him?

4. The Missing Millions of Messages

Probably not much point covering this as Davies the scoop is after it already and if the “sources” bits are accurate, the dibble are very close to making arrests.

But. 500 GB of Murdochmail. Please. Please. Even just the headers.

Similarly, shouldn’t we at last get the big list of the hacked?

5. How Hack Happen?

There’s really very little hard information about this around. This piece in the Indy may be by Jemima Khan but that doesn’t make it less interesting. It looks like they had found a way of forcing a password reset – so even if you changed the PIN, they could force it back to the default.

Stupid telcos’ stupid voicemail implemented a password reset by setting the password to a well-known default value rather than issuing a new, randomly generated PIN like your bank or really, any random website’s “forgotten password” link.

But I think we’d all like to know how they did it. Smart money is on the call centres – especially as there have been cases of mobile phone salesmen paying competitors’ call centre staff for lists of people whose contracts are up for renewal and also of credit card numbers being sold. Khan names a company: “CTI”.

6. Mechanics of Collapse

So what just happened? Was it the advertisers? Who went first? How much advertising did they pull?

Also, what happened with the distribution chain? Did, as rumoured, the newsagents stop ordering papers?

7. Compare and Contrast

Andy Coulson has been arrested under Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, as well as the Criminal Law Act 1977 for the phone-screwing (the NOTW term – after all it was hardly a hack). But this legislation was meant to have been superseded by the Bribery Act 2010. What’s up?

One explanation would be that the Ministry of Justice has been working on official guidelines on how to interpret the new law, which encompasses many more forms of corruption than the old and provides for rather heavier penalties. Obviously, it wouldn’t be ideal to choose the scandal of the century for the new text’s very first run-out, so perhaps that’s what’s up.

However, there are some other issues here. The new Act provides for the seizure of ill-gotten gains and for the disqualification of company directors – the old one doesn’t. And the old Act requires the approval of the Attorney-General for a prosecution; the new one gets rid of this and leaves it to the CPS as per usual.

Either way, it’s enough that Coulson offered money. Whether they accepted it or whether they delivered is irrelevant – the crime is either offering or soliciting bribes.

It says something about the modern thinkers that one of the Egyptian spooks the Piggipedia team identified turns out to be working in the “Security and Loss Prevention” department of a major hypermarket chain. Having lifted photos with names on them from their HQ, they started searching PofacedBook – sorry, LinkedIn – for them, and discovered many more stories like this. That particular spy had been in charge of infiltrating NGOs before shifting over to the retail sector. Sadly, they started deleting profiles pretty quickly.

A major claim of the recent group of “intelligence historians” is that the study of the secret world is the “missing element” in contemporary history – that, just as the history of the second world war needed revising after the British government finally let on about ULTRA, history (especially of the Cold War) is missing the perspective provided by intelligence. Richard Aldrich’s GCHQ is certainly part of this project, just as his The Hidden Hand was one of the better works in it for covert action, propaganda, and human intelligence.

But do we know that much more about the main line of history from it? There are, of course, a couple of serious documentary and methodological problems with this. Even where we do have good sources on the history of secret intelligence, it’s typical for the actual intelligence product to remain secret. We have a reasonable idea of what all those antenna farms were after – we don’t have much, post-ULTRA, of what the prime minister actually got delivered to his desk in the blue-jacketed files. Writing my own Master’s thesis, I remember that the literature was rather better on the contribution of Soviet intelligence to the 1973 crisis than the US kind, but even that was because various individuals had been forthcoming. The Soviets tried to persuade Sadat to end the war by producing MiG-25R imagery showing the Israeli counter-offensive building up; he wasn’t apparently convinced. We don’t know, however, if the Americans did anything similar with the Israelis, although we do know that the Israelis weren’t sharing their own information with the Americans. (And we know now that Ted Heath turned off their SR-71 operation out of Lakenheath, so how much did they know?)

There’s another problem, though, which is understanding what contribution intelligence actually makes to decisions. Cynically, you might say that giving politicians more data is pointless; they’ll either ignore it or pick the bits that suit their preconceptions. John Keegan argued that across history, intelligence was more often misused, ignored, or just irrelevant to the balance of forces on the ground than not. Obviously, having regular deliveries of ULTRA decrypts didn’t prevent Dunkirk, although it may have helped bring off the evacuation. Even more obviously, whatever intelligence sources Tony Blair was using in 2002 didn’t bring him very much enlightenment. That raises another question – was the intelligence valid even before the upsexers got at it? Why did all the European countries with their own overhead imagery choose to stay out?

These problems are less serious when the events in question were motivated by intelligence interests, rather than by the content of intelligence. Aldrich is good on this – the times when “the SIGINT tail started to wag the policy dog”. Notably, this seems to have been a major motivation in the whole sorry story of Diego Garcia, intended as a replacement for the abandoned sites on Mauritius and Ceylon and for the NSA’s intelligence-gathering ships after the attack on USS Liberty. Around this time, GCHQ also considered building an enormous, nuclear-powered ship intended to contain a complete overseas station of the size of HMS Anderson on Ceylon or Little Sai Wan in Hong Kong, plus a BBC World Service transmitter site – Harland & Wolff’s was commissioned to carry out a design study.

The plan was to have it flagged as a merchantman, but it would have been an enormous and expensive sitting duck.As plans go, at least it didn’t involve ethnic cleansing.

Later, when the third Wilson government decided to pull out of the remaining overseas bases in 1976, it was the GCHQ interest, backed up by the NSA, that led them to keep the presence on Cyprus – as well as huge British intelligence facilities, the Americans had transferred numerous organisations there from Turkey when the Turks asked them to leave, which had then moved into the British bases for security after the 1974 invasion.

Well, this is grim. Intelligent comment is to be found here, in Jamie Kenny’s interview with David Wilson.

Would you say that serial killers are a kind of negative indicator of the health of society in the sense that the fewer victims there are, the better society functions?

Serial killers function best within fractured communities, where people don’t look out for each other, and when the gap between those who have and those who have not is wide. In cultures such as these no one really bothers to notice the elderly neighbour living by themselves, or the kids who are homeless because they don’t view these people as having value, or being connected to their lives. Serial killers also exploit homophobia and our laws related to those young people who sell sexual services. When I was in Ipswich in 2006 I used to point out that less than an hour’s flight away was Amsterdam and that no Dutch serial killer had ever targeted prostitutes.

There’s also a nasty surprise; according to Chris Williams, who actually met him, he was working on precisely that question, whether the 19th century’s apparently low murder rate was explained by the fact that the victims of Victorian murderers were more likely to just vanish rather than be reported to the police.

Well, Yorkshire scores another historic first. I used to work off Thornton Road, and also in Dockfield Mill in Shipley; they’re both places where the death of the textile industry left behind a lot of rotting mill buildings that then got re-purposed by all kinds of odd little businesses. Dockfield Road is less so, more traditionally industrial, and there are terraces of classic working-class homes part of the way along it, just about where the pie van parked up when I was working in an envelope factory.

Thornton Road, though, is nothing but old mills and warehouses, now become small engineering workshops, garages, curry wholesalers and the like, a sort of Yorkshire favela development. The district, in the valley between the university and Great Horton Road on one side and Manningham on the other, is not identified with any community – hardly anyone lives there, they only work there or cut through the backstreets to avoid the inner ring road. (Oddly enough, the anarchist 1 in 12 Club is round there too, up the hill towards Westgate. And so are the Quakers.)

The vice trade moved down there after the girls were driven out of Lumb Lane, further uphill (uphill and downhill are always important directions in Bradford) and northwards in the centre of Manningham; this event has been variously considered to have been an example of community vigilantism, Islamism, and also to be associated with control of the drugs market and black/Asian tension, which later led to serious violence. In the 1990s, you could drive past any time of the night or day and see drug dealing going on – I also remember that one of the corner shops still had a sign outside advertising paraffin.

When I worked in an industrial bakery further up the road towards Lidget Green (and its Pathan community), and would walk back down towards the city centre, stinking of roasted high fructose syrup and cream-style product, I remember passing a huge billboard for Coca-Cola with some pouting model reclining across it. Some Four Lions character had decided to deface this example of imperialist decadence and fitna, but rather than aiming for the cleavage or the thighs, or for that matter the Coke, they’d chosen to tear down the face.

So, I went to see Chris Morris’s takfiri flick, Four Lions. Short review – it’s desperately, barkingly hilarious. Stupidly funny. It started with the snickering. The snickering led to giggling and the giggling led to batshit honking horselaughs all night long.

Perhaps too funny – one of the markers of Chris Morris’s work is that everyone is an idiot, is responsible, and deserves the most extreme mockery and sarcasm. The jihadis are either simpletons, paranoiacs, or deluded. The police are bunglers. The defence establishment is desperately trying to be as ruthless as the CIA but can’t manage it. Democracy is represented by Malcolm Sprode MP, a contemptible Blairite stooge, brilliantly observed, babbling nonsense. The mainstream of British Islam is represented by a Sufi imam who is an obscurantist windbag full of half-digested quotations, who keeps his wife locked in a cupboard (“It’s not a cupboard! It’s a small room!”, he protests). The general public are either tiresome eccentrics or half-wits. The NHS employs the jihadi leader’s wife as a nurse – she is charming, tough, probably the most sane and competent person in the entire movie, and she offers him crucial psychological support when he doubts the wisdom of exploding. Even his little son is cool with Dad blowing himself up and encouraging all his friends to do so as well, and weighs in to help him through his dark night of the soul and on the way to self-induced fragmentation. The real jihadis on the North-West Frontier treat the international volunteers as especially low-grade cannon fodder, hardly surprising given the volunteers’ self-regarding pomposity and utter inability to do anything right.

This plays out in a nicely observed version of Sheffield; it’s as much a Yorkshire film as Rita, Sue, and Bob Too or This Sporting Life. There are a hell of a lot of jokes that turn on this; they only need to drive up a hill and climb over a dry stone wall in order to go from the deep city to somewhere you can safely test-fire a bomb without attracting attention. While meticulously reducing their stash of hydrogen peroxide and assembling the devices, they pose as a band – it’s Sheffield, after all. What else? Inevitably, they attract a rehearsal studio hanger-on somewhere between cool and fairly serious mental illness. Again, who else? Their in-house psychopath is responsible for proclaiming the Islamic State of Tinsley (I really began to lose it with this bit). The volunteers hugely overestimate their knowledge of Islam, and suffer from a sort of quasi-colonial superiority complex to actual Pakistanis in Pakistan – one of them makes the serious mistake of calling a Waziri sentry a “Paki banchut!”. (George MacDonald Fraser would have had him knifed for that, but Chris Morris has crueller plans for him.)

They learn that their cover has been blown from a news screen on the Sheffield Supertram; Omar, the leader, works as a security guard at Meadowhall.

There is a great moment of direction early on where the camera catches the shopping centre roof lit up just as the sun is coming up, catching it briefly showing off its oddly Islamic dome. Around the same time, we watch the CCTV feeds from within the centre through Omar’s eyes – the place is entirely empty and a large sign announces “SHOPPING”, with an arrow pointing upwards. Clearly, when he looks at Britain, this is what he sees.

Omar is a classic type, an autodidactic revolutionary, the only member of the cell with any self-reflection or intellectual depth or capacity for anything much. He’s a man surrounded by novelty-marathon running managers, daft younger brothers, and SHOPPING with an arrow; arguably, what he’s really rebelling against is the sheer horror of Chris Morris’s worldview. A main force in the plot is his progressive self-corruption – he is throughout the least convinced of them about the rightness of their cause, chiefly because he’s the only one with any capacity for doubt. As the mission progresses, he resorts to increasingly sordid deception to keep the show on the road through this or that crisis, and his eventual explosion is more motivated by horror at his failure to stop the others from blowing themselves up and a sense of having run out of options than anything else. It’s also telling that, despite his fury and loathing at British consumerism, self-satisfaction, etc, he’s by a distance the best dressed, shod, housed, and generally equipped member of the gang, redrafting his manifesto on a shiny new laptop in boxfresh trainers, although he does have to communicate with the others and The Emir through a children’s social network website called Puffin Party.

Barry, on the other hand, would have been the Islamic State of Tinsley’s chief of secret police. Barry is the only offcomed’un and the only white man in the group, not so much a convert to Islam as a lifelong convert to non-specific extremism and raging paranoia. As the plot progresses, despite his spectacular ineptness, he begins to take over as the driving force, and eventually it is his action that forces them to go ahead with the attack. One thing he has successfully learned in a long implied career of political madness is that paranoia, ideological enforcement, and ruthlessness pay. This doesn’t mean his thoughts make any sense, though; his idea of strategy is to blow up the mosque in the hope of triggering a wave of race riots and the revolution, but he rather undermines his planned false-flag operation by insisting on recording a martyrdom video taking responsibility for it. A hopeless case in anything that involves practical work, he helps to doom the plot by recruiting any fool he falls in with and blames everything that happens on Jews.

Cameras play a special role. The wannabe terrorists are compulsive film-makers – a running gag has Omar with a laptop at the kitchen table, despairingly trying to edit the latest rushes of his comrades’ martyrdom videos into something presentable. They keep filming and filming, but they always get it wrong – accidentally advertising fast food, posing with a tiny plastic gun, falling out about strategy as the camera rolls. Barry insists on doing a second video just in case they attack the mosque anyway. Omar is secretly keeping an out-takes reel for his own amusement. Reliably, people freak out and fuck up as soon as the red light comes on; Faisal falls over a sheep and accidentally triggers a suicide vest while clowning for a bit of impromptu iPhone video. Hassan makes a fool of himself at training camp by firing off a Kalashnikov for his holiday snaps. As well as Omar’s official making-of project, and their own unofficial video diaries, the state is also making a movie – several scenes show that they are under surveillance as they carry out a test explosion. But it’s a blooper in itself, a sight gag; the cops raid the wrong house and only succeed in giving themselves away and encouraging Omar to bring forward the attack.

The police response, like the mad conspiracy theories and the bomb making and the ratty, third rate band scene gaffs, has obviously had the benefit of careful observation and a close reading of the Stockwell II report – it follows the detail for Operations KRATOS and C closely, and as actually happened, the command and control system breaks down at once and the wrong man is shot, but there is far worse left to happen.

I urge you to see this film at once, although given that you read this, you probably already have done.

This has done the rounds and been roundly done for all the right reasons.

There is almost nothing the Obama administration does regarding terrorism that makes me feel safer. Whether it is guaranteeing captured terrorists that they will not be waterboarded, reciting terrorists their rights, or the legally meandering and confusing rule that some terrorists will be tried in military tribunals and some in civilian courts, what is missing is a firm recognition that what comes first is not the message sent to America’s critics but the message sent to Americans themselves. When, oh when, will this administration wake up?

From a purely literary/journalistic point of view, it’s the “When, oh when” that gets me. Sometimes, style and content – aesthetics and morality – fuse into one.

More to the point, the astonishing thing here is Bush’s lasting achievement – he created a political lobby for torture. It’s not just that he let torture happen, or connived at it, or even specifically ordered it. It’s that a significant chunk of the body-politic now demands torture – not just ‘baggers, but editors of the Washington Post. There isn’t a lobbying group with tax-deductible status under 501(3)c yet – unless you count the American Enterprise Institute – but perhaps it would be a more honest world if there was one.

Do I have to quote Vaclav Havel’s crack about the man who puts a sign reading “Workers of the world, unite!” in the window all over again? OK. Havel said that obviously, he probably wasn’t doing this out of conviction; but if the sign said “I am afraid and therefore obedient”, its actual meaning, he might not be so happy to do it.

Perhaps. But I can’t help thinking the example may be wrong. Richard Cohen is, after all, not just being willing to turn a blind eye. He’s actually yelling for torture, and for specific methods of torture. And the marker of the Bush achievement is that the torture lobby has survived Bush. Here we are, more than a year on, after the US armed forces have been given specific orders against torture. And they’re out there wanting it. It’s weirdly reminiscent of the last Stasi man and the last suspect.

Also, it’s nothing to do with expediency; when the FBI wanted to question Captain Underpants, they got his relatives to talk to him, and it worked. It is usually the case that the purpose of torture is torture; what service, I wonder, does the knowledge of torture provide to these people? After all, Cohen explicitly says that he wants torture because it impresses the public, not because it produces names.

I can’t imagine what would have convinced me in 2000 that in 2010, responsible Americans would be lobbying for torture – even after they had succeeded in voting out the torture president. Back then, it used to be a commonplace notion that the power of the state was fundamentally uninteresting; I recall an especially silly newspaper article in which both Bill Clinton and Deng Xiaoping (Deng Xiaoping!) were bracketed together as meaningless figureheads.

Having a considerable lobby that needs a constant drip of draconian rhetoric to maintain their psychological stability is probably very bad for democracy, especially faced with a terrorist group that explicitly aims to destabilise the state through auto-immune warfare. These people have been trained to freak out at the faintest threat and howl for torture – in a sense, it’s yet another backdoor into the political system, as well as an example of the unconscious conspiracy between the terrorist and the state.

Here’s a case study in unpopular populism: ‘The ravers should have more respect for Mr Blobby. He was a hero to a lot of kids and the thought of them taking drugs and having all-night raves in his house is completely disrespectful.’.

The photographs are truly eerie. Like this one:
don't make me go to the polka dot place

Of course, it was never popular in the first place, as evidenced by the fact the whole enterprise crashed within two years, with one of the projects only lasting three months. Strangely, the Mail doesn’t mention that Noel Edmunds and the local council together managed to burn a sizeable amount of Morecambe taxpayers’ money, in what should in hindsight have been a kind of cautionary preview of the whole strength-through-casinos project. (They later moved onto leaping into bed with Urban Splash, just in time for the property crash.)

I’m also, however, surprised that it was so late into the 90s; I’d associated it with the rainy era of early John Major. Now, of course, the medium density fibreboard, gypsum, glue, and pink paint has gone the way of the hype, after 13 years of exposure to successive North-West European winters without maintenance; once the roof leaks, any light structure has had it, “ravers” or no “ravers”.

This deserves to be iconic

That one could be titled “Spiritual Britain”, I think. There’s also one of two pink spheres described as “mushroom-type objects”. Unfortunately they’ve removed one that showed the old health & safety at work violation on opening day, grinning over the heads of three visibly unenthusiastic kids.

A special point; behold the benefits of openness. Since the Daily Hell got a proper Web site, I’ve actually linked to two articles on it; one on ACPO, and this one. In the absence of their Web presence, I wouldn’t have even imagined that anything of any interest might come from that quarter; but the ACPO one demonstrated that they do, sometimes, carry out solid reporting, and this is at least funny. And the photo caption “Ghostly: a destroyed miniature Blobby lies abandoned, while filth lines the inside of the house” is a minor classic all to itself.

(Hat tip to History is made at night; you don’t think I spend my time actually reading that fucking rag, do you?)

This is wrong;

Gitmo will be closed. Binyam Mohammed will be returned to Britain, or put on trial in the USA. Either way the details of his treatment, and that of all the other inmates, will become public. What are Foggy Bottom and the CIA playing at? Get it over with

Consider this BBC story. The interesting thing here is that Miliband’s position requires him to argue two mutually impossible things at once; first, he can’t possibly let evidence of Mohammed’s torture appear in court, for fear of terrible retaliation from the United States, second, that the United States has not threatened such a thing.

The two are mutually dependent, because if the first one was allowed to stand on its own, who would imagine that good relations with the United States were anything worth having? Therefore, it’s necessary for the protection of the self-regard of the political classes that the US threat be both unambiguous and invisible. It is like the chapter in The Art of Coarse Rugby about fields with bulls in them; eventually they conclude that the ideal scenario is a field next to the rugby ground with a large sign in it, reading BEWARE OF THE BULL, but no bull.

That way, if you need to play for time, you can hoof the ball into the field and count on your opponents’ fear of the bull to waste time – but should you find yourself a couple of points down as time runs out, you can always declare that the bull was taken away years ago and just get on with it. Similarly, no evidence was ever provided of Saudi threats back when this legal dodge – the BAE gambit as I call it – was invented.

Providing evidence of the threats would spoil it. If the government had to admit it was being bullied into covering up for appalling torture or spectacular financial corruption, this would alter certain political facts. But that is not all. The beauty of the BAE gambit is that it’s so flexible; because the evidence of the risk is itself secret, it can be invoked whenever required. I said this at the time, and now they’re doing it. If they had to demonstrate the threat, this would spoil its effectiveness.

I see no reason to think that the Government is lying now about the Americans’ position. In fact, it’s very likely that the Obama administration has not contacted them; for example, here’s the new CIA director explicitly stating that he considers torture and refoulement to states that practice it illegal. Here are his own words:

On January 22, 2009, the President issued an executive order directing all U.S. agencies to use Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as the baseline for the treatment and interrogation of persons detained in any armed conflict. The executive order also states that agencies must notify the International Committee of the Red Cross of such detainees and provide the Red Cross with access to them. The intelligence community must follow the executive order.

With respect to renditions, the intelligence community must comply with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, including Article 3 prohibiting the rendition of a person to a country where it is more likely than not he will be subjected to torture.

Here’s the relevant paragraph in the executive order:

Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441; the Federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. 113; the Federal maiming statute, 18 U.S.C. 114; the Federal “stalking” statute, 18 U.S.C. 2261A; articles 93, 124, 128, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 893, 924, 928, and 934; section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd; section 6(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109 366; the Geneva Conventions; and the Convention Against Torture. Nothing in this order shall be construed to diminish any rights that any individual may have under these or other laws and treaties.”

No torture; no handover to states that torture. So it would be surprising if they were to do so. And, indeed, Miliband explicitly says that no approach to the new administration has been made.

However, the Government has chosen to regard not being explicitly told to stop as equivalent to a reiteration of the threats (whose existence it denies, lest we forget) issued by the Bush administration in 2007. It has done this because it suits the Government’s interests. For once, William Hague is right – they should simply ask the Americans to state whether or not the non-threat is still not-in force.

Of course they will not, because it suits them to be able to kick the ball over the BEWARE OF THE BULL sign whenever they think fit. As Scott Horton points out, there are a lot of people about who desperately want a new US administration to be guilty, because it detracts from their own guilt.

This week we’ve had the Piccadilly bunglebombers’ convictions, but more importantly the first conviction for “directing terrorism”. This was the case in which the suspect’s fingernails were torn out by the Pakistani intelligence service; he claims, and I see no reason whatsoever to doubt this, that he was questioned between bouts of torture by British officials. But this isn’t what worries me.

It’s that the poison is seeping into the courts. This particular one was willing not only to accept that, as the case didn’t strictly rest on information from Pakistan, the torture was inadmissible, it was willing to determine this in secret and issue a ruling which is itself secret, before proceeding to a trial by jury. The secret ruling was of course secret from the jury. I really cannot imagine how this is meant to amount to a fair trial. And then there is the de Menezes inquest, where the coroner simply decided that no verdict that implied the police did anything wrong was acceptable.

In the bunglebombers’ case, meanwhile, we had the astonishing conviction of a man for “withholding information” where the information in question was an e-mail message in an account which the Crown accepted had not been accessed since some time before the message arrived. You can now become a terrorist by not checking your e-mail frequently enough.

And I really have no idea how we would go about reversing this. After the long and successful fight over detentions under ATCSA2001, and the partially successful one over control orders, it seems that this is as nothing to the broader deterioration. As someone said in a quite different context,

Someone asked for onbeforeunload, so I started fixing it. Then I found that there was some rot in the drywall. So I took down the drywall. Then I found a rat infestation. So I killed all the rats. Then I found that the reason for the rot was a slow leak in the plumbing. So I tried fixing the plumbing, but it turned out the whole building used lead pipes. So I had to redo all the plumbing. But then I found that the town’s water system wasn’t quite compatible with modern plumbing techniques, and I had to dig up the entire town. And that’s basically it.

One thing that specifically worries me is that the judiciary’s record of opposing the security state in some super-high profile cases conflicts with its opposing, Huttonite tendency of doing quite outrageous things rather than face the prospect of State agents lying. Everyone remembers some of these cases; the risk is that they serve as an institutional alibi.

This is no theoretical question, either. All the data shows that we’re heading for an inconclusive election (or rather, one which actually represents the distribution of opinion in the electorate). You can be certain that there will be no help from the Tories on this score. But what terms can the Liberals insist on that would actually achieve something? What legislation could be repealed that would have a clear signalling effect? I’m not optimistic; I fear that if they were to make anything worth arguing for part of the price for coalition or toleration, there would simply be a Labservative government, a “grand coalition of the I’m all right, Jacks” as the Germans say. A club for the self-protection of the parties who corrupted our institutions to this extent in the first place.





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