Archive for April, 2004

So, the US staff sergeant accused of sitting on a prisoner’s head whilst masturbating at a camera has had his lawyer tell the world that he “had not had the opportunity to read the Geneva Conventions before being put on guard duty”. So that makes it all right then? I’m meant to believe that he didn’t know it was wrong? He thought there might be a clause in there somewhere that permitted him to sit on prisoners and wank? God, this is sordid. Not only that, but you can apparently get away with rape if you’re a mercenary:

“Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, speaking for central command, told the Guardian: “One contractor was originally included with six soldiers, accused for his treatment of the prisoners, but we had no jurisdiction over him. It was left up to the contractor on how to deal with him.”

She did not specify the accusation facing the contractor, but according to several sources with detailed knowledge of the case, he raped an Iraqi inmate in his mid-teens.”

I didn’t even know they’d outsourced interrogation! What is a privatised interrogation like – “Talk! Or we’ll put the wires on you again! But first, a word from our sponsor…”? If it was a British privatised operation, of course, first of all the nasty cop would be late. You’d be there for hours watching the nice cop pace up and down sucking his teeth and looking at his watch. Then they wouldn’t be able to torture you due to health and safety requirements, so that would take up more time. With luck, the job might have been given to the firm who released that murderer from jail in Scotland not so long ago and you’d be out in no time. Or if Jarvis had the job, the interrogator would probably get the thumbscrews caught in his cuffs, trip over, fall on the generator and electrocute himself. But the US does these things better, or at least with less embarrassment.

Why they don’t outsource interrogation to China like everything else is a mystery.

So, in the same week, we’ve managed to subject detainees to sexual humiliation, let a rapist go scot free, attempted to solve our legitimacy crisis by shipping in more tanks, forced a flag in Israeli colours on the Iraqis and handed over Fallujah to a Ba’athist general with some shady bunch of gunmen who looks like Saddam on a really bad day. Seriously. This character was deputy chief of staff immediately after the 1991 war and “Chemical Ali”‘s right hand man. (Back to Iraq link)

You see what I mean?His “Fallujah Protection Army” is, by my reckoning, the 9th western-sponsored militia in Iraq. There are now: The police. The border police. The river police. The Facility-Protection Service. The Iraqi Civil Defence corps, which isn’t anything to do with civil defence, isn’t a corps, and is only arguably Iraqi. The Iraqi Army. The Fallujah Protection Army. The Iraqi police SWAT teams. The Iraqi Army emergency reaction force. Things are getting better in Iraq, clearly, at least as far as the employment prospects for gunmen go.


Lord Browne, the head of Britain’s biggest company BP, and the oilman’s oilman has said that his firm has given up on Iraq as an investment. Link Apparently, he believes that the lack of a sovereign and legitimate Iraqi government and the small matter of guerrilla war means that “It’s not obvious to me that you need foreign oil firms” and that redevelopment of the Iraqi oil industry should be left to local state-owned groups. Does he mean – the Iraqis? Perish the thought! This is serious, though. Lord Browne is, as much as anyone can claim to be, the uncrowned king of British industry. BP has been astonishingly successful on his watch, especially compared with Shell’s accounting shenanigans and poor reserve-replacement ratio (put simply, Shell is having trouble finding oil, which is a problem if you’re an oil company). The firm itself is something like the last bastion of the British Empire – it was created, dear God, by Winston Churchill in 1911 with State funding to assure oil supply for the new generation of fast, oil fired battleships that Winston’s Admiralty had introduced. Its foundation was the old Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but as the years went by it prospered and grew. Up until the late 80s, throughout its history it had been partly State-owned. This is as close to the deep state as business gets, so politics must surely listen.

Look, Tony, in the last week you’ve been wapped by 1) the Diplomatic Service, 2) the Church, 3) the Army, 4) British Petroleum – and you still know you are right! It’s a great pity, just think what could have been accomplished with such gifts of determination and blatant pigheadedness. He could almost have been a Yorkshireman. But no. He’s always stubborn over trivialities and stupidities, whilst being utterly spineless whenever he is right. Again and again Mr. Blair digs in for the citadel of his final stand – but carefully digs all the trenches facing the wrong way..

Frank Maloney, well-known boxing promoter and UKIP candidate for Mayor of London (Doesn’t the sheer crappy populism of that make, as Simon Hoggart put it, your teeth fur over?) has got into trouble by ranting at gay people. He declared that he would not be campaigning in Camden because there were “too many” of them, and that he “didn’t want to campaign around gay people…I don’t think they do a lot for society”. Eh? Can anyone remind of the great social benefits boxing promoters bring us, other than encouraging poor people to beat shit out of each other in the name of profit, entertainment, gentlemanly competition, and of course profit, and then doing their level best to hang to as much of their money as humanly possible? Oh, and did I mention profit? Not, of course, that I accuse Mr. Maloney personally of defrauding any of his boxers. Mind you, it would be damn hard to find a promoter who we could discuss honestly without having to mention anything actionable. Not that I’m against boxing, but I find it pretty rich to hear a member of Don King’s profession lecturing the public on morality.

He was, however, right about two things at least:

“What’s it got to do with them? The Gay Conservatives are not going to vote for me anyway”


“I have said I don’t want to campaign around gays because I don’t think they will vote for me. “

That’s probably the safest bet of his career.

It is reported that a student at New York University spent the last eight months sleeping in the basement of the library at his college because, despite working four jobs and drawing a scholarship, he couldn’t afford hall fees. Students have, of course, a reputation for catlike powers of sleep, and with the best will in the world an academic library can sometimes get soporific. (My degree was in European Studies. The Journal of European Community Studies. Take my word for it.) But this chap claims not to have had a choice. Just to prove he wasn’t asleep over his books, he built a blog (Blogs – we don’t report the news we are it! to misquote William S. Burroughs), here. As in the Blogger “What to do if your mother finds out about your blog” tutorial, it was when the college authorities stumbled on traces of blog that he was rumbled. He has apparently been given a room in halls (or perhaps they buried him down there!).

Is this really how we want to run our higher education?

(BTW the blog’s lying in a pool of credibility after LiveJournal cut him off for using too much bandwidth. Serves him right for using crappy livejournal, no?)

British Spin reports that Hartlepool’s citizens are about to embark on no less than eight opportunities to exercise their civil rights in the next two years. That makes four elections a year – just think of all the leaflets! and tea! and shameless lust for power! Just for added value, they’ll involve Peter Mandelson and Stuart, the guy who used to be the monkey mascot at Hartlepool FC until he was mayor. As a politics addict, it’s tempting to hop on a train right now in time to get my slice of the action. This is a positive orgy of democracy! Or possibly just an exhausting and awkward theatre of envy, self-seeking and forced enthusiasm far less attractive or enjoyable in theory than practice – wait, wouldn’t that be an orgy?

They will get the opportunity to vote in local elections, European elections, a referendum on regional government for the North-East, a general election, an election for Mayor, elections to the regional government if they vote yes first time around, the Euroconstitution referendum and another set of locals. Hartlepool, I don’t need to remind anyone, was where they hanged a monkey because they thought he was a Frenchman. No prizes for guessing which way they’ll go on Europe.

Labour needs Leadership Change - Click here!

Back in January, during the great aviation security flap, I blogged that the flakiness of the arrangements for sky marshals on flights from Europe perhaps suggested that some officials were hoping to accept the scheme but let it fail. It now appears that the US is rowing back on the idea: US ditches effort to persuade EU to use sky marshals

I’ve been reading Supping with the Devils, Hugo Young’s collected columns, recently. It is sad and astonishing how often he got it exactly right. I am going to ask readers of this blog to guess when each of these major statements were made:

1. ” In the end, it’s a question of how you define leadership. Is leadership a matter of soft-soaping the editors and readers of the Sun? Or is the relevant constituency one whose interest is served by doing things the Sun does not like? This constituency could be called the nation as a whole. Its concerns are massively wider than the lowest common denominator of xenophobic prejudice to which the Sun consistently plays. Who, one must ask, is running this country? Who was elected by the readers of other papers? Is the European Union a threat to the sovereignty of the British government? On present evidence, it cannot hold a candle to the Sun.

2. “The second chamber could be one such institution. What its proper reform must surmount is not only the passion for control but the constitutional weariness that is already setting in. We have done plenty, I hear ministers say. The people do not want yet more upheaval. With the descendants of the centuries now departed (next clause removed as a giveaway), the comedy is over, which is all that anybody ever knew they wanted anyway. The countervailing case against this requires energy and belief. I predict it will not be made. The peers will soldier on. Those progressives who joined the Lords under the impression they would soon cease to be there will be, poor fellows, disappointed. An irony will engulf them. The only elected bottoms on the red benches will be the rump of ninety-two, who will have the merit, at least, of being chosen by a group somewhat larger than the PM’s patronage committee.”

3. It is safe to say, I guess, that not a single glass of Chateau Petrus has been drunk in the Dorchester Grill by anyone who ever voted Labour, or ever would. But the leadership still sounds more anxious to make the world safe for the Petrus-drinking vclasses, for fear of alienating the £10-a-bottle brigade, than standing up for an equalisation that would drive an even bigger inroad than £960 a time into their taxed income.”

A total critique of Blair in three quotes, really. This is the worrying one, though:

4. “It shows that our country and its politics have a capacity for outrage, and reserves of bold vitality, that nobody could credit.”

It’s coming, and it will probably go Right, unless the process of toxic waste removal begins soon.

I don’t think this story has been covered much in the UK, which is a great pity as not only is it good, it is also a fine piece of Ealingesque British farce. Imagine. The former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, snooping around a college in Swansea trying to prove that one of its former students was really the 1993 World Trade Centre bomber Ramzi Yousef in order to substantiate a weird conspiracy theory concocted by a neocon pet intellectual to boost the war with Iraq. Imagine him coming to the attention of The Authorities in the form of South Wales policemen, usually more famous for playing rugby union than exploding international espionage. Imagine the State Department having to hang him out to dry – his visit being neither official nor authorised – and also admitting that no-one had told them about Woolsey’s Dick Tracy act. Well, it all happened…

Basically, the problem was a woman from the American Enterprise Institute who wrote a book, in which she claimed on the grounds that Yousef’s passport photo didn’t look too much like him (I paraphrase) that the original 1993 WTC attack was an Iraqi plot and that hence it was all Iraq’s fault. Details and debunking here Now, the original book had been showered with glittering reviews from people like – well – Richard Perle and John Bolton, and she found it necessary to credit Paul Bleeding Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney’s future chief of staff in the acknowledgements. If it didn’t hold up, there would be trouble. It was necessary to prove that Yousef really had been given the identity of another man by Iraqi intelligence – well, that would be tough, but a start would be to prove the other man was Yousef. The FBI don’t, holding that Yousef had invented the name. So, that former CIA boss set out for the college in Swansea where someone using that name had done a course in electrical engineering. It would appear, though, that he failed to find any evidence that the student was Mr. Yousef. And that, it seems, was when he fell foul of PC Plod.

“Apparently proving that directors of intelligence organizations do not themselves make ideal field operatives, Woolsey’s pursuit of the World Trade Center connection led him to the small town of Swansea, Wales, where his sleuthing piqued the curiosity of the local constabulary, whose chief decided to ring the U.S. Embassy in London for clarification as to whether Woolsey was visiting in an official capacity. This was the first anyone at State or CIA had heard of Woolsey’s British expedition, and upon being apprised of it, Powell and Tenet were not amused. “It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do,” an intelligence consultant familiar with the “operation” said.”

Talking Points Memo is following this.

Background: Initial Guardian report, but there’s not much else from British media sources out there. The Financial Times’s search function amusingly brings up the same Guardian story as the top result –

but requires you to subscribe to the FT to see it. Clever. Mind you, in the end it was the Grauniad that came up with the full skinny:link

“The two sets of fingerprints were entirely different,” says a source familiar with the investigation.

As is now well reported, our MPs recently voted to spend £2 million on building a huge glass wall across the House of Commons, in order to protect them from putative terrorists ensconced in the public gallery. Or perhaps from the justified fury of the citizens, but let that pass. Apparently, this is to protect them in the event someone was to squirt or toss poison or germs down into the chamber. Having first of all passed through two independent security checks and left the contents of their pockets at the second, naturally. No, the guards would apparently leave your sarin spray can with you. Obviously, because they have to have a wall to keep it out! If I were an assassin with pockets stuffed with smallpox, would I brave the second check when I could simply loiter in the corridors until a minister passed? If I had a pass, I could probably get close enough to the chamber to release it anyway – wall or no wall.

Note the meaning of this. In the event of someone producing, as the ridiculous Conservative Angela Browning suggested, an Estee Lauder perfume bottle laced with MacCluskie’s disease or whatever and squirting away, they should be on the other side of the glass wall watching us die. Hell, why bother to evacuate when they need the parliamentary time to get the ID card legislation through? Browning produced a perfume bottle and waved it about, while declaring that “we would all be doomed to die”. I’m not an aerodynamicist, so I can’t really rule on the effectiveness of a perfume bottle for dispersing chemical agent in a space as large as the Commons Chamber. But I suspect it wouldn’t be fantastic. Aum Shinirikyo, after all, needed several gallons of sarin in bags to kill a fairly small number of people in the much greater confinement of tube trains.

I have a small proposal fitting the case, which would tend to render our great national institutions far more suited to the realities of modern British politics. I say we build the glass wall, and big enough to enclose the whole Palace of Westminster in a seamless box; a glass case quite appropriate for an irrelevant and outmoded theatre in a country defined more and more by dictatorially minded press barons, control-obsessed security bureaucrats, and the President of the United States. It would keep them all quite safe, and prevent anything dangerous leaking out as well as in. Alternatively, we could build the wall around the chamber out of mirror glass, at last making real what politicians have sought for years – an entirely self-regarding, self-serving world where everything looks like a politician and tiresome reality never intrudes.