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Thursday, October 26, 2006 

Lifestyles of the rich and the famous.

There's a streak of hypocrisy that often runs an inch thick through the charitable ambitions of some of our most famous celebrities. We witness Bono, a prat of the highest order, who has in the past urged the working class to give to charity, go to court to get a hat back off a former worker who he alleges stole it. There's Paul McCartney, who already has a never ending flow of cash, going to court to get another £12 million he claims was stolen from him by his record companies. He previously sued Apple alleging that he had been promised there would not be two Apples' involved in the music business. Today the Guardian reports that Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee hell holes that seem to suddenly appear on the high street out of nowhere, has in effect blocked attempts by Ethiopian farmers to trademark their most famous bean types, a move that would have earned them £47 million. That Starbucks has a turnover of £7.8bn annually, and that the money would have helped the farmers escape from abject poverty doesn't mean shit when profits come into the equation.

It's therefore not much of a surprise to find that the CIA agents involved in the rendition of terror suspects were living it up when they weren't transporting their captives to dungeons throughout the globe, or torturing them themselves.
A book by Stephen Grey, the investigative journalist who was one of the first to uncover the rendition scandal, and who was recently one of the runners-up to the Paul Foot investigative journalism award, alleges that agents involved with the rendition of Abu Omar, a Muslim cleric based in Italy, spent £80,000accommodationtion while they were in Milan.

One stop over for the agents was the
Gran Melia Victoria hotel in Majorca. A five-star, it's within 20 miles of 5 golf courses, and at the hotel itself they could enjoy massages or saunas. The sauna would no doubt make a welcome difference from the "Cold Cell", one of the CIA's interrogation methods, where the unfortunate suspect is made to stand naked in a cell kept near to 50 degrees, with the occasional bucket of ice cold water being flung over him. In their rooms they could enjoy the security of a locked safe, perfect for keeping those documents which if lost could cause a political storm.

Even relations with nations that are regarded as state sponsors of terrorism are acceptable when it comes to making sure that suspected jihadists are given the once over properly. Syria, which the United States refuses to talk to regarding the disaster in Iraq, and which has been blamed for the bombing which killed the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, was used to torture seven men. One of them only escaped after he falsely confessed to have trained at a camp in Afghanistan.

While torturers and those behind war crimes have in the past been caught, tried and sentenced, the CIA agents involved in the rendition program need have no fear of ever being held accountable for their actions. The recently passed so-called compromise over the rights of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, as well as denying them the right to challenge their detention through the court system,
puts into law a retroactive amnesty to anyone who might have so much as punched a detainee in anger. Unlike the grunts in Abu Ghraib, who were the scapegoats for the orders signed right at the top of the Bush administration authorising mistreatment of prisoners, no member of the CIA will ever have to face the ignominy of have their face splashed across newspapers worldwide grinning next to a corpse, or face time in jail.

If five years ago you were told that the United States was using proxies to torture suspected terrorists, with CIA agents also taking part in the mistreatment of detainees, you'd probably have been laughed at or called a conspiracy nut. Today, we don't just know about it, we accept it. Britain supposedly regards Guantanamo Bay as a shocking affront to justice, yet everything suggests that our politicians and intelligence services have known about and even been involved in far more shocking acts than have gone on at the world's most notorious prison camp. Rather than just seeing no evil and speaking no evil,
Geoff Hoon has been described as being distinctly unhelpful and evasive with the EU's own investigations into rendition, and Elizabeth Manningham Buller, the head of MI5, who yesterday happily briefed G6 ministers on the terrorist threat, refused to even attend a meeting of the joint committee on human rights, let alone answer any of their questions. Marie Antoinette may not have said let them eat cake, but that attitude is the default mechanism for our politicians when it comes to the abuse of detainees going on in our midst.

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