Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has just published his book, Murder in Samarkand. As he was barred from printing the supporting evidence in the actual book, he has put the documents up on his website. On the same day as he did, he received a letter alleging he was breaching copyright by doing so. Apparently, even though documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act are then in the public domain, they cannot be published without permission as they remain the copyright of the Crown. This seems to be a rather convenient law in this case, as the Guardian and other newspapers have published documents obtained under the FoI on their websites with no problems.
Still, as is becoming increasingly clear in the internet age, such arcane and disgraceful rulings often turn out to be unenforcable.
Obsolete mirrors the documents, in a zip file, here. You can also jump on the torrent hosted by Dahr Jamail.
A year ago today, at around 9:40am, my father was driving through Tavistock Square, having just left Covent Garden market. 7 minutes later, Hasib Hussain detonated his explosives on the number 30 bus he was on, after having apparently missed his chance to kill himself at the same time as his 3 fellow bombers. The explosion killed 14 people.
It's only when my father realised later that night that he had missed the bombing by a matter of minutes that the reality of what happened dawned on both of us. He was not the only one who had a near miss. No doubt hundreds, possibly thousands, made split-second decisions which meant they were out of the possible line of fire. 52 people were not as lucky, and hundreds of others were horribly injured.
Obsolete doesn't live in London, so it can't comment on the apparent solidarity that quickly followed, along with a measure of defiance. Sadly, within weeks, and especially after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, that solidarity started to crumble.
Which brings us to today. Yesterday we saw Shezhad Tanweer, apparently filmed in the same place as the previous video which starred Siddique Khan, pointing his finger, telling us that Britain deserved to be attacked because "we" voted for a government that oppresses Muslims around the world. Apart from upsetting those killed in the bombings with the timing, which must raise the question of why al-Jazeera could not have sat on the video for a while rather than inflaming what should have been a tender and sombre occasion, it quickly led to Inayat Bunglawala (media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain) on CiF saying it should make the government realise that it must recognise the links between 7/7 and its policies overseas, as predicted by Sunny Hurndal. It drew the usual responses by those who see Islam as purely a wicked and vicious faith.
Some issues should be ironed out. There is no excuse whatsoever for the bombing of innocent civilians. Terrorists must not be allowed to get away with justifying their actions based on Western foreign policy, or with saying that it's deserved because "we" voted for the government. However, there is a difference between a grievance and a justification. Not just Muslims, but also many millions of people in this country feel aggrieved that our political leaders launched a war of aggression against Iraq, on what we now know was flimsy, politically spun and entirely spurious intelligence. We were lied to. That is a legitimate grievance. Despite what some liberal-leftists who supported the war say, making the point that the Iraq war has left us not more safe, but less safe, is not to give terrorists the opportunity to blackmail us over our foreign policy.
The other worrying thing, again pointed out by Sunny Hurndal, is the way that the main Muslim organisations now seem to be the only ones being approached to speak out. Some of their spokesman have or have had extreme views, yet at the same time the Labour party has given large amounts of taxpayers money to Muslim Council of Britain, the same organisations responsible for a lack of introspection that Blair barked about earlier in the week. What seems to be emerging is that they only seem to be able to point to Western foreign policy as being why 4 Muslim men did what they did. The point is valid, but 2 million of us marched against the war and don't feel the need to explode ourselves to continue to show our outrage.
Hurndal's point was emphasised last night on the BBC's This Week programme. They invited on, of all people, the Muslim winner of Miss England. Not only was she articulate, but she noted that the Muslim community in Britain tends to be inward-looking and conservative, especially compared to some Muslim countries, even in the Middle East. The contestants in Miss World from Egypt and Malaysia had no problems in taking part in the bikini contest, while she felt under pressure to wear something not so revealing from those in her own community. As a result, she wore a sarong.
Hurndal expands his point on CiF, reporting on a debate organised by the Fabian society. David T, who is one of the more reasonable and eloquent contributors to Harry's Place, also comments, and points out the way that some of Muslim groupings are increasingly turning to Mawdudist and Muslim Brotherhood ideology, although he also puts it down to the notion of Muslims feeling victimised, which is not only exaggerated, but they also undoubtedly have been over the last year. It's the feeling that Islam is under siege in this country, emphasised by the likes of Melanie Philips with her concentration on the Judeo-Christian ethic and idea that Islam is incompatible with democracy and "Britishness" that means that the idea of victimhood is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The media has to share some of the blame. In their bid for increasing comment and reaction, they turn first of all to the Muslim organisations and rely on their sometimes unhelpful statements. Newsnight, when debating Islam, allowed the likes of Anjem Choudary, the idiot from al-Ghuraba, to be involved, along with a token white person and a Tory Muslim, rather than anyone who doesn't belong to some organisation. While the survey of last month was in some ways worrying, it also showed that things are nowhere near as bad as some have made out. More effort needs to be made on both sides, both by the media and by those in the Muslim communities themselves to make sure that other voices are heard. They are definitely out there, but at the moment are only being heard inside, not outside.
As well as being a day of reflection and quiet contemplation, today should also be a day of hope. We should hope that the one of the darkest moments in British history can be used to make sure that such a thing never happens again. All the talk of when, not if, is only helpful to those who wish to keep the level of fear at a premium. Effort is required by everyone. There is one thing that the government could do to kickstart this: it should order the independent inquiry into the events of 7/7 which is so desperately needed.
Update: Well, it looks like I fell into every trap set by Lenin for today's coverage. Rest assured, this sentimentality isn't here to stay. And yes, we should also be remembering all the innocents killed in Iraq and Afghanistan both by the coalition forces and terrorists as well.
Every UK newspaper today features the anniversary of 7/7 on its front page. Well, except for one. Which newspaper do you think it is? The Daily Star, with its Big Brother fixation would be the most likely answer in a straw poll.
Well, it's actually the Star's sister paper (the Star's main splash is Big Brother, but 7/7 is mentioned), that bastion that stands for real values and real value for money. Rather than stand up for real values and remember those who lost their lives a year ago today, it's instead polishing its rod once again. Yep, Diana is back on the menu.
Apparently the photos shot by paparazzi of Diana lying unconcious in the back of the car, close to death, are to be printed in a new book. As we know, the Express, along with other tabloid papers at the time made a solemn promise never to buy snatched shots again. All of them broke that promise within weeks, if not days. On a day when many are going to be remembering dead loved ones, the Express seeks to bring up the past and focus on a dead celebrity, rather than real, ordinary people who died going about their daily routine. There's only one reply that's suitable to describe Peter "Mentally" Hill, Richard Desmond and the others on the Express today: you cunts.
While the main news story has been about Prescott's relationship with a bigoted rich American, there has been a continuing sexual undercurrent running beneath it. A few days ago, Guido decided to invite the wrath of Rosie Winterton, long mentioned in the comments and alluded to on other blogs as being another of Prescott's conquests. According to Guido, the Sun was going to name her but Rosie threatened them with Suue, Grabbit and Runne. Guido has yet to receive any legal papers.
Rosie is not the only other woman alleged to have been involved intimately with Prezza. A now Chinese diplomat apparently rebuffed his advances, and Sarah Doubled-Barreled Name gave an interview to the Blackmail on Sunday and Sunday Moron saying that she had indulged in practices which Prescott supposedly finds difficult.
As a result, both Iain Dale and Guido have been comprehensively briefed against by the New Labour machine. The Independent's Deputy Political Editor grabbed this juicy tidbit and set about devouring it, with some erroneous personal information about Guido included. Newsnight's Paul Mason has set about asking why internet sites seem immune from the libel laws, making the point that the BBC would most likely be get sued within seconds if they made similar allegations as to that which Guido has. Well, it's up to those who have been "libelled" to play their card. Either they put up or shut up.
All this is being hyped up as some kind of panic in the mainstream media about blogs stealing their readers/listeners/watchers. There's an element of truth in that, but bloggers should be more honest with themselves as well. Iain Dale on Newsnight last night said that the running on stories such as Cherie Blair's decision to sign a copy of the Hutton report for a Labour-money raising auction and on Prescott's meetings with Mr Anschutz had been by blogs. Well, yes, to an extent. Few blogs however are breaking the news themselves. The Cherie Blair story was broken by the Mail on Sunday, while Anschutz was by one of the Times papers. At the moment all blogs are doing is stirring and performing a similar job to diary and comment pages. There's no way that any of us can be claimed to be about to destroy the mainstream media. Further diversifying it, yes. Taking over from it, no.
Which brings us back to Prescott's non-sexual (we assume) exploits with Philip Anschutz. In case you haven't been keeping up, his company AEG bought the symbol of New Labour's failure (although to be fair, it was first proposed by the Tories) that is the Millennium Dome. AEG at the time bought it and said that it was intending to redevelop the dome into a "sports and entertainment arena". In less than a year, AEG were aggressively lobbying the Department of Culture, Media 'n' Sport, and making clear that they would very much like to build a major casino along with their other plans.
Between August the 15th 2002 and July the 22nd 2005 Prescott met with Mr Anschutz not once, not twice, not thrice, but seven times. The last was the trip to Anschutz's ranch, which Prescott has now declared to the parliamentary register, both after he said he didn't need to and after Philip Mawer, the commissioner for standards had started a preliminary investigation into whether it should have been or not. Mawer this morning extended his investigation into a full inquiry. Prescott has claimed that the proposed casino was not discussed, but rather err, ranch agriculture and William Wilberforce's role in ending slavery was. Seeing as Anschutz seems to think that homosexuals would be better off if they were slaves, maybe this was mentioned.
Yet Whitehall documents released yesterday to Newsnight and today's Guardian, show that an internal briefing dated July the 11th 2003 referred to a meeting between the European managing director Detlef Kornett and Richard Caborn, who was one of those responsible for the review of the gambling laws. It was apparently a follow-up to the meeting that AEG had with Prezza, further stating their intention to build a palace where idiots can go to lose money. In addition to this, civil servants in Prescott's department kept up the pressure on the culture ministers to have more meeting with AEG managers.
Prescott's predictable denials are that he has no control over those in his department deciding to do this on their own iniative, and that he never discussed Anschutz's plans for a casino when he visited him on those, err, 7 times. He hasn't explained what they did talk about, although whether Ugandian discussions were involved is thought unlikely.
All of which puts in to perspective the government's lust for extending the opportunities to gamble. It was only after concerted media pressure and rebellions that the plans were suitably scaled down, with one "megacasino" (allowed to have up to 1,250 slot machines, each with a jackpot of £1m.) eight "supercasinos" and eight smaller casinos allowed in a trial. The Conservative council of Southend has since said that it was asked by the government to reconsider its plan for a "megacasino" in favour of the scheme to redevelop the dome. Tessa Jowell's lolling on roulette tables was all part of a plan to get rid of the white elephant which was the dome. The undoing was that they hadn't bargained on the opposition to their plans.
It should perhaps go without saying that Prescott should resign. To be honest, he should have gone as soon as his affair with Temple was exposed, along with her schoolgirlish scribblings on the size of his penis. Along with it though we've seen the arrogance of the government on cracking down on opposition to it from new quarters, libellous allegations being made or not. While Labour could freely point out that Boris Johnson has been caught with his pants down twice recently, and that nowhere near as much has been made of that as has been of Prescott, anyone with half a brain can see that Prescott must go. He's lost his job, his dignity and might well be close to losing his wife. But then, how can Prescott go without Blair going at the same time? We may yet be stuck with the pair of them for a while long
The Palestinian school in Anata, with the playground split in two by the Israeli security wall.At times it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when it comes to Israel and Palestine. When once asked who would win out of a fight between an Israeli and a Palestinian, I remarked that the Palestinian would first poke the Israeli, with the Israeli retailiating by drawing a gun and blowing the Palestinian's head off.
So it seems to be when it comes to today's "major escalation". While Gilad Shalit is still being held by his Palestinian captors, Israel has been shelling and firing missiles into Gaza as usual, while forces have been gathering on the border surrounding the strip. The bridges and power station remain smouldering, while Israeli jets have been breaking the sound barrier at night, making life as uncomfortable as they can without invading. In response, the usual barrage of homemade rockets, including Qassams have been fired into Israel, causing little damage but spreading fear and anxiety in their wake.
Today one group finally managed to get a rocket to travel as far as a school yard in the centre of Ashqelon, a small city to the north of Gaza, which is far further in distance than the other usual target, Sderot, which is to the east of the Strip. (Maps showing the Gaza Strip with Ashqelon and Sderot are available here and here.) No one was hurt. In response, the Israeli security cabinet has authorised the re-occupation of parts of Gaza, which has been free of Israeli troops since the disengagement of last summer.
The fact that the missile hit a school obviously did nothing to help matters. Yet while any attack on a place of learning full of children is unacceptable, the Israeli military has killed at least seven children who were in Palestinian schools at the time since the second infitada began in September 2000. One school in the West Bank has had its playground split in two by the security fence which is meant to stop suicide bombers from getting through into Israel. And just yesterday, an Israeli airforce missile hit a school in Gaza City itself.
It's a point that's been made countless times, but the entire issue in Israel is one of reaction to a reaction. Both sides are prone to hyperbole. Both sides share the blame. Even so, signs last week were encouraging when Hamas was humiliated into accepting the prisoners document which supported the two state solution. They were left explaining that they still hadn't recognised Israel's right to exist, even though they had signed up to the PLO documents that do exactly that. As such, even though the kidnapping came before that agreement, it's rightly being seen as being part of the power struggle between the exiled Hamas military wing leadership, which seemingly ordered and knew about the plans, and the political leadership which has had to face up to reality. This has been used as an excuse for the Israelis to seize many Hamas politicians, and hold them as "terrorists". Some have already appeared before a military court.
This then, is what it comes down to. A Palestinian poke leads to an Israeli bullet, and at times, vice versa. There is cynicism on both sides, as well defeatism. As a result, both nations live in fear of each other, with a unhealthy mix of hatred thrown in. The re-occupation of Gaza won't stop the Qassam rockets, much like the beach massacre didn't end the Israeli shelling. Until both sides dedicate themselves to talks, accept that there will have to be sacrifices on both sides (although a state in the West Bank and Gaza must be viable, something the current Israeli plan of disengagement does not offer) then peace will not happen. We know what will end the war. It's just down to how long it takes for both sides to realise it.
As the fear of crime and disorder continues to rise, we often find ourselves looking for quick fixes. If you live in the UK, you'll have noticed that every major supermarket now has numerous signs up informing you that if you look under 21 and intend to buy age restricted products (such as cigarettes and alcohol) then you need some form of ID, otherwise you won't be served.
It's in with this sudden lust for control over teenagers who are apparently getting more hedonistic by the minute that the government has decided that the current legal age to purchase cigarettes has to be risen to either 17 or 18. This would bring it into line with the current age required to be allowed to purchase booze, pornography and the highest rated video/movie.
The first argument against such a raise will inevitably be the inconsistency which comes with this myriad of age restrictions. Currently a 16-year-old can consent to sexual intercourse, leave home, with parental consent marry and purchase cigarettes, as well as play the national lottery. The irony that 16-year-olds can fuck but can't watch others doing so has been raised in the past by the Lib Dems, only for them to be universally laughed at. They do however have something of a point. Surely if someone is mature enough to be allowed to consent and get married, then they can be allowed to decide to slowly poison themselves and/or also enjoy intoxicating liquor?
The second is that politicians are lying to themselves as much as the public is. While supermarkets put up their signs saying don't be offended when that is exactly the emotion that anyone asked for proof of age when they are 18-21 feels if they are questioned, it's well known that the average person who is underage certainly doesn't go to them to get their supply. The government freely admits that it is the off-licenses and corner shop newsagents that sell the majority of age restricted products without asking first. They're also far less likely to get caught in stings checking that shops are abiding by the law. The average newsagent or off-license, already in danger from the ever-rising likes of Tesco & co, relies on selling cheap and cheerful products to whoever walks in the door in order to make ends meet. Hence why the average teenager doesn't sip on the much maligned "alcopops" unless they're at a pub or club; they're downing cheap but strong cider and lager readily available from such shops.
The third is that even then age restrictions simply do not work. Raising the age at which you can buy fags is not going to stop the average teenager from starting smoking, much like it doesn't stop them from drinking. Even if they can't buy the products themselves, there's always someone older willing to do so for them, or if not, there's probably one person who looks considerably older than they actually are. Hence why the entire policy of age restriction is a facade.
The government should be honest both with us and with itself. If smoking is so bad for us, then why is it simply not made illegal? The obvious answer is that it contributes a nice slice of revenue to the Treasury, but it's more complicated than that. No one suggests that alcohol should be made illegal, yet we witness what happens as a result of it every weekend. Smoking is much more problematic. While you can infinitely raise the amount of tax on the sticks, all that will result in will increased smuggling in of cigarettes, or even more trips abroad to bring back much less heavily taxed foreign fags. In other words, like drug use, it will simply now never be eradicated, even though there are suggestions that countries such as Australia will eventually becoming completely smoke free.
What can be done instead is that we need to recognise the relevant harm caused by each product which is supposedly bad for us and act accordingly. Simply because many don't like smoke or smokers is no reason for us to persecute those who do. Raising the age limit would do nothing to stop young people from smoking, like the warnings on fag packets do nothing to stop current smokers from buying them. Cannabis, despite all the hype and moral outrage surrounding it, causes little harm compared to uncontrolled alcohol abuse, and those that grow it and move it around the globe are nothing like the savages that transport cocaine and heroin, damaging everyone at every turn of its production, even if they are the same people. There is also no evidence that all of it is gaining in strength (certain varieties are much more powerful and intensively farmed, often under hydroponics) or that it leads to harder drugs. A truly honest government would consider further decriminalisation of cannabis possession, even if it didn't fully legalise the production. On cigarettes, it would leave the current age restriction as it is, but gradually increase the taxation on them and directly and transparently use the money raised to fund programmes to help others to quit and not to start in the first place. Accountability should be the key.
It's open to debate whether increasing the taxation of alcohol would do anything to stop the carnage that comes from its use. Britain seems almost uniquely in Europe to hold the same mindset regarding drink that occurs in the States; working all week and then getting lashed at the weekend to forget about it. We're often told that the culture in Europe means that this simply doesn't occur there. Whether there's much truth in it or not is uncertain, but the way that they seem to be brought up to enjoy it socially from an early age appears to have some bearing. More equal societies may also be key. At the moment however, we seem to be perversely persecuting one part of society while seeing no evil in the other. This should change.
When those planes hit the World Trade Center on that beautiful September day, the cliche that nothing would ever be the same again rang true for once. Terrorism has come to define this short early period of the 21st century. We live both in fear of it, and in fear of what governments are prepared to do to prevent it. We hear the prime minister of Israel without irony refer to the Palestinian Authority as being run by murderous terrorist organisations. This is the same Prime Minister that ordered the collective punishment strike on Gaza's power plant, leaving at least 60% of possibly the largest prison on earth without power, without water, and without fuel. At night Israeli jets go supersonic over the city, creating ear shattering booms which sound like huge explosions right near you, wherever you are.
We hear of at least 66 people ripped apart by a huge truck bomb in Sadr City in Baghdad. News that has become so grimly familiar that you accept it with a weary sigh, thinking of the mothers and fathers who won't be going home that night, of the children that will never again slam doors in houses. We hear Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard inform us that the number of investigations into supposed terror plots has never been higher. His timing, as the anniversary of the July the 7th bombings fast approaches, and as the Home Affairs committee, with one rebel, says that 28 days detention without charge for terror suspects may not be long enough, is nothing short of infuriating.
It starts you thinking: is it always going to be like this? Was it like this during the Blitz? Was it like this at the height of the IRA's bombing campaign on the mainland? Is the threat really so great?
The answers are not easily forthcoming. Yet it seems obvious that the case for longer detention without trial for terrorist suspects is no stronger than it was last year. We're now told that the police apparently don't need 28 days to question suspects; that much is pretty clear following the Forest Gate fiasco. Last year's campaign by the Sun and the Prime Minister, with the police towing behind them in their parade of toughness, still says that the police need time to crack information that has been encrypted, but the main reason now given by the security services is that the 20 foreign security agencies need longer than that to get information across to them about the suspects. Even if we were to accept this at face value, what is stopping the suspects being released on strict bail conditions, made to report to the police station, once or even twice a day, as well as being electronically tagged? Are dangerous men so dangerous that they cannot be let back out to their empty shell of a homes with police guard, or similarly put up in hotels? What it seems to come down to is a series of long excuses and pleas that things might be different in the future. Yet the same people who have come to this conclusion admit that no one so far has needed to be locked up without charge for even 14 days, let alone 28.
In the end it all seems to be a distraction. The number of arguments the government is using to shrug off calls for an independent inquiry into what happened on the 7th of July are falling off steadily. From the beginning when it was claimed that such an inquiry would be a waste of time and tell us nothing new, we're now repeatedly slapped around the face by indignant government ministers who say it'll take too long, that only the lawyers will profit, and that it'll cost too much. It seems more and more likely that the government is frightened of what the report would say. Some of the less thorough investigations have already said that the Iraq war was a factor. An inquiry that the government could not control could come to even more alarming conclusions. While the recent Hutton and Butler inquiries were given to an establishment judge and a long serving mandarin respectively, the government could be less lucky this time around. The Mubarek inquiry, released last Thursday, showed how absolutely devastating such reports can be. To stop such a thing from happening again, we're warned that we could repeat the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday - a costly, hugely time-consuming cross-examination which seems unlikely to tell us anything we didn't already know.
Yet as Rachel North again posts, the ministers involved can't even find 15 minutes to meet the most seriously injured man in the 7/7 attacks. At the same time she and other survivors have to put up with commenters that accuse them of pushing for a independent inquiry in order to politicise what happened to them and so to "press her own particular views on how the so-called 'war on terror' should be conducted." Then there's the conspiracy theorists, still fantasising about how it was actually a government operation, that the bombs were under the carriages and that even suggest that those who saw the 4 men explode are deeply deluded. (I should admit something here: I thought for a while it was possible that the other men could have been drug mules duped by Siddique Khan. That is obviously wrong by what we now know.)
This same government that denies what is so obviously both wanted and needed is the same one that is now clamping down even further on whistleblowers and leakers who dare to suggest that all is not right in the world. Whether this is down to the embarrassment of allies, or just complete control freakery is unknown. What is known is that is only through fighting and continue to fight will an independent inquiry be achieved. It shouldn't have to come to this. The survivors deserve so much better, as do all those who have suffered through acts of terrorism since those fateful late summer days. New Labour, aptly described by Charles Leadbeater as neither new enough or Labour enough, can prove that it is still the party of the people. Whether it will or not is another story entirely.