Friday, February 13, 2009 

Scum-watch: More heartlessness over Binyam Mohamed.

The Scum continues its shamefully heartless low-level campaign against Binyam Mohamed returning from Guantanamo:

AN AIR ambulance will bring Guantanamo Bay terror suspect Binyam Mohamed to Britain — at taxpayers’ expense.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband also sent a medic to treat Mohamed, who is on hunger strike.

The Ethiopian — whose right to live in Britain expired five YEARS ago — was set to arrive yesterday, but was too ill.

Perhaps we should charge the doubtless extravagant cost to the United States, considering they were the ones responsible for Mohamed's unlawful detention for the past five years. Suggesting something similar though would expose the Sun's long-term position: that it has never so much as once called for the closure of the Cuban camp and has opposed the return of every single British citizen and resident from there. It even went so far as to sneer at the concern raised about the conditions by comparing what was meted out to Daniel Pearl:

Whilst much of the media huffed and puffed about “bad conditions” in Guantanamo Bay, these very same terrorists were preparing to slit Daniel’s throat.

No Geneva Convention for Daniel. No orange suits in the Cuban sun.

Instead, these evil brutes filmed his murder on video and sent it to the Americans.

Likewise, when Moazzam Begg was returned it printed the following leader column:

IF you live in the Birmingham area, it’s possible you have a new neighbour who turned up in the past few days.

His name is Moazzam Begg and he’s one of the freed Guantanamo Four.

The legal papers on Begg released by the American Justice Department make disturbing reading.

America says Begg has received “extensive” terrorist training in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, including how to use AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

He was armed and prepared to fight American and allied troops, the documents state.

Begg denies this and claims he took his wife and children from Birmingham to Afghanistan to open a school in Kabul.

In a sworn statement, his wife claims they wanted to live in a society that was safe for their family.

Afghanistan, under the rule of the evil Taliban, safer than bringing up children in the Midlands?

Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Almost as unbelievable as the fact that, for political reasons, terrorist suspects are walking our streets.

Not a single one of the returned former Guantanamo detainees has been charged with any offence in this country, nor is there any indication that any have returned to any variety of Islamic militancy. Some might say the Sun is just being cautious, defensive, especially considering how some of them were to find themselves in American custody. Others might be inclined to believe that the paper finds nothing whatsoever wrong with "bad people" being locked up without charge or any chance of a fair trial, and that therefore to return these "bad men" to this good country is an outrage. There is however something astonishingly low about complaining about the cost of sending an air ambulance to care properly for a man who is quite clearly seriously ill, regardless of what he's accused of. Such basic humanity seems to be beyond the Sun's conscience, though:

AN air ambulance and a doctor have been sent by the Government to bring dangerous Guantanamo suspect Binyam Mohamed back to Britain.

Labour say we have no option but to take him back.

But laying on a private jet stinks.

Will they send a Rolls to the airport?

How should we have got him back then? Stuck him on a commercial flight from Havana and let the Sun's fearless journalists quiz the desperately ill man about how he's going to kill us all eventually but to begin with is just going to steal our benefits? The attempt at wit which is asking whether they'll send a Rolls to the airport is beneath contempt; far more likely is that they'll send another ambulance, but to consider that might again cause a few pangs of conscience.

Meanwhile, this is happening:

From the woman they wished would slither back under a rock to "the tragedy we all feared" in just more than 24 months.

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Friday, February 06, 2009 

Scum-watch: Heartless obfuscation.

The Sun has major form in repeatedly playing down the abuses conducted in the name of the "war on terror". In probably the most despicable instance, it called the beating to death of Baha Mousa in Iraq a "so-called crime", even after one soldier had been sentenced to prison for admitting his role in his death. It almost completely ignored the Abu Ghraib scandal, and has printed hardly anything whatsoever about extraordinary rendition. Only a couple of weeks ago it denounced David Miliband for daring to suggest that the use of the phrase "war on terror" had been unhelpful and even counter-productive. It's therefore not much of a surprise to know that it doesn't want Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident at Guantanamo Bay, to return to this country. It's the obfuscation involved in its argument that really rankles:

LET’S concentrate on the undisputed facts about Binyam Mohamed, the Guantanamo terror suspect who claims he was tortured.

FACT: Mohamed, an Ethiopian, sought asylum here in 1994 and was allowed to stay till 2000.

FACT: In 2001, after converting to Islam, he disappeared to the Taliban badlands of Afghanistan, saying it was to kick a drug habit.

FACT: In 2002 he tried TWICE to fly to Britain from Pakistan on a false passport bearing the picture of another man.

To begin with, Mohamed naturally only "claims" that he was tortured. Presumably whoever wrote this leader then assumes that Mohamed, who had his penis repeatedly slashed with a razor while he was in Moroccan custody and has the scars to prove it, something that MI6 has admitted they might have helped with due to their providing information about him to the Americans, did so himself as an alternative to masturbation. Likewise, it's a fact that Mohamed was a resident here, even though he was not an actual citizen. On these grounds David Miliband has already requested his release. Also a fact is that while Mohamed did travel to Afghanistan, although what exactly the "Taliban badlands" are is anyone's guess, he went to Pakistan after 9/11. The last "fact" seems to be completely irrelevant: as long as Mohamed was a resident here and his presence was perfectly legal, that he was travelling on a false passport is neither here nor there.

Now, it is thought, the Government is preparing to let Mohamed return.

Arguments continue about whether his alleged confessions were made under duress by security agents trying to stop terrorist atrocities.

These arguments are only occurring in the Sun's mind: no one else disputes that Mohamed was tortured. Why else was he flown from Pakistan to Morocco, then Afghanistan and finally to Guantanamo if it wasn't for the purpose of extracting information from him through mistreatment? Were these in fact just holiday trips disguised as torture sessions? Similarly, the idea that these were by security agents desperate to stop "terrorist atrocities" is both a joke and a disgraceful semi-justification for what is both a crime and completely counter-productive.

But one fact is certain: We DON’T want him back.

Err, except that isn't a fact: that's a statement. It's also one that shows the true heartlessness of the Sun: this is a man that has been viciously tortured, not convicted of any crime and whose detention and abuse we have connived with, and yet the Sun would still have him turned away from the country which he called home, presumably to waste away as he is currently doing in Guantanamo. The paper, as always, only believes in justice for those it deems acceptable.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009 

An end to torture porn?

The inauguration ceremony was terrible, but no one can honestly say that Obama hasn't lived up to his promises so far:

Barack Obama embarked on the wholesale deconstruction of George Bush's war on terror, shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, banning torture and rendition, and calling for a new set of rules for detainees. The repudiation of Bush's thinking on national security yesterday also saw the appointment of a high-powered envoy to the Middle East.

Of interest here is that we were explicitly told by Bush and co that the "black sites" had already been shut down. This was always dubious because some of the prisoners that were known to have been captured by the Americans, or captured by others and rendered into their care had simply disappeared. Unless they were tortured so badly that they died or committed suicide, they must presumably still be out there somewhere.

The thing that's so invigorating about Obama's initial moves is because it's all been so effortless: just a simple issuing of decrees and the abuses of the Bush adminstration have been washed away, almost as if they never existed. That's part of the problem: however much praise Obama and his team deserve for moving so swiftly to end his predecessor's crimes, we still shouldn't forget that this nation which supposedly didn't and would never torture did so with such ease and with so little soul-searching. Our abiding image of it though isn't those who adminstered the worst of it, or those who authorised it, but instead most probably Lynndie England, cigarette in mouth, pointing at the limp dicks of her captives. How fitting that those who thought they were the cocks of the walk have had their little empire brought down to size so swiftly.

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Friday, October 31, 2008 

Rendition comes back to haunt Smith and Miliband.

You may well have missed it, but the government has at long last been forced into holding some sort of an official inquiry into our involvement in the rendition programme. Jacqui Smith has called the attorney general to investigate "criminal wrongdoing" by MI5 in the case of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident to remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Not that it hasn't done so without kicking and screaming all the way. Smith has been left with little option but to after the series of damning rulings by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, brought about by the suing of the government by Mohamed's lawyers in an attempt to secure the release of documents they say are crucial to Mohamed's defence. Judging by the bitter resistance to doing just this, one really has to wonder what is in the apparent 44 pages of documents.

The US justification for not releasing the documents, in case you couldn't guess, is that doing so would threaten national security. Our own government, for its part, is rehashing the same justification it gave for shutting down the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into the BAE Systems Saudi slush fund: if they were to be released, the US government would stop sharing intelligence with us, which would obviously as a result threaten our national security. Like with the Saudi threat to do the same, it's an empty one: the US needs us as much as we need them.

David Miliband as a result seems to be held over a barrel. The judges have stated that Miliband and the Foreign Office have actually done much to help Mohamed's cause, but then you would also imagine that's the least they could do considering the apparent involvement of MI5 in Mohamed's interrogation. He appears to accept that there is at least an "arguable case" that Mohamed has been tortured and subject to inhuman treatment, but our subservience to the United States means that he has to follow their line of argument. Undoubtedly too he must somewhat fear the release of the documents held by the government: the judges themselves have said that Mohamed's lawyers' claims that the documents are not being handed over because "torturers do not readily hand over evidence of their conduct" cannot be dismissed and deserve an answer.

We should not though imagine that the attorney general's inquiry will lead to anything, especially considering the track record of late. At every stage the government or their supine committees have played down our role in the rendition programme, at times outright lying about our involvement in it. MI5 and MI6 are completely unaccountable organisations, where lies are second nature, and the fact that they may well have already misled MPs over the Mohamed speaks volumes. It will be a very long time indeed before we even begin to start learning the truth about this very greatest of scandals.

Torture cannot be hidden forever
Contempt of court
High court rules against US and UK

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Saturday, June 07, 2008 

Terrorists have personalities too!

Amazingly, according to the Telegraph. Jihadist wit is also the same as every other sort of wit:

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a 30-year-old Kuwaiti said to have sent £60,000 to the 19 suicidal terrorists, made the press gallery snigger. Told by the judge that US military lawyers were being provided free of charge, he snapped back that America "tortured me free of charge, too".

You can't argue with that, can you?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008 

Oliver Kamm: nothing is too vile for me to try to justify.

Oliver Kamm is a deeply misunderstood man. Just because he's around the only supporter of the war in Iraq outside of government not to recant their support or at least admit they got it somewhat wrong doesn't mean that he's stubborn and wilfully blind. Just because he tried to convince us all that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't crimes doesn't mean that he's someone who wants to rewrite history with a view to the current war on terror. Just because he wrote a piece calling for "concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck" over Iran's nuclear programme on the same night as the NIE intelligence statement was published that said that Iran had abandoned its efforts to build a bomb in 2003, leading to him hastily redrafting his opinion doesn't mean that he's the equivalent of a musical hall joke. And just because his latest effort, delivering the most rancid apologia for the rendition programme you're ever likely to read, doesn't mean that in the words of some on CiF, he's a man with a revolting worldview, it also doesn't mean that he's not the most pathetic muscular liberal around. That would be Nick Cohen.

Kamm builds his entire fallacious argument around the fact that in modern terms, the abduction by Mossad of Adolf Eichmann, who was subsequently put on trial and hanged, would fall under the reference of an "extraordinary rendition". This much is probably true. There though the similarities with modern cases end. Eichmann, unlike those currently at Guantanamo Bay who were rendered there, including the most high profile detainees, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, faced a fair trial, which was not held under military auspices. Nor was he at any point subjected to anything ever even slightly amounting to torture, which many of those who have been through the rendition system allege, and often have the scars and mental health problems which do much to substantiate their claims. Argentina, although originally outraged by the breach of its sovereignty, eventually made something approaching a deal with Israel, and withdrew its original allegations and claims.

Kamm goes on:

They involve the detention of a suspect in one country and their transfer to another by the CIA. There are good reasons that the first country might wish to take this course. It might not have a legal system capable of disinterestedly dispensing justice, owing to the threat of intimidation. There might be domestic political reasons for the government to be reluctant to cooperate too closely with the United States.

None of these factors however apply to the rendition of Abu Omar from Italy, to bring up just one example. Italy had a perfectly good relationship with the United States at the time of his rendition, yet the CIA felt it necessary to kidnap Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and rather than take him back to the United States, where he could be tried for any of the allegations made against him, they instead took him to the democratic outpost of Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. The question has to be to any doubters of just what the point of the rendition programme is: why take him to such a country where torture is endemic if the CIA expressly does not torture those in its custody?

Another example is that of our own Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi. Both had some connection to the radical preacher Abu Qutada, sometimes called al-Qaida's spiritual leader in Europe, but both were intending to leave the country and set up a business in Gambia. Just before they left, el-Banna was visited by an MI5 officer that offered him to become an informer; he declined. al-Rawi is already said to have been informing MI5 of Abu Qutada's movements. Despite promises that they would be allowed to leave the country without hassle, they were stopped at the airport, and only allowed to fly later. On their arrival in Gambia they were detained, ostensibly on the reason that they were carrying bomb parts, which were in fact a battery charger, handed over to the CIA and taken to Guantanamo. Both have now been subsequently released, but el-Banna especially shows the scars of his ordeal: a Spanish judge dropped his request for his extradition on humanitarian grounds after a medical report found that

Banna is said to be severely depressed, suffering from PTSD, and to have diabetes, hypertension and back pain, as well as damage to the back of his left knee.

Kamm though isn't interested in these individual case studies of what those rendered have been through, with no apology for the treatment meted out to them beyond either domestic or international law from those responsible. He says he is both opposed to the death penalty and to torture, but those soon to go through the military tribunals at Gitmo can be executed, and we also know for a fact that at least three of the top-level detainees have been tortured. Rather, he's off on another rhetorical tangent; suddenly, bin Laden comes out of nowhere:

What they would have advised if Osama bin Laden had unaccountably declined to turn himself in was never put to the test. Had the CIA abducted Bin Laden from Afghanistan in the late 1990s (a course whose feasibility the agency investigated), some great crimes might have been averted.

The hypothetical kidnapping of Bin Laden illustrates two problems with the absolutist rejection of rendition. First, the Taliban regime in Kabul would no more have handed over Bin Laden in response to an international summons than it would have handed over Lord Lucan. Second, the evidence against a terrorist suspect might be circumstantial or partial. It might not be of a type admissible in court. I do not know if this is true of Bin Laden and the destruction of the twin towers. But I know he did it, and I want him stopped.

True, some great crimes might have been averted, but we don't know that for certain. 9/11 was long in the planning, and we know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was one of those personally in charge of those who became the hijackers. Unless both had been captured we simply don't know whether the attacks would have been stopped or not.

Kamm's two points are similarly contentious: first, there is some evidence that the Taliban may well have turned over bin Laden, as the links between the two were not as solid as they now are today, but that they weren't given enough time. Secondly, Kamm's points about bin Laden fall apart because he seems to have completely forgotten about the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and then the USS Cole bombing in 2000, both of which were the work of al-Qaida and were already being linked to him far before 9/11. As the Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright testifies, even after these attacks most of the US security apparatus still hadn't woken up to bin Laden. It was only a dedicated few who were trying to stop him and spread the word, but the US missed its chance. Moreover, if bin Laden had been captured between 1998 and the beginning of 2001, under the Clinton administration it seems less likely that he would have been tortured or mistreated, which is one of the major sticking points over rendition.

This is all part of Kamm's diversionary tactic however. He points towards Adolf Eichmann and bin Laden because he wants to take the reader's mind off the fact that overwhelmingly the rendition programme has not dealt with the most serious terrorists, but rather with those at the lowest levels or those completely innocent of any crime, or certainly not convicted of any. Kamm does stop himself for a moment and say a few conciliatory words:

Rendition is justifiable because it interdicts terrorists, and terrorism is not merely a problem of law enforcement. The particular controversy over rendition concerns torture, and on this point European objections are on firmer ground. The US is a signatory to the Geneva conventions against torture, yet terrorist suspects have been sent to countries that are guilty of human rights violations and have used torture.

Torture is wrong and does not work. As Christopher Hitchens has put it, torture is practised by those "whose whole outlook is based on stupidity and coercion, and you can bet that even with a ticking bomb nearby they would be busily gang-raping the wrong guy".

So why then is Kamm going to such lengths to defend a practice which has used torture endemically, as well those countries which Kamm himself is opposed to which have used torture? He doesn't explain, quite possibly because he doesn't have an answer to that. There's one thing he does do though, and that's defend the United States and the "war on terror" to the death if necessary, however many of his own "red lines" it breaches.

There is an important role for Britain, whose commitment to the war on terror (a phrase I use without irony because it is accurate) is beyond dispute, to intercede with the US administration. There should be no rendition to autocracies whose word on the issue of torture is untrustworthy, such as Syria. Renditions should be used only in extreme cases, against those suspected of directly plotting terrorist acts. The country to which they are transferred must exercise due process under its own laws.

This is all well and good, but this is missing the biggest factor in the whole argument. The United States itself is not exercising due process under its own laws to those in Guantanamo Bay. They're instead defined as "enemy combatants", are not subject to the Geneva convention, and are being tried by military commissions which cannot possibly provide a fair trial. Most of them have been tortured during their interrogations. This breaks every rule in the book, but then the war on terror, which Kamm nobly uses without irony, has from the very beginning held every national and international law in utter contempt. The fact is that we shouldn't be involving ourselves in renditions full stop, except to make clear our firm opposition to anyone being kidnapped by the CIA. If they want someone on these shores, they can make an extradition request, as they have done over Babar Ahmed for example. They can do the same elsewhere, and go through international channels over other individuals they seek, as everyone else has done and continues to do. It's only Israel and the US that seem to consider themselves above such things.

But Europeans have a responsibility too. We are the beneficiaries of American efforts to disrupt terrorism. Diplomacy on the issue of rendition should deal with anticipating and preventing abuses. It should not be an opportunity for hyperventilation on the identity of the hated Bush-Cheney regime and our declared theocratic enemies.

No Oliver, that's what you consider our responsibilities to be. Have any of the renditions prevented attacks on our soil? Despite Bush's claims that they foiled an attack on Heathrow through one of them, something which our own authorities seem bemused by, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate that they have. They have however summarily kidnapped and held both British citizens and those with leave to remain outside the boundaries of international law, and considering not one individual was ever charged with any crime, regardless of what they have since admitted to doing or taking part in, I think that might well give the rise to "hyperventilation" at the injustice they have suffered, not to mention the actual bodily harm or mental scars that have gone with it.

So concludes then a highly confused, contradictory piece which suggests Kamm himself doesn't really know what he thinks. He loathes torture, yet justifies a practice which has used it and will likely use it again. He is a huge believer in "the war on terror", yet turns a blind eye to the worst excesses of it, going so far as to defend the biggest insult there could be to the liberal values he so espouses, the one sitting on an island which has itself resisted the US for nearly half a century. Some might think this makes Kamm intellectually dishonest; rather, it's just Kamm doing what he's always done, saluting capital and the stars and stripes and ignoring anyone who tells him that everything isn't just fine and dandy.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008 

Scum-watch: UFOs, even more Helen Newlove, bashing the bishop and Guantanamo myopia.

Continuing in a similar theme to the last post, this ought to be the standard by which any Sun story is judged. Can you believe in a single thing it publishes when it gives such space to as blatantly fake photographs of UFOs as this one? Believe it or not, this is currently the top story on the website at the moment.

Ignoring the paper descending to Daily Sport style-territory, I wondered if Helen Newlove's apparent silence yesterday after her husband's killers were sentenced had something to do with her previous exclusives with the paper. Imagine my surprise to find that she's given an exclusive video interview to the Sun, where she makes these comments:

Helen, who believes in capital punishment, added: “If this country still had the gallows, I’d be happy to sit back and watch as they were strung up.

“If we had the electric chair like in America, I’d watch them fry without the slightest feeling of sympathy. If I could push the button, if I could deliver the lethal injection, I would — I wouldn’t hesitate. It’s an eye for an eye in my book.”

In other words, Newlove feels that descending to the depths of inhumanity that her husband's killers did is an acceptable way for the state that condemns such barbarity to behave. That's perfectly reasonable, and she's fully entitled to her view; it just so happens that her view makes me think that she's a complete cunt.

Then there's whose account you want to believe on whether the three showed any remorse or not. According to other reports, Cunliffe wept as the sentences were read out, but according to Newlove he was only holding his head in his hands because of embarrassment. I'm also wary of these accounts of what they supposedly drunk before going on to beat Newlove to death; where did they come from, bravado from the three themselves? I'm at a loss as to how they could even stand-up after supposedly drinking nine or 10 bottles of wife-beater and 3 litres of strong cider; it stinks of hyperbole.

I don't think it's really worth even bothering to indulge Newlove's arguments about the "liberals running our justice system", but suffice to say, if she really thinks there's a deterrent provided in America or that they have a model that we should follow, she's more than welcome to go and live in a major city out there and reach her own conclusions. Scanning the comments, I tried to find a single one which disagreed with Newlove. This was the closest:

I'm not sure capital punishment is the way to go. I have always felt that a more productive solution would be lobotomisation for any serious crime - murder / rape / paedophilia - as then they won't ever harm again. They can be put into the fields to work and earn their keep and also would require considerably less looking after. Let's try to kill two birds with one stone, get them out of society and make them useful!

Moving on to the coverage of Williams at the synod, there's still no mention of the standing ovations, although it admits that he received warm applause:

but it could not disguise the hostility of many Anglicans.

Finally, there's the Scum leader on the charging of the six al-Qaida suspects held at Guantanamo. There's no mention of the allegations of torture, no suggestion that the trials will be anything but fair and no mention of Osama bin Laden and his continuing evading of capture. It does however say the trial will answer many critics of Gitmo (it doesn't in the slightest), that it's a vindication for Bush, when the top two in al-Qaida who authorised the attacks are free, and accepts every suggestion that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is indeed the master terrorist he wants to be known as. You really couldn't ask for a more myopic editorial in any newspaper.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007 

Winning hearts and minds with our superior values.

(I'd already finished writing this once, went to post and my browser crashed and lost the whole thing. It doesn't seem anywhere near as good second time, so apologies.)

Famously, when Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he replied that it would be a good idea.
Jamil el-Banna, after spending the last five years of his life experiencing the very worst that our superior values have to offer, would surely be loth to disagree with that sentiment.

His first mistake was to decline the kind offer of MI5 for him to inform on his friends, who included Abu Qutada, currently being held indefinitely pending potential deportation to Jordan, in exchange for his family being comfortably provided for in another country. His second mistake was to believe the MI5 agent who visited him who told him that if he had a valid travel document they would not stop him from leaving the country. Not only was he detained when he and Bisher al-Rawi attempted to leave for the Gambia, when they were finally allowed to leave MI5 sent to the CIA completely unfounded allegations that they were carrying with them bomb parts. The Gambian authorities detained them on arrival and the CIA then rendered them to Guantanamo. In the shameful whitewashing of MI5's involvement in the rendition programme produced by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, the panel of MPs moved the goalposts so that their detainment without charge for 4 years was not an "extraordinary rendition" in that they had been rendered to a place where they were destined to be tortured by the CIA's lackeys or its above the law officers, but rather a "rendition to detention". The British security services were therefore cleared of any involvement by the committee in extraordinary rendition.

If el-Banna had been British and involved in any crime other than say, paedophilia or terrorism, he'd of been welcomed home, everyone would have been sympathetic or even outraged at his four years of detention without charge or trial, at one point being force-fed by his American military captors, and nothing more would have been said. Compare for instance the fanfare that Kenny Richey is deservedly receiving with the treatment that el-Banna has had. The little fact that the Americans even admitted that el-Banna was no threat to anyone and that he was cleared by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal as the case against him was so laughably thin, which has been almost completely ignored by the media, would have been trumpeted from every available rooftop. The case itself amounted to little more than he was an acquittance of Abu Qutada, with the previous Spanish indictment also held against him.

Instead he's been subjected to ridiculous questioning from the Tories about the "threat" he, Omar Deghayes and Abdennour Samuer might pose to "national security". "Dame" Pauline Neville-Jones, appointed the Tories' security minister by David Cameron, a career member of the "UK Diplomatic Service", or in other words, a spook, who had also formerly served as chairman of the joint intelligence committee, popped up and started demanding answers to the most asinine and inane questions she could think up, knowing full well that the government never comments on matters of national security anyway. Her pathetic, exasperating perfomance, slurring her sentences and ordering to be listened to in the way that only a lady of her stature and class can only exemplified how the establishment she belongs to had almost completely abandoned these men. As for the Scum, it informed everyone not to succumb to "anti-American sentiment" and that whether the men were a risk or not, they need to be watched for years to come, taking away surveillance teams from other vital work. In other words: welcome home, now fuck off and die so we can get back to watching the real terrorists.

First and foremost, all three of these men have been victims of the most shameful miscarriage of justice. Deghayes has lost the sight in one of his eyes as a result of his detention, while both he and el-Banna were force-fed after taking part in the hunger strikes organised after the beating of detainees, a backtrack on a promise to extend the rights of the detainees nearer to those within the Geneva convention and the desecration of Koran by guards on a number of occasions. Clive Stafford-Smith described the conditions in Cuba as the worst he had ever seen, despite his working on death row in America for 20 years. As a direct result, el-Banna, a man aged 45, could more easily pass for someone 20 years older, his hair prematurely grayed by his time spent at Guantanamo. Dress him up in a red suit and he'd look like a kindly Santa Claus, reunited with his children. To think he could be considered any kind of security risk is just as a much a fantasy as Father Christmas himself.

The attempt by Spain to extradite both el-Banna and Deghayes, which the British government must have known about and which they did nothing either to prevent or to inform the men's lawyers about is little short of disgraceful. The callous obtuseness of the government's abandoning them once again would be shocking if it wasn't so predictable. The Spanish request relies on the exact same evidence used by the Americans to justify their detention in Guantanamo in the first place. The Deghayes plea even involved the
comprehensively discredited claim that he was shown in a Chechen rebel video, similar to that used against the Tipton Three that was also proven to be false, with the man in the video identifed as Abu Walid, a well-known and now deceased Saudi mujahid. Even if the requests are eventually denied, they have been thrown once again into limbo for no good reason.

It is of course understandable that people are concerned about the three detainees' pasts, but the disquiet about their release is almost certainly down to the way that el-Banna especially ended up where he was. He is owed a debt by the government because of MI5's direct involvement in his detention, through a desire to be rid of him and al-Rawi, who had informed on Abu Qutada, which they thought they could get away with. Even though all the previous detainees returned to Britain to Guantanamo have never been charged with any crime and all have returned to their previous lives, still the chorus is of how this might be endangering our safety. The real threat has been and continues to be from the home-grown extremists which we don't know about, or at least MI5 pretends not to have known about as in the case of the 7/7 bombers. Increasingly, it will also come from the "university of terrorism" in Iraq, where those either finished with their involvement there, returning or traveling here with the intention of attacking foreign targets. To own up to this though would be for the government to acknowledge its own culpability in the worsening of the threat, and that's something which it has no intentions of doing, as shown by their treatment of el-Banna. Hearts and minds; superior values; so easy to discard and to deny to those judged to be our enemies.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007 

Moral relativism isn't dead, it's just resting.

Last week Martin Amis attempted to convince us that liberal relativists would choose Osama bin Laden over George Bush, and as a consequence become an appeaser of every evil in the modern world, apart from seemingly paedophilia, although if he could have worked that in he probably would have.

On a similar line, Judea Pearl, the father of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl today writes in the Guardian on what he calls the death of relativism:

I used to believe that the world essentially divided into two types of people: those who were broadly tolerant, and those who felt threatened by differences. If only the former ruled the earth, I reasoned, the world might know some measure of peace. But there was a problem with my theory, and it was never clearer than in a conversation I had with a Pakistani friend who told me that he loathed people like George Bush who insisted on dividing the world into "us" and "them". My friend did not realise that he was in fact falling straight into the camp of people he loathed.

Fair enough, he has something of a point here. There's plenty of reasons for disliking Dubya, and one of the weakest is his declaration that you can either be with us or with the terrorists. That was a false dichotomy then, and loathing Bush for that reason is reasonably lame.

This is a political version of a famous paradox formulated by Bertrand Russell. The stronger you insist on the necessity of tolerance, the more intolerant you become toward those who disagree. The moral lesson is that there is no such thing as unqualified tolerance; ultimately, one must be able to expound intolerance of certain ideologies without surrendering the moral high ground normally linked to tolerance.

Quite right too. It's therefore strange that Pearl then takes this distinction and then throws it right out the window.

Which brings me to my son, Daniel Pearl. Thanks to the release of A Mighty Heart, the Angelina Jolie movie which premieres in the UK this week, Danny's legacy is once again receiving attention. Of course, no movie could ever capture exactly that magical combination of humour and integrity, gentleness and resilience, that made Danny admired by so many. Still, traces of these qualities are certainly evident in A Mighty Heart, and viewers will leave the cinema inspired by them.

At the same time, I am worried that the film falls into a trap Russell would have recognised: the paradox of moral equivalence, of seeking to extend the logic of tolerance a step too far. You can see traces of this logic in the film's comparison of Danny's abduction with Guantánamo (it opens with pictures from the prison) and of al-Qaida militants with CIA agents. You can also see it in the comments of the movie's director, Michael Winterbottom, who wrote in the Washington Post that A Mighty Heart and his previous film, The Road to Guantanamo, were very similar: "There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."

Apart from the bewildering choice of Angelina Jolie to play Pearl's wife Mariane (when she is non-white and Jolie most certainly isn't), Winterbottom does indeed have form in not telling the full truth, especially when it comes to the film the Road to Guantanamo, which took the claims of the Tipton Three that they were traveling to a wedding and to experience Afghan cuisine at face value, claims since debunked by the appearance of two of them on Lie Lab. Nevertheless, there also isn't much wrong with Winterbottom's statement: who could disagree that there are indeed extremists on both sides, one side currently agitating for the insanity of launching an attack on Iran, while the takfirist jihadists in Iraq itself continue their savage, barbaric attacks both on civilians and those standing up to their own brand of tyranny?

Drawing a comparison between Danny's murder and the detention of suspects in Guantánamo is precisely what the killers wanted, as expressed in both their emails and the murder video. Indeed, following an advance screening of A Mighty Heart in Los Angeles, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said: "We need to end the culture of bombs, torture, occupation, and violence. This is the message to take from the film."

There's something though that Pearl isn't mentioning which most likely has a bearing on his comments. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged murderer of Pearl's son is currently being held at Guantanamo as an "enemy combatant", having been rendered to Jordan and also likely to another CIA "black site" before his transfer to Cuba.. Rather than denying the possibility that KSM was tortured during his detention, ABC reported that those who interrogated KSM were impressed by his ability to withstand "water boarding" for up to two and a half minutes before he began to talk.

Let's be clear here: Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was almost certainly a top member of al-Qaida, and as such is responsible for mass murder, let alone the heinous crime of beheading Pearl. None of that however justifies either his apparent mistreatment while in US custody, especially as the US has always denied and continues to deny that it has ever used torture, or his continued detention without trial at Gitmo, when he could have been deported from Pakistan upon his capture and tried in a US court on the charges he is accused of. Pearl is right that there is no comparing murder with indefinite detention without charge, but one does not justify the other. This is not to be relativist, but to realise that the current methods with which the US has fought the so-called "war on terror" have been highly counter-productive.

Yet the message that angry youngsters are hearing from such blanket generalisation is predictable: all forms of violence are equally evil; therefore, as long as one persists, others should not be ruled out. This is precisely the logic used by Mohammed Siddique Khan, one of the London suicide bombers, in his video. "Your democratically elected government," he told his fellow Britons, "continues to perpetrate atrocities against my people ... [We] will not stop."

But this is a logical fallacy. If all forms of violence are equally evil, then no forms of violence are therefore justifiable; it doesn't mean the exact opposite, that because one act of violence is evil that reacting to it with another act of evil is therefore justifiable. All of this is simplistic nonsense: as appealing a doctrine as pacifism is, violence is sometimes necessary as a temporary means to an end, for example to overthrow a tyrannical government when all the other peaceful options have been fully exhausted. While we can understand why Mohammad Siddique Khan and his three companions did what they did, both through their own distorted prism reacting to an action and through their morally bankrupt religious justification, to suggest that "relativists" are somehow defending or even through their condemnation of both Guantanamo and terrorist murderers justifying further violence by those very takfirists is a great fat straw man.

Danny's tragedy demands an end to this logic. There can be no comparison between those who take pride in the killing of an unarmed journalist and those who vow to end such acts. Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31 2002.

It's unclear exactly what Pearl means here. Is he saying that Guantanamo, which is a device used by "those who vow to end such acts", can therefore not be criticised purely because of the good intentions of those behind that vow? What about the rendition programme as a whole, which has produced little tangible results in terms of usable intelligence to prevent attacks, but which has shown the West's claims to occupy the moral high ground are dubious at best and disgraceful at worst? Or is it that he simply wants an end to the silly but confined to a few view that because we invaded Iraq we should expect to be attacked as a result, and that it is indeed also justified?

Hopefully it's the second and I've misunderstood him. His final paragraph at least is a fine one:

My son had the courage to examine all sides. He was a genuine listener and a champion of dialogue. Yet he also had principles and red lines. He was tolerant but not mindlessly so. I hope viewers of A Mighty Heart will remember this.

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Monday, August 13, 2007 

Scum-watch: Calling for the continuation of systematic injustice.

Just how does one become a Sun journalist? Is it nature or nuture? Were they too once idealistic young men and women who dreamed of becoming investigative hacks, exposing the corrupt, the injustices, the lies and scandalous behaviour of the most powerful in our society? Did they imagine that one day they'd be called a cunt by a flame-haired editor because they hadn't got the latest scoop on the relationship drama between a crack-head and sometime model? Do they believe the bile they have to write up, or is it purely out of the love of the pay cheque?

Why am I asking these daft rhetorical questions? Well, here's one more for good measure: just how do some of them sleep at night? Andrew Porter today delivers an abject lesson in how to write an almost typical tabloid scare story:

FIVE men set to be returned to Britain from Guantanamo Bay will cost a staggering £7.5million a year to monitor, security sources revealed last night.

First thing to note is that this comes from a "security" source. Seeing as their job involves lying to everyone around them, regardless of the reason for doing so, anything they say and most especially provide to a Sun hack has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Is it really true that monitoring one man for a year will cost £1.5 million? Are the other former Guantanamo detainees under such surveillance? Almost certainly not - not only have none of them been charged with any crime upon repatriation, some of whom had almost identical or more serious allegations made against them, but apart from Moazzam Begg and the "Tipton Three" they've completely dropped off the radar, apparently no threat to anyone.

Let's not pretend that these men are necessarily completely innocent of some of what might be alleged against them. One of the "Tipton Three" has since confessed that he entered Afghanistan and did spend time at a training camp, where he learned how to use an AK-47, somewhat different to the rosy account in the Road to Guantanamo, where their reasons for visiting Afghanistan were because of the err, huge naans, and little else. Even so, objectionable and criminal as that was, potential ill-treatment and the nightmare of indefinite detention without charge which they faced in Guantanamo was, as Lord Falconer previously called it, a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy."

Keeping this in mind, the Scum goes on to tell us of just what it's alleged two of the five Britons who either had indefinite leave to remain or refugee status in this country were up to:

Shaker Aamer, 38, a Saudi, is accused of being an interpreter for Osama Bin Laden. Jordanian Jamil el-Banna, 44, is alleged to have known Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was in charge of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Those two, along with three others, have been been held in Cuba since 2002.

An interpreter for bin Laden? Really? Aamer is an interesting case: according to Reprieve, he was abducted in Pakistan and sold to US authorities for $5,000, a different account to that given on Wikipedia, which contends that he was captured in Afghanistan, working for a charity which is now banned by the United Nations as a front for al-Qaida. After 5 years of keeping stum on exactly what he's meant to have done, he's now become a interpreter and translator for bin Laden, which you would have thought they just might have mentioned before now. Aamer, apparently a master terrorist, is meant to have lived with Zacarias Moussaoui, the supposed 20th 9/11 hijacker in London in the late 90s, and also have met with Richard Reid, the idiot shoe bomber. Not only that, but he's also alleged to be trained in the use of surface to air missiles and explosives.

One has to wonder if these allegations have anything to do with Aamer's reputation, both with the guards and fellow detainees at Guantanamo. Speaking English, articulate and charismatic, he became a natural leader: he negotiated an end to one of the first mass hunger strikes, in return for the guards setting up a grievance committee and agreeing to abide by the Geneva conventions. The military authorities quickly disbanded the committee, and Aamer was subsequently put in solitary confinement, of which he has now been in for 2 years. Reprieve claims that this has had a "substantial" effect on his mental health. If released, Aamer most certainly has a story to tell, and with his acknowledged communication skills he could quite easily follow in the same footsteps as Moazzam Begg.

The new allegation against al-Banna is that as well as having links with Abu Qutada, who he knew through Bisher al-Rawi, since released after it was revealed that he had helped MI5 keep tabs on him, (al-Banna was also offered the opportunity to help MI5 but declined) he also had a "long-term association" with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. While al-Banna and Zarqawi shared Jordanian nationality, it's unclear just how long-term this association could have been. al-Zarqawi turned up in Afghanistan right at the end of the jihad against the Soviets, meeting the filmmaker Richard Stanley amongst others. Between 1989 and 1992, when Zarqawi was imprisoned in Jordan, he is reported to have traveled to Europe. This doesn't give much time for al-Banna to have a "long-term association" with him, as he came to Britain in 1994. Was the association prior to Zarqawi's jihadi days? Was it a "long-term association" conducted over the telephone? Or is it, as the lawyer for both men Clive Stafford Smith says, "a blatant attempt to smear [his] clients"?

The argument about Guantanamo has never been about what the men imprisoned there are accused of doing, although when we know now that vast numbers of them have been completely innocent of any actionable offence that does begin to enter into it, but about the moving of prisoners outside of any legal authority, the failure to allow any organisation other than the Red Cross to visit the detainees, and the indecent, beneath contempt treatment with which they have dealt with since the camp was first opened. Amnesty International called it the gulag of our times, which was heavily criticised by some, but while the detainees are not worked to death, most of those in the gulag at least knew how long they were meant to be there; to jail someone indefinitely is one thing, but to do it without a trial is to remove all hope entirely.

The Sun, despite having a "justice" sub-page mostly dedicated to fighting the scourge of nonces, has no such qualms about silly concerns like the right to a fair trial and habeas corpus. Its leader is titled, erroneously, "Kick 'em out":

GORDON Brown’s efforts to bring back five UK residents from Guantanamo Bay are ever more bewildering.

Tony Blair made no effort to help them and with good reason.

Yeah, because he was a hypocritical bastard who let his ministers call in effect for its closure while doing nothing to help those still there who we have a responsibility towards.

The Pentagon claims they are “extremely dangerous individuals”.

After two years in solitary confinement? After being force-fed? After losing all hope that they would ever be released, caught in limbo between two countries that have disowned them? Even if there were once dangerous, something itself very much open to question, to pretend they are now is a joke.

The Pentagon warns they are a real risk to Britain. Yet Foreign Secretary David Miliband has unaccountably bent over backwards to secure their release.

Unaccountably bent over backwards as in told the United States that they'd like it if they were returned. Considering the Americans had been making noises about wanting to close the place down, you'd expect that they'd be more than happy for them to be taken off their hands. The Guardian had also previously reported that the US had offered to repatriate them but that the Blair government had refused to accept them. Instead they've realised after making them spend 4 years or more in good old fashioned American hospitality that they might just have some uncomfortable things to say, like Bisher al-Rawi and the others before him have. Releasing prisoners to the Middle East or elsewhere is one thing, where they're unlikely to have the media chasing them: doing it in Britain is another.

To add insult to injury, taxpayers will have to shell out £7.5million a year to monitor them.

These men aren’t even British. They merely have residency status.

And you know what else? They're not even white!

So revoke it. If the Pentagon’s right, they’re the last people to give a home to.

It might be slightly glib to remind everyone, but this was the same Pentagon which told everyone that there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, something the Sun was also more than happy to believe. It lied about two prominent soldiers dying not "heroic" deaths, but in friendly fire incidents. It couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, but it sure can destroy a country if you give it a few months and a budget of hundreds of billions. The Scum really couldn't be doing much more to earn its nickname.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007 

Oh, the irony.

The US is considering a request from the British Foreign Office to release five former UK residents from Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

A senior US official said Washington would seek guarantees that the men would be treated humanely and would not be allowed to pose a security threat.

Welcome as this news is, the overwhelming urge to punch whichever smart arse US official thought it would be funny to seek a guarantee that the five prisoners would be treated humanely after spending years in a modern gulag with in some cases the detainees being force-fed after going on hunger strike can't be overstated. Whatever these men are alleged to have done, we have always had a responsibility towards them that we shamefully declined to act upon. That's it taken this long and a change of prime ministers for it to come about has blackened our name further. It's also doubtful, especially now, that they pose any kind of security threat. All the former British detainees held at Guantanamo were released without any charge, and have attempted to rebuild their lives, much as these five are now likely to do.

The government now has to do the similarly decent thing and provide refuge to any Iraqis who have worked with the British forces, endangering themselves and their families in the process. Anything less is just as much a betrayal.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007 

Losing the moral high ground.

Sensory deprivation, as practiced on US terrorism suspect Jose Padilla.

We shouldn't play down the apparent ill-treatment suffered by the 15 captured British sailors while in Iranian custody. By any measure, a mock execution, whether authorised by those in charge of "looking after" those arrested or simply the guards themselves messing around, is a traumatic and unpleasant experience. Being blindfolded, especially for a long period of time, leaves the mind to fill the visual gap, replaying images which the brain would normally suppress. Separating Faye Turney from her comrades and telling her they had been sent home was an odious psychological trick, whether she believed it or not. Sleep deprivation quickly leads to hallucinations, lethargy and compliance.

And yet, it's difficult or even impossible to fully denounce such treatment as inhumane, degrading and illegal purely as a result of this government's very own record and our general complicity in far worse acts of torture and ill-treatment. We learned
earlier in the week of how MI5, having been rebuffed by Jamil el-Banna after attempting to recruit him to spy on Abu Qutada, then told the CIA that he and his business partner Bisher al-Rawi were carrying bomb parts. This resulted in them being swooped on in Gambia and then being rendered, first to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and then on to Guantanamo Bay. While al-Rawi has finally been freed after his help in keeping tabs on Abu Qutada for MI5 had come to light, el-Banna, despite being a British resident, is still being denied any help by the authorities here. Amnesty International additionally reported this week that if anything, conditions in Guantanamo are getting even worse. The sensory deprivation that is enforced both at Guantanamo Bay and other CIA-run black sites is designed to send the detainees mad, and in many cases it seems to have succeeded.

We have to remember that our own treatment of those arrested in Iraq has been at times less than exemplary, without even mentioning what our coalition partners get up to. For a time in the aftermath of the invasion, "conditioning", a practice banned by the army since the early 70s, was authorised as being acceptable. This involves the use of stress positions, forcing prisoners to stand with their arms outstretched and hands cuffed, as well as hooding and sleep deprivation. The most notable victim of this decision by the military hierarchy was Baha Mousa, who died after 36 hours in British custody in Basra. A post-mortem found that he had 93 separate injuries. The one person to admit to being involved in the abuse meted out to Mousa and those arrested at the same time, Corporal Payne, was accused of playing the detainees like a choir, kicking and punching them one after another, relishing their cries. Others were involved in the ill-treatment which led to his death, but a closing of ranks and an outbreak of amnesia has meant that everyone else has for now escaped justice.

The other open sore is our role in extraordinary rendition. Our elected representatives continue to either deny all knowledge or play down the fact that over 100 CIA flights landed at airports in the UK, whether to refuel or otherwise. Those unlucky enough to be on those planes, under the same sensory deprivation techniques used at Guantanamo so that they have no idea where they are or where they're being taken, would soon be welcomed either at CIA-run black site prison or by the security services in friendly (and sometimes unfriendly, as some have been rendered to Syria) countries who would then carry out torture, such as that performed on Benyam Mohammed, who had his penis slashed multiple times. He may well have been one of the lucky ones, as he doesn't seem to have undergone such other notorious methods as waterboarding.

This is why such predictably angry responses to yesterday's press conference, exemplified by Iain Dale, seem out of place. Our servicemen did indeed suffer, and they are now likely to be reimbursed for it as the MoD has lifted the ban on the selling of their stories. For those with British residence/leave to remain still languishing in Guantanamo Bay, there will be no such compensation.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007 

Another grim milestone.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, where 9 British residents still languish, apparently now more or less abandoned by the government, with little to no hope of being set free any time soon.

The Guardian today reports that David Hicks, who the courts ordered be granted citizenship, had it stripped from him again within hours by John Reid, as he apparently err, poses a threat to national security, even though he's currently imprisoned in a prison camp described by numerous New Labour ministers as an "affront to justice" that should be closed down.

The only one of the 9 who might just be allowed back, Bisher al-Rawi, who was rewarded for keeping watch on Abu Qutada (himself now in prison awaiting deportation to Jordan, if it ever happens) by being rendered with the connivance of MI5 from Gambia, is according to his lawyer slipping into madness.

I'm not usually one for casually slipping into conspiracy theories, but the whole circus surrounding al-Rawi and Qutada utterly stinks. Qutada, as well as being accused of being one of Osama bin Laden's right hand men, and the spiritual leader of al-Qaida in Europe, was according to a 2004 Times article an MI5 double agent, who pledged to help MI5 stop attacks in return for them leaving him alone. A similar offer may well have been made to Abu Hamza. Qutada instead seemed to be setting up his own terrorist network. Apparently having al-Rawi also spying on Qutada, he became useless once Qutada himself was arrested in October 2002, having been on the run since the previous December. Upon leaving Britain to go to Gambia, al-Rawi and his friend Jamil El Banna were questioned by security officers about a battery charger that al-Rawi had modified. Concluding it was harmless, they let them go, only for MI5 to alert the CIA that al-Rawi was in fact carrying bomb parts. They swooped once they arrived in Gambia, and al-Rawi and Banna were rendered to Guantanamo.

I previously wondered whether al-Rawi might be the only one allowed back, in return for keeping quiet about his spying on Qutada. What seems apparent now is that Britain is only prepared to have al-Rawi back in no fit state to talk about anything.

Some can reasonably argue that Britain has no legal obligation to have those still held at Guantanamo returned. This might be true had Britain entirely washed its hands off them, yet it clearly hasn't. That ministers and others have time and again now condemned the prison camp, yet aren't willing to take back those who we have a responsibility to is also the height of double standards. The main problem is that now having spent years in a prison camp where conditions are according to Clive Stafford Smith the harshest he has experienced in twenty years of representing those on death row, there's little chance of trying them for any of the crimes they've been accused of. The injustice of holding men without charge, beyond the Geneva Conventions, at least up until the passing of the new laws earlier in the year by the Bush administration, means that there will now be little chance of justice for anyone. Hence the Catch-22 situation continues, for now and maybe evermore.

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