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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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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Friday, March 16, 2007 

Ron Jeremy tells all.

We know that he spent at least 3 years in CIA "black" sites. It's incredibly likely that he was tortured. Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, suggests that he may well have been handed over to the security services in that god-forsaken country, notorious for raping both men and women with glass bottles and boiling at least one person to death. During his enemy combatant tribunal, he had no access to a lawyer. Parts of the transcript are predictably blocked out, including those where he refers to the fact that he was tortured. Keeping all of this in mind, is Khalid Sheikh Mohammad a man broken by torture, a master terrorist or a lying bragger?

The answer is probably a bit of all three. His confession to more or less every terrorist attack ever linked to al-Qaida, at least prior to his capture, and every plot that might have as much been mentioned in passing during communication within the group may itself be a tactic to inspire fear. It's been well established that he was likely involved in 9/11. Along with Ramzi Yousef, he was involved in the original plot to bomb the World Trade Center, and the planning for Bojinka, which might have been the basis for last year's August liquid bombs plot, or if you're more conspiracy-minded, resurrected to convince the public that a ramshackle plot which would have been simply impossible to actually pull off was far more serious than the police and government were letting on. He might well have been involved in the death of Daniel Pearl; he was captured in Karachi, where Pearl's body was found. Whether he personally decapitated Pearl, like Zarqawi is alleged to have beheaded hostages in Iraq, is simply impossible to know for certain.

As for the rest of the things he confessed to, he may well have been involved at the margins, or with the funding, but that would likely be as far as it went. While one counter-terrorism official alleged that KSM funded the Bali bombs, they were almost certainly carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, and may well have been an independently funded attack. Likewise with the attacks in Mombasa. How far he was involved with Richard Reid's shoe-bomb plot is open to question, as is whether Reid was an actual member of al-Qaida.

Even the Sun's "terror expert" Neil Doyle doesn't think much of KSM's "confession" to plotting to fly 12 planes into nuclear power plants, except that he suggests that bin Laden played down the idea. The reality is that such a plot has never come up before because err, it's bollocks. Try searching Google and see how many hits you get examining such a nefarious plot. It's worth wondering whether those torturing KSM dropped many of these ideas liberally into his sessions, based on news reports however untrustworthy, and stopped zapping his balls when he agreed he was involved. His years spent in CIA black sites, probably in solitary confinement, might well have made him believe he actually was involved in all this nonsense.

Alternatively, he could just be a big show off. He was one of those jihadists who was influenced by the ideas of Takfir wal-Hijra, and not just so that he blended more into Western society. A number of sources suggest that while he and Yousef were in the Phillipines they took full advantage of the local tourist facilities. Indeed, like Yousef, it's difficult to know where Islam came into any of this. It may be, despite his denials and seeming sorrow, that he just liked blowing things up and taking lives in the process.

KSM's confession has if anything made the whole enemy combatant tribunal process look even more ridiculous and completely analogous to the American justice system. Everyone knows he's been tortured, his confession to everything except driving the white Fiat Uno that crossed the path of Princess Diana's car in the tunnel in France only looks feasible to rabid neo-conservatives, with even officials from the Bush adminstration suggesting he might have "exaggerated" a little, and with him only being the first to go through this kangaroo court system, it looks like we've got a whole spring of laughs to look forward too.

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