Thursday, February 11, 2010 

Scum-watch: Whose side are you on?

BenSix has already had a go at the esteemed Con Coughlin for his response to yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal concerning the seven paragraphs, but there's another contender for the prize title of "worst journalist in Britain" in the form of whoever wrote today's Sun leader column:

IN Afghanistan, our troops fight al-Qaeda. Here, the battle against the terrorists is undermined by judges.

Except they're not fighting al-Qaida, they're fighting the Taliban and various other insurgents, but who's being picky?

How, pray tell, is the battle against terrorists being undermined by judges? Yesterday's ruling should in practice affect absolutely nothing, as MI5 and MI6 are meant to have already changed their rules when it comes to handling British detainees held by other authorities. Or have they?

That is the ludicrous position we are in after yesterday's ruling over ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Mohamed claims America's CIA tortured him.

America shared information about Mohamed's interrogation with Britain on terms of strict secrecy.

As a refugee here, he used our courts to force details to be released.

The Sun has belittled Mohamed's account of his torture in the past, as well as said that it didn't want him back, along with other various degrees of heartlessness about his treatment. Unfortunately, considering that the American judge Gladys Kessler backed his account of how he was tortured and rendered (PDF), it now seems to be fact rather than anything approaching fiction. It's true that Mohamed is only a resident here rather than a citizen, but that should have no bearing on his access to the courts, especially when it was our security services that were actively involved in his detention. As for this idea of strict secrecy, or the "control principle", as David Miliband described it, when such information contains details which make clear that even residents of this country are being mistreated and that we are complicit in that mistreatment, it stops being need to know and starts becoming an issue of legality, of our international and indeed national obligations.

The liberal judges who backed him have damaged relations with our greatest ally.

If America now decides we cannot be trusted with security secrets, we will be at greater risk from al-Qaeda.

Yes, the statement from the White House that they were "deeply disappointed" with the ruling is bound to set our relations with "our greatest ally" back years. The Americans don't care a fig about this for the simple reason that they've already willingly released far worse information about what they did at the time; they're just for once prepared to go along with Miliband's attempts to block publication most likely as some obscure favour. Even if the Americans suddenly decided to stop sharing intelligence, which they won't, as we give them just as much as they give us, it's still pooled with other intelligence agencies which would. The idea that this will make us less safe, because we've finally found that our security services are liars and blackguards is absurd. If anything, it's likely to make us safer, not less.

The ruling is also a purely political gesture. Mohamed's claims have already been aired in the US.

A purely political gesture? If the Sun really believes that uncovering the true nature of what our security services have been involving themselves is just a "political gesture", then it's even more jaded and dismissive of any abuses of power than ever before. Mohamed's claims were aired in the US which is exactly why there was no "secrecy" and therefore they could be released, and why the arguments made the paper and the government are so bogus.

Our security services deserve support. The war on terror is not a game of lawn tennis.

Yes, they do, don't they? Because being complicit in torture isn't counter-productive at all, and doesn't undermine our values in the slightest. If only we could truly let rip against these jihadists, then maybe the war on terror really would become a game of lawn tennis. It's the liberals and the mad judges that are holding us back!

Whose side are you on, your Lordships?

You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010 

The seven paragraphs.

Reading the seven paragraphs that have finally been released detailing the CIA's treatment of Binyam Mohamed after today's ruling by the Court of Appeal, it's initially difficult to know quite why the government was so determined that they should remain secret. They tell us absolutely nothing that we didn't already know: that the US was systematically mistreating almost anyone that came into their custody in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; that this was just the start of the torture regime which Binyam Mohamed found himself under; that the CIA, despite the claims of our security services, had been letting them know just what they were doing to individuals connected to this country; and that despite knowing full well that what the CIA was doing to Mohamed at this early stage would breach our obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, as found during the 1970s when the "five techniques" were outlawed in Northern Ireland, they did absolutely nothing to intervene to stop his mistreatment.

Why then did they appeal, time and again until finally giving up at some point last week to stop these already widely known facts from entering into the public domain? The claims, repeated ad nauseam today that this was all about the "control" principle, that one country does not publish intelligence provided by another without its express permission is wholly unconvincing. Even if it does annoy the CIA and the US that more of their dirty secrets are being thoroughly examined and released by the courts of another country, it's nothing as to what they themselves have already admitted that they did and authorised, such as the Bybee memos and the waterboarding of the few top al-Qaida members whom they managed to capture. Indeed, the only reason why the Court of Appeal decided that seven paragraphs could today be published was that far more gruesome evidence of the torture which Mohamed underwent was released by a US court in a judgement in November of last year. Lord Neuberger quotes from it in his section of today's ruling (paragraph 126):

[Mr Mohamed's] trauma lasted for two long years. During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.


At page 58, she said that "[t]he [US] Government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of [Mr Mohamed's] story of brutal treatment" and repeated that point at pages 62 and 64. On pages 61-2, she said that his "persistence in telling his story" and "very vigorous… and very public ... pursu[ance of] his claims in the British courts" indicated that his evidence was true and "demonstrates his willingness to test the truth of his version of events in both the courts of law and the court of public opinion". In the passage just quoted from page 70 of her Opinion, she referred to Mr Mohamed's "lengthy prior torture" as an established fact.

Compared to the seven paragraphs we have today, it doesn't really get much more damning.

Fortunately, the government, through its staggeringly inept attempts to stop even the slightest criticism of the security services from being made by those mad, unelected, unaccountable judges, has completely given the game away. Having seen the draft judgement, as is usual, the government's QC Jonathan Sumption was presumably ordered to complain about the withering remarks by Lord Neuberger in paragraph 168, which is distinctly unusual. Even more unusual is that Neuberger acquiesced, and withdrew his comments. Worth quoting in full is Sumption's objections:

The Master of the Rolls's observations, to whichever service they relate, are likely to receive more public attention than any other part of the judgments. They will be read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques; (ii) that this was in particular true of Witness B whose conduct was in this respect characteristic of the service as a whole ('it appears likely that there were others'); (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee on this point; (iv) that this reflects a culture of suppression in its dealings with the Committee, the Foreign Secretary and indirectly the Court, which penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service's information and advice; and (v) that the Service has an interest in suppressing information which is shared, not by the Foreign Secretary himself (whose good faith is accepted), but by the Foreign Office for which he is responsible.

Neuberger, whether through acute analysis or just searing condemnation, got far too close to the reality of how the security services were acting post-9/11. From repeated accounts of MI5 and 6 officers visiting those held in by either the CIA or the Pakistanis, we already knew that despite being told of how they were being mistreated nothing was done, and that even on some occasions there was total complicity, with questions from the UK authorities being asked while the detainees were undergoing stress techniques and worse. They clearly, as Neuberger identified, had no problem with operating within a culture where human rights were not respected. Most pointedly, he also noted that the security services had deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee. "Deliberately misled" is mild; they lied and lied and lied, all the way up to the very top.

That is though what the security services do for a living - they lie to people, they mislead and they abuse. For a judge to say that the Intelligence and Security Committee is useless, which is what he was more than implying, is far too damaging. For one to imply that the assurances given by MI5 to politicians are worthless, because of their "culture of suppression", is even worse. As Ian Cobain notes in his annotations on the letter sent by Sumption, the courts are in danger of dismissing the reassurances of politicians based on information from MI5 because of its continued pattern of deception. If they'll lie to the politicians that represent them, then it therefore follows that they'll lie to everyone. They therefore then have to be made accountable to someone, and that someone would likely have to be a fully independent, judicial committee, not a parliamentary select committee packed with ex-ministers.

Despite then already being fully aware that the information in the seven paragraphs was already well known, the real reason for wanting them to remain secret was because they show just how out of control our supposedly fully accountable and enlightened defenders of British security actually were and indeed remain. They show that they'll lie not just to the public, but to politicians as well. And despite knowing this, those self-same politicians are far more interested in protecting their own hides than in shining a light on the agencies that colluded in the torture of both British citizens and residents. The sad thing is that they succeeded on the principle, but not on this particularly case, thanks to the same United States which supported the government's attempt to stop the paragraphs being published. That must hurt, but not as much as a fully damning judgement with an unexpurgated paragraph 168 would have done.

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Friday, November 27, 2009 

Gary McKinnon and the special relationship.

Remember the Natwest Three? Back when bankers weren't public enemy one and were instead public enemy number two, three men who subsequently pleaded guilty to wire fraud put up a quite extraordinary if ultimately unsuccessful fight against extradition to the United States to face the charges. Initially portrayed as bankers mostly are now, they quickly, with the help of a couple of PR firms, became innocent family men, concerned not just for themselves but others at the unfairness of an extradition treaty which the US itself had not then ratified, at the potential treatment they faced at the hands of a foreign and brutal judicial and prison system, and at the impact it could have on the "business community" as a whole.

Once they were extradited, it predictably turned out that they were both guilty as hell and treated with fairness and relatively leniency, thanks to a plea bargain they agreed to. In fact, they're already back here, in good ol' cushy UK prisons and likely to be released at the end of the year. In all likelihood, if Gary McKinnon is eventually extradited to the US, he will probably be treated in much the same way, especially if he then "cooperates" on arrival in a similar fashion.

He shouldn't though have to take the chance. The key differences between the Natwest Three case are that firstly, McKinnon's crime directly involves the American state, which in time-honoured tradition seems determined to make him suffer for humiliating them by exposing their laughable computer security, secondly that the crime is nowhere near as serious, or shouldn't be as serious as the wire fraud committed by the Three, and thirdly that McKinnon, supposedly "hacking" to find information of a conspiracy to conceal evidence of extraterrestrials, has Asperger's syndrome. Also of note is that the American prosecutors deliberately waited until the extradition treaty had been ratified to make the request for him to be sent to the country for trial.

Quite clearly, McKinnon could easily have been tried in this country and put this all behind him long ago. That the government hasn't ensured that this has happened is, on one level, bewildering. New Labour has always loved populism, and to deny the extradition of McKinnon would certainly be popular, especially when the Daily Mail has launched one of its few worthwhile campaigns demanding just that. The key factor here though is that it involves America: we scratch their back repeatedly and very, very occasionally, they scratch ours in return, as when Hillary Clinton backed up the government case that revealing information related to the treatment of Binyam Mohamed could affect the intelligence sharing between the two nations. Because of the infatuation that both main parties have with the idea of the "special relationship", a relationship special only in the terms of how abusive and one-sided it is, we continue to act as little more than the 51st state, something that delights politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. They get a helpful little ally, our politicians get to feel big on the world stage. As for small things like justice, they pale into insignificance by comparison.

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Friday, November 20, 2009 

The war against evidence of torture continues.

How then goes our glorious government's consistent attempts to stop any primary evidence emerging of our collusion in, if not open acceptance of the use of torture when it came to interrogating suspects caught up in TWAT (the war against terror)?

This week brought rulings to please both sides. Yesterday, for the sixth straight time in a row, the high court rejected the claims of the Foreign Office that to reveal seven paragraphs of a CIA memo sent to MI5 and MI6, a memo which almost certainly details the "treatment" which Binyam Mohamed was being subjected to whilst detained in Pakistan, would damage national security and could potentially stop the CIA sharing information with us. This is, as the judges have repeatedly argued, preposterous. According to them, the memo contains no actual secret intelligence, instead rather a summary sent to the intelligence services on Mohamed. What the memo almost certainly does contain though is prima facie evidence that MI5 and MI6 knew years before they previously claimed that the US was either conniving in or actively mistreating prisoners indirectly under their care or supervision.

In the latest ruling, the judges make clear that one of the paragraphs makes reference to the infamous Bybee memo, released by the Obama administration earlier in the year. The Bybee memo details exactly how Abu Zubaydah, then the most senior al-Qaida operative in US custody, could be tortured, supposedly without breaching the prohibition against torture in the United States code. In a section which remains redacted, there is apparently a verbatim quote from the memo: apparently we can't see what the Americans have already released to the world. To infer, it looks as if the memo is justifying, or explaining to the intelligence services in this country, that Mohamed will be or has been treated in a similar fashion, and that because Bybee OKed it, there's nothing to worry about on the legality front.

The real reason then why the government is so determined to keep this memo secret is that it contradicts everything they have maintained over the alleged intelligence service collusion with torture. Not just the government story, but also the story which the intelligence services themselves have continuously thrust down our throats. They told the intelligence and security committee that they only joined together the dots on what the CIA was doing when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, claiming that despite knowing about the rendition programme, there was "no automatic connection between secret facilities and mistreatment". To call this laughable would be putting it too lightly; that the ISC believed this most blatant of lies, this lack of intellectual curiosity and complete failure to put two and two together is why it ought to be disbanded and a watchdog with real power to monitor the security services immediately set-up in its place.

While however the government will yet again appeal against the high court ruling, they must have been utterly delighted with the one made in the same parish by Mr Justice Silber. On Wednesday he ruled that MI5, MI6 and the police can potentially withhold evidence from defendants and their lawyers in any civil case, if it is determined to be "secret government information" which they seek. As the Binyam Mohamed memo case shows, what can be determined to be "secret government information" is remarkably elastic. Not that MI5, MI6 or the government could decide personally what is secret or isn't, oh no. Instead "special advocates", presumably the same that act for those being held on control orders and who can't be specifically told on what information their movement and rights are being restricted will decide. As Louise Christian complained afterwards, the judge's ruling effectively allows "government to rely on secret evidence in the ordinary civil courts ... a constitutional outrage".

As one window opens slightly, another is slammed shut. Not that is just us and the Americans who have disgraced ourselves: even the Canadians are finding that "the good war" means handing over captives to the Afghan intelligence services, and with it almost certainly into their torture dungeons. Interesting is the way that the Canadians are attacking Richard Colvin's credibility, just as the government has repeatedly done the same against the whistleblowers here. The taint on all of us is going to take an awfully long time to lift.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009 

New Labour's moral cowardice and collusion with torture.

With the demise of the Bush administration, some of us were dearly hoping that not just would there be distinct policy changes, but that those who know where the bodies are buried would be quickly into the offices of investigative hacks across the world to lay bear just how deeply involved at the highest levels the Americans were with their client torture regimes. It could yet be the case that instead of going to the likes of Seymour Hersh, they've decided to write books, or that the exposes could be yet to come, but for now it looks as if loyalty is still winning out.

Such loyalty also still seems to be in evidence in our own dead men walking. Yesterday's nauseating press conference between David Miliband and Hillary Clinton, full of deeply unconvincing talk of just how special the special relationship is, if indeed you can consider abusive relationships where one partner is completely domineering over the other to be in any way special, was instructive of just how little the substance has changed. Yes, Obama's signed the papers to close Guantanamo within a year, and the CIA's system of black sites used to additionally hold "terrorist suspects" has gone the same way, but the last thing the administration is interested in doing is actually opening up the books and coming completely clean about how the Bush administration operated and how quickly the Americans went from decrying torture to actively practicing it and colluding even more directly with allies that do the same.

It is however difficult to know for certain whether David Miliband is telling the truth when he claimed to Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones that if he released documents detailing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, the last British resident detained at Guantanamo, that the US would in response be forced to withhold intelligence from our own security services. The BBC is reporting that Miliband is claiming there were no threats - just that the confidentiality of the documents meant they could not be released. While doubtless the US would be extremely peeved to say the least about information being released that would confirm they colluded in the torture of Mohamed while he was in Morocco, this still seems unlikely to genuinely stop intelligence sharing: it is after all a two-way street, and besides, such intelligence is pooled between all the major security agencies. Information would continue to go to the French and Germans for instance, who could then still pass it on to us if they were so inclined. This was why the Saudi threat over the BAE corruption inquiry was so unconvincing: even if they stopped sharing intelligence data with us, the Americans would have passed it on.

The comparison with the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Saudi-BAE slush fund is apposite because of what it tells us about the completely craven nature of our government while at the same time being wholly convenient because it means they can do what they also wanted to do regardless. In both cases, we were and are effectively being blackmailed; Prince Bandar even seemed to be directly threatening us with a terrorist attack if the inquiry into his alleged corrupt behaviour was not stopped. Likewise, the supposed American threat to stop intelligence cooperation means that we don't have to expose our own security services, who have long hilariously claimed to be whiter than white, as the true charlatans and collaborators in torture that they are. It's not even as if we don't already know that we rely on intelligence from foreign countries where torture and worse is routinely used: Craig Murray after all was forced out as ambassador to Uzbekistan after he demanded that MI6 stop using "intelligence" which was the fruit of torture of regime opponents.

Furthermore, the Intelligence and Security Committee has already noted that information which MI6 supplied to the Americans on Binyam Mohamed was almost certainly used in his torture in Morocco. In the usual understated, insulting style with which the ISC deals with such outrages, this was "with hindsight, ... regrettable". The ISC has always been utterly useless, far too weak to even begin to hold the security services to account, but their complete wide-eyed believing that MI5 and MI6 themselves didn't know that the US had been mistreating prisoners until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke was beyond a joke. That the government is suggesting that they should investigate again is the biggest cop-out imaginable, and needs to be vigorously resisted.

For while ostensibly today's ruling was about the United States' involvement in rendition and abuse of prisoners, it was also about our own unhappy role in it. We know full well that other former prisoners at Guantanamo ended up there because of how our own security services acted, just as we know that MI5 and 6 were involved with Binyam Mohamed during his detention in Pakistan, and as is alleged, with others detained in Pakistan who were tortured by the ISI. We're meant to believe that such meetings were social visits, where agents of our security assets were only concerned with how they were being treated, not with further interrogation or to see whether they had been broken by their jailers. While America undoubtedly has the most questions to answer about its tactics in the war on terror, we too have been complicit in the abuses and still refuse to even countenace the release of the slightest insight into just how deep the collusion went, even when a man's future might well be at stake. We might yet have to wait for the fall of New Labour before the Obama adminstration becomes confident enough to air the previous incumbent's dirty linen in public.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008 

Scum-watch: Friendly fire and America.

The Scum is thoroughly disgusted by the latest "friendly fire incident":

ONCE again, our troops come under fire — not from the enemy, but from our friends, the Americans.

Once again, we cannot blame the Fog of War. Battlefield calls for help were answered by both British and US helicopters.

Our Apache went straight for the Taliban position flashed to them by squaddies on the ground — and gave them hell. The US crew inexplicably ignored the co-ordinates and opened fire on Our Boys.

Guardsman Matthew Lyne-Pirkis was lucky to survive shrapnel wounds inches from a major artery.

And, once again, the newspaper is not prepared to face up to the reality on the ground that its incessant warmongering will deliver whatever the situation. It was most likely a tragic mistake, and such things unfortunately happen, especially when forces under completely separate chains of command are working in the same area. You could understand the paper's mock outrage if it really cared either about the troops or about bringing those responsible to some sort of account, but the paper's slavish allegiance to America and especially to the so-called "war on terror", or whatever it's being called now is clearly what more concerns the paper. The more of these incidents that happen and the more that it looks as if what our forces are being asked to do is little more than supplying back-up to an American foreign policy, the more likely it is that the average Sun reader will question both the paper's positioning and our stance in general towards the "special relationship".

Hence this:

America is our greatest friend and ally. And we are loathe (sic) to accuse them of being trigger-happy.

But this latest shocking incident must be fully investigated by the US and lessons learned so no more British troops are maimed. Or killed.

About as weak as a demand as the paper could possibly make. This is the same newspaper remember that recently proposed bringing back of a form of hard labour for prisoners, and that informed its readers that the only thing worse than another war was Iran obtaining nukes, then when the American intelligence agencies made public their belief that Iran had stopped its weapons programme in 2003, it didn't bother to print so much as a word on the subject.

This has always been the cliched elephant in the room in the Sun's offices. As someone on Question Time recently observed, it's shrilly nationalistic on almost everything other than on the subject of media ownership. Around the only arena in which the United States can ever do anything wrong in its eyes is when it accidentally kills British troops, and even then as we've seen it's more worried about the implications for the relations between the two than it is about the lives that needn't have been lost. It demands that we never surrender to diktat from Brussels while the subject of our attachment to America is most certainly not open to discussion. To their credit, most of those who advocate our withdrawal from Europe are more concerned about complete independence, rather than wanting to our attach ourselves ever more ardently to America, as the Sun and Murdoch so dream of. We can't be reminded enough that Murdoch himself, as if he needed any prompting, was most effusive about the Iraq war not because it would mean the overthrow of a vicious, tyrannical dictator, and the establishment of a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, or whatever other pipe dreams that the neo-cons had about achieving at the back of their minds after getting their hands on Iraq's natural resources, he rather said that its biggest benefit would be oil at $20 a barrel. It's recently hit five times that figure, and the disaster that Iraq has become doesn't need to be gone over once again.

Just what would Murdoch or Wade say to those who have lost loved ones in Iraq if they were ever faced them, knowing that their propaganda and constant support has been a major factor in our involvement in the war? I sometimes wonder whether the sycophancy towards "Our Boys", who mostly loathe the paper, if ARRSE is anything to go by, is their way of apologising; then I realise it's just the paper's way of trying to outdo all its rivals on the phony patriotism front.

It'd also be nice to think that the paper's declining circulation, which has finally fell below the 3 million mark, despite selling it some areas for 20p, is a sign that the public is falling out of love with the publication after so long. Rather, I imagine it's more to do with the effects of the internet and the rise of the "free" papers; it really must hurt to be losing sales to such awful, cobbled together crap as Metro and London Lite, or indeed, News International's own TheLondonPaper. One day the Sun's bluff will be called, but it hasn't happened yet.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007 

Scum-watch: The Le Worm that turned and propaganda victories to evil men.

Just the latest lame-brained arguments from today's Scum leader:

IT is only a few months since America regarded Britain as its greatest ally.

France, under sneering Jacques Chirac, was unreliable at best and downright anti-American at worst.

Oh yes, the man the Scum nicknamed Le Worm if I recall correctly. Unlike the Sun and Blair, Le Worm got it right over Iraq, although the Scum could never bring itself to ever admit anything of the sort.

Today, President Nikolas Sarkozy is warmly embraced as a friend — and invited to address the joint US Congress.

By contrast our Prime Minister’s first White House trip was a stiff and formal affair.

Why the difference?

Gordon Brown set out to make clear America can no longer automatically count on the UK as a military ally, as in Iraq.

Rubbish. Brown, if some reports are to be believed, certainly hasn't made clear that Britain wouldn't take part in any action against Iraq. Brown was only making clear that the cozy, rudderless days of meekly following America while having no influence over it were in the past, along with Blair. If the Sun doesn't like a relationship that isn't completely obsequious and which led directly to the disaster Iraq, then tough.

Our Prime Minister would do well to watch and learn . . .

And listen less to the malign chatter of his lightweight new Foreign minister, Mark Malloch Brown.

That would be the whole point of this spurious leader then, another opportunity to take aim at Malloch Brown. Malloch Brown you might remember had the temerity to suggest that the US used the UN for its own ends abroad without defending it at home, and leaving it to the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to lambast the organisation for daring to exist. Attacking any part of the Murdoch empire instantly makes you person non grata, and subject to random, consistent vilification. The Sun is merely continuing its expected role under the watchful eye of the great proprietor.

Even by its standards, the argument the Scum is making for Sir Ian Blair staying in his job is wafer-thin:

Sacking Sir Ian won’t bring Jean Charles back.

But it would hand a massive propaganda victory to the evil men who seek to justify 7/7 and other civilian atrocities.

Err, how exactly? That the man ultimately responsible for what happened to de Menezes will be sacked for being more successful in killing the dirty kuffars than the 21/7 bombers themselves were? Are they really going to be glad that someone who didn't even know that an innocent man had been killed until the following day, even though his secretary did, is gone? Or will they be more fearful of someone who isn't so obviously incompetent and obstinate being the head of the Met? Even if it would somehow hand a propaganda victory to "evil men", what have they got to do with it? The public weren't endangered on the 22nd by "evil men", they were endangered by police who shot dead an innocent man and were so unhinged they nearly shot another police officer and then the driver of the train. Blair's resignation is the first step towards ensuring that the Met doesn't continue to hold both the public and the truth in such contempt.

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Monday, July 30, 2007 

Mr Brown goes to Washington.

After the "terror attacks" and the torrents of water cascading from the sky, Gordon Brown might well think that going to visit George Bush would be a doddle by comparison. The difficulty was always going to be in knowing the right balance to strike - the apparent instant friendship that flowered when Blair 'n' Bush first met, kindred spirits if they ever were two, was never going to be on the agenda. At the same time, with the Scum already howling about the "special relationship", he also can't afford to be anything less than always on-message, even if the tone is going to be very different.

The whole meeting should, and deserves to be strained on all levels. Bush is not just a lame duck, he's a dead duck, festering before the entire planet as he and his neo-con cohorts desperately try to shore up some kind of legacy, and possibly even attempt to draw Iraq out long enough so that if a Democrat manages to win in 08, voting machines and lists aside, that the victor is bequeathed with a gift that no one would ever want. If Brown had really wanted to set out the change in the relationship from being the doormat to being the poodle that bites back, he could, as Ming Campbell pointed out, more than capably have been able to make his agenda clear, urging that Guantanamo Bay be closed down and that Britain has finished with Iraq, getting out within a matter of months, if not weeks. While the hard right here may shout about betrayal, Brown could afford to kick Bush in to touch, even possibly helping towards his and the Republicans' downfall by getting out of Iraq now. The surge is failing, the country is somehow in a worse state after four years of occupation and supposed reconstruction than it was under Saddam and sanctions which contributed towards the deaths of 500,000 children, and yet still our politicians somehow can't dare to anger those who took us into this disaster in the first place.

We can at least be glad that the infectious idiocy which Bush seems to radiate somehow hasn't managed to infect our new Dear Leader. The grimace on his face as Bush drove him round in the golf buggy, not managing like Tony would have done to have grinned uneasily through it, was refreshing in itself. The whole press conference where as usual we learned absolutely nothing, was just as tepid. Bush, still after 7 years doing the same act of attempting to be the class clown without the intelligence to pull it off, speaking in the same achingly slow drawl, which you would take for sarcastic if you didn't know it was the way he always speaks, was attempting to be effervescent, while alongside Brown was almost trying not to be noticed, again, like he was at his first prime minister's questions, visibly nervous. He wasn't exactly icy, but it certainly was someone who was uncomfortable in his skin and rigid in his speech.

This was undoubtedly the way it was always going to be, and like everything that has gone on since Blair's exit, while most things have continued as were, the very fact that it isn't the same grating, agitating bastard manning the helm has changed the situation, and judging by the opinion polls, most of the public's minds as well. Aggravating as such blanket statements made by Brown about how the world should be thankful for the American response to 9/11, this again seems to have been made purely to reassure the already weary and suspicious Republicans after the speech by Douglas Alexander and the interview by Mark Malloch-Brown, who seems to be more than happy to anger the usual suspects that are already biased against him.

Changing the terminology used about the war on terror, or whatever it is we're calling it this week, is one of the subtle, some might suggest cowardly ways of doing things differently while actually doing nothing. It helps that it pisses off the likes of Melanie Philips, but does really suggesting that what salafist takfiris are waging is a war of inhumanity change anything whatsoever, other than changing the original absurd abstract noun? In fact, what others have long been calling the "twat", a war against bullshit, makes more sense, both in the way that dropping bombs on people doesn't tend to help them, and that what we're fighting, if we're fighting anything, is a war against the insanity and inanity of restoring a mythical, religious age of purity through acts which are expressly against that belief system in the first place. We've got more than enough of that here already.

Nothing then that we didn't expect, and nothing of the unexpected. Whereas previously we would have hated every excruciating moment of the press conference, now, despite the apparent status quo continuing, there's enough for most people that they won't fly into the same rage as they would have done. Brown's biggest problem right now is that it simply can't last.

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