Archive for November 11th, 2008
A little bit of history repeating itself… George Monbiot on the lies told in the run-up to the First World War
From The Guardian
Another anniversary, almost forgotten in this country, falls tomorrow. On November 12 1924, Edmund Dene Morel died. Morel had been a shipping clerk, based in Liverpool and Antwerp, who had noticed, in the late 1890s, that while ships belonging to King Leopold were returning from the Congo to Belgium full of ivory, rubber and other goods, they were departing with nothing but soldiers and ammunition. He realised that Leopold’s colony must be a slave state, and launched an astonishing and ultimately successful effort to break the king’s grip and free Congo’s enslaved people. For a while he became a national hero. A few years later he became a national villain.
During his Congo campaign, Morel had become extremely suspicious of the secret diplomacy pursued by the British Foreign Office. In 1911, he showed how a secret understanding between Britain and France over the control of Morocco, followed by a campaign in the British press based on misleading Foreign Office briefings, had stitched up Germany and very nearly caused a European war. In February 1912, he warned that “no greater disaster could befall both peoples [Britain and Germany], and all that is most worthy of preservation in modern civilization, than a war between them”. Convinced that Britain had struck a second secret agreement with France that would drag the nation into any war which involved Russia, he campaigned for such treaties to be made public; for recognition that Germany had been hoodwinked over Morocco; and for the British government to seek to broker a reconciliation between France and Germany.
In response, British ministers lied. The prime minister and the foreign secretary repeatedly denied that there was any secret agreement with France. Only on the day war was declared did the foreign secretary admit that a treaty had been in place since 1906. It ensured that Britain would have to fight from the moment Russia mobilised. Morel continued to oppose the war and became, until his dramatic rehabilitation after 1918, one of the most reviled men in Britain.
Could the Great War have been averted if, in 1911, the British government had done as Morel suggested? No one knows, as no such attempt was made. Far from seeking to broker a European peace, Britain, pursuing its self-interested diplomatic intrigues, helped to make war more likely.
Germany was the aggressor, but the image of affronted virtue cultivated by Britain was a false one. Faced, earlier in the century, with the possibilities of peace, the old men of Europe had decided that they would rather kill their children than change their policies.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue for ultra-scepticism about government trump-card excuses for evading public accountability.
Recent years have seen a profusion of unverifiable claims from UK politicians about the disasters that would result from them coming clean about what they’ve been up to. These range from catastrophic breaches of “crown copyright”, “commercial confidentiality”, and “MPs privacy”, to the joker played by cornered politicians the world over, that revealing the truth would damage “national security”.
One of the most transparently bogus cases in recent months has been the revelation that the UK government withheld, for four years, a police report accusing the Foreign Office of “inconsistency and contradictions, falsehoods and downright lies” in its handling of the notorious Julie Ward murder case.
The authorities claimed, preposterously that “national security” would be compromised if their mendacity was publicised – and have still made no apology for this additional abuse of power.
More worrying still, according to the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is now urging that the government award itself sweeping new powers to suppress any news story that it chooses to regard as a threat to “national security” (for which, going on past form, we might reasonably substitute “the reputations of government ministers”).
Norton-Taylor writes that:
it is ironic that some members of the cross-party committee – chaired by former foreign office minister Kim Howells – is using “national security” in defence of their quest for new ways to curb the media precisely at a time the high court is inviting editors to oppose the government’s use of “national security” to cover up extremely serious allegations.
Two high court judges have invited the media to challenge the goverment’s claim that information relating to the mistreatment and, it is alleged, torture, of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained in Guantánamo Bay cannot be disclosed for reasons of “national security”.
Ministers first obtained the information from the US. Britain’s national security in this case means the American threat to stop sharing intelligence with the UK if the information is revealed.
Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, has asked the attorney general to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA by colluding in torture. The ISC has not been told the full story of the role of Britain’s security and intelligence agencies in the Mohamed case and others involving the secret rendition of terrorist suspects by the CIA.
The parliamentary committee should regard the media not as an enemy, but as an ally in the search for the truth behind “national security” claims and as a protector of fundamental rights.
From the Committee to Protect Journalists
By Joel Simon/Executive Director
Alexis Sinduhije founded Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) in 2001 to bridge Burundi’s ethnic divide. Divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups have sparked widespread and lingering violence throughout the country.
Breaking from the past, Sinduhije hired former fighters from both ethnic groups at RPA and trained them to be serious and responsible journalists.
In 1994, CPJ honored Sinduhije with an International Press Freedom Award. During the week he spent with us, we got to know a man of deep principle whose quiet demeanor belies his fierce determination and courage. RPA remains one of the most popular and critical radio stations in Burundi, but government harassment forced Sinduhije into hiding twice in 2006. In 2007, Sinduhije launched his candidacy for president for the country’s 2010 elections.
On November 3, he was arrested and charged under an arcane anti-conspiracy law barring meetings of more than three people.
As I told The Washington Post, we recognize that Sinduhije’s recent arrest has nothing to do with his journalism. Yet we worry about our friend and colleague and are outraged by his unjust treatment.
Named one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people, Sinduhije has been a voice of reason and common sense in Burundi. The government may be trying desperately to silence him, but his voice must be heard.