Posts Tagged ‘Sceptic of the week’
From The Times:
“This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” he shouted before being overpowered by security guards and bundled out of the room.
In 1988, 28-year-old Julie Ward was found dead in a game reserve in Kenya. The Kenyan authorities claimed that she had been attacked by wild animals, committed suicide or been struck by lightning. The UK Foreign Office - initially at least – supported this view, and tried to persuade Julie Ward’s family that there was nothing more to know.
For the last 20 years, Julie’s father John Ward has been campaigning for her death to be recognised as a murder, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. In the process he has exposed the efforts of the Kenyan authorities in covering up the truth – and, perhaps most shocking of all, the complicity of the UK government in these efforts, which he has described as “treachery”.
More details of this cover-up were released this week under the Freedom of Information Act – having been withheld by the UK government since 2004 on the transparently bogus pretext of “national security”. We now know that four years ago, an independent UK police inquiry concluded that the Foreign Office had been guilty of ”inconsistency and contradictions, falsehoods and downright lies” and had deliberately obstructed John Ward’s attempts to reveal the truth about his daughter’s death.
The Foreign Office admits mistakes, but denies wrongdoing and claims that it has learned its lesson. The fact that the results of the internal police inquiry were withheld for four years on such obviously spurious grounds suggests that whatever lesson they have learned, it isn’t about openness and transparency…
For a period of time during the mid-nineteenth century, openly carrying a pear around the streets of Paris could get you arrested. It all began in 1830, soon after the accession of King Louis-Philippe, when Charles Philipon, a little-known artist, launched a satirical magazine, in which he likened the head of the monarch to a pear. Outraged, the King tried to suppress Philipon’s efforts by ordering his courtiers to buy up every copy of the magazine (possibly not the most effective method of discouraging a fledgling publisher).
When this didn’t work, Philipon was put on trial for having ’caused offence to the person of the King’. Philipon openly mocked the proceedings, urging his prosecutors to go further, and arrest every pear tree in France for disrespecting the corrupt and authoritarian monarch. A six-month prison sentence seems to have done little to deter him - between 1831 and 1832 he was reportedly prosecuted 16 times for his reckless and seditious pear-likening activities – but this only seems to have brought more publicity to his campaign.
As time went on, writes historian David Hopkin:
Other newspapers, even government ones, found it impossible not to mention pears. Puns proliferated, as did pear-shaped graffiti. Fanny Trollope, visiting the Latin Quarter in 1835, found ‘Pears of every size and form… were to be seen in all directions.’ They were also all over the walls of prisons. In 1834 there was even a shop specialising in wax pears. Through the press the language of pears reached the provinces, Philipon claimed they were springing up all over the country.
Louis Philippe was finally overthrown in the revolution of 1848 – but the mockery didn’t stop there. More than 150 years on, says Hopkin, Philipon’s taunts continue to echo. “Even among historians Louis-Philippe cannot rid himself of this tiresome fruit; it is simply impossible to write about him without the image of the pear floating into one’s mind, the very symbol of an unloved and unlovable monarch”.
Thanks to Philipon, France’s tyrannical monarch will forever be known as “Louis-Philippe, the pear-shaped king”.
Craig Murray was UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan from October 2002 to October 2004, when he was removed from his post after repeatedly highlighting the systematic use of torture by the Uzbek authorities. Murray had been sent to Uzbekistan by the UK Foreign Office with a brief that explicitly included the promotion of human rights – but when he began to do so – both in public speeches and internal memos to London – he quickly fell foul of the gap between rhetoric and reality within the ‘War on Terror’. Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan, and at the time hosted several US military facilities, was deemed to be a key ally in the global struggle against Islamist terrorism. In March 2003, Murray was summoned to London, and told that his concerns about the use of torture by the Uzbek authorities were understood; the Foreign Secretary had even lost sleep over the right course of action – but that the torture-tainted intelligence being received from Uzbekistan was nonetheless ‘useful’. Murray took a different view:
“this material is useless”, he wrote, in a confidential memo in July 2004, “we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU [an Uzbek armed group] and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.”
By this time, Murray had already – in August 2003 – been slapped with 18 disciplinary charges, suspended, and pressured to resign quietly. When he refused, the Foreign Office was forced to back down – all 18 charges were subsequently dropped.
In the same July 2004 memo, Murray also raised pointed questions about the competence of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), following the fiasco over WMD in Iraq:
“Sixteen months ago it was difficult to argue with SIS in the area of intelligence assessment. But post Butler [the Butler report looked into the intelligence failures leading up to the 2003 Iraq war) we know, not only that they can get it wrong on even the most vital and high profile issues, but that they have a particular yen for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat. That is precisely what the Uzbeks give them… At the Khuderbegainov trial I met an old man from Andizhan. Two of his children had been tortured in front of him until he signed a confession on the family’s links with Bin Laden. Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with Bin Laden as I do. This is the standard of the Uzbek intelligence services.”
Craig Murray put his job on the line – and ultimately sacrificed a lucrative Foreign Office career – because he believed that the policies he was being asked to support were fundamentally wrong-headed. Yet his struggles against UK Foreign Policy doublethink didn’t end in 2004. In the 2005 General Election he made a quixotic stand as an independent candidate against the same UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who had tried to silence him. An accompanying BBC documentary, which followed his campaign’s progress, billed this ”The Ambassador’s Last Stand” – but there was more to come. When, in December 2005, the UK Foreign Office sought to block the inclusion of Murray’s damning memos in his book, ”Murder in Samarkand“, he arranged for them to be published instead on hundreds of internet blogs across the world. The Foreign Office’s attempt at covering its tracks had only pushed the issues further into the public domain.
In ”Don’t Get Fooled Again”, I look at the wider issues raised by the Craig Murray case, and at the delusions around the use of torture within the ‘war on terror’.
One of the great things about the internet is that it allows those who, through no fault of their own, have been catapulted into the public eye, to speak directly, and in their own words, rather than through the distortions of the mainstream media. Those in favour of giving the government ever more ‘sweeping powers’ – in the hope that this will keep us all safe – often seem to assume that victims of terrorism will automatically be in favour of such measures. But Rachel North, who became a prolific blogger after surviving the July 7th London Bombings has vociferously campaigned against moves to water down basic freedoms in the name of ‘security’. In this eloquent piece for Comment is Free, North argues that “no government can keep us safe, even if they watch over us and film us and check our emails and internet use and hold our most intimate data and fill hundreds of prison cells with people who are merely suspected of, but not charged with, any crime”.