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In our Taking Liberties blog, not only will we keep you uptodate on the progress of the film, we'll also post news about the ongoing civil liberties movements we're related to.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Last Post...

For a while anyway. The film has run it's course, and to some extent has taken on a life of it's own. While civil liberties will always remain very close to my heart, it's time to move on and go and cause some trouble elsewhere. We'll Keep the blog up online, as in amongst the frothing rants their is actually some useful information. The Blogroll on the right contains some great blogs that will no doubt continue to fight the good fight, long after we fickle film types have moved on. However I'll just leave you with a brief update on some of the ongoing issues and stories that we've covered in the film. Starting with the one that makes me feel that for once I might have actually done something worthwhile in my life:

Omar Deghayes and the other British Residents interned in Guantanamo to be returned to the UK
Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Reprieve and the Save Omar Campaign all deserve a big hug for their tireless work in making this happen. For several years the position of the UK Government was "Let em rot" or "send em back to their home countries to be tortured", and it is thanks to the incredible work of these campaigners that these men - who have never been charged with any crime - will finally retun home to Britain. They have all suffered years of abuse at the hands of the US forces, so they will now spend many years with their families trying to rebuild their lives. Even though some credit has to go to the current government for finally standing up to the US and pressing for their release, it will remain a dark stain on this countries' history that we allowed this injustice to go on for so long. However there are already mutterings that they will be placed under Control Orders when theyreturn which is only going to increase the injustice.

Protest ban in SOCPA may be repealed
Mark Wallinger's "State Britain" - the recreation of Brian Haw's placards in The Tate - has just won The Turner prize, which has yet again shown the insanity of this law. It still makes my blood boil that we are not allowed to protest outside our own government without special police authorisation, but hopefully this will soon be shredded. Even though the Brown Government has made some encouraging noises about scrapping the requirement to apply to protest a week in advance, nothing has yet materialised so we need to keep the pressure up until they actually change it. Again we're proud to have been part of raising the profile of this issue, but the real credit should go to Maya Evans (who recently spent over a week in jail for illegally demonstrating), Milan Rai, Shami at Liberty, Mark Thomas and of course the venerable and slightly barmy Brian Haw.

Public wakes up to just how rubbish the government is at securing our data
Since the loss of the 2 x Data CD's from the Inland Revenue compromising the personal details of 25 million people (about 40% of the population) the public have finally started getting angry about how much data the government holds on us and how insecure it is. Far be it from us to say I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO or TOO FUCKING LATE, but this is an issue that we've been banging on about for a couple of years, and the chaps at No2ID have been campaigning about for much longer. While we're really glad that the public and the media are finally looking at the potentially catastrophic consequences of putting every last scrap of private information on big expensive leaky computers, it is shutting the door after the horse has bolted along with a few CD's and hard drives to sell to the highest bidder. All our medical records, school records and criminal records are already now in the control of similar systems, and there isn't a lot we can now do to get that information back. The DNA database - already the largest in the world - is expanding exponentially, and once the National Identity Register is online, all our biometric information will be accessible as well to several hundred thousand people. Unless something radical is done soon, we will soon wake up in a society where privacy is a distant memory.

What's the answer to life, the universe and everything? 42 Days
While most of the governments anti terror legislation is coming under sustained public attack, the one area where this government still wants to show the world how tough it is on a word (the word in question being terror), is of course the extension on pre-charge detention. At the moment the poilice can hold you without charge for 28 days - the longest in the western world - but Gordon Brown and Jaqui Smith are both still trying to convince us that we'll all die tomorrow if we don't increase this to 42. A month ago they were saying it had to be 56, but after the wave of critisism this brought, they have now lowered their sights to 42. But in doing so they have made it clear that this isn't really about keeping us safe, it's about being seen to keep us safe. While the current limit has never yet been reached, they are doing their level best to whip up our fears and push this through parliament. They are trotting out the same old excuses: terrorists now use computers (Oooo...scary!) and it can take a long time to search a computer. When we put this to Professor Ross Anderson (head of cryptography at Cambridge University) the response was "Hogwash". Passwords are either broken in a few days or not at all. However the government, and the senior police who back this measure have never responded when the experts rubbish their arguments.

What having 42 days pre charge detention will result in, is a sense of injsutice and outrage amoung the Muslim Community who think they are being unfairly targetted, which can act as a recruiting seargent for the very terrorism we are trying to fight. During the Northern Ireland troubles the UK government started interning suspected terrorists without charge, which far from reducing terrorism did the exact opposite by pushing hundreds of angry young men into the arms of the terrorists. When this argument is put to the ever dwindling ministers who support this extention, the repsonse is that "Al Qaeda is a far graver threat than the IRA so there are no lessons to be learned". This does somewhat ignore the statistics that the Irish troubles claimed the lives of over 3000 people in the UK, and Islamic Fundamentalists are currently on 52. Even Lord Goldsmith (he who changed his mind over the legality of the Iraq War and halted the SFO enquiry into the BAE Saudi bribes) has come out strongly against this move, so the battle lines are being drawn. My own personal opinion is that the Government will lose the vote, and when there is another bomb attack they can turn around and blame us whinging liberals for not giving them the power they needed.

Natwest Three take a plea bargain
Last week David, Giles and Gary pleaded guilty to 1 count of wire fraud in return for the other 6 charges being dropped. This means that they will spend about 6 months in a US prison, and then (hopefully) will return to the UK to spend the rest of their sentance (about another 2.5 years) in an open prison in the UK. Far from an actual admission of guilt, this shows the massive unfairness of sending UK citizens over to face crimes in the US without the production of any evidence in the UK. The NatWest three had been flown out to the US in July 2006, so had already spent a year and a half waiting to go to trial. If they had continued to plead innocent they would have had to wait about another year to even get into the courtroom - all the time under house arrest, unable to work, and thousands of miles away from their families. Also as most of the evidence that they needed to prove their innocence was here in the UK, the British Authorities and NatWest bank were actively preventing witnessses and evidence crossing the channel. As the crime was allegedly committed in the UK by British Citizens against a UK bank, the fact that they were standing trial on the other side of the planet was always going to throw a spanner in the works for the men's defense. Couple that with the fact that if you mention the word "Enron" in Texas courtroom a guilty verdict is guaranteed, the Three were always had the cards stacked against them. Plus if they had pled innocent and been found guilty they might get up to 35 years behind bars, but if they plead guilty to one charge (which is what they did) they will only get three. In the same situation most of us would have made the same decision, but this has been used by the government to triumphantly say that they were right to be sent out in the first place. The extradition treaty itself is still under review, and we can only hope that this one sided and unjust law will soon be thrown on the scrap heap.

Mouloud No Longer Under House Arrest
This actually happened round about the time of the film's release, so we're not sure preceisely how much we had to do with it... but a mole from the Home office sneaked into one of the early screenings, and we do know a transcript of the film was used in his defense. Big thanks to Jennifer and Des, CAMPACC and Mike Mansfield who have stuck with him all this time. Mouloud is extremely happy to not be confined to his little room indefinitely without any charge, but the laws that allowed the government to carry out this injsutice still remain.

And finally...
Just wanted to say a heartleft thanks to all the members of the Taking Liberties Team who all put their souls and wallets on the line to make this happen - couldn't have done it without each and every one of you... In no particular order:

Nicky Moss, Simon Robson, Nick Fenton, Christina Slater, Kurt Engfehr, Becca Elson, Vince Watts, Ian Neil, Ben Stern, Steve Goldsmith, Daniel Prim, Barny Wright, Sarah Bee, Fiona Button, Simon Goldberg, Nick S, Nick T and Justin at Revolver, Chris Smith, Jules Lewis and, finally, Nicky Moss (yes I know she's been mentioned twice, but trust me she deserves it...)

Thanks guys


Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Who needs privacy anyway?

If I wanted to illustrate why you shouldn't entrust the government with personal data, I would never have concocted an arse up on the scale of the delicious disaster down at Revenue and Customs. The government is reeling from the debacle involving the most expensive items to get lost in the post since King George III sent the crown jewels off to get repaired, and forgot to put stamps on the box. 2 x CD's containing the personal records of 25 million people were "mislaid" by Her Magesties Revenue and Customs, and the chief taxman has now fallen on his paperknife in shame. The CD's were password protected (well, that's going slow the hackers down for at least 5 minutes!) but not actually encrypted, which means that we have to assume that all the data is now compromised. The records of the 7 million families that have been mislaid by the government include:

-Names (and don't forget these are family records, so it will be pretty straightforwards to work out maiden names as well)
-Dates of Birth
(this is all my bank needs to access my account by the way)
-Bank Account details (just in case the above doesn't work)
-National Insurance numbers

Now catastrophic as this is, it is in some ways manageable. Bank account numbers and national insurance numbers can be changed, so if it looks like these ahve fallen into criminal hands there is a level of protection. It'll cost the government (and therefore us) a small fortune to fix, but people can be issued new numbers rendering the stolen numbers useless. The really terrifying thing is to look at will happen when a similar balls up occurs in 5 years time (and, people being people, this sort of thing will happen again) but this time with the data held on the National Identity Register. When then NIR is breached (and with 60 million records that can be accessed by about half a million people, this is going to happen very easily and very quickly), it is going to be far more than just numbers that are stolen. Our fingerprints, iris scans, general biometirc information and possibly DNA will be what gets left in the back of a taxi, and when that happens the government is not going to be able to turn aruond and issue us all with new fingers, eyes or DNA. The more information that is put on a central computer, the greater the risk it has of being compromised. The NIR is the mother of all public databases, and it when it finally arrives will be the source of data breaches that make the loss of these 2 CD's seem like forgetting where you put your keys in the morning.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Torture: An Experts guide

There's been a mini malestrom on the internet over the past week, as someone with a guilty conscience - or a great sense of humour - has uploaded the US Handbook for Camp Delta Guantanamo Bay onto Wikipedia. It's since been pulled from counteless sites but it's now safely out in the vortex. There's a fairly relaible link here, but please let me know if this gets pulled.

Some of the more revealing extracts are:
-Incoming prisoners are to be held in near-isolation for the first two weeks to foster dependence on interrogators and "enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process."
-Styrofoam cups must be confiscated if prisoners have written on them, apparently because prisoners have used cups to pass notes to other captives. "If the cup is damaged or destroyed, the detainee will be disciplined for destruction of government property,"
-The manual also indicates some prisoners were designated as off limits to visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross, something the military has repeatedly denied.
-"Detainees are not allowed to color their hair."
-It contains instructions as only the military can write them, such as how to use pepper spray on unruly prisoners. "Aim at the eyes, nose and mouth when possible. Use a 1/2 to 1 second burst from a distance of 36 to 72 inches away."


And the Magic Number is... 58!
Well done to Mrs Cricklethorpe in Doncaster for correctly guessing the number of days pre-charge detention that the Brown Government would eventually come out and tell us we need to stop the world exploding in terror. A T Shirt with the words "Recruiting Seargant" is on it's way to you now. Yes after much anticipation of what number they would announce we need to hold people without charge has been unveiled. The battle lines a re clearly drawn with the Government, the Police and the security services on one side, and the tories, lib dems, the "arkward squad" of Labour MP's and Shami on the other. For me the most interesting chapter in way the announcement was managed was the antics of the defence minister Lord West. At 8.20am on the Today Program, he made it clear that he was in no way convinced of the need for extending the pre-charge period. 2 hours later - after a chat with Comrade Brown in Downing St -he completely change his mind and said that extending it to 58 days was the best idea since someone first took a breadkinfe to a crisp white loaf. When questioned over this blatant U-Turn, West said he got his words bit muddled as he was just a "simple sailor". It's nice that we can all rest in our beds at night knowing the security of the nation is in the safe hands of Captain Pugwash: "Ho Ho Me hearties, we're going to thrwart the Islamist Terrorists!"

Radio Gobsh*te. Again
Some fool invited me on Richard Bacon's Radio 5 live show last night, which was unfortunate timing as I'd just been out for a heavy dinner with my accountant. Several Mojito's were consumed over the meal, and then I had to make my way to Broadcasting house to bandy words with Bacon, and a nice chap called Peter Power who was there to support the new terror proposals. Peter is an ex copper who makes a lot of money now telling businesses how to protect themselves from terror. It started pretty well, and I got a few good points in about how extending the the pre-charge limit will only act as a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalists, and how you have more chance of winning the lottery than you doing of being killed by a terrorist bomb. But during the newsbreak my final mojito kicked in and I told Bacon he reminded me of Alan Partridge and it was all down hill from there. By the end they were really laying into me and Bacon gleefully read out a message that accused me of being a descendant of Neville Chamberlain and if it was up to me we'd all be dead tomorrow. Hopefully I enraged them enough so they won't ask me back, but that's what I thought last time...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Function Creep - A Beginners Guide

Function Creep is one of the main reasons us libertarians get so narked off with big government databases. The scenario goes like this: A well meaning Government Minister proposes a shiny new database that is going to store A, B and C about everyone in the country. They sternly remind us that they have specifically restricted it's scope to those categories, as to store any more would be an infringement of our privacy. The database eventually gets built, and ends up costing 4 times as much and being delivered 2 years too late, by which time all the ministers and civil servants who commissioned it have moved on. The trouble is that as well as being massively expensive, it also doesn't work very well and the current minister is getting a lot of stick for this in the press. So he announces that he is going to increase the scope of the database, so that it now records D, E and F about everyone in the country. This seems to be a cunning way of salvaging what has turned into a white elephant that he never wanted in the first place. But by the time D, E and F come online there's yet another minister in charge - and this time he's facing an immigration row. So this minster tells the tabloids that the database is now going to store X, Y and Z which will stop the immigration crisis. In actuality storing X, Y and Z will do nothing to stop illegal immigration, but it sounds good in the tabloids. After 10 years what was an innocuous and polite little database has become the greatest invasion of privacy that the world has ever seen - not because of any grand design, just a series of people tacking extra functions on for short term gain. Function creep.

And so it is with the National Identity Register. Even before it's been built, ministers are quietly adding information categories that it will store about you, already breaking the promises previous ministers have made on limiting the intrusion of the NIR. The Home Office has announced that it will be bringing the Department of Marriages, Births and Deaths into the National Identity Register (NIR). This means that the NIR will not only store every last thing about your life and movements, but will now be able to provide any nosey civil servant with your entire family tree (and that of you spouse). So anyone who wants to pay to access to the NIR will be able to essentially see how the entire country is interrelated - all at the touch of a button. This will be perfect for any Tabloid editor who wants to smear someone, as being related to anyone who's ever done anything wrong is already Fleet Streets favourite trick of bringing people down. It will also be the stalking tool of choice for wife beaters hunting their partners who have escaped abusive relationships - all they need do is pay off one of the half million or so people who will have access to the NIR and they will get a handy list of all their relatives names and addresses - genius! Of course politicians and celebrities don't need to worry about private information being stored and potentially compromised - they are thankfully all exempt from the NIR.

However it's not all doom and gloom with the latest terrifying and unnoticed piece of function creep. Someone at the Home Office clearly has a great sense of humour, as this authoritarian move is coming into force on April Fools Day 2008!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

My name is Chris and I'm a Liberty addict

This is really starting to get silly. Even though I'm now supposed to be researching 2 different projects that have nothing whatsoever with civil liberties, I still seem to spend most of my tube journeys to work frothing at the mouth about some authoritarian story or other that has piqued my bristles. I'm not sure if then spending more time blogging about them is going to help cure my addiction, but for now I'm going to have a bit of a gorge...

Jacket that lets parents keep track of children
Yes this is the "must have" fashion garment for every child with demonically overprotective parents who think that by broadcasting their kids whereabouts to the world they are less likely to be nabbed by a nonce. This is a cool and trendy coat to make your youngster wear whenever they leave the house, that sends out a GPS tracking signal so you can monitor the young whippersnappers whereabouts via the Internet or mobile phone. Coming in at a snip at only £250 (Kevlar Lining is a reasonable £80 extra) these must haves are now on sale from UK manufacturer Blade Runner. (please check this out, I'm not making this up!). With a superb piece of Orwellian reverse logic, the Managing Partner of Blade Runner, Adrian Davis, actually believes that tracking your offspring 24/7 can increase the child's independence: "Parents might be more willing to allow them to go out more if they could check up on them!". Never mind that if the tearaway wanted to do a bunk they could (shock!) leave the jacket at home, give it to someone else to wear, or tie it to a cat and put a firecracker up it's arse.

But the most terrifying thing about the trackerjacket is the fact that the GPS signal will distributed to anyone who is willing to pay to receive it. Rather than have the signal known only to the "handler" (ie the parents) back at base, the exact location of your child will be stored on (you guessed it) a huge central database that is controlled by the friendly sounding company "Asset Monitoring Solutions". So, if a budding paedo wants to bundle off your bundle of joy, they just need to get someone to hack the servers (or simply pay off someone who works for AMS) and they can get the exact whereabouts of your child sent to their Blackberry. Cool!

Britain gets it's own torture camps
Yes, sick of letting the Americans get all the fun, there is mounting evidence of a "Black Site" on Diego Garcia, which is British Sovereign Territory in the Indian Ocean. Human Rights group Reprieve recently gave a dossier of evidence to the British Government containing reliable and credible evidence that innocent people who have been held there without trail by the US have and been routinely tortured. Our government has leased the land out to the US military for some time, and the base there was redesignated as a prison after 9/11 when the US was desperately looking around the world for places where it could carry out it's dirty work. The UK Government has defended it's position of complete inaction on this, by simply saying that it has asked the Americans if it has been carrying out torture or abuse on our soil, and we have been given "assurances" that they have not. Well that's OK then. Summarily the Brown government is accepting without question the assurances from a Mr Yogi Bear that he does not crap in Jellystone Park, and the assurances from Pope Benedict that he is in fact Jewish.

Sir Ian Blair demands a Pay Rise
No that's not a gag, just the gobsmacking truth. The head of the metropolitan police (or "Lonely of the Yard" as wags within the force are now calling him) has been a busy boy recently, what with announcing to the press (again) that he needs to be able to lock us up for 3 months without charge, and being revealed to be either mindlessly incompetent or a barefaced liar in the ongoing Menezes trial. He's been so overworked that he's put in a request for his maximum possible bonus (£25k) which has sent shockwaves of incredulity and anger through the Met itself. Blair's very own deputy, Paul Stephenson, was so outraged he is said to have actually told Sir Ian that "Of course you f*cking can't take the bonus, stupid!" This bust up between Blair and his right hand man, has resulted in them not speaking to each other for several days. This is presumably going to not be particularly helpful in their ongoing crusade against terror in which they apparently working night and day to stop us all getting blown to pieces.

Another senior police source has been quoted as saying that "Blair is off his trolley... he is the most self centred man I have ever met". The reason for this uproar is not just that Sir Ian is the most Gaffe prone policeman since Inspector Clouseau , but that he has picked the week to fill his boots as yet more damming evidence is made public at the Menezes trial. This week saw one of the (unnamed) officers defending the decision to shoot this innocent man in the head without warning by saying that Menezes was behaving suspiciously in the following ways:
-Getting on and off a bus
-Texting on his mobile phone
-Appearing frustrated when a station was closed.
Well if that's all it takes to be identified as a suicide bomber then most of London's commuters are in deep shit.

Richard Thwaites QC, who has the unenviable job of defending the Met against charges of breaching health and safety guidelines, has presented this evidence as his ultimate "Chewbacca Defence" to prove that this behaviour means that Menezes deserved to be shot: "If people deploy anti-surveillance methods it's usually because they are up to no good, isn't it?".

The other revelation last week was that the Met deliberately manipulated the picture of Menezes that it released after the shooting, so that it looked more like one of the suspects from the previous days failed bombings.

In a move that even Alistair Campbell might have found distasteful, some boffin at the Met actually had a fiddle on photoshop and tweaked the proportions and skin tones of the photo of Menezes to make him look more like the the person they were supposed to be following.

So while all of these damning revelations have been coming out on a daily basis, Sir Ian Blair has been demanding that he be paid what he's worth, a tactic which has suprisingly backfired. The Metropolitan Police Authority is said to be considering a motion to have him removed from office as soon as possible. According to one source, Sir Ian had "reached the last-chance saloon" and some members may pass a motion against the Commissioner at a meeting with him on 30 March. One said: "It's getting to the stage where he is the issue and not the safety of London. We should be talking about burglary and knife crime, not his latest gaffe."

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Nearly there...

The Taking Liberties journey is almost at an end... Well for us anyway. The DVD comes out TODAY (Monday 15th October), and that will sadly be the final installment of Britain's first (and probably only) feature film about the loss of British Liberty. Either things will get better so that films like Taking Liberties aren't necessary, or things will get worse and making films like this will be made illegal. DVD pre-orders are doing reasonably well - as of today we are at sales rank 422 on Amazon. To give this some kind of context Black Gold (docuimentary about coffee that was released at the same time) is on 5,088.

If you haven't got a copy yet, you can order yours here.

For those of you who managed to miss the reviews screaming at you on the website, I've cut and pasted a few of the crits below:

**** "Exhilarating... A vitamin boost of scepticism... cheerful, polemical and tactless." Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

"Excellent... you shouldn't vote at the next general election until you've seen this film" Phillip French, Observer

**** "Pure Dynamite... An eloquent mugging" The Times

"Bold, fearless and blackly funny, this vital film should be compulsory viewing" Dazed and Confused

**** "One of the most important films of the year... Watch it and get angry!" Daily Mirror

Film of the Week - Mark Kermode BBC Radio 5

**** "A less hysterical, but still gripping, incendiary and amusing British answer to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11…An excellent piece of populist film making" The Scotsman

**** Time Out
**** Sunday Times
**** Sunday Telegraph
**** BBC Films
**** Daily Express

OK enough navel gazing! Even though I'm supposed to be weaning myself off the subject of liberty loss, two items in the news last week had me frothing at the mouth:

Sir Ian Blair announces he will hold his breath until the Government gives him 90 Days pre charge detention
This Blog's favourite policeman has announced that he wants to be able to lock people up for 3 months - without having to tell them why. Even though there has never been a single occasion when they have needed even the existing limit before someone has to be charged or released (28 days – the longest in the free world), Sir Ian has declared that we'll all die tomorrow unless we turn Britain into a Police state because, er, he says so that's why. Sir Ian puts in a request for this power about once every 2 months, but on this accoaision the timing could not have been more galling.

Sir Ian’s plea for us to trust him unconditionally with our liberty, comes alongside the first and only court case into the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes. (No-one’s actually standing trial for the murder of the innocent Brazilian electrician 2 years ago… instead the Metropolitan police is being sued for contravening health and safety guidelines for firing a gun repeatedly into his head at point blank range. It’s a bit like giving Harold Shipman a written warning for breaking the Hippocratic oath.)

During the hearing last week, CCTV pictures were been made public showing Menezes calmly walking through the ticket barrier at Stockwell Tube on the 22nd July 2005. Moments later he was shot dead by 2 armed officers. Seven hours later, when most of London’s police force knew that Menezes was as dangerous as a Police Community Support officer, Sir Ian went on Live TV and announced that the suspect had “jumped the barrier” and therefore deserved what he got. These images prove that Sir Ian is either a blatant liar or horrendously incompetent. So Sir Ian choses this very moment that the images are released, to make a request to extend pre-charge detention - again - based on the say so of none other than Sir Ian Blair.

The arguments are exactly the same ones that have been trooped out the last half dozen or so times, namley: "There are lots of bad people out there who want to blow us up and this is the only way to stop them"

Firstly this is not the greatest threat we have ever faced, and we seemed to muddle through the Second World War, The Cold War and the IRA bombing campaign without tearing up the oldest civil liberty we have. Secondly keeping people locked up for long periods before charge produces terribly unreliable evidence. Studies have shown that the longer someone is detained without charge, the more likely they are to confess to something they haven't done. Thirdly, introducing the same limit for pre-charge detention that was in force in South Aftrica during Apharteid, is not going to do wonders for relations with the Muslim Community, who are the very group of people you want to keep on side while trying to fight terrorism. Of the very few actual real terrorists that have been caught plotting attacks in the UK, the evidence that has been used to scure conviction has not come from CCTV cameras, ID Cards or from people who have been locked up for weeks without charge. It has come from tip off's and sources from within the Muslim Commnuity, but this intelligence is going to dry up if we continue to pass illiberal laws that inevitably are going to create a feeling of grievance and injsutice within the community itself. At it's very worst this feeling of injustice can act as a recruiting seargent for the terrorists themselves, so by passing a law designed to prevent terrorism, you can in effect set it off. Similar laws were passed to try to stop the IRA, which enabled the authorites to intern people suspected of terrorism, without charge. This backfired massively and ended up ercruiting hundreds of dissafected young men to the IRA's ranks. If only our political leaders and senior police spent more time looking at recent histroy and less time poncing about in front of the cameras, then we might escape repeating the mistakes of the past.

Exporting Democracy to Burma
Yes it's all well and good for Gordon Brown to read out carefully drafted spin sheets condemming the Burmese Junta for crushing peaceful protests, but there is one tactic that in use by the Burmese military that will be frighteningly familiar to anyone who's been to a prtoest in the UK recently. Once the Burmese protests started, the authorities stood back for several days. After about a week the soldiers brutally rounded up the ringleaders in the dead of night. How did they work out who was organising these peaceful actions with such calculating efficency?

Step frowards the Burmese FIT teams, who seem to have imported thei tactics from Britain. Anyone who has been on any protests in the UK recently will have seen the FIT teams in force. These are overt surviellance officers who film peacful protests in the UK in order to gather information about who goes on political marches these days, as well as to dampen dissent by letting you know you're being watched. In some cases activists are followed for days at a time, and the effect is extremely threatening. Clearly the FIT teams are they are so effective at restricting protests that the idea has been joyously picked up by the authorities in Burma. During the first week of protests - when the government appeared to be restrained - the Burmese FIT teams were out carefully filming the activists, so they could work out who the ringleaders were. Thanks to this British technique, the Burmese were able to draw up a hit list of the orgnaisers, and then knock on their door in the middle of the night. Isn't it nice to see Britain exporting democratic values around the world, and it makes you feel proud that when we set the standard for civil liberties, other countries are more than happy to copy our methods.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Crossed Wires over Zimbabwe

It's not just on the subject of General Elections that Gordon is sending out mixed messages. On the one hand our new leader is trying to show us his caring sharing side, by publicly lambasting Robert Mugabe's muderous regime and the horrific human rights abuses it carrries out in Zimbabwe. So far so Tony. Gordon has now gone one stage further by refusing to attend the EU summit if Mugabe shows up, though this could be just a cover as he doesn't want to fork out for the airfare. But nonetheless, Gordon has been flexing his liberal muscles on this issue and at the Labour Party Conference declared:

"The message should go out to anyone facing persecution anywhere from Burma to Zimbabwe. Human rights are universal and no injustice can last forever,"

Quite so. But could this be the very same Gordon Brown that is doing everything in it's power to send scores of innocent people back to Zimbabwe where they are guaranteed to face torture and death?

In April, British Court of Appeal judges halted the deportation of three Darfuri asylum seekers that the government wanted to send back to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The judges ruled the three should not be sent back to camps in Khartoum, because conditions there were "unduly harsh." But the government has now petitioned the House of Lords, the highest court in the land, for permission to appeal the court's decision. This is a crucial test case, and if the government wins, the first in line (after the 3 unfortunate Darfurians) are hundreds of Zimbabweans. NGO's are queueing up to show the government evidence that these people will face immiedate persecution on their return (the fact that they have run away and then been deported is a bit of a giveaway to the authorities) but the British Government continues in it's battle to fill Mugabe's Torture chambers.

Not surprisingly Britain also hold the European record for deporting the highest number of Iraqis back to the country we have done so much to stabilise.
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