Missing caps

Scottish football fans are campaigning for the late Stewart Imlach who played four times for his country – including during the 1958 World Cup – but never received an international cap.
Apparently, the Scottish FA then only awarded actual caps for matches played against Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
I wonder if any Welsh players, including those from the squad which went to the tournament in Sweden, also missed out?

The CIA’s Schoolboy Error

Police have launched an inquiry into allegations that CIA “torture flights” have landed in Britain, it was reported today.
Michael Todd, chief constable of Greater Manchester, is expected to review evidence collected by human rights campaigners and interview senior police officers from 10 forces across England.
Liberty is appealing for anyone with information about the flights to come forward. They can do so anonymously.
The CIA’s use of so-called extraordinary rendition to transfer terror suspects, or whoever it likes, I suppose, to other countries for ‘robust questioning’ has turned the spotlight on a shadowy world.
It’s a place in which suspects are drugged like BA Baracus for ‘ghost flights’ which disappear them into the hands of interrogators who believe the infliction of pain aids the search for an absolute truth.
But illegality, brutality and inhumanity aside, the intelligence community’s reliance on torture seems to ignore a truth known to every school child.
You can make anyone say anything. Remember the Chinese burn? One determined twist by an expert and you’d hand over your penny chews or admit you fancied the smelliest of your classmates.
Take this scenario. Someone sits opposite you in a room. They ask if you went into town that afternoon. You tell them you did not because it is the truth.
They take your little finger of your right hand and slowly bend it back. It hurts and you wince but they keep applying the pressure. But you know they will stop because people do, don’t they?
Well, no, this person does not. He keeps bending your finger until it breaks.
The sound of cracking bone fills the room. You are in agony and you scream out.
Calmly, the man takes your second finger. He grips it and begins to slowly bend it back. His face is expressionless.
This time you instantly know how far he will go.
He asks you again if you went into town that afternoon.
What do you say now? And, in the end, what wouldn’t you say to make it stop?
I would admit to anything – probably even to watching OFI Sunday.
Imagine then, if you are locked in an underground cell for ten months, given regular beatings and threatened with electric shocks and the ‘metal chair’, a device for stretching the spine.
That’s what happened to a Canadian named Maher Arar in 2002. Arar was detained by US officials in New York and flown to Syria, where he made a false confession. A campaign later obtained Arar’s release.
George Bush has highlighted a number of countries for their roles in torture. Among them is, you’ve guessed it, Syria. Someone should tell Dubya he should have then condemned not employed the interrogators.
The CIA is reckoned to lease 30 aircraft. Over the last four years, according to Amnesty International, just six of these have made 800 ‘ghost flights’.
How many people might we be talking about in total then? Amnesty can only suggest the number is in the thousands.
“Amnesty would be the first to say governments have the right to protect their people but this is not the way,” said Eleanor White, of Amnesty Wales. “This is sidestepping the law, claiming you have diplomatic assurance from a country that no torture will take place. It’s an attempt to get away with it.”
There is no defence for this. It is objectionable on every level. Hiding behind abduction and political double speak to subcontract violence. Putting pressure on smaller countries to do your dirty work while pretending your hands remain clean.
It’s a way of using one’s power to cause unpleasantness at third hand. Like the gangster don who has never seen blood but has the power of life or death by silently waving his hand and sending a killer on his way.
Not only that. But it provides as poor intelligence as the Iraqi exiles who told the Americans exactly what they wanted to hear about the ‘stockpiles’ of weapons of mass destruction before the invasion.
It was a relief to see no Welsh airports on the suspect ghost flight list. The country felt cleaner for it.
But we are all drawn into what our governments do or condone by their inaction.

(A version of this article appeared in last week’s edition of The Big Issue Cymru, no. 489)

Dangerous trawl for truth

Police trawling investigations, including a massive operation by South Wales Police, continue to cause concern.
The inquiries deal with that most loathed of crimes, child abuse, and require difficult and sensitive police work.
But because the ‘trawls’ gather evidence on claims of so-called ‘historic abuse’ – alleged to have happened 20, 30, even 40 years ago – campaigners say they result in convictions built on shaky ground.
Many claim the trawls amount to modern-day witch-hunts.
This weekend the issue has been raised on the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Five Live (Saturday and Sunday, 10pm -1am).
I have written about these inquiries many times over the last four or five years. In that time there has been a growing sense of unease about the trawls.
There are concerns about the way detectives go to former residents of children’s homes to ask if they were ever abused.
There are also fears that witnesses have been persuaded to give false evidence by a combination of police pressure and attractive compensation payments of up to £100,000.
Convictions are often almost entirely based on the fact that more than one witness has come forward.
Defendants then have the impossible task of proving a crime did not happen, despite a lack of any corroborating evidence.
When these huge multi-million pound police investigations got under way in the 1990s, it appeared we were being forced to face a frightening reality: that thousands of vulnerable and difficult youngsters had been abused during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s while in the care of approved schools and care homes. Almost 1,300 people in Wales alone made allegations of abuse to the four Welsh police forces, and the inquiries celebrated a series of high profile convictions, including that of former headmaster Derek Brushett, of Dinas Powys, who was jailed for abusing 17 boys between 1974 and 1980. It appeared to be a turn-around in the fortunes of these kinds of investigation. Until that time, it had been difficult to secure convictions when looking at allegations of abuse so many years earlier. There is no medical evidence after so much time and there are no witnesses. So the police, under huge pressure to secure convictions, developed the simple principle that if they could have enough allegations against one individual they would have a case. It was the birth of the ‘trawl’ – the process of contacting former care home and approved school residents to ask if they were ever abused. It is a detecting method which turned traditional policing methods on their head. Instead of starting with a crime and finding a suspect, the trawls begin with a suspect and look for a crime. When the cases come to court, the jury’s dilemma is to discover the unknowable – what actually happened. What is meant to persuade them is the ‘volume’ of corroboration: the numbers of people making allegations. That leaves the defendant in an unenviable position. Like the prosecution he has no medical evidence to present. Allegations that abuse took place over months or years, on vague dates, are impossible to disprove. Documentation, like staff rotas and school registers, may have been destroyed; other members of staff may have died. Child abuse is abhorrent. So too must be the irreversible action of mistakenly labelling a person a child abuser and locking them away to face the unpleasant existence of the paedophile in jail. Investigating officers in these cases, of course, have a dreadful task. Their reaction to allegations of abuse is likely to be disgust, horror, revulsion, like ours. But is the danger in the procedure itself? Does the trawl assume guilt, without addressing the central question: was a crime actually committed?

For example of some previous articles on the Welsh cases go here:



Greetings from Winnie

The variety of spam and scam emails arriving in my inbox gets more and more bizarre.
This afternoon Winnie contacted me with the subject heading ‘wetsuit’.
The content appears like an invoice from something called the Multi Neoprene Factory in Houjie Town, Dongguan City, Guangdong, China.
The wetsuit (“shorties – style no. S015” and most flattering, I’m sure) cost $US 8 each and the order is for 2,000 units.
They are made I am told from 2mm Neoprene.
I assume Winnie wants me to reply, although of course, I won’t.
It is the second time she’s emailed me this week. On Thursday it was about an attractive sounding product named Rash Guard. There was a link to a Yahoo site which I dared not click.
I hope Winnie will leave me alone. I need neither a wetsuit (I can’t swim), the Rash Guard (I have no rash – honest) or the computer virus or whatever else she plans to spring on me.
Meanwhile, Mrs Shirley Yema Gbujama, Minister of Social Welfare (Gender and Children Affairs) in Sierra Leone is offering me $3,675,000 to help process her late husband’s diamond fortune.
I’ve had so many of these now I’m becoming worn down. My curiosity nags at me.
I almost want to fall for this one just to find out what hell Shirley and her like intend to inflict upon me.

The State Avenger

Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams has been executed. The Terminator had the opportunity to reprieve him but there was no mercy there.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has now rejected three appeals for clemency by death row prisoners.
Williams had been nominated five times for a Nobel prize and, it is said, if he did not deserve a reprieve then who does.
But the campaign against the death penalty is not about who least deserves the noose, bullet, chair or chemical pellet.
State killing is simply totally unacceptable and the state has no more right to cause death as part of its legal processes than an individual has to murder on the streets.
It does not matter whether Williams showed remorse or otherwise, campaigned against violence or did not, claimed his innocence or admitted his guilt.
States that execute are carrying out the policy of the avenger and not dispensing justice.

Government of Wales

For those interested in news of the Government of Wales Bill, I’m posting my column from The Big Issue last week.
The Bill, launched yesterday, proposes a system under which the Assembly would seek permission from Westminster every time it had a new legislative proposal.

Confused future for devolution won’t wash

Put those shopping bags down, take the weight off your feet and let me tell you about my washing machine.
A couple of weeks ago, the dial began clicking around endlessly and a red light flashed.
Either something was broken or it had joined with my other aging kitchen appliances in a conspiracy against me.
Now, as we know, information on everything can be found on the internet, especially conspiracies.
On a trouble-shooting website, I discovered the light was a manufacturer’s code. The number of times it flashed – and its speed – indicates the problem.
I rang the machine’s maker to ask them what was wrong. They said they couldn’t be sure on the phone, they’d have to send someone out. That would cost half the price of a new machine.
So I posted a question to this internet plumber – I was at a loose end that day – telling him I was seeing a flashing light.
The plumber replied: “Eleven flashes, are you sure? It’s the manufacturer’s code.”
“Yes,” I said. “But what does it mean?”
“I don’t know,” he responded. “If I knew that and you knew that we’d all be able to fix it.”
Life is often complicated, I concluded as a lesson for the day, because someone made it deliberately so.
Now, take devolution. As I write this Peter Hain is making sure the ink’s dry on his Government of Wales Bill.
I’m sure for a select few – Mr Hain, some letter writers to Western Mail and a selection of dogged political journos – the document will carry the same erotic charge as Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
But, I ask you, would you allow your wife or your servant to read this bill? I think not.
Neither would they wish too.
The Scottish knew exactly what they were getting with devolution and they are now tottering onwards into the future.
In Wales, devolution was mixed into a fudge, simmered as a stew and is set to become a lumpy dish of spaghetti. That’s no mean culinary feat.
Our diluted devolution was a compromise from the beginning: between pro- and anti-devolution Labour.
The White Paper on which Mr Hain’s new bill will be based was wrenched from the gut of another internal power struggle.
Perhaps our interest is being intentionally discouraged. (Just wait till you start hearing about the new bill’s ‘Orders in Council’.)
Even a constitutional expert like Lord Richard, the man whose commission recommended giving Wales the same law-making powers as Scotland, admits it’s all a bit confusing. “If you are going to have devolution in different parts of the UK then you should have the same type of devolution,” he said recently.
And, although the Welsh Assembly Government’s powers are limited, Downing Street still appears to want to put the boot in for the way it uses them.
When Chris Bryant criticised Rhodri Morgan’s “clear red water” policy, it seemed as if devolution might not have happened at all.
It is for us, the Welsh electorate, to decide whether or not we like the direction Rhodri Morgan is taking.
We do not need signals from Number 10, even if they come via the Rhondda.
It’s easy for Bryant to chip away from behind a 16,242 majority in a safe Labour seat.
However, who is to say that his pro-hospital privatisation, pro-student top-up fee, pro-Iraq invasion opinions resonate any better than Morgan’s with the people of Wales?
Many here still feel their hearts warmed a little by the “ideological glow” he seeks to belittle.
Many here might think some of Bryant’s ideas seem un-WAG Labour because they feel quite clearly Conservative.
And when one hears the line that there need not be Welsh solutions to Welsh problems, one is reminded of Tony Blair’s dismissal of the “f***ing Welsh” for daring to have minds of their own.
Rhodri once asked rhetorically if a one-legged duck swam in circles. Well, yes, it does, and so does one with a leg tied to its body.
Prepare for a confused debate about the Government of Wales Bill and ask yourself if this was the way to sell devolution.
I won’t hear you, mind. I’ll be in the launderette.

Move over, darling

Cherie Booth’s programme on the ‘goldfish bowl’ lives of prime minister’s wives illustrated an important truth: why it is still a blessing that we (just about) have more journalists than celebrities as TV interviewers.
Cherie chatted to Norma Major about the curtains at the Downing Street flat and about John’s breakfast time meetings without once discussing his affair with Edwina Currie.
Mrs Blair’s own mistakes and misjudgements were alluded to by some talking heads but never confronted directly in the main part of the programme itself.
And any conflict with her husband over ideals and policy was only mentioned in a press conference in India when she was asked if she disagreed with her husband’s decisions.
Cherie looked all coy and said something to the effect that all women disagreed with their husbands at some point – unless their husbands were saints.
There would seem to be more to disagree with in her husband’s actions than in many other’s though, wouldn’t there? He hasn’t spent savings on a season ticket or stayed in the pub a pint too long.
Personally, if I were married to a man, which I’m not (but bear with me), and he had played a role in events which had brought about the deaths of some 100,000 people, churned up chaos and misery and destabilised a region of the world, I might mention it.
I might even walk out, no matter good he was with the kids.

The Death of Christian Blewitt

BBC Radio 4’s File On 4 programme is this week looking at the death of Christian Blewitt.
Three-year-old Christian died in December 2002. His foster parents, Ian and Angela Gay, were later jailed for five years after a jury found them guilty of manslaughter.
It was suspected they had killed him by force-feeding him salt.
I interviewed a member of the couple’s legal team in March for an article which was published much later in the Western Mail.
I attach that piece in the comments section, and the new story about the File On 4 programme.
File On 4: Sunday, 4 December 2005 at 5pm.

Wave if you support sea workers

Support for the workers of Irish Ferries, whose Welsh protest is now well into its second week, continues to grow.
This lunchtime, as a demonstration began at Pembroke Dock, the Wales TUC appealed for the company to bring the dispute to an end.
Ship crews at Holyhead and Pembroke Dock are protesting at plans to replace staff with cheaper workers from abroad, and to offer existing workers either voluntary redundancy or the option to take a pay cut.
But it is important to understand the anger should not be directed at the foreign workers, who are being brought in by Irish Ferries as a cost cutting measure.
The company, which is part of the Irish Continental Group (ICG), has been making profits before tax of between €24 million and €30 million in recent years.
This company insults its current staff while seeking to exploit those from abroad.
As the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) says this protest is “not about stopping” migrant workers coming to the UK or Ireland.
It is about helping them join the labour market on fair terms and conditions.
The dispute has so fair rumbled on fairly quietly, even though about 15 crew members have been barricaded onto both The Isle of Inishmore, moored in Pembroke Dock, and the Ulysses, docked in Holyhead, for nine days.
It is a matter which should attract huge public support because it is about companies sifting through standards until only the barest conditions of employment and the lowest levels of pay remain.
And we do not have to look as far as Dublin to find plenty of companies prepared to stretch workers’ rights as thinly as they will go.

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