War is Peace

Who will be training their soldiers at the new Defence Training Academy at St Athan?
It’s a question that’s been exercising campaigners who feel the development is not just pledging Wales to a future of “militarism”, but wondering to whose military we are making that pledge.
I mean, we are never going to stop people killing other people. But does it look like we even want to?
Especially if private security companies – like the ones fighting wars for ‘us’ by proxy in Iraq – will be getting trained there.
I contacted the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act to ask if, for instance, the MoD would ban any particular nations from using the training camp.
And what about private security companies – would they be able to send personnel there?
After a short delay I received an email from Brigadier Geoff Nield, a project leader with the Defence Training Review.
Under this privatised scheme, it seems, the first decision on who comes in from the outside for training is down to the Metrix Consortium – a group of arms/defence companies and educational establishments like the Open University.
“The MoD is content that Metrix may deliver training and accommodation services to third parties as long as certain contractual conditions and restraints are met,” said Brigadier Nield.
“These include, for example, not impairing the delivery of military training to the MoD, meeting security requirements and maintaining military ethos on-site.
“Furthermore, MoD reserves the right to approve or forbid the use of training assets (including facilities) for third parties.”
So, could a regime like Burma for instance, on paying the right fees, get its soldiers trained here? After all, Britain kindly sold more than 40 Hawk aircraft to the Indonesians during the 1980s and 1990s before world attention suggested that helping the country suppress the East Timorese did not make Britain either great or a land of much hope and glory.
“The MoD…prioritises those countries that receive training on a case by case basis. Where there is a mutual agreement between the UK and countries of interest, agreed scheduled training courses can be attended by those invited, subject to availability and appropriate security clearance.”
There is, some might say, an Orwellian feel to the response. The MoD insists on calling the centre a “college” and the non-UK attendees, “students”.
In addition, the MoD also states that the training of private contractors and foreign armies is actually about making a stable world for our children’s children.

“A key tenet of UK foreign policy is to encourage diplomatic engagement with foreign countries so as to not only serve UK interests but also develop long term stability throughout regions of the world,” said the brigadier. “The MoD supports this policy in different guises, one of which is to train foreign students, both in UK and abroad as arranged through overseas embassies and high commissions.”
War is peace, then, after all.
::The Big Issue Cymru, June 16-22, 2008

Fighting for liberties

Can there really be a person of integrity at the heart of British politics?
Shadow home secretary David Davis has resigned as an MP to force a by-election in his Haltemprice and Howden constituency.
He’ll fight the by-election on the issue of the new 42-day terror detention limit and as a fight against the Government’s erosion of civil liberties.
“I will argue in this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government,” he says.

Protecting our DNA

Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott was today due to present a private Bill in the Commons to reform the way the DNA register is run.
The Cardiff Central MP says innocent people should have their DNA taken off the Government database.
Ms Willott told the Western Mail: “If you are not charged or you are acquitted then your DNA should be removed. People who have voluntarily given samples, say to help in a police investigation, can’t have their DNA taken off the register either, so potentially there are a lot of people affected.
“I don’t think the public realise quite how far it’s going.”
The Western Mail also reports that: “Although the use of DNA technology has led to the clearing-up of several unsolved murders, including that of Cardiff prostitute Lynette White, killed in 1988, there are fears that the database is a breach of civil liberties.”
But it’s worth noting that Lynette’s horrific murder was not solved because an innocent person’s DNA was held.
During that re-investigation officers and forensic scientists made a partial match of DNA found at the 1988 murder scene with that of a teenager from whom a sample had been taken following arrest.
The match meant the teenager – not even born when Lynette was killed – had to be related to the killer.

Keeping Faith in the USA

On Saturday June 14, Bruce Springsteen plays at the Millennium Stadium.
It will be his first concert in Wales, although he’s been coming to the UK since 1975.
Back then, a huge amount of hype surrounded his third album, Born to Run.
“At last, London is ready for Bruce Springsteen,” boasted the record company’s posters – some of which Springsteen himself climbed up onto billboards to rip down.
In 1984 and 1985 he rode the hype, and indeed contributed to it himself, for the Born in the USA album and tour, a period so overblown that for many it still dominates his image.
Hardcore fans, and he inspires dedication most artists can only dream of, know there is much more to him than that.
In his writing he’s covered every subject from the economic despair of many of America’s industrial heartlands, to the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the atrocities of September 11.
The plight of refugees, and immigrants to the United States from Mexico in particular, have been central to his work.
“For everything the North gives, it exacts a price in return,” warns one Mexican father as his sons head across the Rio Bravo.
Campaigning journalist John Pilger called Springsteen a “fine humanitarian artist”, real praise from someone who has charted so much that has gone wrong in US foreign policy.
In February 1999 a 22-year-old West African immigrant named Kadiatou Diallo died in a hail of police bullets in New York.
Springsteen wrote a song about it, causing the city’s police department to boycott his gigs at Madison Square Garden.
But where are the major artists covering the significant events in Britain’s social and political life?
Why did no artist see the 2005 shooting of unarmed Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by London police officers as a subject for protest?
Billy Bragg has said: “Springsteen makes me keep faith in America”.
Bragg is a dedicated Springsteen fan. So are James Dean Bradfield, of the Manic Street Preachers, and Swansea-born comedian Rob Brydon, who already has his ticket for the Millennium Stadium gig.
And so am I.
I think we all need Bruce – not just America.

(Bruce fans go here.)

Ana Lucia Pinzon is the most senior female trade unionist in Colombia.
And being a trade unionist – of either gender – – in Colombia takes a special kind of courage. An estimated 2,600 have been killed over the last 20 years.
The US and the UK have poured weapons into this deeply divided country, claiming to be fighting a war against drugs.
But Justice for Colombia, a British-based NGO, and others, claim the weapons are instead used in a bloody counter-insurgency war.
And according to Amnesty International, all sides in the conflict, including the army and army-backed paramilitaries, have been “responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
I only know what I read. Ana will describe all this first hand when she gives a special talk at the Memorial Hall, Bodhyfryd, Wrexham, at 2.30pm on Saturday (June 7).

::First published in The Big Issue Cymru, June 2-8, 2008

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