The death of Dr David Kelly

The UK Government yesterday claimed that the post mortem examination report into the death of biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly was being kept secret to protect his family.
Campaigning MP Norman Baker asked Justice Minister Michael Wills who had made the decision that medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr Kelly should not be closed for 70 years.
He also asked on what legal basis the decision was made.
Mr Wills told him: “No determination has been made that the medical reports and photographs connected to the death of Dr. David Kelly should be closed for 70 years.
“Rather, Lord Hutton noted in his statement on 26 January that he had requested that the post mortem examination report relating to Dr. Kelly not be disclosed for 70 years in view of the distress that could be caused to Dr. Kelly’s wife and daughters.
“The Ministry of Justice is now considering the most appropriate course of action. The options available will need to be considered carefully.”
Rhondda-born Dr Kelly became caught up in media allegations that 10 Downing Street had interfered with an intelligence report ahead of the invasion of Iraq.
On July 17, 2003, after two days of a grilling by MPs, Dr Kelly left his home in the Oxfordshire village of Southmoor and went for a walk. His body was found in woods nearby the following day. There was a knife at the scene and a cut to his left wrist.
The official line taken by the 2004 Hutton report is that Dr Kelly took his own life. But there’s still been no inquest, the usual procedure in sudden or violent deaths. A group of doctors has raised objections about Lord Hutton’s conclusions.
Last September, for a programme called Wales This Week: The Welsh Connection, I interviewed a friend of Dr Kelly’s, Welsh author and security expert Gordon Thomas.
He also disagrees with Lord Hutton.
“Twelve or thirteen doctors are saying he almost certainly was murdered,” said Thomas. “I don’t believe he committed suicide but I don’t know for certain who murdered him.”
He called for a full inquest into Dr Kelly’s death.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office, which deals with MI5 and MI6, told me at the time it was “long-standing government policy not to comment on intelligence issues”.

Dick Dastardly’s Middle Eastern promise

A week after What Is Wales? asked what Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair was doing about the crisis in Gaza he has apparently sprung into action.
Back from holiday he has been on the telephone to Jordan’s King Abdullah II and is planning a series of meetings today.
AFP reports that King Abdullah told Mr Blair that the world’s silence over Gaza has become “unacceptable”.
What has the former crusading prime minister been up to then as the hungry and desperate people of Gaza await the tanks and troops of the Israeli Defence Force?
According to the Daily Telegraph one of the things which has been occupying his mind is the design of the Congressional Gold Medal which he has received from George W Bush.
Mr Blair has not yet been able to pick up the medal, awarded for being Bush’s “staunch and steadfast ally” during the invasion of Iraq, and like Dick Dastardly’s sidekick Muttley, he’s understandably keen to see it looks just right.

:: Demonstrations and events relating to the crisis in Gaza are continuing in Wales. See the comments section of the previous post for details.

CACI, Abu Ghraib and us

There is growing concern in Scotland about a decision to award the multi-million pound 2011 Census contract to a marketing and information company called CACI Ltd.
CACI Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CACI International Incorporated, an American company which is doing rather well in these troubled times.
It is a publicly-listed company on the New York Stock Exchange with an annual revenue in excess of US $2bn.
But it is how it makes its money that concerns campaigners: it is a key partner in George Bush’s homeland security and “war on terror” – and its staff worked with the US Army in the prison and interrogation blocks of Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
The US Army was forced to close Abu Ghraib after news reports of the torture and humiliation of prisoners. Eleven US soldiers were convicted of breaking military laws for mistreating prisoners, and five others were disciplined.
CACI International Incorporated has produced a book defending itself for its part in the Abu Ghraib scandal and says “we were not involved with horrendous abuses such as death or sexual assault at Abu Ghraib”.
But it is one of two private contractors who are the subject of lawsuits from four Iraqis over allegations that they were tortured there.
CACI’s growing role in UK information systems prompts another concern: in a world which has become one big database and surveillance job, do we really want our personal information handled by a company so closely linked to the US intelligence services?
As CACI International Incorporated boasts in its mission statement: “(Our) mission is to be a leader in providing the information technology and consulting solutions America needs to defeat global terrorism, secure our homeland and improve government services. We are ever vigilant in aligning our solutions with the nation’s highest priorities.”
Realistically, CACI Ltd already plays a larger role in our lives than we know. The UK Government uses the company’s ACORN (“A Classification of Residential Neighbourhoods”) model in areas such as the monitoring of crime to classify us (some of us are “wealthy achievers”, some “hard pressed”).
The company is a major collator of health information too.
Welsh local authorities regularly use their expertise on retail matters. Ceredigion County Council and Bridgend County Borough Council are recent customers.

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

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

Grand Old Party

Good to see that while Iraq burned, Condoleezza Rice was being well looked after by the British government.
What Is Wales? is delighted to report that the Foreign Office admitted yesterday that the UK taxpayer spent more than 9,500 dollars (£4,682.73) on a 50th birthday party for the US Secretary of State in 2004.
The party, hosted by the British ambassador to the United States David Manning at his official residence in Washington, saw Rice presented with a dress as a gift.
Labour MP Harry Cohen uncovered the cost of the celebration in a written question to the Foreign Office.
Foreign Office minister and Pontypridd MP Dr Kim Howells responded yesterday: “The dinner in question was held in honour of US Secretary of State Rice and attended by the President, First Lady and other senior figures.
“There were 111 guests and the cost was US$9,512.05.”
I’m sure George W and his wife Laura had a wonderful time. The Republicans aren’t nicknamed the GOP (the Grand Old Party) for nothing.
According to the AFP news agency, Dr Howells’ reply follows
an article in the September 6 issue of the New Statesman which criticised the Rice birthday party as a “ludicrously lavish extravaganza”.
The article also described British attempts to woo “George W Bush’s disastrously inept national security adviser and now his equally feckless secretary of state.”
Soon after the party, the piece claimed, London’s perception that Condie had the ear of the president quickly changed when they realised Bush was more influenced by former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and vice-president Dick Cheney and the “full extent of the Iraq catastrophe” became clear.
No presents for Rumsfeld and Cheney at that party, then. Perhaps Britain will help them help themselves to a little something from oil-rich Iraq?

Iraqi Oil

In this week’s Big Issue Cymru I mention in passing the Iraq Petroleum conference which took place in Dubai recently and was attended by representatives of most of the major multinationals.
I didn’t know though that a parallel meeting took place at the same time in Basra under the banner, “Oil wealth belongs to the Iraqi people”.
Tomorrow night Ewa Jasiewicz, UK rep for the Basra Oil Workers Union, comes to Cardiff to explain how Iraqi trade unions are determined not to let the oil giants have it all their own way.
If you can’t make it to the meeting, Ewa explains all in this article.
:: Ewa Jasiewicz is at the Wallace Lecture Theatre, Main Building, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff on Tuesday October 2 at 7pm.

If only GMTV was like this

Bruce Springsteen’s new song Radio Nowhere features one of his old rallying cries – “Is there anybody alive out there?”
Yesterday, he turned up on the Today show in the United States to ask that question again.
Whereas ‘regular’ superstars write easy listening love songs and elegies to Princess Diana, Springsteen has cast his net wider than any other major artist. He wrote a whole album about the exploitation of migrant workers (The Ghost of Tom Joad), and has written songs about police brutality and the Iraq war.
He defended the Dixie Chicks against right-wing America and attacked President Bush over his failures in New Orleans.
During the Today appearance he listed many great things about America.
Then he added: “But over the past six years we’ve had to add to the American picture: rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeus corpus, the neglect of our great city New Orleans and its people, an attack on the Constitution. And the loss of our young best men and women in a tragic war.
“This is a song about things that shouldn’t happen here—happening here.”

A word on General Petraeus

It is only an aside, but it sums up why George Bush was so keen to make General David H Petraeus his messenger.

The New York Times reports that the general’s Iraq “progress” report had been expected to provoke an epic confrontation between opponents of the war and its front-line leaders.
“But that conflict did not fully materialize Monday,” it stated. “In part because only a few Democrats on two House committees seemed inclined to dispute with much vigor the assessments provided by a commander with medals on his chest and four stars on his shoulders.”
Opposition politicians in the United States – and, in the UK, for that matter – let the people down before the invasion. We should not be surprised if they do it again, dazzled as they are by medals and stars.
Petraeus himself knows the importance of good presentation.
Believe it or not, his new publication, The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is available on Amazon.
I’m not encouraging you to buy it, you understand. But you can read a review in the Morning Star (August 24, 2007).
One of the key messages is that we stop calling places where people are shot at, maimed and killed “battlefields”. It’s not nice.
“In a conflict among the people, terms like ‘battlefield’ influence perceptions and confuse the critical nature of a synchronised approach,” says the general. “Refrain from referring to and considering the area of operations as a ‘battlefield’ or it may continue to be one.”


Downing Street’s failure to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon last summer has been criticised by the foreign affairs select committee.
MPs say a better response in July 2006 could have reduced casualties during the 34 days of slaughter.
One politician who did speak out was Pontypridd MP Kim Howells.
Howells, who is not always appreciated at What Is Wales?, did at least react when confronted with the evidence of Israeli attacks.
“The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes,’ said the Foreign Office Minister on a visit to Beirut.
His words fell on deaf ears in London.
Tony Blair is now a peace envoy to the region.
Still hard to believe that’s not a joke.
Enough to make someone, somewhere die laughing.

But, oh Kim, your remarks last year, still baffle.
Admitting Iraq was “a mess but it’s starting to look like the sort of mess that most of us live in” should surely qualify you for some sort of extended lie down in a dark room.
At least 200 dead yesterday, Kim. Eight million Iraqis in need of emergency aid, according to Oxfam.
It’s not a mess, is it? It’s a tragedy. And looks nothing like where “most of us live” or would want to.

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