Peacemakers

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.

"High tempo" Iraq

Continuing this theme about the strange words used by the arms trade, it is interesting to note that BAE Systems has just announced a first-half profit rise of 27 percent.

Thanks to its upgrades of Bradley fighting vehicles for the US army in Iraq and production of fighter jet parts, its net income rose to £515m.
According to a company statement: “The high tempo of military operations continues to generate growth in requirements for land systems in support of US and UK armed forces deployed on overseas operations.”

On the campaign concerned with the military training academy at St Athan there is more in the current issue of Big Issue Cymru. And for a lot more information on the campaign try here.

No words for Iraq shame

Peace activist Dr Margaret Jones made some headlines last week when she was sentenced for breaking into a US airbase prior to the bombing of Iraq.
Dr Jones was given a six-month curfew order and ordered to wear an electronic tag after her trial at Bristol Crown Court.
The 58-year-old university lecturer used hammers and bolt cutters to disable fuel tankers and trailers used for carrying bombs at RAF Fairford.
She did it to prevent the “murder of innocent civilians”.
The Daily Telegraph, one of the newspapers to report her trial, gave the story 143 words.
In the same week some of the devastation which Dr Jones had been trying to stop came to light in an Oxfam report which described how eight million Iraqis – almost a third of the population – were in need of emergency aid.
It said that 43 per cent were living in “absolute poverty” with malnutrition rates in children have risen from 19 per cent before the 2003 invasion to 28 per cent now.
Nine out of ten Iraqi children show learning difficulties related to psychological trauma. Seventy per cent of Iraqis are without access to adequate water supplies and 80 per cent lack effective sanitation.
The Oxfam report painted a devastating picture of a country in such a dreadful state of breakdown that it is impossible for us to imagine the lives of many there.
Number of words on this report in the Daily Telegraph? None, I’m afraid.

No childish politics please, I’m Chris Bryant

Firstly, no it wasn’t the picture that first drew me to this post on Guerrilla Welsh-Fare.
It’s just that it is always so lovely to read about Chris Bryant, as it gives me a chance to relate my favourite stories.
Now, seeing as he is tamping at the priority given to Welsh words over English ones at railway stations in Wales, let’s look back at what last rattled his cage.
Back in January he was miffed at Jill Evans and Leanne Wood’s anti-Trident protests.
“I think trying to get yourself arrested is childish politics,” he said. “They should be representing their constituents. I think it’s a shame they have got their priorities all wrong.”
As I said at the time it is interesting to note what the former churchman sees as ‘childish politics’.
Four years ago exactly I had been carrying out a survey of Welsh MPs to ask whether they would “support British forces taking part in a war on Iraq without the backing of the United Nations?”
Almost all MPs responded.
As did Bryant, but not by answering the question.
“I don’t do surveys,” he said pompously. “I don’t answer silly questions.”

The Extraordinary Kim Howells

Always a pleasure to report on the latest successes of an old friend, Pontypridd MP and Middle East minister Kim Howells.
Last time Howells had a walk-on part at What Is Wales? it was over some silly old stuff about Iraqi Oil.
But now he’s back – and thanks to Private Eye for bringing this one to my attention. This time he causes a return to a grim topic, so-called “extraordinary rendition”.
As Private Eye reports: “Even on the last day of the Blair regime, Howells was sticking to the line that the US does not fly torture victims in and out of British airfields”.
The report takes its lead from this fascinating exchange in the House of Commons (anoraks should click back over previous sections of the Hansard record for the full debate).
Suffice to say the following exchange confirms the former NUM firebrand remains reluctant to burn bridges to Bush.
Tory Geoffrey Clifton-Brown asked him: “May I again press the Minister to make a statement here today that the British Government utterly refuse, refute and condemn anything to do with what is commonly known as extraordinary rendition involving torture?”
“Absolutely,” said the good doctor. “I give that undertaking totally. We are completely opposed to such activities. They are a violation of every international treaty that we have signed up to and of British law, and I hope that that is clear.”
Then, chipped in another Conservative Andrew Tyrie, “Will the Minister clarify whether in saying that he is condemning the policy that the United States has developed during the past seven or eight years for large numbers of extraordinary renditions? Is it British policy publicly to make our Government’s dissociation from that policy crystal-clear to the Americans?”
Er. “No,” responded Howells, “I am not criticising American Government policy. The honorable gentleman assumes that the Americans are torturing people. I certainly do not have such information, but he is very clear about it. I disagree entirely.”
Tyrie bit back: “Is the Minister seriously suggesting that the overwhelming body of evidence that has been produced in Washington to show that the Americans have been engaged in rendition, a policy that involves cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that amounts to torture, does not exist or has been made up? Is he suggesting that it is just a figment of the imagination of people on the Opposition Benches?”
Howells replied: “No, it certainly is not a figment of the imagination. Such treatment would not take place in Britain, in British prisons or in prisons that Britain is responsible for administering in any other territory.”
So, just like the Americans, it’s a case of ‘not on our soil – someone else’s’. How convenient.
As noted here in December, extraordinary rendition is 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.

Say ‘Hello’ To Hellstorm Seven

Vox pops can be the scourge of the reporter’s life.
For a start, they mean mixing with the ‘public’. Face to face.
A friend of mine had to go out to an M4 service station and ask travellers what they thought of the toilets – they had just one some award.
Well, one, it’s embarrassing standing with a camera and stopping people as they leave the loo.
And, two, it’s one of the unwritten duties of the reporter to rebel against the daft things newsdesks ask them to do.
My friend got around it this way.
He stopped people getting on a coach going towards London and asked them an entirely different question.
Back in the Cardiff newsroom he made up their names, rewrote their answers so that they gave glowing references for the service station toilets and then sent their photos and ‘quotes’ for publication.
No one was any the wiser. The newsdesk, the London daytrippers who would never see the newspaper or, indeed, the readers.
They do vox pops in Iraq too. British reporters hunker down in the back of Humvees so that when someone back in London asks them what “the Iraqi people” think, they have a response.
The sharp-toothed watchdogs at Media Lens highlighted a vox pop aired on Newsnight recently.
The BBC reporter was travelling in a Humvee called “Hellstorm Seven”. (American “peacekeepers” always have such suitable call-signs, don’t they? It must be so reassuring when “SuddenViolentDeath Three” and “CollateralDamage Four” arrive at your door.)
The hack jumped from the vehicle to point his microphone at the locals and to ask “whether they feel secure” as the surge happens all around them.
“The security situation, we are relaxed about it,” said the man. “We come and open our shops, even though business is down. There is stability now.”
An American soldier asked another Iraqi: “So you’re happy we’re here.”
“Oh, very, very, very happy,” came the eager reply.
Now, behind the reporter and the kindly-looking soldier, remember, are the soldiers of Hellstorm Seven.
These guys can barely move for weaponry. They make Robocop look like Gandhi.
And they will be back later on another patrol – when the BBC is back in the Green Zone.
What does the reporter expect these people to say?
“No, I’m very pissed off. Would you mind giving me my neighbourhood back?”

The Finest Mess

Psst! Do you want to know a secret?
Alright, it’s not much of a shock.
But do you remember all that silly old Iraq stuff about No War for Oil?
Silly marchers, silly banners, and all that. Silly, wasn’t it?
Oh, how They scoffed.
What we should have been highlighting, it seems, was oil as a bi-productive of war.
We can confirm that now. We have a decent source: dear old Kim Howells, Pontypridd MP, and NUM firebrand-turned Blair bootroom-boy.
Dr Kim has given a written response to a Parliamentary question asking what meetings our government has had with oil companies to discuss Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
“Our work on Iraq’s economic and energy sector has included contacts with oil companies, as well as trade unions representatives and non-governmental organisations,” said the dedicated Foreign Office minister.
“These exchanges have included discussion of Iraq’s evolving hydrocarbons legislation where British international oil companies have valuable perspectives to offer based on their experience in other countries. Discussions with international oil companies on hydrocarbons legislation have included the range of contract types which Iraq is considering.”
So, waffle aside, international oil companies have been giving their view on the future of the world’s second largest oil reserves. How long, I wonder, did it take to wipe the oil execs’ saliva off that boardroom table?
In fact, Britain and America are putting pressure on Baghdad to pass a law – “evolving hydrocarbons legislation” – which would hand long-term control of Iraqi oil reserves over to foreign multinationals.
“Exploration contracts” would allow the oil giants to sink their fangs into the country’s untapped fields.
Didn’t see that one coming, did you!
The Iraqi trades unions want its oil reserves kept in public hands. But who will listen to them?
Back in July 2005, Hassan Juma’a Awad al-Asade, leader of the country’s General Union of Oil Workers, said: “The first stage of the occupation of our country was to seize the oil fields. Now, the second stage is under way, and this is the privatisation of the oil and manufacturing industries of our country. We are against this because it is against the interests of the Iraqi people.”
This month, he added: “History will not forgive those who play recklessly with the wealth and destiny of a people.”
Iraq is struggling with violence and poverty. “Yet, with the support of our government, multinationals are poised to take control of Iraq’s oil wealth,” said Ruth Tanner, of War On Want.
Unable to negotiate with the oil giants, Iraq will watch a carve-up of its own natural resources. That’s money that in the hands of the Iraqis themselves could be used to rebuild a country devastated by dictatorship, sanctions, war and occupation.
A year ago this month Dr Howells visited Iraq to examine the oil industry. Afterwards, he admitted to Radio 4’s Today programme that Iraq was a “mess”.
“But it is a mess that can’t launch an attack now on Iran; a mess that won’t be able to march into Kuwait; it’s a mess that can’t develop nuclear weapons,” he said.
“So, yes, it’s a mess but it’s starting to look like the sort of mess that most of us live in.”
Like a mess “that most of us live in”!
Could that be the most offensive thing said about Pontypridd? Or did Dr Howells mean something else altogether?
Maybe he meant Iraq’s just another place held over a barrel by energy companies.

:: The above was written for Big Issue Cymru (March 5). There’s more on this story in today’s Independent On Sunday
http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article2347416.ece

‘The Path to 9/11’


The Path to 9/11
Some thoughts.
Firstly, shouldn’t the “path” to that atrocity have included some reasoning behind the terror strikes, some explanation of America as choice of target?
Secondly, how come the US security experts depicted here knew nothing about Osama Bin Laden when the CIA had funded him in the 1980s?
Thirdly, yes, it was fantastically well made. But it felt uncomfortably like some awful episode of ‘24’, depicting life at CTU when Jack Bauer is on holiday and unable to save the day. This was reinforced by an actress from the series in the role of Condoleezza Rice.
Fourthly, the events of that day have lost none of their ability to shock and upset. It combines so many fears: terrorism, plane crash, tumbling buildings, trapped by fire. The sheer callousness of it all sticks in the throat. But the reconstruction of the Manhattan streets when the towers collapsed had to be the most redundant piece of film-making ever: everyone has the real images of billowing rubble, dust, shredded clothes and paper indelibly imprinted on their minds.
Someone said to me yesterday, quite innocently: “My God, September 11 has been on the radio all day.”
My first reaction was: “Of course, it was September 11, you fool!”
But then I thought about the Rwandan genocide where there were 3,000 victims every day for 100 days – before noon.
And of the 100,000 or so people who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where are the wall-to-wall drama-documentaries and TV movies about them?
Where are the reconstructions of them kissing their wives goodbye as they head off to work on their final day?
I’m not saying the suffering of September 11 does not deserve to be remembered. Of course it does.
But doesn’t the overwhelming focus on one nation’s suffering suggest we have learnt nothing?
We keep hearing that we value every innocent life the same, but it doesn’t always seem that way in practice.
Until we recognise that, we are destined to keep witnessing events which will be marked every five years by grim films like The Path to 9/11.

:: The Path to 9/11 was made by ABC and was broadcast by the BBC over two nights, September 10 and 11.

Death and Taxes

Marie Walsh’s job is all about avoiding conflict but she is heading for a showdown with the Government.
The mediation teacher from Blackwood has refused to pay ten per cent of her income tax.
She began her protest in January 2003 and has so far withheld £134.45 on the self-employed part of her earnings.
In February the Inland Revenue threatened her with court and she risks jail if she continues to face down the tax man.
The Revenue also has the right to seize personal property if she does not cough up, but the money is not there. She has already passed it on to a number of peace organisations, including CND.
This is no common tax dodge then. The 49-year-old started with-holding the cash at the time of the war on Afghanistan and has continued throughout the invasion of Iraq.
Marie, whose work involves resolving disputes (without the use of bunker busters, Black Hawks or suicide bombings), says: “I have a conscientious objection to war. I want the right to pay that proportion of my tax into a fund to prevent conflict without military means.”
Her actions highlight a dilemma for many, particularly as we are all conscribed to our Government’s wars through its access to our hard-earned cash. (About ten per cent of our taxes contribute something like £37bn a year to war).
In fact, only a few weeks after Marie started her protest an early day motion was laid before MPs.
It recognised the “increased distress felt” by many on being “forced to contribute through their taxes to military activity”.
The motion asked the Government to find a way in which people who objected to war could ensure the “military part of their taxes” could be spent on “peace-building initiatives”. It was signed by 20 MPs, including a number from Plaid Cymru.
Tax resistance came of age in the United States during the Vietnam War when the US government acted like some medieval king preparing to take his armies abroad and reintroduced a special war tax.
It was added to phone bills, but eventually half a million Americans were refusing to pay it.
The Hang Up On War campaign continues, with thousands ignoring the surcharge which became permanent under George Bush senior (and now raises about $6bn a year).
Each protester like Marie Walsh risks a knock from the bailiffs. But what other options do they have in our supposed democracy to stop being co-opted into the killing?
Aren’t their individual acts of disobedience now the only way to back up the Not In My Name rhetoric with Not With My Money defiance?
To govern is to choose on behalf of the people and to accept responsibility for your actions. Not one British politician has done that, even though Iraq is now an occupation of a largely unwilling population by largely unwilling armed forces.
Instead politicians distort the truth and shift the blame in ways which would get most of us the sack.
They thrive safe in the knowledge that all we – the voters – get is a single X on a piece of paper every five years.
Did you honestly believe – even before the furore over cash for coronets – that scrawled X offered you the same handle on power as a CEO of a multinational, a city banker or a newspaper owner?
No major Westminster party really opposed the Iraq invasion (don’t be caught out by the Lib Dems’ vomit-inducing, opportunistic, con trick on that one, questioning the action but then supporting it once the killing started) so what real choices are there?
Why shouldn’t one take some power back for one’s self? The Government wants the pound in our pockets so withholding it might be one of the few weapons of mass disruption we have left.
It’s all very well to understand the rottenness of the world we live in. The point, a philosopher once said, is to try to change it.
Marie at least can say she saw what was wrong and she did her small bit to make a difference.

First published in The Big Issue

Lying in state?

There were different decisions made at the BBC and ITV news conferences this morning.
The BBC concentrated primarily on the Milosevic funeral (reporting initially that there were around 20,000 mourners in Belgrade and then having to revise that estimate to a much higher figure).
Its second story was the Government’s Pensions Day consultation.
ITV on the other hand led with the growing number of protesters in Parliament Square preparing to march against the continuing, bloody shambles in Iraq.
It followed that with the Milosevic funeral.
Interesting how the broadcasts from the BBC managed to ignore the anti-war protest and replace it with a Government PR exercise. State broadcaster, anyone?