Monthly Archives: December 2013

The IndependentGuardian and ITV News all report on the long awaited declassification of key documents to the Iraq Inquiry paving the way for the inquiry’s impasse over the publication of its report to be lifted. The Inquiry was established in 2009 to investigate Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war but has been dogged by delays over the publication of its findings after key documents were withheld from the Inquiry.

The Independent in an exclusive report claims that progress has been made over access to the documents with their declassification expected ‘within the next few months’.

The Independent claims “a cache of notes from Mr Blair to Mr Bush, records of telephone conversations and meetings, as well as up to 200 minutes of cabinet-level discussions are to be published in the new year.”

According to the Guardian, extracts of the Blair-Bush correspondence are expected to be published in the final report, albeit in redacted form, allowing for the Maxwellisation process, by which individuals are alerted to provisional criticisms offering an opportunity for their defence, to progress.

There have been recurrent delays to the publication of the Inquiry report due to the Government’s refusal to disclose key documents amid concerns for preserving relations with the United States. Last month, Sir John Chilcot in a statement on the Inquiry website, argued that its work could not proceed to the next phase without “the satisfactory completion of discussions between the inquiry and the government on disclosure of material that the inquiry wishes to include in its report or publish alongside it”.

A crucial document is said to consist of a communication between Blair and Bush in July 2002 in which the former PM gave the US preisdent the impression that the UK would back a US led military campaign to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Sir David Manning, Blair’s chief foreign affairs adviser, is said to have criticised Blair’s original draft communication as “too sweeping” and “went further than we should have gone”.

According to the Guardian, Whitehall is expecting that the report to criticise Blair, his foreign secretary Jack Straw, Gordon Brown and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6.

The Independent goes on to report that a government source has stated that “there is an ongoing process of declassification, which is attempting to strike a careful balance to ensure that you are not setting a legal precedent that could oblige you to publish other documents in the future or damage national security.”

The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph both report on the lifting of an anonymity order in the trial of two defendants charged with perverting the course of justice.

The respective dailies headlined the articles ‘Daily Mail lifts veil of secrecy judge threw over trial of two Muslim lawyers on trial for perverting the course of justice ‘for cultural reasons” and ‘Muslim lawyers on trial granted anonymity for ‘cultural reasons” leaving little room for doubt in the readers mind that the two individuals at the centre of the case were granted certain privileges on account of their religion.

And yet, the facts of the case reveal a very different set of events.

It transpires that the judge initially ruled in favour of reporting restrictions in order to ensure due process and a fair trial for the defendants. In the words of her barrister, Asha Khan, one of those charged, feared compromising her evidence in court because “if matters are reported she doesn’t feel she would be able to give her evidence as freely as she would have done otherwise.

“That’s her concern. Culturally, it’s very difficult for them to say things in public. The evidence would be impacted on by the cultural background of Miss Khan.”

Once the trial was concluded, Judge Stephen Ashurst agreed to lifting reporting restrictions saying:

“It seems to me all these orders were designed to ensure that a fair trial was not prejudiced in Asha Khan and Kashif Khan’s case.

“Now proceedings have concluded I can’t see there’s any justification for continuing these orders.”

It is false to suggest, as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph evidently do in their headlines, that the reason for granting anonymity was ‘cultural sensitivities’. Rather, the main purpose in granting reporting restrictions in the first instance was to prevent prejudicing the prospects of a fair trial.

The Daily Mail editorial goes further proclaiming the paper’s insistence in contesting the reporting restrictions stating, “Eight months after an extraordinary legal battle over secret justice, this paper is at last able to report how a judge sought to protect two Muslim defendants from publicity for ‘cultural reasons’.”

The editorial asks why it is that “British judges should need reminding of the two most fundamental principles of justice: transparency and equality before the law?”

How different to the newspaper’s coverage of the anonymity order granted to the Royal Marine, Sergeant Alexander Blackman, recently convicted of the murder of an Afghan insurgent. The marine was initially granted an anonymity order preventing media agencies from disclosing his identity, an order that was later lifted.

At the time, the Daily Mail message board posed the question:

Should Royal Marine who murdered Taliban insurgent have been named?

So much for its unbiased championing of ‘transparency and equality before the law’.

Such reactions are particularly conspicuous among the youth, those aged 18-24, who were equally split between boredom (34%) and anger (34%). The Guardian editorial today appraises the long term impact on voter turnout and civic engagement of ennui among younger members of the population stating, “…there was a gulf in turnout of over 30 percentage points between the oldest and youngest [at the last election]; today’s survey implies that this gulf could widen further, to the point where youngsters become less than half as likely to cast a ballot as their older peers.”

Only 16% of those polled felt ‘respectful’ towards politicians while a mere 2% claimed to be ‘inspired’ by them. Such results confirm the longstanding decline of public trust in politicians with the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey suggesting that “those who govern Britain today have an uphill struggle to persuade the public that their hearts are in the right place.”

Nearly two thirds of respondents (64%) claimed that the failure of politicians to keep their promises discouraged them from voting; the single largest factor. The view that “MPs were just on the take”, was expressed by 46% of respondents, illustrating the devastating impact of the expenses scandal in 2009, while other reasons given were ‘careerist’ candidates, little difference between the parties and the poor match between voter attitudes and political parties.

Only 2% of respondents regarded registering and casting a vote as an inconvenience dispelling notions that electoral registration puts people off voting. However, a report published by the Electoral Commission in 2011 found that at least 6 million eligible voters, making up 15% of total eligible voters, were not registered to vote.

The poll findings seem consistent with the survey commissioned by the Committee on Standards in Public Life which also found that 40% of voters were ‘disconnected’ or ‘alienated’ from British political parties and would not consider voting at the next general election. Similarly, the Hansard Society’s 9th Audit of Political Engagement report in 2012 found that the number of people who said they would vote in the event of an immediate general election fell from 58% to 48% while 16% said that they were ‘absolutely certain not to vote’.

Despite voter disillusionment and a decline in democratic participation, the ICM poll reveals that the public still evince an interest in politics and a belief in its influence over their lives with 86% acknowledging that the political decisions are important to voters’ life and 62% of claiming to discuss ‘politics’ with friends and family at least every couple of weeks. A fact the Guardian in its editorial regards as a consolation given the alternative, a public that is widely indifferent.

Popular interest in politics is again confirmed by the BSA survey which stated, “In 1986, 29 per cent said that they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of interest in politics and the figure has remained at or around 30 per cent most years since then, and now stands at 36 per cent.”

The Guardian/ICM poll doesn’t break down the results by ethnic or faith groups so little can be surmised of Muslim voter engagement given the results of an Ipsos MORI survey of May 2010 showing that 29% of Muslims who said they did not vote gave as reasons ‘disinterest’ and that there was ‘no point’. With the younger demographic profile of British Muslims, 48% are aged under 24, the findings on voter apathy among the young is particularly concerning.

Earlier this summer, the MPS revealed the year on increase in Islamophobic crimes in the months following Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder as:

May – 139%

June – 197%

July – 122%

Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe confirmed that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the capital had risen eightfold in the two weeks following 22 May.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said 71 incidents were reported to its national community tension team during the five days after Rigby’s murder on 22 May.

The Guardian rightly notes that the figures “could be much higher as nearly half of the 43 forces in England and Wales did not reveal how many hate crimes had targeted Muslims.”

Only 24 of the 43 forces approached responded to the FOI to disclose results.

The Guardian further notes, “Some forces admitted they did not always record the faith of a religious hate-crime victim.”

Last week the Home Office published data on hate crimes in England and Wales showing that race remained the “most commonly reported motivating factor in hate crime incidents in the period assessed was race followed by religion, with an average of 154 000 incidents and 70 000 incidents a year respectively.

“Similarly, at 85%, race was reported to be the most common motivating factor in hate crimes recorded by the police with 35 885 offences recorded during 2012-13. The figure for racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by police over the period was 30,234.”

“In 2012/13, the police recorded 1 573 religious hate crimes, compared with 1 622 offences the previous year (a fall of 3%). Religious hate crime accounted for 4% of police recorded hate crimes in 2012/13.”

However, as has been documented, the category of religious hate crime does not disaggregate by religion which prevents any further analysis of the faith group affected. Matters are also complicated by the fact that incidents and crimes are sometimes classified by race and not religion, preventing a clearer picture to emerge of the actual incidence of anti-Muslim hate crime.

Superintendent Paul Giannasi, ACPO’s spokesman on hate crime, said: “ACPO has played a key role in improving reporting mechanisms.

“We are working with local police forces, to help improve the way we respond to hate crime and to provide robust and transparent hate crime data.”

The promise is among those noted in the Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation’s report, stating police forces would, “ensure that the extremist dimension of hate crimes is properly logged and taken into account when conducting their investigations.”

But as we stated then, the Taskforce report falls short of two substantive policies which would be far more meaningful in aiding integration and challenging Islamophobia: a requirement to record Islamophobia as a category of hate crime by all police forces in the country, as is currently the case with anti-Semitism, and a  review of the incitement legislation which grants groups defined by religion lesser protection under the law than those defined by race.

Concerns about the lesser protection on incitement to hatred is captured in the Guardian article in its mention of anti-Muslim hate speech on social media sites; an issue which came to some prominence after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby given the number of posts placed on Facebook and Twitter, some of which have been successfully prosecuted.

The guidelines revised by the Crown Prosecution Service last year continue to pose a problem with the threshold deemed too high and thereby permitting an undue leniency.

A CPS spokeswoman said: “In order to preserve the right to free speech the threshold for prosecution must be high and only communications that are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false are prohibited by the legislation.”

According to the Guardian and the Independent, a justice ministry spokesman said: “The courts already hand out tougher punishments where race or religion are found to be aggravating factors. The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for these appalling crimes is higher than ever before.”

That may well be but the problem remains the poor classification of crimes to accurately capture the level of Islamophobic crimes in the UK and the encouragement given to victims to seek legal redress of grievance.

One thing the Press Association’s Freedom of Information request does settle is the misguided efforts of those who have for some time rubbished the idea that anti-Muslim hate crime is rising.

Coverage extends to speculate on the means and reasons for the radicalisation of the two men, both Christian converts to Islam. Columnists also venture to draw on foreign policy and its impact on young Muslims from Iraq and Afghanistan to the conflict in Syria.

Reflecting on claims made last month by Assistant Metropolitan Commissioner, Cressida Dick, that young British Muslims who have crossed into Syria to fight against the Assad regime pose a risk, on their return, to UK security, Mary Dejevsky in the Independent draws parallels with the Spanish Civil War and the British men who fought against Franco’s regime in solidarity with their left wing comrades.

While Adebolajo said in court that “It was the Iraq war that affected me the most,” Dejevsky argues that the foreign policy motives of the murderers of Lee Rigby should not be extended to the causes abroad taken up by Britons in search of justice. She writes, “Nothing excuses or mitigates the crimes of Adebolajo and Adebowale. But to conclude from their extremist actions that young Britons volunteering to fight in Syria are cut from the same ideological cloth risks stoking some of the very tensions they had hoped to inflame.”

On the topic, Seamus Milne in a comment piece in The Guardian brings into focus the one variable missing from the Government’s Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation report: foreign policy. The Taskforce which published the conclusions of its deliberations on tackling extremism and radicalisation earlier this month mentions a range of variables from prisons to universities and supplementary schools, but glaringly does not mention foreign policy as a factor in the radicalisation on young Muslims. Milne writes:

“To say these attacks are about “foreign policy” prettifies the reality. They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead. Only the wilfully blind or ignorant can be shocked when there is blowback from that onslaught at home. The surprise should be that there haven’t been more such atrocities.

“Unless the pressure grows to halt the terror war abroad, Woolwich certainly won’t be the end of it at home.”

Also in The Guardian, Simon Jenkins reviews the surveillance state that has grown in the shadow of the ‘war on terror’ and the corresponding growth in defence budgets. He writes:

“Terrorism has been used as a justification for most of the “wars of choice” that the British have been encouraged to fight in recent years. The wars are given a light dusting of humanitarianism until the death rate starts to climb. How those wars have made Britons feel more secure is a mystery. While the Woolwich killers appear demented, it is hard to maintain that they would have committed their act of murder had Britain not fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. There has been no evident diminution in the “terrorist menace”.”

Editorials in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail today both empathise with the task faced by security agencies as they face scrutiny over what they knew about the two men. Both editorials also focus on Al Muhajiroun with the Daily Mail blaming “the political correctness and one-time unchallenged belief in multiculturalism that characterised Britain’s failure to tackle hate preachers who have warped so many young minds.”

The DM editorial continues, “The police and politicians must stop their hand-wringing and finally find a way round the human rights lawyers so they can be prosecuted or deported.”

It would be amusing were the circumstances not so tragic, to see the newspapers that have been at the forefront of amplifying the antics of Al Muhajiroun, and its previous incarnations, now take heed of the ramifications of granting fringe provocateurs the oxygen of publicity.

There was some media coverage on Thursday on ITV NewsThe Guardian and BBC News on the publication of the interim report of the Detainee Inquiry led by Sir Peter Gibson into alleged British involvement in rendition and torture including the cases of Abdel Hakim Belhadj, Binyam Mohamed and other former Guantanamo Bay inmates. Sir Peter Gibson told BBC News that documents suggested the UK “may have been inappropriately involved in some renditions. That is a very serious matter.”

The Inquiry, set up in 2010, was established to investigate claims of “whether the UK Government, and its Security and Intelligence Agencies, were involved in, or aware of, improper treatment of rendition of detainees” held by other countries in counter-terrorism operations overseas as well as an examination of UK Government’s policy response. Outlined by the Prime Minister David Cameron in his letter to Sir Peter Gibson, “the particular focus is the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001 and particularly cases involving the detention of UK nationals and residents in Guantanamo Bay.”

Based on a review of around 20,000 confidential documents disclosed to the Inquiry, the Inquiry identified in its report four themes: interrogation and treatment issues, rendition, training and guidance, and government policy and communications. The reports states that different themes or issues might have emerged if witness evidence had been available in order “to explain matters of potential concern satisfactorily” and to capture the “complete picture”.

Given the Inquiry was abandoned in January 2012, due to police investigations into allegations of complicity in rendition and torture, the report does not offer final conclusions. Instead, it sets out 27 issues the Inquiry feels need to be further examined. These include:

Whether a suitable mechanism was in place to monitor treatment to ensure detainees were not subjected to unacceptable standards of treatment;

Whether coordinated interview strategies remained within appropriate bounds, and if not, to what extent it may have amounted to complicity to using inappropriate techniques or threats; and

Whether the government and agencies became inappropriately involved in renditions

The report gives a chronology of relevant events and developments from 9/11 to the present day including Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers’ involvement in numerous interviews with detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and at the US detention facility at Guantanamo, and their concerns over the treatment of detainees.

On interrogation and treatment issues, the report states:

“In some instances UK intelligence officers were aware of inappropriate interrogation techniques and mistreatment of some detainees by liaison partners from other countries.

“Documents provided to the Inquiry show that in some instances there was a reluctance to raise treatment issues for fear of damaging liaison relationships.”

On rendition, the report indicates that the documents do not suggest a discussion on rendition policy per se in the early years following 9/11. It states that it would have wished to investigate the allegations of UK involvement in rendition in relation to two Libyan nationals, Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami Al Saadi further but that these inquiries were halted by the onset of criminal investigations.

The report states that in some instances, “the documents indicate that there was an opportunity for the UK to object to US proposals to transfer British nationals or UK residents. The issue arises as to whether such opportunities were missed or deliberately not taken.

“Documents received by the Inquiry also show that, in the early stages, the Government did not object to the transfer of British nationals and UK long term residents from Pakistan to the detention centres in Bagram and Guantanamo. This was, in part, because such transfers were not considered to be renditions but military transfers arising from armed conflict.

“The documents received by the Inquiry suggest that the [security] Agencies may have been involved in some instances of US renditions or post-rendition liaison where the appropriateness of such involvement may be open to question and/or where the involvement may have lacked ministerial approval. The documents include instances where the UK may have had an obligation or right to object to the rendition but, at least on the face of the documents, no UK objection was raised.”

On training and guidance, the report states that:

“The Inquiry has not identified significant grounds to doubt that the overall tenor of the instruction to personnel was that detainees must be treated humanely and consistently with the UK’s international legal obligations. But officers deployed on the ground, especially to an area of military operations, need clear guidance on when and with whom to raise concerns.

“It was not until 2010 that guidance addressing both liaison relationships and detainee interviewing was consolidated.”

However, the inquiry found that immediately before deployment to Afghanistan and Guantanamo, officers were given guidance that “focussed on avoiding the UK becoming the detaining power with custody of, and responsibility for, detainees and for ensuring that those detained would be treated humanely. For example, in November 2001, SIS Head Office explained that access to detainees in Afghan custody was subject to two strict conditions: a) that at no time were they to be under SIS control “as this would mean that we [SIS] would incur Geneva Convention responsibilities for them” and b) that they “would not be subject to coercion or torture and generally treated humanely”.”

Moreover, the Inquiry expressed concerns about the use of caveats in guidance issued to officers such as “if case officers are concerned that interviewees are being subjected to unacceptable treatment or detained in unacceptable conditions they should, wherever possible, draw this to the attention of the detaining authority”“. In addition, the inquiry indicated it was unclear whether guidance was given in rendition operations.

On policy and communications, the report raises concerns about whether security agencies could have identified patterns of detainee mistreatment more quickly; and whether the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) received complete and accurate information on detainee treatment issues, including rendition, from the Government and agencies.

The report further states:

“It does not appear from the documents received by the inquiry that any centralised record was subsequently maintained or that there was a system in place within either Agency or any relevant department for collating reports of ill-treatment from officers on the ground prior to 2005.

“It is recorded that on 10 January 2002 the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) accepted that the UK should not stand in the way of the US transferring British nationals to Guantanamo. Here, as elsewhere, the Inquiry was not able to explore the context of this exchange with Mr Straw or with other witnesses.”

With regards to Binyam Mohamed’s case, the Inquiry notes that new documents were uncovered when the Security Service undertook searches in response to the judicial review brought by Binyam Mohamed. This included documents on “US liaison reporting that Binyam Mohamed had been intentionally deprived of sleep while held in Pakistan”. Such information had not been provided to the ISC during its examination into rendition for its report published in June 2007. The Inquiry notes the ISC’s observation that “had the Security Service treated their enquiries with the same rigour as they did when legal disclosure was required, and had their records been fit for purpose, then the information would have come to light during their original inquiry.”

In a statement to MPs yesterday, former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, said the “oversight” of intelligence activities in relation to detainees was “not robust enough”.

Investigation of the UK’s alleged role in torture and rendition in the years following 9/11 is due to be re-launched and led by the ISC. Human rights campaigners have criticised the government’s decision as reneging on the promise of a ‘judge-led inquiry’ while further criticising the reticence shown by the ISC to confront allegations of abuse by the security agencies.

The Birmingham Mail and ITV News cover the sentences passed by Wolverhampton Crown Court on a number of men charged with offences committed during an English Defence League demonstration in Walsall in September last year. Seven men Continue reading