Tag Archives: Tony Blair

Eleven years after 9/11: torture

Nor is the war on Iraq all that Blair should perhaps answer for. There is the torture and extrajudicial imprisonment of “terror suspects”, too. Written as an appendix to Eleven Years After 9/11 about how Blair lied the UK into war with Iraq.

On Thursday 30th August, the US government announced that it had

closed its investigation into the alleged torture of more than 100 detainees held by the CIA in overseas prisons, and the deaths of two men who died while in CIA custody, without prosecuting anyone.

The Justice Department’s announcement Thursday that it would not bring charges in the deaths of terror suspects Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi formally ended a multi-year probe by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham into the CIA’s controversial “enhanced interrogation” program.

(Update, 15th October: But this post at Empty Wheel suggests that there may be still some US legal action against torturers, in a whistleblowing case about another known instance of torture in US custody.)

In 2003 and 2004 the Bush administration discussed and approved a list of “enhanced interrogation techniques” which were to be permitted for use by the CIA. The evidence for these meetings has been public since October 2008. The approval of torture techniques by the US administration was illegal under the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
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Our constitution, July 2012: Treaties and war

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1980: War is murder writ large.

“Parliamentary control of treaties and war-making power, etc”

Today, a Higgs boson particle was discovered – a scientific discovery that confirms the Standard Model physics uses to explain the structure of the universe, first proposed by Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University. This is a great day, and not one I would have wanted to use to discuss treaties and war.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos, 1980

There is no other species on the Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.

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Our constitution, July 2012: Fixed term parliaments

“Fixed term, four year Parliaments: dissolution only if government cannot be formed or if Parliament votes for its own dissolution by a two-third majority.”

This is a part of the Constitution that would probably pass with least discussion. Fixed-term Parliaments are mandated in a devolved Scotland by the 1998 Act, and it is broadly agreed in constitutional democracies outside the UK that the power to dissolve Parliament and set the date for the next General Election is not something that should be under the control of the government of the day: it’s one of the powers of the Crown that accrues to the Prime Minister in the UK’s decidedly unwritten Constitution.

Margaret Thatcher used it in May 1983 to call a General Election two years early on the feelgood factor from the Falklands War: John Major used it to not call a General Election that he knew he wouldn’t win until literally the very last minute, April 1997 (and so did Gordon Brown in May 2010, despite Tony Blair’s having set the example of calling an election every four years). David Cameron will probably do the same, unless he starts a small war somewhere for electoral good value.

Looking back at the old Scottish Parliament, it was of course no more representative of the people then the old English Parliament: the Three Estates of the old Scottish Parliament (the lordis of counsall and sessioun) were the prelates (the bishops and abbots: the Catholics were removed in 1567, the Protestants removed in 1688); the lay tenants-in-chief or parliamentary peers (comprising three degrees of nobility: dukes, earls, and lairds – a laird or “lord of parliament” would have been the owner of a landed estate which was not part of a village or town or royal burgh); and the Burgh Commissioners elected by the royal burghs. From 1592 onwards there were also Shire Commissioners, selected by the lairds of the shire, and from 1603, royal office holders: I think the Universities also had parliamentary representation, but I don’t know how that worked. The three Representation of the People Acts in 1832 for England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, were the first steps towards making Parliament democratically representative.

The Parliament of Scotland was always unicameral and the collective term used for the members was traditionally the Thrie Estaitis even when there seem to have been four or five. (Mostly from A Short History of the Scottish Parliament.) The representatives from the Royal Burghs were the largest estate within the Parliament, and the 1707 Act of Union specified: “That the Rights and Privileges of the Royal Boroughs in Scotland as they now are Do Remain entire after the Union and notwithstanding thereof”.
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Scottish and undecided

Tomorrow, I’m going to an anti-fascist demo. But more of that later.

This morning, in response to the news about David Cameron’s decision to award the BSkyB decision-maker role to Jeremy Hunt (and Hunt then actively misleading Parliament) Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, tweeted:

I’m in agreement with Ben Bradshaw that this is a low point, but the last Minister who repeatedly misled the House of Commons and neither resigned nor was sacked was Tony Blair: he fed the Labour MPs the “dodgy dossier” that somewhat quelled the backbencher rebellion against the Iraq war. As multiple people (myself included) promptly pointed out to him.
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Megrahi and the Lockerbie bombing

In December 1988, I was living in a single room in a two hundred year old block of flats in Edinburgh that looked every year of its age. I was a student: I didn’t own a TV: and my only access to the Internet was via the university’s mainframe and terminals, and on the night of 21st December, I was on my Christmas break. The Lockerbie bombing was headlines in the papers next day, and for some time after that, and the source of the question airline staff are required to ask: “Did you pack your luggage yourself? Did anyone give you anything to carry?”

Lockerbie is a small town in Dumfries and Galloway, 74 miles from Edinburgh by car: the fastest way to get there by train is via Manchester. The Lockerbie Creamery has been making cheese and butter for more than fifty years, but ever since 1988 whenever I see “Lockerbie”, even on the wrapping of a dairy product, I think bombing, plane crash, death.

Three years after the Lockerbie bombing, I heard two men had been indicted (by the then-Lord Advocate, Peter Fraser: Baron, QC, and briefly a Conservative MP) and over eleven years later, the Scottish court set up in the Netherlands. A special reminder has been added to Scottish jury duty notices ever since, warning potential jurors that in principle they can be asked to serve in Scots courts anywhere in the world. Just over twelve years and one month after the Lockerbie bombing, one of the men indicted was convicted, 31st January 2001, over 11 years ago: Megrahi went to jail in Inverclyde, sentenced for life.

But for most of that time, there has been an awful niggling doubt as to whether Megrahi was actually guilty. Continue reading

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1.5 million reasons why the Iraq war still matters

Since the UK invaded Iraq in 2003, the biggest human rights crime committed by my country in my lifetime, I have voted Scottish Green whenever they gave me the opportunity.
Iraq Deaths Estimator

Tony Blair was guilty of an international war crime when he took the UK into war with Iraq in 2003. Whatever the Conservatives like to say now, they were even more gung-ho for war in 2003 than Tony Blair was: the sexed-up dossier that Downing Street produced was intended to justify the case for war on Iraq to the Labour backbenchers, not to other parties.

This criminal act does not condemn the whole Labour Party, much less all of the MPs, not those who were honestly fooled by the dossier and especially not the 139 MPs who voted against Blair’s war. But the Iraq war is a huge crime, a horrible blot on the party in government then who instigated it, and the party in government now who supported it. I stopped being an instinctive Labour voter in 2003. Prior to that year, in any election where there was a Labour candidate, they would have had the strongest claim on my vote. After that: no.

Today is the ninth anniversary of the day that 15 million people round the world – over a hundred thousand people in Glasgow – came together and said No to the Iraq war. And we were right.

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