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Showing posts with label terrorism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label terrorism. Show all posts

Friday, 24 December 2010

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.


If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.


The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.



I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB taekover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …

Friday, 1 October 2010

UK defence policy, Trident, carriers and Afghanistan war – the incompetence of the MOD

I received a letter in Wednesday’s post (29th September) from Nick Harvey MP, Minister of Defence for the Armed Forces. It was dated 17th September. This is what presumably is known to the MOD as rapid response. If they base the UK’s defence response to threat on that, we may as well roll over and pee up our bellies right now.

In case you think I was specially privileged to get such a letter in reply to my email on the nuclear deterrent and the Strategic Defence and Security Review you would be mistaken. Several thousand people sent the same email, part of an organised protest against the manifest lunacies of the MOD, not to mention its gross and lethal incompetence.

In mitigation, I least was able to email a Minister of Government and get a response, something I guess would be unlikely or impossible in Iraq, in Iran, in North Korea, in Saudi Arabia, and so on. More likely, I would have got a knock on my door in the early hours – if they bothered to knock.

In Israel, the range of response might have ranged from deportation to assassination in my room by agents of Mossad – but they would probably have sent a letter beforehand to maintain the illusion of democratic freedom to criticise.

What does he say?

“…. the renewal of our nuclear deterrent, based on the Trident missile system, is clearly a controversial issue.”

You can say that again, Nick.

There are substantial risks to our security from emerging nuclear weapons states and state sponsored terrorism, which we can best protect ourselves against through the continued operation of a minimum nuclear deterrent.”

Stop there for a moment, Nick. I’m old enough to remember the pre-nuclear age: I remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki: I remember when the Soviet Union developed its first bomb.

I remember the arguments, and I understand the complexity of them. The Allies were fighting a war – two wars really – one against Germany, which had been won, and one against Japan, which was costing tens of thousands of lives.

Had Germany or Japan developed atomic weapons first, they would have faced exactly the same choice America faced – to threaten the enemy with a demonstration detonation of the terrifying new weapon, or actually use it on a civilian population. There can be no doubt that the moral – the ethical – choice (if there is such a thing in total war) was to threaten by a demonstration of the destructive capacity of the bomb.

America and President Truman chose the profoundly immoral option and fulfilled Oppenheimer’s despairing quote from the Bhagavad Gita - “I am become Death – the destroyer of worlds.”

After the war, the Soviet Union developed its own bomb because America already had one – and Britain was desperate to join the club so that it didn’t “go naked into the conference chamber”.

A new era commenced, and the politicians of the new age had to come to terms with a new destructive capacity, with only the accumulated experience of centuries of warfare, conflict and diplomacy - which had been rendered almost obsolete overnight - to guide them.

The nuclear weapon was a gift to the worst kind of simplistic, populist politician – it still is. Terrify the electorate with the prospect of imminent annihilation, feed and nurture their paranoia and crush all human feelings and all rational argument.

Perhaps the great nuclear Mexican standoff that lasted almost until 9/11 was the inevitable result of the fact that homo sapiens had not evolved at the same pace as its technology. They were forced back to the most atavistic instincts – kill or be killed, fear the Other, the Stranger.

What passed for foreign policy in the original nuclear states used to go something like this -

We already have the capacity to destroy millions of people and render huge areas of the planet uninhabitable for many generations.

This gives us credibility at international conference tables - “my destructive capacity is as big or bigger than yours, so listen to me …” – and we will retain it until all the nuclear states give it up, something that will be achieved by progressive reduction of capacity over generations. We will never it use it first, but only in response to credible threats from the other nuclear states. (That position has now slipped alarmingly towards unilateral first strike action.)

This was seen by the West as a moral position to take , in spite of the fact that the only nation to have launched a first strike attack without nuclear threat from another was the United States in 1945.

In point of fact, there were powerful voices in the United States at that time who argued for a pre-emptive massive nuclear strike against the Soviet bloc before they achieved nuclear capacity. There are powerful voices today who put the same argument about Iran, both in the United States and Israel.

This was the politics of rampant paranoia, with the nuclear club anxiously hovering their trembling fingers over the buttons, and ensuring that there were no new members of the club, the doctrine of non-proliferation.

When the United States became the first nuclear power and promptly used its weapon to destroy its non-nuclear enemies, the only viable response for other nations fearful of the US – at that time the Soviet bloc – was to get a nuclear bomb pretty damn quick. Americans, in the land of the National Rifle Association, understood that mindset, which at the same time both reinforced their worst fears and terrified them – the typical reaction of the paranoid.

If your neighbour, whom you already distrust, suddenly acquires a powerful handgun and promptly shoots somebody in the street, you had better hurry on down to your gun shop on Main Street and get tooled up.

The other fantasy spawned by this lunacy has been that the possession of nuclear deterrents has prevented war and kept the world at peace since 1945. It patently hasn’t – there have been numberless wars using conventional weapons, and no nation (or terrorist organisation) that wanted to impose its will on others has been in the least deterred by the nuclear threat.

Since 1945, the world has been in a state of more or less continuous conflict. There has not been another World War, of course, but that owes more to the European Union than the nuclear deterrent - the main instigator and theatre of 20th century world wars was Europe.

I used to offer a little illustration of the assessment and use of power capacity in negotiation, which ran as follows -

A gun crew are manning an old-fashioned cannon, fully primed and ready to fire. Three men rush out of the darkness at them carrying knives. Who has the greater power?

LESSON: The superior destructive power of the cannon cannot be brought to bear on the attackers and the gun crew are massacred. Power lies in the relevance of the weapon at a point in time, and how fast it can be deployed.

I wrote this before five men armed with box cutters and rudimentary flying skills hijacked three aircraft and brought down the twin towers and damaged the Pentagon. The third flight was only stopped by the bravery of the passengers at the cost of their own lives, using what conventional force they could muster.

Was the lesson of 9/11 learned? It was not. A reflex attack with massive force followed by an occupation and nine year war by the most powerful nations on Earth, with massive military resources at their disposal, has achieved nothing.

Indirectly, the perverted reasoning spawned by 9/11 and the Afghanistan war led to the Iraq war, an international war crime that ignited the Middle East and polarised relationships between the Islamic world and the Christian West.

Incredible as it may seem, the deep thinkers of nuclear deterrence seem to think that the Trident missile system somehow protects us against terrorism.

And now we have the UK financial crisis, and it looks as if hard times may ameliorate the nuclear lunacy in a way that logical argument failed to do.

Liam Fox is worried that his budgets will be cut, and tries a pre-emptive strike with a letter to his own Government. The letter is leaked, and our Liam, straight-faced, launches an investigation.

Who had the most powerful motivation to leak this letter, a letter designed to pressurise the Government? Cui bono? I know the answer, any thinking person knows the answer, and perhaps Liam Fox knows the answer.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Letter on terrorism to an American friend

Leaving aside the old saying that a terrorist is “a patriot without an army, navy or air force”, the 'rational' - but never justifiable - purposes of terror include, but are not limited to:

forcing the electorate of a state that is oppressing other less powerful states and their people to confront the fact that they cannot escape the consequences of the regime they voted for, or allow to remain in power:

terrorising the civilian population:

gaining publicity for their cause:

forcing the government of the state being attacked to resort to more and more repressive measures and the progressive removal of their own people's democratic rights and freedoms.

The irrational 'purpose' of terror is to give violent expression to feelings of impotence and frustration at perceived injustices perpetrated by a more powerful enemy.

Every state, every empire that has ever existed has used terror at one point or another in its history, and the bloody policy continues. If it is large-scale, it is called military intervention, pre-emptive strike or war – if it is small-scale, it is called covert intelligence operations.

If I revisit the objectives of terror I outlined above, I have to say that Al Quaeda has been successful beyond its wildest dreams - and they are wild and inhuman dreams - because they have produced exactly the effects desired by the terrorists. They have created a bogeyman, and we - the West - have swallowed the fantasy whole and entered into their paranoid nightmare, one from which the world may not emerge.

Unless sanity prevails, we are in a state of perpetual war against a shadowy enemy that cannot be defeated by violence. Only a systematic removal of the manifest injustices that exist in our world by patient, sustained action can eliminate terror, and a good place to start is the Israel/Palestine conflict that is eating like a cancer at our morality and our identity.

I am against violence as an instrument of political policy, however it is applied and on whatever scale. But I am not a pacifist - I believe that an individual or a state has the right to use violence to defend itself against an aggressor, and I believe in the concept of a just war.

Perhaps WW2 was the closest the world ever came to a just war - it was certainly America and Britain's finest hour, and Britain has a debt of gratitude to America than can never be adequately repaid.

But it cannot be repaid, even in part, by failing to speak out against the appalling injustices of both American and British foreign policy as they have existed for the last half century or more. The concept of defence, the concept of a just war, and any relics of the morality and statesmanship, not to say common humanity that existed between 1939 and 1945 have been debased almost beyond recognition.

America now has a man who I believe will prove to be, not only a great President, but a great world statesman, of a kind rarely seen more than once or twice in a century. Like many millions of Americans and non-Americans, I have placed my hope and trust in Barack Obama, because there is no politician in Britain of remotely comparable moral and intellectual stature. But his enemies are many, and highly vocal and powerful. In these dog days of the British Empire, I also place my faith in a small country – Scotland - that has no intrinsic power except the power of its intellect and its citizens' belief in a better world – and a non-nuclear world.