President Assad visits Our Lady of Damascus Church near Syria’s Front-Line

President Assad and his wife Asma visited the Our Lady of Damascus Church last night – a mile away from the rebel-held Jubar district – where they watched a choir rehearsal and took photos with the public.

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In related news, the results are in from my 24 hour Twitter poll:

poll

No comment.

British government faces legal challenge over flogging of prison services to Saudi Arabia

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Saudi blogger Raif Badawi receives his first flogging

The British government is facing another High Court challenge from human rights activists, this time regarding the Ministry of Justice’s decision to sell prison services to Saudi Arabia and Oman.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) launched their challenge today, alleging that the MoJ has no legal power to provide such profit-making services. The so-called MoJ’s commercial arm – ironically titled ‘Just Solutions International’ – was revealed earlier this year but remains shrouded in secrecy, as next to nothing is known about it other than that it has submitted a £5.9 million proposal to Saudi Arabia and a similar bid to Oman. Lawyers for GCHR assert that providing such services overseas is not a “governmental purpose”.

Notably – just as with the announcement of the Royal Navy’s new naval base in Bahrain – there has been no parliamentary debate or vote on the subject, suggesting that the government does not want to draw attention to the matter. GCHR advisory board member Melanie Gingell states that:

“It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these undemocratic states, the UK is more likely to be simply improving the efficiency of the systems within which these notorious abuses are being carried out. The British public has been horrified by the public beheadings and floggings carried out in Saudi Arabia, and now mirrored by ISIS, and they have a right to know exactly what role the UK government is playing in these systems.”
She added, “We fear that the driving motivation behind these bids is purely commercial, and the veil of secrecy that has been drawn over them simply serves to deepen our concerns that the UK is making money out of the worst aspects of these states, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.”

GCHR have submitted several Freedom of Information requests to the MoJ regarding JSi’s schemes, but all have been rejected. A week ago the Financial Times revealed that new Justice Secretary Michael Gove is planning to clamp down on Britain’s FoI laws, in order to make the process of obtaining information from government agencies much harder for citizens. This contrasts with the “revolution in government transparency” that David Cameron promised in 2011. Writing in the Telegraph, the PM stated:

“Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats.”

Such a reversal of policy is yet another nail in the coffin for Britain’s democracy.

GCHR is crowdfunding to cover the costs of their High Court application. To donate please visit: http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons

Russell Brand Summarises the Dishonesty of David Cameron’s Tunisia Response

Tunisia Minute Of Silence – Total Bullshit: Russell Brand The Trews (E350)

I don’t usually pay much attention to Russel Brand, but it is good to see someone in the public eye speaking out about power structures in society and challenging the status quo; something the British press is loathe to do.

He really nails David Cameron’s response to the Tunisia attack; asking why, if the various incidents from London 7/7 to Mumbai to Charlie Hebdo are all connected to one another, then why are our invasions and drone attacks etc not part of the picture?

According to Cameron, there is no relationship between Britain waging aggressive wars against countries that haven’t done anything to us and the animosity that is felt towards the UK. Since 9/11 Britain has taken part in three wars of choice – Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – as well as covertly waging a devastating war against Syria, resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent people. The government has also given its full support to Israel and Saudi Arabia to destroy Gaza and Yemen, and provided them with the weapons to do so. No one has been held accountable for any of this, and the public doesn’t seem to care.

Now, as part of the new Anti-Terrorism Act, the Home Office is legislating against the very ‘extremist’ language that the government itself is guilty of:

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In his speech following the Tunisia attack, the PM predictably declared that “they” had declared war on Britain. As Brand points out, who is this “they” Cameron refers to? How is this different to the message he says ‘Islamic extremism’ conveys? Brand notes that the ‘war on terror’ is a self-perpetuating business and until there is recognition that wars and arms deals are part of the problem not the solution then nothing will change.

What exactly is the point of the Chilcot report when Cameron’s government has continued to wage illegal wars and lie about them to the public?

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Benghazi 2015 – who will rebuild Libya?

The British government continue to deny responsibility for chaos in the Middle East

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The murder of up to 30 British tourists on a Tunisian beach last week is yet another consequence of David Cameron’s disastrous ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya. This follows the rape and assault of several UK citizens by ‘former revolutionaries’ in Cambridgeshire last year, who were visiting the country as part of a Ministry of Defence programme to train Libyan forces. While it has not yet been verified whether or not the Tunisian shooter had spent time at a training camp in the neighbouring country, it would take a huge amount of cognitive dissonance to view the two events as unrelated. Daesh took responsibility for the attack; there would be no Daesh without the war on Libya then Syria.

Another consequence is the current refugee crisis, which has so far led to over 2000 deaths in the Mediterranean this year. In 2010 the number of refugees/migrants departing from Libya was 5000. In April Ed Miliband caused an uproar by ‘controversially’ stating that Cameron shared responsibility for the deaths at sea; typically this opinion was rubbished by the media and political establishment. The Tories have flat-out refused to take in any refugees, and are currently leading a military campaign to destroy boats used to make the journey.

David Cameron Responds to Ed Miliband’s Libyan Comments

The government and most of the British public may tell themselves that our foreign policy is not at fault for the current violence engulfing the Middle East and the north of Africa, but history will not judge us as kindly. A Guardian commenter noted on a related article that the Treaty of Versailles is largely accepted as the predominant factor that led to the rise of Nazi Germany; the connection between Western foreign policy (and their GCC cronies) and ISIS is a far simpler one to make. It is possible that the PM is increasingly coming to realise this, judging by his recent ill-conceived and irresponsible speech where he accused British Muslims of ‘quietly condoning’ Daesh, without offering any evidence to support this. These kind of statements are only likely to result in more hate crimes being committed against minorities, and further isolation of those who already feel sidelined by British society. For example, a number of Muslim graves were vandalised in a Nottingham cemetery over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the government’s answer to this latest tragedy is more of the same – more training and weapons for supposedly moderate murderers in Syria, more divisive McCarthyism-style ‘counter-extremism’ policies here.

UK Program to Train Libyan Soldiers Ends in ‘Disarray and Scandal’

12 years ago yesterday, Tony Blair “liberated” Iraq

In this clip from the BBC News at 10 – 9th of April 2003 – political editor Andrew Marr tells the public that Tony Blair has been vindicated in his decision to invade Iraq. Marr also states that Blair’s critics will not now turn around and thank him for having been right all along, because “they’re only human.” The editor notes that nobody will be able to say that Tony Blair is the type of person who is driven by opinion polls and “the drift of public opinion.” However isn’t a leader who will listen to public opinion exactly what we expect our PM to do?  In fact isn’t that what democracy is all about? A Guardian article from January 2003 notes:

The results of the tracker question on an Iraq war shows that opposition to a war has risen steadily from 37% in October to 47% now. Over the same period support for military action has fallen from a peak of 42% to only 30% now.

British public opinion is never consulted before going to war, or in fact before deciding to covertly build a mercenary force, and provide them with money and weapons, as has been going on in Syria since 2011. On issues of war the public are a liability, as if given a vote, it is unlikely that we would have voted yes to British involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Thanks to Ed Miliband’s revolt we were saved from entering another conflict – and on the wrong side – but our covert operations against the Syrian government continue.

It is ironic how Marr says that on that night of April 9th 2003, Blair “stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result” of not having listened to his critics, but in 2015 he is now so, pretty much universally, reviled, that he can’t go out in public here for fear of attack, or of someone trying to make a citizens arrest.

Reference:

Support for war falls to new low
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/jan/21/uk.iraq2

Whose arms have the Obama Administration been twisting?

In an interview with Vox last month Barack Obama said: ‘We occasionally have to twist the arms of countries that wouldn’t do what we need them to do.’ He elaborated, stating that “if it weren’t for the various economic or diplomatic or, in some cases, military leverage that we had — if we didn’t have that dose of realism, we wouldn’t get anything done, either.”

Thanks to a cache of intelligence cables that were leaked to the Guardian, we now have an example of one such occasion. The leaked documents revealed that Barack Obama once “threatened” Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. This was in relation to the 2012 bid by the Palestinian Authority to seek ‘non-member observer status’ at the United Nations. The article states:

A South African state security agency report from November 2012 records a Palestinian intelligence officer handing over a memo detailing a phone call made by the US president to the Palestinian leader “where President Obama threatened President Abbas if he goes ahead with the UN bid”.

Abbas pressed ahead with the application to the UN, and a fortnight later the general assembly backed the bid, which smoothed the way for the Palestinians to attempt to bring cases against Israel at the international criminal court.

The nature of Obama’s threat isn’t expanded upon in the cables, however that the administration sought to punish Abbas and the Palestinians for seeking to use the appropriate and legal international bodies as a means of establishing their state says a lot about the White House’s disregard for democracy and human rights – despite the constant invoking of such principles by the administration as a reason for bombing non-compliant nations, or applying sanctions etc.

Surely this proves once and for all that the U.S. is not a neutral mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. If anyone needs to be threatened, Obama should be telling Netanyahu that he will no longer be receiving $3 billion of aid every year until Israel proves itself willing to return to the pre-1967 borders, and commit to a meaningful resolution to the conflict.

* * * * * *

When I first heard Obama actually admitting to twisting arms, I immediately thought of the US’s insistence that the EU impose sanctions on Russia following the downing of MH17 last summer. Despite – almost a year later – no investigation apportioning blame having been published, within hours of the crash Obama had proclaimed Vladimir Putin to be personally responsible. New sanctions were implemented, and the EU soon followed suit. This definitely seemed like a case of arm-twisting; Joe Biden even said that the White House had had to “embarrass” European leaders into imposing the sanctions.

For months now the behaviour of Angela Merkel and others has been so at odds with reality, that blackmail seems like the only credible reason for this. It seems like the NSA certainly picked up some good dirt on Merkel while bugging her phone. When she and Hollande flew to Moscow to meet with Putin in January, the lack of an American or British presence was telling. So was the fact that the three leaders spoke for hours without aides. Then, when Merkel visited the White House the week after, some incriminating photographs of her with a group of skinhead/neo-Nazi types were published only hours before she and Obama met. Anonymous took credit for this, however due to the decentralized nature of the group, it would be possible for anyone with an agenda to have published these photos on behalf of the hacker collective.

* * * * * *

Obviously this is all just speculation, but as Obama has admitted to using coercive means to achieve his objectives – as is evidenced by his threatening of Mahmoud Abbas – it seems likely that he and his administration have issued threats to the EU.

Thus the lofty statements made by the White House, State Department etc alluding to the importance of democratic principles, self-determination, human rights, freedom of speech and so on become rather meaningless when these are not backed up by actions to support them.

Sadly there is another parallel to be drawn from the current situations in Palestine and Ukraine. While Russia receives sanctions for its so-called “annexation” of Crimea – despite the peninsula voting overwhelmingly to rejoin its homeland – Israel receives billions of dollars in aid every year to maintain their occupation of Palestine, when it can be guaranteed that given the choice, no Palestinian would choose to live under Israeli rule.

Oh the irony!

 

References:

CIA attempted to contact Hamas despite official US ban, spy cables reveal
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/23/spy-cables-leak-cia-contact-hamas-us-ban?CMP=share_btn_tw

Obama: ‘We have to twist arms when countries don’t do what we need them to’
http://rt.com/news/231279-obama-foreign-policy-power/

Response from my MP regarding the government’s plan to send military “advisers” to Ukraine

Below is the response I received to the email I sent to my MP – David Hamilton, Labour –  regarding David Cameron’s decision to send 75 military “advisers” to Ukraine, despite a new ceasefire having just been negotiated in the Normandy Four format (ie. between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine). The text from my email can be found here. I have heard that France has distanced itself from Cameron’s plan, and that Hollande’s administration is still committed to reaching a diplomatic settlement. Yesterday President Putin met with Gérard Larcher – the President of the French Senate – in Moscow, further highlighting the conciliatory tone between the two nations. Read details from their meeting here.

 

Dear Ms Stephenson

Thank you for your email with your concerns on David Cameron’s position on Ukraine.

I am aware that David Cameron announced that UK military trainers are to be deployed to help Ukraine forces stave off further Russian backed incursions into its sovereign territory.

This decision has been under consideration by the UK national security council since late last year and it would be the first deployment of British troops to the country since the near civil war in eastern Ukraine began more than a year ago.

This is part of a training mission providing advice on medical training, logistics, intelligence analysis and infantry training.  I understand that this is an action meant to alert the Russians that Britain does not approve of further large scale occupations of towns in Ukraine

David Cameron has also argued for tougher sanctions against Moscow if Russia backed militias in eastern Ukraine and failed to observe the provisions of a ceasefire agreement.

This is indeed a worrying situation and it may of course fuel Russia’s wrath with the EU and needs to be handled delicately.

I like you, agree it is not as black and white as it seems.  We need to take a more even handed approach to what is happening.  I was extremely disappointed that we were not there along with the Germans and the French at the summit that was held with Russia and the Ukraine.

I am also deeply concerned about the state of the other countries in the region.  However for my part and my Party  I will be keeping a very close eye on the situation.

Thank you for sharing your views.

Regards

DAVID HAMILTON MP
Member of Parliament for Midlothian

 

I was disappointed that Hamilton did not address my concerns regarding the contradiction between sending British soldiers and supporting the Minsk agreement, which requires all foreign troops to leave the country. It is also discouraging to see references to ‘Russian backed incursions’ and ‘Russia’s wrath with the EU’, but no mention of the will of the people of Eastern Ukraine, who have been living under constant shelling for almost a year now. It seems like there is little difference between Hamilton’s view of the situation and that of the PM. However, another member of the Labour Party – I’ve forgotten who – said in an interview to RT this week that there was a great deal of disapproval to Cameron’s maneuver in Parliament. This was due to its inflammatory nature, and because the announcement was made having only been decided by a few members of  Cameron’s Cabinet – rather than following a debate in the House of Commons and with widespread support.

While John Kerry and Joe Biden insist that there’s been no split within the US/EU/NATO countries on how to approach the situation and ‘deal with’ Russia, it seems like this honeymoon phase of the coalition may truly be at an end now. While most of Europe seems to favour a rapprochement with Russia; the US, UK, Canada, Poland and the Baltic states are clamoring for more sanctions and won’t rule out sending weapons. Since Cameron’s announcement, Poland has declared that it will now send 100 trainers, with Canada likely to follow. At this rate Putin doesn’t need to do anything in retaliation, he can merely sit back and watch as the EU caves in on itself once and for all.

Letter to my MP regarding David Cameron’s decision to send “military advisers” to Ukraine:

I am writing to you to express my concern with the Prime Minister’s decision to send military advisers to Ukraine. Mr Cameron seemed to imply this afternoon that he supports the Minsk 2.0 agreement to bring about an end to the war, yet the peace deal explicitly calls for the removal of all foreign troops from the conflict zone. Therefore, deploying British forces runs counter to the protocols laid out at Minsk, whilst also giving the impression that Britain seeks an escalation of the war rather than a peaceful settlement. That the UK and United States were missing from the meetings in Moscow and Minsk made clear that such confrontational posturing is not viewed as helpful by mainland Europe. Thus, my first concern regarding the PM’s decision is that he seems to be unaware that taking such an action breaches the ceasefire deal. By pouring fuel on the fire Mr Cameron may end up encouraging an escalation in the fighting, and so far it is not clear that this is not actually his intention.
Secondly, I would like to make you aware of my dismay that this plan has been decided upon with no debate or vote in parliament. By sending these troops, the UK is involving itself in a civil war – and one in which the other side is supported by a country with nuclear weapons. The conflict itself is not nearly as black and white as Mr Cameron is making it out to be, and myself and many others in this country find what the new Ukrainian government is doing to its citizens in the East to be utterly abhorrent. If action must be taken, let us work alongside both Ukraine and Russia to reach a settlement that takes into consideration all parties involved, rather than pursuing reckless warmongering policies that continue to erode our credibility on the world stage.

Best wishes,
Sophie Stephenson

UK Programme to Train Libyan Soldiers Collapses In ‘Disarray and Scandal’

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A programme by the Ministry of Defence to train Libyan soldiers has ended ahead of schedule, due to a string of criminal offences committed by several of the men. Initially planning to train 2000 soldiers at the Bassingbourn base in Cambridgeshire, the first group of 300 will leave the UK in a few days time – weeks ahead of schedule – and it is unlikely that the programme will continue elsewhere.

Many of the original 300 recruits were what the Guardian labels ‘former revolutionaries’, meaning rebels that fought alongside NATO and the SAS, in the 2011 war that destroyed Libya’s Jamahiriya  government. An MOD spokesman claims that each of the men went through a special vetting process prior to their selection, however this does not seem to have been too successful.

Apparently ninety of the men have ‘withdrawn’, some due to personal reasons, while others had behavioural and disciplinary issues. Twenty more have claimed asylum. Five soldiers have been charged with various sexual offences, including the rape of a man in Cambridge by two of the officers.

It has been reported that many of the recruits had taken little interest in the training and were not doing what they were being asked to do. The men had been instructed not to leave their barracks, but many have been seen by residents in the area scaling the fences to buy food and vodka from nearby shops. Others have left their houses to find Libyan men hiding under their cars, causing a great sense of alarm and fear for the locals.

Other countries that planned to train soldiers have also suffered setbacks. An American-run training camp in Libya had to be abandoned following an attack by militants, and troops trained in Italy and Turkey were not returning to the army when back in Libya but joining militant groups instead.

This episode marks another stunning success for David Cameron’s foreign policy and Libya’s flourishing democracy, with the resource-rich African nation now consisting of not one, but two governments. The internationally recognised parliament was run out of Tripoli by Islamist militia Libya Dawn in August, and are now holding court in a hotel in the eastern city of Torbruk, after initially taking refuge offshore on a Greek car ferry. Meanwhile, the second, self-declared government that now reside in the capital are calling for new elections to be held; following other recent elections in 2012 and 2014.

Ironically, following the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the new Libyan General National Congress passed a series of sweeping laws that limits citizens’ rights to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, as well as curbing freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

Of course the 2011 war was never a fight for democracy, as if it was then why would Qatar have sent troops?

Cameron speaks in Benghazi: