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No one was really surprised to find out that MI5 was aware of the torture of Binyam Mohamed, but being unsurprised does not mean being unconcerned.
Governments, along with their security and intelligence agencies, have always kept secrets from the public. Usually with good reason, one would hope, but this issue is difficult to gauge. Most people are saddened by the news that MI5 knew about about it and did little, if anything, to discourage it. But are we better off for knowing about it?
Faith in MI5 has been shaken, and its chief, Jonathan Evans, notes that this embarrassment may well be used as propaganda by those who don't have the prosperity of Britain and the US in mind. Whether that is the fault of the court for making the information public, or of MI5 for their conduct in the first place, will always be open for debate.
Perhaps a more pressing question is whether or not the safety of the British public has been compromised. It has been hinted that the USA may think twice before sharing intelligence with Britain in future. Is it worth the trade off?
It is human nature for people to want to be aware of such things. No one likes the idea of hushed conversations behind closed doors, especially when their taxes are paying for the coffee. But while the public will generally be pleased with the judgement that this information be made available, the price of this information is a rattled confidence in the powers that control the country, and a potential decrease in intelligence, and therefore in national security.
Looked at in this way, many people would prefer to be kept in the dark about such matters if it means they're more likely to be able to ride a bus in relative safety. Secrecy is integral to security on this scale, and no one can judge whether we should have a lot of secrecy or just a little bit of secrecy.
Well, a judge can judge it. But does a person's position within the legal system mean their judgements are right and accurate? David Miliband says no. The CIA says no. What do you say?
During a speech on Saturday, Sarah Palin showed her Tennessee audience (and the rest of the world) that she hasn't lost her touch when it comes to humiliating herself; a glimpse of her hand revealed that she had scrawled the reminders "energy", "tax", and of course "lift american spirits". Clearly, it was difficult for her to remember three points which have (probably) been included in every major US political speech in the last ten years, so Robert Gibbs decided to poke fun at her.
Delivering his brief, Gibbs allowed photographers to capture images of his palm, revealing his own list: "Milk, Eggs, Bread, Hope, Change"
This is a rather clever move. It takes a jab at the Republicans, who have been gaining ground on the Obama administration, adds some humour to a hard political time, and gathers a great deal of media attention (even that of this respected weblog). The Democrats will be attacked for this, but there's no denying that while ridicule may be childish, it has always been a very effective tactic to make a joke of the opposition- John Wilkes provides a shining example.
Thomson Reuters has reported the killing of 14 high school students by gunmen in Mexico on Sunday.
Reporter Julian Cardona described the scene at Ciudad Juarez as a massacre, saying: "Gunmen jumped out of sport utility vehicles and fired at the students... in a house in the city across the border from El Paso, Texas... Bodies lay on the street outside and pools of blood collected by nearby parked cars. Inside the house, the walls were stained with blood and marked with bullet holes"
Ciudad Juarez is one of the world's most dangerous cities. Attacks like this are not uncommon and often involve drug cartels.
Reports like this are shocking for everyone who reads them, but one has to wonder how different the resulting thoughts and feelings may be between people in Britain and those who live in Mexico or the US.
Of course, the closer to the scene you reside, the more likely it is that you knew someone involved. Gun crime is more common on the American side of the Atlantic and the danger seems all the more real.
Thousands of miles of ocean must help the British people distance themselves from such events, the likes of which are virtually unheard of in the UK. But perhaps the otherworldliness of the situation makes it harder to comprehend and upsetting in a different way.
But as illegal weapons and organised crime crop up more often in the British press, it begs the question: Are incidents like this as far away as we'd like to believe?
This figure is significant as far as politics is concerned, but is unlikely to affect the lives of those struggling to find work or battling to keep businesses afloat.
Gordon Brown will, of course, be keen to tell the tale about the way he steered Britain through its darkest hour. He will also avoid discussing his role in turning out the lights in the first place. Similarly, Alistair Darling will claim a victory for his financial acumen, as he correctly predicted the quarter in which we would emerge from the recession that went on far too long.
But before anyone pulls the string on their party popper, it's important to remember that the British economy barely has its nostrils above the water; a small ripple will result in more coughing and spluttering. Sterling has dropped against the US dollar and the Euro, the housing market is still poor and unemployment is causing grief for as many families as ever.
Meanwhile, the opposite parties will be planning on inflating these issues until they burst. Come the election, the subject of the economy will be such a jumble of exaggeration and understatements in the House of Commons that the normal people trying to look after their families will struggle to keep track of what's really going on.
I hope the public manage to continue along the course of action that's always been the wisest- take the words of the politicians with a fistful of salt and think for themselves.
But these prisoners aren't difficult in the way that one might expect. The problem they're causing isn't due to attempted escapes or hunger strikes. What makes them difficult is this: Officials don't know what to do with them.
According to ABC News, "They are reportedly too dangerous to be released, but cannot be tried either because the evidence against them is too flimsy or was extracted by coercion." What this means for these prisoners is they will continue to be held without trial. And "coercion" can probably be read as "torture".
Terrorism is a serious crime. But regarding any other offence, in this end of the world, people have a right to a fair trial. Even if the police or government are certain that someone is guilty of something terrible, multiple rapes and murders for example, they are not charged until enough evidence is gathered for a conviction. If it can't be proven that this person is guilty, they remain free.
Apparently, suspecting that somebody might be considering performing an act of terrorist one day is enough to put them away for the rest of their lives without trial.
The point is this: Imagine indefinite imprisonment as being the result of any other suspicion. Suppose, perhaps, the police knocked your door down one morning and put you in the back of a van. Later, you're thrown in a cell and told you're there because you were suspected of planning to poison a local water supply. You're questioned, perhaps waterboarded now and then, but no charges are brought against you.
Eight years later, you're still in prison. You begin to hear rumours that the facility which has held you for so long may be about to close. The new boss of the country has promised that people will no longer be treated in the way that you have endured. One by one, inmates are released. Hope grows until the day you're called into an office. The conversation goes like this:
"We still think you were planning on poisoning a water supply."
"I wasn't, though."
"We don't believe you. But we don't have any evidence."
"So you're going to release me?"
"Then what's going to happen?"
"You're going to be here until we have enough evidence to keep you here for the rest of your life."
"What if you never find any evidence?"
"Then we're going to keep you here for the rest of your life."
This is worse than McCarthyism. This is a witch-hunt: If they don't drown, they're burned.
If this doesn't come as a surprise, it's probably because you haven't heard much about GSK. To be fair, all drugs manufacturers are in a difficult position: We want them around because their products can save lives, but they have to turn a profit to keep shareholders happy, which means they have to build a business model around making money from people in poor health. Not the easiest conundrum to get around, but perhaps this is the reason why businesses like GSK seem to have totally demagnetised their moral compasses. You can click here and read a bit about them, but here is a handful of highlights from their history:
Hiding test results showing that anti-depressant Seroxat was causing teenagers to commit suicide or self-harm.
Putting Avandia, a diabetes treatment which also seems to raise risk of strokes and heart disease, on the market.
Releasing trichloroethylene, a carcinogenic cleaning solvent, into a local water supply.
A drugs test on 13,000 Argentinean children involving reports of poor standards of care, parents being coerced or threatened into signing consent forms and parents being unaware of their children's participation.
Testing drugs on poor and illiterate people in India in order to cut costs, despite reports that most of the Indian population will never see any resulting drugs as they will be too expensive.
Spending millions of dollars on lobbying campaigns in order to influence laws passed or denied in US Congress.
Paid $400 million to settle an investigation into their sales and marketing methods.
So, call me cynical, but as I was reading about their gesture of goodwill in The Guardian, I couldn't help thinking: "How unexpected; GSK are one of the most morally repugnant companies in the universe. This must have something to do with money."
So I continue reading Glaxo UK boss Andrew Witty's fluffy corporate babble about earning "the trust of society" and so on, looking for clues which might lead to the real reason for releasing all of that potential profit.
"It's trying to create a permissiveness around scientific research in an area where we know the marketplace isn't going to stimulate massive research".
There it is. That sentence translates precisely to: "There's not enough money in a cure for malaria".
From one point of view, as I said, GSK is a business with shareholders to please, so losing money isn't going to be an attractive idea for the bosses. On the other hand, malaria kills around three million people every year.
I'm not surprised that our friends at GlaxoSmithKline aren't exactly doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. What they've done is decided that, if they're not going to profit from curing malaria, they'll use their abandonment of the project to improve their company image (very cheaply) by offering up what they deem to be worthless assets and issuing a press release. If malaria is cured as a result, then that can only be a good thing. But when GSK pop their heads up and tell everyone it was based on their generously donated compound, I hope enough people remind them exactly why they didn't finish the job themselves.
GlaxoSmithKline have been urged to take the same steps with their AIDS research, but that information remains secret. There's still money in AIDS.
The reporting pattern for natural disasters seems to be as follows:
1: Report nature and location of disaster.
2: Report death toll as it develops.
3: Report shambolic aid efforts.
The coverage of the earthquake in Haiti seems to be following this pattern. Sadly, the aid efforts are more disorganised than ever. According to The Times, the UN are trying to pass on as much responsibility for the mess to the shattered Haitian government as they can get away with. As they pass the buck back and forth, not much is getting done.
Barack Obama is pledging a great deal of time and money to the cause. Call me a cynic, but I can't help wondering if so much effort would be afforded if Haiti wasn't so close to the US, or if The States didn't have such a large Haitian population. Would such a disaster achieve so much attention were it to occur in East Asia, for example? Still, regardless of motive, I'm glad significant effort is being made.
Which is more than can be said for our government. £6 million? Consider that compared to the £4.5 billion spent on war in Iraq and Afghanistan by February 2009.
But then, if were are to look at aid pledges versus killing expenditure, the US doesn't look so hot either. $100 million promised in aid for Haiti, almost a trillion spent in the Middle East. I suppose the lesson to be learned here is that governments will spend a lot more money on ending lives than they will on saving them.
The Times has reported looting and lynching of looters in Haiti today. When faced with this kind of thing I can't help thinking about our discussions on a State of Nature. When law is removed, how do people respond?
You can't always blame the looters; they're sometimes only trying to provide for their families in a crisis, often risking their lives to do so. This kind of activity wouldn't surprise Hobbes, nor would the fact that military personnel need to be present when handing out bottles water to desperate people who naturally don't want to wait in a queue to receive their fair share. As for the people who lynch or behead the looters; Locke would most likely agree with their actions. Rousseau would be pleased to see that most people are helping each other in any way they can.
I suppose for us to really see who is right, this time of desperation and lawlessness would need to go on for a lot longer: Let's hope the powers that be can get their act together quickly so that none of the philosophers are proven right.
Click here to read The Times Online report
Apologies for the lack of a recent post. It does make me realise how quickly things can slip if I leave them or allow myself to become distracted by things such as Christmas and New Year.
It strikes me how easy it is to use the end of the year as an excuse not to do anything. It's a deadly combination; the temptation to say "I won't think about that now, it's Christmas", followed by "I'll start doing that properly next year." Before you know it, you've not exercised, stuck to your diet, checked your oil or posted on your blog for several weeks. It's important to realise that even if you stop moving at year-end, time doesn't.
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