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Obama, Guantanamo, Torture

Obama, Guantanamo, torture. Three words guaranteed to start an argument when used individually. Together, they’re like a 50-megaton nuclear warhead. On January 22, 2009 President Obama vowed to close Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp “within the year”. As of May 2013, “Gitmo” is still operational. 166 men still detained without charge or trial. Most of them have been there for over ten years.

Ironically, the sign on the gate concludes with the motto of the Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO). This reads: “Honor Bound To Defend Freedom”.

“Hanging’s too good for them.”

Those who defend the camp say that supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not warrant the “civilised” treatment afforded to prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention. Hitler’s concentration camp guards and torturers had this protection. As did the  Serbians who killed and raped in the name of ethnic cleansing.

This unique US Naval base on the edge of Castro’s Cuba became a caged prison camp for suspected terrorists because President George W Bush believed it was beyond Federal Law. Inmates were tortured and interrogated without interference. Several judicial battles since have concluded that he was wrong and Gitmo does indeed lie within the jurisdiction of the United States Judicial system. This was before the more right-wing (and government-appointed) Supreme Court stepped in with decisions blocking releases and imposing restrictions on what evidence could be presented.

But would John Wayne approve?

The existence of the camps at Guantánamo Bay is a travesty of everything civilised people hold dear. Every John Wayne movie and classic American adventure features strong men fighting for a “decent society”. Surely the essence of this is somewhere where human beings are not be imprisoned without charge or trial? And certainly not tortured, sexually and religiously humiliated or force-fed.

No one says that convicted terrorists should be able to wander free. But why can’t they be treated like other major criminals? And dealt with by just, lawful means. Even the most heinous murderer and terrorist is still a human being who should be treated as such. President Obama said over four years ago:

Instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantánamo became a symbol that helped al-Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

That’s as true today as it was then: maybe more so. Human Rights campaigners Amnesty International are just one independent organisation who call for the closure of Guantánamo. Others include the European Union, United Nations and the International Red Cross.

Torture At Guantánamo

JTF_GITMO

The authorities have tortured inmates at Guantánamo. Of that, there is no doubt. After all, wasn’t that the original reason for its location on foreign soil?  Numerous accounts exist of beatings, water-boarding and intimidation by dogs. Sleep deprivation. Men forced to soil themselves, smeared with fake menstrual blood and sexually taunted.

Then there’s the suspected existence of Camp No. Sometimes called Camp Seven. A secret detention and interrogation facility at which (according to testimony from former Marine guards), the three men who supposedly “committed suicide” in 2006, actually met their end. Suicide bombings aside, it is highly unlikely that devout Moslems would take their own lives, even when treated in such abominable ways. “And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you.” – Qur’an, Sura 4(An-Nisa), ayat 29

Human Rights vs. Human Wrongs

In 2006, British judge Mr Justice Collins declared during a court hearing over the refusal by Tony Blair’s UK government to request the release of three British residents held at Guantánamo Bay:

“America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations.”

As on the end of March 2013, 166 detainees remain. Of these, 86 have cleared for release but will not be for set free for the foreseeable future. One of the men still detained is Shawali Khan, an uneducated Afghan farmer. According to an article by Chicago human rights lawyer Len Goodman on the closeguantanamo.org website, in 2002 Khan was forced to move to Kandahar after a severe drought ruined his crops. He set up as a shopkeeper. Then came 9/11.

Captured by the Warlords

In November of 2002, Khan was captured by Afghan warlords and sold to the Americans. At this time, the Americans were paying bounties of about $10,000 to Afghans who turned in al-Qaeda fighters. No actual evidence or corroboration was required.

Khan was subsequently sent to Gitmo based on the word of a single informant that he was an al-Qaeda fighter. The fact that Kandahar in 2002 was considered “Taliban Central” and had no known al-Qaeda presence was overlooked or ignored by American intelligence officials who were eager to fill empty cages at Gitmo.

In the spring of 2010, the courts finally granted Khan a habeas corpus hearing. It was his eighth year of captivity. The government called no witnesses but merely introduced “intelligence reports” which indicated that an unidentified Afghan informant had told an unidentified American intelligence officer that Khan was an al-Qaeda-linked insurgent.

President Obama And Guantánamo Bay Detention Camps

There is also no doubt that many of the detained men were innocent. In an affidavit for a 2010 US court case, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former aide to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, spilled some beans. He said US leaders were aware that many of the detainees were innocent. They included President George W Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The detentions were because of “political expedience”.

So why hasn’t Obama closed the facility as he has promised on several occasions? In 2008, remember, he called Guantánamo a “sad chapter in American history”. It’s complicated. Obama faces several obstacles. The Wikipedia Guantanamo Bay page contains a more detailed scenario.

The first main obstacle to closure back in 2009 appears to have been the legal problem that ongoing human rights abuse legal actions that were still pending. Quite a few states and regional bodies nixed the idea of any suspected terrorists arriving in their neighbourhoods. Under the US political climate, Obama seems keener on transferring prisoners to other facilities in the USA than implementing a closure and blanket release.

Problems, problems and more problems…

Then more bizarre elements prevented the shutting down of Gitmo. When Obama was finally able to sign off a move to a new site in Illinois, for example. The lawyer for a group of Yemeni detainees objected because the area was “too bleak”. This type of to-ing and fro-ing continued until November 2012. The United States Senate derailed any possible move. They voted 54–41 to prevent detainees being transferred to facilities in the United States.

According to Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno, the US Congress is the main obstacle to closing Guantánamo Bay prison camp. A significant factor appears to be the misinformed and yet rabid anti-Islamic stance of much of the American media.

Guantanamo Torture: Force Feeding

On May 1st, 2013, at least 130 of the 166 Guantánamo inmates were hunger-striking. Medical personnel arrived at the base to force-feed them. Here (from the UK Guardian newspaper website) is a video:

Citizens should not be imprisoned without charge or trial. Nor should they be tortured. The American Constitution clearly sets out these basic rights. Whether they apply to citizens of foreign countries, kidnapped on the word of an unknown informer, appears open to debate. Obama, Guantanamo, Torture. The words remain linked.

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What Does UKIP Stand For?

UKIP, or the United Kingdom Independence Party as they’re known to their friends and carers, has become the hottest political topic in the United Kingdom. Well, probably just in England, but let’s not split hairs. But what does UKIP stand for?

Nigel Farage is UKIP’s leader, a likeable, middle-aged, middle-class gent. Often pictured with a beer, occasionally sporting a cigarillo. He’s not a professional politician like the others, more an ordinary chap like you and me. He’ll be able to answer that knotty question, “What does UKIP stand for?” Because he essentially sets the agenda for UKIP.

Young Conservative, Old Bigot

Farage began as an ardent Conservative in his youth and a big fan of Margaret Thatcher. When the wretches in the Tory party booted her out in 1990, it angered him. He was clearly still hurting in 2010 when he told the Daily Telegraph :

The way those gutless, spineless people got rid of the woman they owed everything to made me so angry. I was a monster fan of Mrs Thatcher. Monster. Hers was the age of aspiration, it wasn’t about class.

Farage’s Last Straw

Significantly, Farage’s last straw with the Tories came when Prime Minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. A year later Nigel founded UKIP and became its leader.

Looking something like a thoroughly-decent chap on the sidelines of a PG Wodehouse novel, Nigel Farage has become hugely popular with almost anyone who’s not called Cameron or Clegg. He received the ultimate right-wing bloke’s accolade earlier this year when Boris Johnson described him as “a rather engaging geezer”.

As leader of his party, Nigel has a huge approval rating. Something like Nick Clegg’s before the last general election. This rather suggests that to be popular, it helps if people don’t know what you stand for – or what you don’t stand for.

So, please tell us: “What does UKIP stand for?” Really…

If you ask anyone in Britain what UKIP’s policies are, they’ll know. At least the headlines. “Get us out of Europe!” is the cry. Perhaps with the addendum, “and put a stop to all these foreign scroungers coming over here and *nicking our jobs/ *living on benefits” (delete as applicable).

All people seem to know about UKIP has to do with getting out of Europe and banning immigration. What else do they propose to do when they assume power, as they surely must now that media giant Des Lynam is backing them?

We Want To Know About UKIP

What are people searching for on Google.co.uk (see screenshot)? These are the 10 burning questions the British public want answers about Britain’s most popular fringe party (well, England’s… but let’s not split hairs):

People searching Google for UKIP
  • Is UKIP racist? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “a racist is a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another”. Their website may state: “UKIP is a patriotic party that believes in putting Britain first” but as the British are not a race, it would clearly be libellous to accuse UKIP of racism. Their policies on immigration and Europe may attract some “clowns and nutters” with racist opinions, but that’s clearly not UKIP’s fault, just as you can’t blame armaments manufacturers if their products are used to bash people over the head.
  • Is UKIP Fascist? Again we must turn to the OED, which tells us: “Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach”.

    Nothing like UKUP, right? Right.

Don’t Panic!

  • Is UKIP Libertarian? OED to the rescue again. It tells us that libertarianism is defined as:
    An extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens. The adherents of libertarianism believe that private morality is not the state’s affair and that therefore activities such as drug use and prostitution, which arguably harm no one but the participants, should not be illegal. Libertarianism shares elements with anarchism, although it is generally associated more with the political right, chiefly in the US.
  • Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

    In the 2010 Daily Telegraph interview Farage further stated:

    “I am also a libertarian; I think prostitution, for instance, should be decriminalised and regulated;” (At this point I feel I should point out that a lot of this is about him…) “I feel that about drugs, too. I don’t do them myself but I think the war on drugs does more harm than the drugs themselves.” “I am opposed to the hunting ban and the smoking ban, too. What have they got to do with government?”
  • Is UKIP far right? Not as far right as some of its more ardent supporters would like it to be.

A Party of Bigots?

  • Is UKIP a party of bigots? Obviously not. That’s like saying the Conservative Party is full of toffs and Labour stuffed with wishy-washy liberals (with a small “L”).
  • Is UKIP right wing? See above.
  • Is UKIP BNP? Clearly not. BNP stands for the British National Party. BNP is very right-wing and opposes immigration and membership of the European Union.
  • Is UKIP racist yahoo? Isn’t that just the same question as #1 with a yahoo on the end?
  • Is UKIP on the rise? Definitely. In the 2013 local government elections, they polled 23% of the popular vote (plus 96% of the unpopular vote).
  • Is UKIP Liberal? Not very.

So, what does UKIP stand for? Other UKIP Policies…

I checked out the official UKIP website to see what policies they hold on less important topics, such as the economy, defence and health. I present the “Lucky 7” best UKIP policies:

  • “Double prison places to enforce zero tolerance on crime”. Lots of jobs going for G4S prison guards at minimum wage. A good way to kickstart the economy once we lose our trade links with Europe.
  • “End the ban on smoking in allocated rooms in public houses, clubs and hotels”. That should get the vote of every smoker in the nation. What a pity UKIP’s immigration policies exclude East Europeans. Many are known to enjoy a crafty smoke with their vodkas and tonic. If only stalwart British actor Alfie Bass were alive to front the campaign…
  • “We must leave the electorate with more of their own money.  Government is only a facilitator for growth.  Low tax, few regulations and small government are the recipe for a successful economy. ” A personal allowance of £13,000, a flat rate of tax at 25%, abolishing VAT and National Insurance and (presumably) cutting services drastically to pay for it all. Sound very fair – especially for those who are earning lots of money. Yahoo!

But what about the Hunting Ban?

  • “Hold country wide referenda on the hunting ban”. Yes, that should be a definite priority. Why should those pesky foxes – many of whom I suspect arrived in this country illegally – get away with lounging around all day doing nothing? A bit of exercise will do them the world of good.
  • “Global warming is not proven – wind power is futile. Scrap all green taxes, wind turbine subsidies and adopt nuclear power to free us from dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil and gas.” What a relief to many of us affected by the recent long winters, wet summers and flooding that it’s all in our imagination and nothing to do with so-called “Global Warming” after all. Thanks to the learned scientists at UKIP for that welcome news. And how typical of the BBC, for example, to try and keep it quiet.
  • UKIP would like to offer people a choice of how they wish their health care to be delivered. Patient choice in a monolithic government-funded system is one of the greatest challenges now facing the NHS and we believe that other models are worth considering to see whether lessons can be learned from abroad.” Er, does that sound a little like privatising the National Health Service? More work for G4S (Health Services) methinks…
  • “As the UK regains its place as an independent global trading nation, we will need to ensure that we can defend our trade, and our independence… UKIP would re-establish the UK’s defence capabilities at viable levels.” Quick, put everything you’ve got into British Gun Boats PLC!
What does UKIP stand for?

So there we are: UKIP in a nutshell. Who in their right nicotine-stimulated mind wouldn’t want to return to a time when the United Kingdom was truly great, before those pesky Europeans pushed their human rights and employment regulation nonsense onto us and spoilt everything?

Hang on… it’s just occurred to me… Maybe I misunderstood the question. The answer to “What does UKIP stand for?” might just be “United Kingdom Independence Party”. Sorry, Little Britain… er, England (but let’s not split hairs).

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Stop Racism With A Brain Pill

With the European Football championships diverting attention from racism at home to racism in eastern Europe, it’s time to look again at racism. It might not be as easy to stop racism as we thought.

In January 2012, a little-reported but important Scientific study found distinct links between low intelligence and racial prejudice. The research team was led by Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. The main conclusions were published in January 2012 in the journal Psychological Science.

“Racism is generally highest among the least-educated.”

As most of us might expect, the least-educated are most likely to be the most racist. Stereotypical racists include the British council housing estate skinhead and the American redneck. As someone smarter than me once said: a cliché only becomes a cliché because it’s probably true. But if only it were always so straightforward.

Demonstrators march in Memphis, Tennessee following the murder of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr in April, 1968.

Where does intelligence fit into this? Professor Hodson decided to find out.

He and his researchers looked at two previous British studies. One followed a group born in 1958. The other at babies born in 1970. Both sets of children had their intelligence assessed when they were 11 years old. Nineteen years later, the same people had their levels of racism and social conservatism assessed.

One big problem for me is that researchers asked the respondents what their views were. It would have been better to somehow assess their unconscious behaviour without allowing them to filter their replies.

Researches asked the subjects whether they agreed with vaguely right-wing statements such as:

“Schools should teach children to obey authority”

and:

“Family life suffers if mum is working full-time.”

Their attitudes toward other races was dealt with by reactions to statements such as:

“I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races.”

Is it Possible to Stop Racism?

In nearly all cases, low intelligence in childhood matched up with racism in later life. Surprise, surprise!

The most interesting finding was the link with politics. People who vote for parties on the right are more likely to be racist than those leaning to the left.

That’s something I’ve known since I was knee-high to a Klansman. But I’m grateful that someone has finally found scientific backing for my gut feeling. It’s probably more scientific than sitting in an Essex pub near closing time.

Well-Eductaed Racists

The dilemma of well-educated racists such as Sir Oswald Mosley, Enoch Powell, and David Irving is an entirely different matter. It’s barely possible that Powell was unaware he was being racist when he made his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech.

David Irving: not trying to stop racism
Steve Bell on David Irving’s Libel Trial verdict 12/04/2000 (©The Guardian)

His defenders will say he wasn’t saying people who aren’t white are in any way inferior, just that the races don’t mix easily. But that is in itself inherently racist. It’s putting forward the theory that skin colour somehow determines someone’s character, which is absurd. Even to the most poorly-educated skinhead.

Are UKIP Racist?

Many followers of Nigel Farage’s UKIP, put great store in localism. To them, people born on this side of the English Channel are somehow good. By extension, anyone coming from anywhere that’s not here is bad, unwanted, a danger.

Despite being able to roll out examples of Black and Asian people who back their policies, many UKIP followers still believe that ‘true’ British people are White. At best, those who are Black and Mixed Race are ‘guests in our country’. These ‘guests’ must always speak English and do things ‘the British way’ or else suffer the consequences.

In my experience, most people who think this way are poorly-educated and generally in demeaning, repetitive jobs. Quite a few are unemployed, which is generally something they take delight in blaming on “all these bloody foreigners”.

There’s an old saying, “Tuppence ha’penny looking down on tuppence.” In Britain’s pre-decimal days, tuppence ha’penny (2.5d) was shorthand for “not much”. Roughly translated, it means that someone who has very little going for them wants to think there’s someone lower on the social scale than they are.

I’d really like to stop racism. But it seems it’s a lot easier said than done.