Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Monday, 31 May 2004

Congratulations! - SF Fog, winners of the Bingham Cup 2004

San Fransisco Fog RFC have triumphed for a second time in this year's Bingham Cup rugby tournament held at Esher RFC near London.

From what I read, the competition was again very successful. It is fitting, too, that it is Mark Bingham's home team which has won again, even though I am naturally disappointed that the Steelers did not bring home the cup on their home patch.
I, it seems, am blue cheese

Well, who knows, it might even be true:

You are blue cheese!

You are a soft, crumbly white blue-streaked cheese. You are very cool and mellow. You are very knowledgeable and wise and people come to you for advice and help.

Blue cheese is a white cheese with blue veins and a sometimes crumbly interior. This cheese usually has tangy, piquant, spicy and peppery flavor. Use in salad dressings with cream cheese for spreads. [Texture: hard, semi-soft ]

Try this quiz to find out which cheese best represents you. (thru Normblog)

Friday, 28 May 2004

I thought the problem was cracked - but IT IS NOT!!

I thought I was on the way to solving this problem, but in a republish operation I lost everything again, so I will be proceeding very slowly, I'm afraid, with separate back-ups of the HTML code after every stage. I won't put the commenting script back up until I have got the page HTML code back the way I want it, and this is going to take a few days. I had already put the comment code up briefly, but after I lost all the template data yet again there seems little point. I'm going to be in touch with Blogger again to report this continuing problem. My apologies. Please bear with me.

UPDATE: (31MAY04 0905 BST) I am cautiously optimistic I have now got my blog template back to the way it should be; I suspect there remain a few minor differences. Very importantly, I have off-line versions of every stage of the modifications I have had to carry out over the weekend, so if the problem recurs I should be able to be up-and-running again very much more rapidly.
Blogger template code - lost forever!!

I just had an e-mail back from Blogger a short time ago. Bad news! They tell me that a software problem sometimes causes this to happen; they suggested I use one of their standard templates, specially as I have done a lot of 'tweaking' to my page. This same thing happened about a year ago (!), although on that occasion they were able to restore the code from a back-up on their own system.

Rather than go down that route, I've used a stored version on my own PC of the HTML code. Unfortunately it is not a very recent back-up, so whilst it looks broadly similar to my recent version, there are still some major (and some more subtle) differences - notably the fact that I was using another 'comment' provider at the time and as I was never happy with them I have simply deleted that part of the code until I have time to restore the 'Haloscan' code (I don't think the comments themselves are lost, as they are on the 'Haloscan' server). So, just for the moment, there is no 'comment' facility - my apologies, please bear with me.

The lesson (a bitter one!) in all this is that I will now be backing-up my template code on a weekly basis on my own PC. Sigh ...

UPDATE: (28MAY04 08.20 BST) Unbelievable!! The same thing just happened again - the final part of the HTML code involving the Blogger button link and the closing part of the page was lost during the publishing of the first version of this post. Something really strange is going on at Blogger just at present - I advise being very vigilant in beeping your code backed-up on your own PC, if you use Blogger to publish your weblog.

Thursday, 27 May 2004

My blog is down!

If you have me on your RSS/XML reader you just might see this. My blog is down - most of the HTML code seems to have disappeared from the blog template. I've asked Blogger to look into it and restore it from a back-up if they can. I do have a back-up, but it is not very recent, so I'd have a lot of 'tweaking' to do if I had to use it. Sigh...
Scrum! - this weekend at Esher for gay and bi-sexual rugby players

The second 'Bingham Cup' rugby competition is being hosted this weekend by London club, The Kings Cross Steelers Rugby Football Club. I've been a supporting member of the Steelers for some years now and have been watching the planning for this year's event, from a distance, for nearly a year now.

The 'Bingham Cup' was set up in memory of Mark Bingham, and this tribute to him on the San Fransisco FOG website (where he was a member) is worth reading, too. Mark was a passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 93, one of the four aeroplanes hijacked on 11th September 2001.

Whilst I wish ALL the participating teams good luck, I just have to end by saying: GO STEELERS!
Black Watch regiment is to return to Iraq

Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary, today announced that the Black Watch regiment is to do another tour of duty in Iraq, having earlier served there during 2003, in replacement of the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders whose tour there is coming to an end. Both these Scottish regiments are tough and fearless soldiers and I wish them all a safe and speedy return.
Abu Hamza arrested at the request of the US, which seeks his extradition

Islamic cleric Abu Hamza (aka 'The Hook') was arrested in London early this morning at the request of the US authorities. They are seeking his extradition to the United States and have announced his indictment on 11 charges.

I have just been watching US Attorney General John Ashcroft on BBC News24, leading a news consference in New York where he read out the charges Abu Hamza faces and stating that the maximum penalty is "death or life imprisonment"; of course, this is grand-standing for US domestic public opinion as British law will require the US to agree that it will not seek to apply the death penalty prior to any extradition being agreed by the British authorities - as a signatory to the ECHR the UK could not agree to an extradition without such an agreement, nor should it.

On the other hand, I expect the British authorities (and me, for that matter) will be quite happy to have complied with the US request to arrest this man; he has been a troublesome presence here for a number of years, but I suspect that the British authorities felt that the evidence they had to hand was not sufficient for us to arrest and charge him ourselves, although his life has already been made as difficult as the law allows. I cannot imagine most in the UK will object to his extradition, always provided that the US agrees to provide the necessary assurance relating to the non-availability of the death penalty as a potential punishment in his case.
The mystery of the 'racist princess' web search queries is solved ...

I noticed this morning when going through the site visit data for my little blog that a number of visitors had alighted here with the above as part of their queries. The mystery is solved - it seems that Princess Michael of Kent allegedly suggested to a group of black fellow-diners in a New York restaruant that they should 'go back to the colonies'.

Cruelly this person, a descendent of German and Bohemian nobility, herself spent time 'in the colonies', Australia I believe. Bill sniffs and says, down his [not so-] patrician nose: 'figures!'. She performs a useful function, I suppose; she debunks any residual myth that being 'high born' makes one a better person.
'Be brief!' - says the Welsh windbag

The Financial Times isn't, perhaps, best known as a journal of humour and mirth, but just occasionally ...

Nor of course is the EU, but Neil Kinnock is its administration chief. In any case, Mr Kinnock has called on those who write reports for the European Commission to limit their documents to 15 pages except in undefined rare instances. I suspect that without extra-special vigilance there will soon be, if not in the immediate future then gradually creeping in, in the fullness of time and for various seemingly sound reasons, a creeping lengthening of average document size beyond the current 32 pages - despite a call in 2001 for documents to be limited, then, to 24 pages. (See just how easy it is to slip into the trap? I could easily have shortened that last sentence to 'Pull the other one!')
Potentially damned if you do (?), potentially doomed if you don't

You're planning a trip to a country where malaria-carrying mosquitoes are endemic. How do you protect yourself? Or should you bother, if some of the preventatives have potentially alarming side-effects?

I lived for many years in various countries where malaria was an all too frequent danger. At that time, many years ago, I used to take a daily Paludrine tablet, indeed I took it continuously for about 10 years; luckily I never succumbed to malaria and the side-effects I experienced were relatively minor - a sort of itching around the eyeballs, one of the documented contra-indications.

In any case, the disease moved on and it became known that this drug's effectiveness had diminished if not entirely disappeared. Luckily, for a few years I moved to live in countries not affected by malaria.

By the time I moved to a country where this was again a problem a new drug Lariam came along and you only had to take it once a week, rather than daily. However, as with many new drugs, some seemingly very alarming side-effects began to show up, in this case what were alleged to be psychiatric disorders. It so happens that I had good friends there, a husband and wife, who were both research scientists for a well-known pharmaceutical research institute [they were in the country becasue it is one of the few places, apparently, where bubonic plague is endemic in certain isolated regions and that was their main field of study] and their best advice to me then was only to take Lariam if I planned to travel to certain areas and only for brief periods, but otherwise I should concentrate on keeping my skin covered, specially at dusk, and make use of DEET spray or gel (a substance which had only relatively recently been developed); I got myself some and have used it on numerous occasions when I have travelled to countries where a risk exists. So far I have avoided malaria completely (touch wood!). The drawback with insect repellents, and the DEET-based 'Jungle Juice' I use is no exception, is that they are not particularly pleasant to use - either they smell strange or unpleasant or they leave a sticky film on the skin or they stain clothes. Despite all this I have persevered; I can easily buy new clothes and a regular shower soon sorts out the problem of stickiness.

This Guardian story is a timely one, specially as the summer vacations approach when many people from malaria-free countries such as the UK travel to some pretty exotic locations where not all the local exotica is entirely welcome, even for the usually adventurous and adaptable.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Stonewall urges gays and lesbians to boycott British Airways (BA)

I think this must date from a little while ago, but I just read about it today on Out in America, although I had certainly been aware of the background to this whole matter.

One of the Tory peers in the House of Lords is Lady O'Cathain, a lady with a long-standing and well-known antipathy toward homosexuals. She is also a non-executive director of British Airways (since 1993) - I had not been aware of this. During the recent debates on the Civil Partnerships Bill, Lady O'Cathain weighed in with her usual bile, making some exceptionally offensive remarks about homosexuals and their position in Northern Ireland (about which I have written a number of times recently because of the rampant homophobia experienced by homosexuals there):

"There are very few homosexuals in Northern Ireland."
- her attempt to exclude the Province from the legislation. And Northern Ireland -
"was different."

In practical terms it may be more difficult for some UK residents to exclude BA totally from their travel plans, but for those outside the UK this should pose no difficulty whatsoever for most. Next time I fly to London I shall certainly ensure that I don't use BA - I can at least do that little thing.
Holyrood Inquiry nears completion - John Campbell, QC outlines his findings

The Holyrood Inquiry, headed by Lord Fraser into the bullding of the new Scottish Parliament, is nearing completion - or at least as far as it can go with the information currently to hand (see below). Yesterday the Counsel to the Inquiry, John Campbell, QC, delivered a summary of his findings over the past eight months, leaving little doubt about his views as to where the responsibility/blame for the huge overspend may lie - the original budget was estimated in the Scotland Act (the legislation at Westminster which created the devolved Scottish Parliament) at GBP40m, whereas the latest available estimate for the full cost is GBP430m, a 975% increase. The Scotsman summarises the areas of responsibility here as ascribed by Mr Campbell, although this does not yet appear in the official Holyrood Inquiry website. Broadly summed up, he concluded to Lord Fraser:

"In my respectful submission, the Scottish Parliament building project exemplifies a failure of procurement management of gigantic proportions, and at almost every level of official and professional involvement."
"I would also suggest that hardly anyone involved with this project can honestly stand up and say that he did all he could to prevent what has happened."

He reserves especial criticism for BBC Scotland, specifically relating to its 'arrogance' by refusing to make available to the Inquiry the tapes of interviews made for a future documentary on the project, including those with Donald Dewar (the political driving force) and Enric Miralles (the building architect), both now deceased. Some key quotes from Mr Campbell's remarks relating to the BBC are in a Daily Telegraph article today (not yet on the website):

"The BBC has, inexplicably, failed to recognise where the public interest lies and by its refusal has in part thwarted the purpose of the inquiry."
"I cannot accede to the proposition that a viewing of only the tapes shpowing Mr Dewar and Snr Miralles is satisfactory."
The people of Scotland deserve nothing less than the full cooperation of the state broadcaster and they have not had it. High-sounding talk about the BBC's independence from processes such as this inquiry are a cover for a misconceived and immature response."
He said the BBC had -
"subordinated the public interest to its own private considerations"

- pretty damning!

UPDATE: (26MAY04 14.46 BST) The Scottish Executive today maintains its stance that no civil servant was to blame, but accepts that mistakes were made. Self-serving nonsense, in my ever-so-humble opinion!

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

An historian ponders America's national psyche

Niall Ferguson has an interesting article in today's Telegraph (free registration required) in which he speculates about some aspects of the 'American character' if such a nebulous concept can be said to exist in such a diverse country; he also touches on how current events might pan out for Bush later this year. I don't know how much, if any, of Ferguson's views I share, but the article certainly makes for stimulating reading. The cartoon in today's paper is also quite amusing, drawing together the strands of the 30th June handover date in Iraq and the Chelsea Flower Show which is being staged this week in London; there are always some of the show gardens (take an interactive tour of these) which are only finished (and sometimes not finished) just before the show opens and, most importantly, before Her Majesty The Queen graces the venue with her august presence in a preview on the Monday afternoon.
This particular 'difficult' neighbour confounds the stereotype

When one thinks of difficult neighbours, it is most probably of a relatively young person, perhaps playing music far too loud, late at night (that's my mental image, anyway). However, Dorothy Evans, is a 78-year old woman from Abergavenny (Wales), and she has 'form' in this area, it seems. During a trial at Cardiff Crown Court, Judge David Morris described her thus:

"I formed the plain view about you that you were a malicious and evil-minded old woman, determined to make the lives of your neighbours an utter misery."

The same judge presided over an earlier trial in 2001 involving this lady, again as defendant, and has asked for psychiatric reports before deciding how she needs to be dealt with. I hope fervently that when I reach a similar age I do not end up like this - sad for the lady and unpleasant for those who live nearby.

Monday, 24 May 2004

The shocking truth about me ...

Va-Va-Voom! You're inner Bombshell is Mae West.
You've definitly got a lot of wit, a lot of
smarts, and you know how to use people to your
advantage. Ever heard the phrase "doesn't
take any crap from anybody"? Well that's
you! Just like Mae you never want to settle
down, and can't imagine being with just one man
for the rest of your life. You don't care about
conventions and have no filter from your brain
to you mouth. Check out the movie "She
Done Him Wrong" to see your inner
bombshell in all her voluptuous glory!

Who is your inner bombshell?
brought to you by Quizilla

... if you believe in quizzes that is! (thru Shadowfoot)
Atkins Low Carbohydrate Diet - Weeks 37 to 49

I have now been on 'Lifetime Maintenance' for a little over three months. My weight on Sunday 23rd May was 63.4 Kg (139.8 Lb), a reduction of only 1.3 Kg (2.9 Lb) since 22nd February, when I last blogged here about this. My overall weight loss since I started this WOE on 15th June 2003 is 34.6 Kg (76.3 Lb) - that is almost 5 1/2 stones!! Measurement indicators for the last 13 weeks:
- waist down a further 0.7 inches to 30.2 inches (total reduction 14.8 inches);
- hips down 0.5 inches to 37.5 inches (total reduction 11.0 inches);
- thighs down 0.3 inches to 21.4 inches (total reduction 7.1 inches)

I'll write here again briefly about my 'Atkins' experiences after another 3 months or so (probably at the beginning/middle of September 2004). Meantime my aim is to keep my weight more or less as it is now. I consider myself very fortunate to have discovered the 'Atkins' method of tackling the perennial weight problems I have experienced for most of my life - I enjoy this way of eating and it is very easy to maintain, although I have no plans to allow complacency to creep in over coming months. I'll accept I have succeeded only if I can maintain my weight roughly as it is now for at least the next five years.

You can read more, if you wish, by clicking here; this will take you to my latest report. Or click on the permanent link under 'Atkins Online Journal' in the column to the right, to read the full story.

Saturday, 22 May 2004

Cricket at Nairn

This photograph was taken about 30 minutes ago, just after I finished a very enjoyable lunch

It's a lovely afternoon here in Nairn and the cricket match taking place just outside my home, close by the shore, is a regular feature here from late-Spring to early-Autumn. Cricket is not a fast-moving game, but it is relaxing to watch with a glass of wine to hand. Cheers!

Now it's time for a post-lunch walk with the dog. Have a great weekend - I'll be back on Monday.
For those who still care, some angst about the 'Church' and 'Gays' in Scotland

'Scottish Christian Press' have published a book called Sexuality and Salvation by Steve Mallon, which from these extracts:

"Young gay and lesbian people have to keep large parts of their life hidden from the Church, and at times of crisis that may mean they have to choose between their faith or their sexuality."
"That has harmful effects on individuals, their identity and whom they connect with, and most of them are too afraid to be open and honest about who they are. The study shows that if they were open and honest with members of their own church then they would have a pretty hard time."
"We are now in the 21st century and it is no longer acceptable for people to be treated in this way. There is a diversity within society and that has to be recognised. Even if some people disagree with homosexuality they should recognise that the time has come for people to accept each other as they are."

- all very worthy of course, and it is nice to hear that somebody with (one presumes) a strong Christian faith will say such things, but what will it achieve? I gave up on the Church a long time ago and have been moderately to very happy for most of the time since. Guilt-trips are pointless, but this is all the Church seems to offer. A spokesman for the Equality Network, a Scottish campaign for sexual equality, said:
"We are talking about very vulnerable people and this shows young gay people are unlikely to get the support they need from a Kirk minister or youth worker."

- and followed this up with a call for the Church of Scotland to get in touch with youth support organisations such as Stonewall Youth. The fact that the Church has not already done this kind of thing, years ago, says it all. The new Moderator may call for reform, but the real sub-text for the book just published is that fine words are all very well, but if the old attitudes of prejudice continue what is the point. A not unrelated sub-text is, of course, the fact that Church attendance continues to be in sharp decline, not surprising when there are influential people within the [Catholic] Church [in Scotland] who still, quite recently, say this kind of thing:

"Any idea of churches modernising would defeat the purpose of what people want from it which is something firm and unchanging."

- not to mention the deep financial pit the Church finds itself in, which I wrote about (in my main website, not this blog) a couple of years ago: the final article on that page, about homophobia and homelessness in Scotland, is also relevant.

Friday, 21 May 2004

The standards democracies need to live by when at war

This post has been prompted by some comments on a few of my recent postings. I wrote a lengthy post on 12th May about the treatment of prisoners held by the Coalition in Iraq - read it by clicking here (you'll need to scroll down to get to the post entitled "The treatment of prisoners in Iraq under US and UK detention" - I've never been able to understand how to link direct to posts on Blogger using the permalinks, I'm afraid -but see UPDATE at the end).

I wish to quote most of one parapgraph of what I wrote in that post:
Some have said that the scale of what has been done by some Coalition personnel in Iraq is dwarfed by what occurred during Saddam Hussein's time in power in Iraq. No doubt. The hypocrisy of critics, specially those in some Arab countries and other countries who do not have a democratic system of government and whose governments probably sanction or tolerate, routinely, the mistreatment of citizens and others in their territories, has been mentioned in an effort, presumably, to minimise the impact or the validity of their criticisms. These efforts miss the point entirely - there is no justification, ever, for torture. It is not open to any government, citing any justification whatsoever, to subject persons under its control to cruel and unusual punishment, or 'torture' for short. This applies just as much to those held at Guantanamo as to those held in Iraq.

- this remains my firm view.

UPDATE: (Friday 9JUN04 10.32 BST) A couple of days I switched on 'titles' in my blog style sheet and did a few changes to allow this to work properly. A side-effect seems to be that my permalinks now actually go where they are supposed to - amazing!
Just how are detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba being treated?

We don't know, because the guidelines are classified.

All we do know is that the methods used were 'scaled back', from those previously authorised by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after an investigation revealed objections from US military lawyers, saying they went 'too far'. According to a a senior US military lawyer, it [now?] fully conforms with international law - obviously this has to be taken on trust, or not at all, because the guidelines are 'classified'.

The US Administration has stated that al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects are not subject to the Geneva Conventions - I think I heard Rumsfeld say some months ago that they were being accorded 'most of' the the protections afforded by the Conventions, or something like that - but of course this particular body of international law does not derogate authority to any signatory state a privilege to vary the Geneva Conventions IN ANY WAY and still permit the detaining power concerned the right to state the Conventions are being observed. They either are, or they are not. So the question I have (asked many times before) is - what international law, precisely, is the US Administration claiming it is following?
A newspaper bows to homophobia masquerading as sensitivity

The Advocate reports that a newspaper in Massachuesetts (The Sun, Lowell, Mass.) 'regrets' publishing a photo of two men kissing at Cambridge Hall on Monday, the day the law legalising same-sex marriage in Massachusetts came into force. It seems that many readers complained to the newspaper and/or cancelled their subscriptions alleging:

"Those contacted by the Sun said it represented an unnecessary, in-your-face intrusion, especially for parents with young children."

Of course I can well imagine the revenue implications for the newspaper if a significant proportion of its readership chooses to shun it, but let's call this what it is, on the part of the readership concerned - homophobia, pure and simple.

They can try to dress it up as "unnecessary, in-your-face intrusion" all they like, but that is not what is really going on here. Any more than it was when there was outrage in some quarters the first time an inter-racial kiss was shown on US network television in the 1960s ('Star Trek' - Captain Kirk sharing a kiss with Lt Ohura, I believe).
Nipples - the British censor them, the Irish just say 'no'

A television and cinema advertisement prepared by the European Parliament's audio-visual department for screening ahead of the European Parliament elections on 10th June has been deemed too strong for British tastes and a short sequence has been cut, whilst the Irish have apparently decided not to show this particular advertisement at all.

The ad. is designed to be shown thoughout the EU, to encourage people to vote. Turnout in previous elections has been low and dropping. It shows an infant (I read, beacuse I have obviously not seen it) "groping for the nipple as it chooses which side to drink from. The nipple is visible again in the next shot as the baby's mouth closes around it." - obviously far too shocking for we sensitive British souls to witness.

Thursday, 20 May 2004

Wi-fi on the rails

This sounds like a good idea - entice people who might otherwise use a car, or take a 'plane, to let 'the train take the strain' instead - provide travellers with wi-fi internet access. It's coming - there is talk of equipping 700 trains, operated by five of the UK's train operators, over the next four years. The downside is, of course, that business-people can no longer use being 'in transit' as a reason to be out of touch with the office or clients at any time.

Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Amazing - sweet, but sad

They obviously didn't get the 'birds and the bees' talk. (thru Normblog)
Abu Ghraib - more inconvenient details begin to emerge

It seems that the US military authorities may have tried to impose conditions on visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to particular cell-blocks at Abu Ghraib, by suggesting that the ICRC schedule its visits, rather than make them unannounced, according to this report in The New York Times.

It is not entirely clear what the reaction of the ICRC was to this suggestion; that organisation traditionally maintains great discretion in disseminating what it reports to detaining powers, as it rightly considers that continuing access to detainees is vital. One wonders whether the military authorities have attempted to exploit this discretion for their own ends. I expect more sordid details will drip-feed into the public domain in coming weeks as those directly implicated seek to mitigate their situations.
PMQs in House of Commons disrupted by a powder paint bomb

I must have returned to my car and switched on the radio only a few moments after this happened, so of course I didn't see it live myself. However, I usually record (boring, I know, but there it is) the whole of the 'Daily Politics' on BBC2 on Wednesdays for later viewing in case I have to miss it. I've now watched the recording and all one could see was that Tony Blair, the PM, John Prescott and Gordon Brown were all startled and looked up to their right, then what seemed to be coloured 'smoke' seemed to billow around Gordon Brown. Later slow-motion replays showed very clearly that purple powder of some kind was spreading out rapidly from what looked like a more compact body of flying material.

It seemed to be clear very rapidly that the powder, thankfully, was not toxic in any way, but of course Speaker Michael Martin immediately suspended the Sitting and MPs quickly left the Chamber (but read further on, for comments about this); there was no panic of any kind. HoC rules severely limit what the camera may show from the Chamber and forbid broadcast of any untoward incident so the camera coverage from inside was suspended immediately and we had to rely on eye-witness accounts from various MPs once they were outside. It was later suggested that had the attack been more severe, for example with some kind of biological or nerve weapon, then the correct action would have been to lock the HoC doors, to prevent the contamination from spreading.

Just recently a security screen was installed in the HoC, around most of the gallery areas accessible to non-members, to guard against just this type of incident. However, a small part of the Public Gallery, the three front rows, is not within the screen and it was from this unprotected area that the missiles were thrown. The area is intended for VIPs and guests of MPs and Peers who are supposed to vouch personally for those who receive their tickets, and it had been assumed that such people could never be involved in unparliamentary behaviour.

The attack, and one of the powder paint bombs apparently hit the back of the Prime Minister, was carried out by supporters of a protest group called 'Fathers 4 Justice' and it is reported that two men aged 50 and 36 have been arrested. This group aims to support fathers who suffer after marital disputes, for example by being denied access to their children by the mother. In other words, and very fortunately, it was not what we had all feared - a 'terrorist' attack. It is reported that 'Father-of-two Ron Davies, from Worthing, Sussex, threw the flour-filled condom from an area of the gallery reserved for MPs' and Peers' guests and notable visitors as a second, unnamed, activist held up a poster'.

Now for the investigation into what occurred. It seems that the two were holding tickets made available to Labour peer Baroness Golding, who had (we learn from BBC News24) allowed the tickets to be auctioned at a charity event. It seems she was not aware who had actually won the tickets

Also, according to a later report on BBC News24 (just a few moments ago), it seems that it is quite common for MPs and Peers to allow their ticket allocations to be auctioned at various charity events.

Labour peer Baroness Golding said in a statement that the two protesters were guests of hers. I have just watched her a short while ago making a statement of apology in the House of Lords.

In the immediate aftermath there was speculation, obviously, that it was a terrorist attack, then when it was realised it might be something else a recognition that the material thrown could easily have been dangeorus. What it is, though, is a 'wake-up' call. What to do for the future?

Initially, one assumed that the security screen would have to be extended to cover the whole of the Public Gallery, even though that goes against everything I believe about the vital importance of accessibility for the public to their elected representatives. Indeed there was considerable opposition to the installation of the existing security screen just a short time ago. It would be a pity if the actions of a few people were to result in a major change to the way our democracy functions, but if safety is really an issue, then there would probably be no alternative but to either ban the public completely, or to extend the security screen.

Now that we know the background to what happened, however, I would be reluctant to go down that path. What does need to happen, though, is that MPs and Peers must be made to understand that their personal responsibility for those they invite into the Chamber has real meaning and the consequences for them if they fail to exercise proper control over what happens to their ticket allocations will be severe with no room for prevarication or excuses later.

Undoubtedly, and allied with this, a far greater emphasis will need to be placed on physically checking those wo are invited into the Chamber (to either the general Public Gallery or to the VIP area) and their possessions, to ensure that no items which could potentially be used as a weapon are introduced into the Chamber. Also there needs to be rigorous training and regular practises to ensure that what is done in an emergency makes sense from a security perspective.

The unfortunate reality is that the 'solution' of closing the Public Gallery completely, or of closing the whole area behind a security screen, will be one of those chosen. Whatever merits 'Fathers 4 Justice' may have, they have done a grave disservice to our democracy today.
Journalists convicted in Yemen for ' publicly discussing homosexuality'

This report in al-Jazeera is worrying, to put it mildly. The three journalists had originated interviews with men 'jailed for homosexuality' published in an Arabic language newspaper in March 2003 which are said to have 'violated Yemeni morals and customs'.

This kind of case makes me want to cry in anger, and laugh with mirth, both at the same time. It's rather like saying that Catholic priests could and would never indulge in immoral practices either - pull the other one! Undoubtedly there are many genuinely pious people in Yemen who dislike the very idea of homosexuality, but there are also many who (shall be say) have a rather more flexible, ahem, attitude to this whole subject - whatever the so-called 'customs' of the country may be. That is, of course, unless Yemeni society has changed a great deal since I was last there! It really is a pity that Yemeni courts can't find more useful ways of occupying their time than by persecuting people whose only probable 'guilt' is that they were born gay, and then further persecuting those who report such cases.

Tuesday, 18 May 2004

Were Reuters staff abused by US troops in Iraq?

This latest revelation that three Reuters employees allege they were abused and subjected to degrading treatment when in US military custody in January this year adds to the impression that at least some of the American personnel in Iraq were completely out of control and subject to little or no meaningful discipline in their activities with detainees; or perhaps were in fact 'encouraged' to do as they seem to have done. The statement put out by the US military, that there was no evidence the Reuters staff had been tortured or abused, is of value only if one accepts that anything that particular military organisation says on this subject retains a shred of credibility in the light of the undisputed outrages which have become public in the past several weeks.

As someone who supported strongly the Coalition's mission to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and to allow that country to re-take its place amongst civilised nations, I am finding it increasingly difficult to accept that this justified and sensible action has not been placed in jeopardy, perhaps irretrievable jeopardy, by ill-thought out post-invasion strategy, coupled with a methodology for the treatment of detainees from the conflict which seems to run counter to what I always fondly imagined were the common values shared by most modern democracies.

I have found this list of the major players in these events quite a useful memmory-aid in what is sure to become an increasingly complex situation.
Sonia Gandhi has declined post of Prime Minister

The Congress Party leader, foreign-born Sonia Gandhi, has today announced she declines to take on the post of Prime Minister:

"The post of prime minister has not been my aim," she told members of her Congress party in India's parliament. "I was always certain that, if ever I found myself in the position I am in today, I would follow my inner voice. I humbly decline the post."

Fears for her safety, after it has become plain there is severe opposition from some Hindu nationalists to the idea of a foreign-born person becoming Prime Minister, are thought to be at least partially responsible for her decision. However regrettable this may be, it does appear to have stabilised the Indian stock markets - these have now bounced back from their severe drop yesterday. Such is politics.

Sunday, 16 May 2004

Abu Ghraib, prisoner abuse and Rumsfeld's possible collusion

This article in the New Yorker (link thru Drudge) makes for sober reading; I will be interested to see how this pans out in comming days. I hope the analysis will stick to the issue - whether there were violations of the Geneva Conventions and if so how extensive they were, and whose fingerprints were on the underlying guidance rules which may have allowed these abuses to happen - and not become bogged down in partisan politics.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle triumph in Scottish First Division Football League

I have no interest whatsoever in football (soccer), but as this news is so close to home I feel it is only right that I mention the match yesterday in which Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat St Johnstone 3-1, sealing their leadership of the Scottish First Division.

The victory gives the Inverness team the right to apply to join the Scottish Premier League, the one in which top teams such as Rangers and Celtic compete, but it is apparently not entirely certain that the team will apply to make the move - local sporting and business politics seems to be the source of this doubt. However, as someone who neither knows nor, if I am honest, cares very much either way there are probably better sources than me for those speculating on how things might go - my best guess is that the team would be foolish to miss this perhaps once-in-a-generation opportunity.

It so happens I was driving back through Inverness and passing by the stadium where the match was played and was certainly aware of the commotion as there were police motorcycles contiunously circulating on the dual-carriageway which passes by, slowing the traffic down (grrrr!) to avoid any accidents as people were about to flock out of the stadium as the match had just finished, although I was completely unaware of the significance of what had been going on. I had been at Strathpeffer, listening to a lecture on the wartime code-breakers of 'Enigma', the German code, who helped us to win WWII by getting knowledge of our then enemy's secret war plans. The code-breakers worked in great secrecy at Bletchley Park and we were privileged to hear first-hand from two of those who were there, the speaker and someone in the audience, the roles they played in what was a very complex and crucial part of our efforts to save western dmeocracy from tyranny.

The talk was to help raise funds for the restoration of the Strathpeffer Pavilion, which I have fond memories of visiting with my parents when I was a small child for 'high tea' on numerous summer evenings when we were in the area on holiday.
Echoes from a distant past in infantry skirmish last night in Iraq

The Scottish regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, is reported to have engaged in a 3-hour infantry battle of a very old-fashioned kind, using fixed bayonets in its efforts to attack positions "held by more than 100 fighters loyal to the outlawed cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, according to military sources". This, unfortunately, is the real grim face of war even today, when it is necessary to engage in close combat and when high-tech remotely-operated weaponry is not considered appropriate.

Saturday, 15 May 2004

Congratulations to Ukraine - winners of the Eurovision Song Contest 2004!!

The winners this year are Ukraine, with 280 votes. Next year Kiev!

The 24 songs in this year's final were all, at the very least, not unpleasant to listen to, and indeed most were quite 'catchy'. The points awarded to each entry were as follows, in the order in which the songs were performed:
Spain - 87
Austria - 9
Norway - 3
France - 40
Serbia-Montenegro - 263 (2nd)
Malta - 50
Netherlands - 11
Germany - 93
Albania - 106
Ukraine - 280 (WINNER)
Croatia - 50
Bosnia-Herzegovina - 91
Belgium - 7
Russia - 67
Macedonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of - 47
Greece - 252 (3rd)
Iceland - 16
Ireland - 7
Poland - 27
United Kingdom - 29
Cyprus - 170
Turkey - 195
Romania - 18
Sweden - 170
- no country, pleasingly, received 'nul points';
- 36 countries voted, including the 12 countries eliminated during the semi-final a few days ago.

The usual amusing voting took place, with certain countries awarding the maximum 12 to one, responded to with 12 votes back from the other - the same routine they follow EVERY year. However, with my bottle of champagne (referred to in an earlier posting!), I passed a reasonably harmless and very enjoyable evening.

Now, passing to slightly more esoteric territory, some subjective comments about a very few of the contestants. Amongst the female contestants (leads or solos) I'd say the prettiest/most beautiful included Malta, Albania, Belgium (a stunner), Ukraine ('Xena' warrior princess!), Poland, Romania (in a slightly 'scary' way) and Sweden. Amongst the male contestants (leads or solos), and remember that I am a gay man, definitely Spain (wow!!), Austria (nice!), Iceland (very nice!!), United Kingdom (nice smile, twinkly eyes!!) and Turkey (wow!!). The male Slovenian presenter who announced their votes wasn't bad either!

So, to summarise this 'off-topic' part of my evening, the most beautiful female was for me the Belgian entry - a very attractive young woman indeed. Amongst the males, well for me it is a difficult choice between the Spanish singer, a very attractive and typically-Spanish good-looking man and the Turkish lead singer, who was a mixture of rugged good looks, tattooed and camp and with his tartan (yes,really!) pants well I think it has to go to him (and my telephone number is ...)- sigh!

A reminder, if you want to watch any/all of the songs, click on any of the links from here. Or you can visit the official Eurovision website here - this has a lot more detail of this year's and past winners.

The Turkish television production was generally excellent and one of the interval acts (after all the songs had been performed and when the votes were being made and collated) was very enjoyable, a sort of Turkish version of Irish line-dancing - all the performers, male and female, were very 'easy on the eye' - definitely the champagne talking!

A reminder - next year it's Kiev, the first time it will come from beyond what used to be the 'Iron Curtain'; that will be interesting.

PS/ In the interests of 'full disclosure', I decided not to exercise my telephone vote this time, mainly because I was too engrossed with the spectacle and 'forgot'. If I had voted it would have, for me, been a choice between Netherlands, Germany and Greece - I'm pleased to see that at least one of my choices (Greece) was in the top 3, although I gave Serbia-Montenegro a reasonably high vote, too, but I confess I am surprised that Ukraine won, although it certainly wasn't a dud! Ah well, after all it's only a bit of fun ...

PPS/ For conspiracy theorists, the explanation for the date stamp of 9.46pm on this post is as follows - this website uses GMT, whereas of course the UK currently follows BST - British Summer Time - (GMT+1); the competition ended at about 11.15pm BST (10.15 GMT), but I started to prepare this post, mainly the list of contestants in the order they sang, about half an hour earlier, in other words prior to the final votes having been cast. I was able to take the final votes from a still image from my video recording of the last few moments of the voting.

UPDATE: (15MAY04 09.15 BST) Here is the BBC's own report on the competition with, at the end, comments from a variety of viewers worldwide.
Denmark gets its Australian 'Matilda'

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, 35, has married Tasmanian former estate agent Mary Donaldson, 32. The couple met four years ago in Sydney at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, during which the Crown Prince accompanied the Danish sailing team, and she eventually agreed to wed him, renouncing both her Australian and British citizenships and undertaking two years of Danish studies prior to her wedding. Miss Donaldson, who will now be known as Crown Princess Mary, seems to have been taken to the hearts of the Danish nation. A joyful and happy occasion and I wish the couple much happiness for the future.
US Supreme Court refuses to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts!!

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled in November that the state Constitution allowed gay couples to marry.

Opponents of gay marriage had challenged that ruling in the federal courts and the US Supreme Court declined on Friday to block Massachusetts from following the earlier ruling - as a result it is expected that same-sex marriage licences will be issued from this coming Monday.

As Mary Bonauto, the lead attorney for the seven same-sex couples who sued the state for the right to marry, said:
"Reduced to its essence, this has always been a case where people unhappy with the court ruling were trying to dress it up in a federal constitutional claim that Massachusetts was a tyranny."

Bravo! I have been drinking a bottle of champagne (Heidsieck Brut 'Heritage' NV - a very sound, but not extra-special example, for your information) this evening for other reasons [see later posting this evening], but it is certainly fortuitous that I happen to be drinking champagne when writing about this tremendously good news. Bravo! - I say again.
Arabic speakers - there aren't enough for MI5 requirements

There's a very interesting article in today's Economist (subscription required) high-lighting the shortage of Arabic students, potentially translatable (so to speak) into future spooks, spies and what have you. The report regrets, as do many, the closure of the Middle East Centre for Arabic Studies (MECAS) in Lebanon in 1978, largely because of the parlous security situation there at the time. Many of my former colleagues (in a bank, I hasten to add) were enrolled there and most turned into pretty fluent Arabic speakers. By the time I was studying Arabic, the FCO (and certain other private institutions like the one I worked for) used The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London and I spent a year there doing a pretty intensive course supplemented by a period of insertion in Jordan. All this came in very useful in later years, although unfortunately in recent years I haven't kept up the daily exposure to the language that is necessary to maintain proficiency. People able to interact with Arabic speakers (and indeed with speakers of many other languages) are badly needed for commercial and political purposes - it is unfortunately the case that the inestimable value of having English as probably the major language used today internationally is a handicap for native English speakers who often wonder what is the point of learning another language when most people it is useful or necessary to converse with speak some English already, even if at a rudimentary level.

Friday, 14 May 2004

India sure is an amazing country ...

A democracy, the world's largest, gives election victory to a Party led by a foreign-born leader, Sonia Gandhi. If she becomes Prime Minister (it is not entirely certain, apparently, that she wishes this) she will not even be the first female to hold this post, her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi having held this position herself twice, until she was assasinated, just like her son (and Sonia's husband) Rajiv although not whilst he was actually Prime Minister, which he was too for a while. Not forgetting that Indira Gandhi's father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first Prime Minister of an independent India, after it negotiated its freedom with and from former colonial power, the UK, which administered this territory from the India Office.

Of course, India is not without its problems, of various kinds. But there is also room for optimism.

Truly an amazing place ...
How China is enforcing its 'diktat' in Hong Kong

The slow pace of erosion in democratic freedoms continues in Hong Kong with the silencing of two major radio critics of Beijing's policies for the SAR, amidst threats, efforts at bribery and intimidation ...

Thursday, 13 May 2004

Government says 'Daily Mirror' photographs not taken in Iraq

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Defence Minister Adam Ingram informed MPs that the photographs purporting to show British military personnel mistreating detainees in Iraq were:

"categorically not taken in Iraq.

"I can also tell the House this is not only the opinion of the special investigations' branch investigators - it has been independently corroborated.

"The truck in which the photos were taken was never in Iraq.

"Those involved may have committed criminal offences under military law which are the proper subject of on-going investigations by the RMP."

The editor of the Daily Mirror has said:

"the pictures accurately illustrated the reality about the appalling conduct of some British troops."

- which seems somewhat weasle-worded, to say the least.

If there is truth in the allegations, however, that mistreatment did occur under British jurisdiction, irrespective of the veracity or otherwise of these photographs, then this must obviously be investigated - which we are told is happening. Until such time as a report on these investigations comes to hand then I will suspend judgement. We have already been assured by the government that action has been taken to correct the deficiencies found by the ICRC and one must hope that deviations do not recur; it is not a justification, and I am thankful that no British minister has implied this, to contemplate modifying the standards British personnel must observe with regard to what others (whether our adversaries or our Coalition partners) may be doing.
European Parliament(EP) elections - 10th June 2004

Next month the 25 member states of the European Union will elect new members for the European Parliament. Elections are always held on a Thursday in the UK, whereas in many other European countries they are held on Sundays - this will be the 13th June.

Within Scotland, which is treated as one region within the UK for EP election purposes, the candidates for each Party so far identified are as follows:
1 David Martin
2 Catherine Stihler
3 Bill Miller
4 Kirsty O'Brien
5 Catriona Renton
6 Colin Smyth
7 Gemma Doyle
Scottish National
1 Ian Hudghton
2 Alyn Smith
3 Kenneth Gibson
4 Douglas Henderson
5 Alasdair Nicholson
6 Alex Orr
7 Janet Law
1 Struan Stevenson
2 John Purvis
3 Cameron Buchanan
4 Sebastian Leslie
5 Anne Harper
6 Cllr Paul Nelson
7 Douglas Taylor
Liberal Democrat
1 Elspeth Attwooll
2 Robert Aldridge
3 Alex Bruce
4 Karen Freel
5 Douglas Herbison
6 Clive Sneddon
7 Christine James
1 Charles Booth
2 Tara O'Leary
3 Martin Bartos
4 Moira Dunworth
5 Alastair Whitelaw
6 Katherine Joester
7 James Park
Scottish Socialist
1 Felicity Garvie
2 Nicholas McKerrell
3 Hugh Kerr
4 Catriona Grant
5 Lynn Sheridan
6 John Sangster
7 John Rossetter
1 Peter Troy
2 Philip Anderson
3 George Cormack
4 Michael Phillips
5 Janice Murdoch
6 Donald Mackay
7 Peter Nielson
1 Steven Blake
2 Scott McLean
3 David Kerr
4 Stephen Burns
5 Bryan Dickson
6 Craig McComb
7 John Bean
Operation Christian Vote
1 James Hargreaves
2 William Thompson
3 Richard Russell
4 David Braid
5 Marion McNeill
6 Mary Hay
7 Rose Irtwange
Scottish Wind Watch
1 Brendan Hamill
2 Sylvia Thorne
3 Charles Benny
4 Jennifer Scobie
5 Bennie Palmer
6 Helen Pass
7 Richard Hammock
Individual Candidates
Fergus Tait (Independent)
- some details have been assembled from individual Party websites and additional information has been taken from the BBC European Election website here (the link will show all UK regions in due course, although at the time of this update not all are included).

The expectation, based on past experience, is that turnout in the UK (and probably in many of the other countries) will be rather low. As always, I would urge everyone who is eligible to vote to make sure that the opportunity to vote is not wasted. Quite apart from anything else, the more who vote, the more accurate will the total tally be in terms of overall public opinion. It would be a pity if, for example, certain 'extremist' candidates were to do well because of apathy on the part of people who support, nominally at least, one of the more mainstream parties.

UPDATE: (14MAY04 17.33 BST) The details of the Scotland region have now been added to the BBC listing, so I have been able to complete the details I posted earlier.

Wednesday, 12 May 2004

Rumsfeld on the treatment of prisoners in Iraq

It seems to me very difficult to sustain the fiction that the appalling acts of barbarity perpetrated by some US personnel represented activities of rogue elements when US Defence Secretary Donal Rumsfeld permits himself to say things such as this:

"Terrorists don't comply with the laws of war. They go around killing innocent civilians."

Of course the murder by beheading of Nicolas Berg is utterly horrific, but we (the US and the UK and the rest of the Coalition) are supposed to be there attempting to put an end to such barbarity, not indulging in official barbarity of our own - even if those his quote seems to be referring to are those captured in Afghanistan. The fact remains that it is patently untrue that the US is complying with the terms of the Geneva Conventions, despite Mr Rumsfeld's contention that the instructions of President Bush to this effect are being observed. It pains me greatly to write this, but Rumsfeld has revealed (to me at least) that his moral compass is seriously damaged and as he is in such a key position in the US Administration it is inescapable that the US must now be regarded as a rogue nation which is effectively out of control. Our own government, and perhaps our own military, have their own questions to answer with regard to treatment of detainees in Iraq, but they seem to be of quite a different order when compared to the moral turpitude into which the US seems to have allowed itself to fall. My apologies to US readers who may be understandably upset by my harsh tone, but I have simply decided that I can no longer pussy-foot around this issue. It is an enormous shame that the undoubtedly large majority of US and UK personnel, both civilian and military, who behave responsibly whilst exercising their authority are in process of having their reputations tarnished by a few who have taken the posturing from far away of people like Rumsfeld rather too literally and will, most likely, be 'hung out to dry' as a result of political expediency in an election year.
For lovers of kitsch - The Eurovision Song Contest

It's that time of year again, the time for Europe's annual festival of tuneful melodies and some awful cacophanies that is The Eurovision Song Contest.

This year, for the first time, the contest takes place in two parts. A semi-final was held earlier this evening (I watched part of it on digital tv channel BBC3), to select from a pool of 22 countries the 10 that will go forward to the final this coming Saturday. These will be added to the 14 pre-selected countries to make up the roll-call for the final of 24 countries.

The pre-selected 14 are themselves in two groups - last year's winner and this year's host Turkey plus the next 9 top scorers from last year's contest, plus the 'Big 4' of France, Germany, Spain and the UK (largely because of their significant financial support based on a sliding population scale). The UK of course did notoriously badly last year having joined a select group of countries who have been awarded 'nul points' in the competition.

You can see videos of all the songs here and there will be live streaming of the final on Saturday here.

UPDATE: (Thursday 13MAY04 00.12 BST) The winners in the semi-final, and who will now go forward to Saturday's final, are here.
Some good news from Australia

I had a letter to day from a former colleague (my driver whilst I was in Vietnam) who, along with his son and daughter, emigrated just under two months ago from Vietnam to the Brisbane area of Australia. His life since April 1975 has been radically different from the prosperous and privileged life he might have had otherwise (his family background closed off many options to him under the new regime), but he has remained quietly optimistic for the future and had built a happy (if frugal) life with his family. His wife has remained in Vietnam for the present, as she is able to provide limited financial assistance to her husband and children (she is a dentist) until the father's status in Australia allows him to take paid employment - they are currently refugees. Of course their situation is precarious, legally and financially, until his immigration status improves. Whilst he writes of his anxiety for the future, he also takes the stoic attitude I remember so well in him when he writes, in part (in somewhat allegoric French): "There you have it, the life of a new immigrant. It is a little sad, but that is not important. You know there are people who have been in situations more disastrous that we, but who have been able to surmount their difficulties. Why not us."

Although I am planning to send him small regular amounts to make their lives somewhat less difficult in their early days in Australia, I have no doubt at all that he and his children, and eventually his wife, will be able to be reunited in Australia and be happy together in a free country. That is the good news - and the hope for the future.
The treatment of prisoners in Iraq under US and UK detention

Last week US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in evidence to a Senate committee, said:

"I failed to recognise how important it was to elevate a matter of such gravity to the highest levels, including the president and the members of Congress..."

It is good that he also apologised and accepts full responsibility for the mistreatment of prisoners which occurred "on my watch". However, I consider that the fundamental flaw in his moral judgement evidenced by this statement is a shocking revelation and must call seriously into question his fitness to remain in his post. This was the substance of what The Economist (subscription required) said in its issue dated 8th May 2004, whereas The Daily Telegraph, in a leader article the same day opines he should not go; my current view is that The Economist is correct in its judgement. Both publications have, like me, always supported the action taken by the Coalition in seeking to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. This remains my basic view and needs to be borne in mind when reading what follows.

I have read and heard a number of reports over the past year, and specially over the past week or so, implying that Americans and British would never do the things the revelation of which has caused such political uproar on both sides of the Atlantic in recent days, quite apart from disgust and horror around the world. I have never completely 'bought' this argument as I believe that most human beings are capable of acts, given the appropriate motivation and climate of opinion, which would otherwise perhaps seem quite out of character. The notion that Americans and British are innately more virtuous in their potential actions than Iraqis, or any other nationality, is difficult to sustain. John Simpson had a very interesting article in The Sunday Telegraph last Sunday (9th May) which refers to experiments conducted by Dr Stanley Milgram at Yale (and discussed in the American publication Psychology Today a couple of years ago in an article by Dr Thomas Blass) and by Philip Zimbardo at Stamford. These studies showed that, irrespective of nationality, somewhere between 61 and 66 per cent of people were prepared to inflict 'torture' if the correct conditions were established. As John Simpson concludes:

"People torture others because their victims are weak and they are strong. They also do it from a sense of the righteousness of their cause, which sweeps away their scruples: the psychiatrists call this a 'legitimising ideology'."

I have no doubt at all that neither US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, nor anyone else in a position of authority in the US Administration, far less US President George W Bush himself , advocated openly or impliedly that actions which might legitimately be classified as 'torture' could or should be carried out in furtherance of the 'war on terrorism' of which the Coalition activities in Afghanistand and Iraq are a part. However, I am strongly of the view that the climate of opinion which this US Administration has fostered in justifying its responses to the horror of the attacks on the United States in September 2001 has allowed the lapses in the discipline necessary in any chain of command to develop and result in this kind of thing, described in an article by Julian Coman entitled 'He did not comprehend the size of the bomb that was ticking'. The he in question is of course Donald Rumsfeld.

Those who carried out the acts which are recorded in 'souvenir' photographs state that they were merely carrying out the orders of their chain of command superiors and that they were not aware of the terms (or perhaps even the existence?) of the Geneva Conventions designed to protect detainees in conflict situations. Readers of this blog will know my views on the matter of the indeterminate detention without charge of those held at the US's Guantanamo Bay base, mainly those from the Afghanistan theatre, about whose precise status under international law there is some dispute and even accepting this, some disgust at the stance of the US Administration policies there. There is perhaps much less doubt about the status under international law of those held in Iraq and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has apparently been expressing its disquiet concerning the conditions of detention and the treatment of those detained, to both the US and UK detaining authorities in Iraq for some months, culminating in an ICRC report in February this year, the details of which are now becoming public.

Some have said that the scale of what has been done by some Coalition personnel in Iraq is dwarfed by what occurred during Saddam Hussein's time in power in Iraq. No doubt. The hypocrisy of critics, specially those in some Arab countries and other countries who do not have a democratic system of government and whose governments probably sanction or tolerate, routinely, the mistreatment of citizens and others in their territories, has been mentioned in an effort, presumably, to minimise the impact or the validity of their criticisms. These efforts miss the point entirely - there is no justification, ever, for torture. It is not open to any government, citing any justification whatsoever, to subject persons under its control to cruel and unusual punishment, or 'torture' for short. This applies just as much to those held at Guantanamo as to those held in Iraq. Blogger Norman Geras ('Normblog') has a very interesting article on the torture and humiliation inflicted on some of those detained at Abu Ghraib which is worth reading in its entirety, but this brief extract encapsulates much of my own thing on the matter:

"No, the two main countries of the Coalition should not be held to a higher standard than anyone else over torture, because they should be held to the highest, and the only, standard in this matter - and so should every other government. The use of torture is impermissible everywhere and always. It is a gross and unconscionable crime."

Whilst my article has referred to both the US and the UK mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, most of the references linked to have dealt mainly with those relating to those held under US control. This in no way implies that I wish to minimise the seriousness of acts [alleged to have been] committed by British personnel in Iraq, even if the scale of the mistreatment carried out by US and UK personnel does seem to differ somewhat.

I wrote near the beginning of this article that I consider the US civil Administration directly implicated in the creation of a climate of opinion where some of its personnel have acted inappropriately. Quite apart from the doctrine underlying the detention of non-citizens at Guantanamo without charge and for indeterminate periods, as well as a small number of US citizens in South Carolina, the fact that the US has also declined to sign the treaty which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, which means that US servicemembers are not subject to being tried for alleged war crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC, seems to have created the assumption that the US is not subject to the same sanctions as signatory nations (such as the UK, for example). In practice, of course, the power of the US means that it cannot be forced to comply with any international agreement it chooses to ignore or declines to participate in - that is the stark reality. It is a reality which is not, quite obviously, replicated in the case of the UK.

Monday, 10 May 2004

Prisoner treatment in Iraq

Like most people I have been shocked (but not entirely surprised) by the revelations about the treatment of some prisoners held in Iraq under US and UK control. I have a lot to say about this, but simply will not have the time until at least tomorrow and possibly Wednesday to do the subject justice, so prefer to 'hold fire' lest what I do write appears glib - and this is a subject where glibness is definitely to be avoided.

Saturday, 8 May 2004

New link added - Un swissroll

I'm back from my vacation, but won't be resuming regular blogging until after the weekend. However I just discovered a new blog, Un swissroll, whilst reviewing referrers and entries in the week I have been away from some of the blogs I follow regularly. This new find, however, deserves an immediate mention. It is an intelligent group-blog from Switzerland covering all manner of topics in great detail - you need to read French fluently to follow the level of language employed, unfortunately, but the effort will be well-rewarded if you are able to read that language. (Thru Normblog)