Archive for November, 2011

A Call from Egypt for Solidarity and Support for the Unfinished Revolution

Since protestors in Egypt inspired the world back in January and February, risking their lives — and sometimes losing their lives — in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt to topple the hated Western-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak, and to demand fundamental political change, I have not devoted as much time as I would have liked to following up on the Egyptian story.

I reported with great pleasure the extraordinary invasion of State Security buildings in March, when torture cells and shredded documents were discovered, as Mubarak’s torturers fled, and in June and August I reported how former Guantánamo prisoner Adel al-Gazzar, who had returned to Egypt from his temporary home in Slovakia, was, sadly, imprisoned on his return. I also reported the first day of the trial of Hosni Mubarak, which enabled me, for the first time, to note how Egypt’s revolution had been hijacked by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mubarak’s former allies, who took over when he was toppled, but who have proven unwilling to manage a swift transition to democracy, and, along the way, have held thousands of unjust and largely arbitrary military trials — more, ironically, than took place under Mubarak.

In picking up on this story that I have sadly neglected, I am delighted to cross-post a call for international support from activists in Egypt (published on the website, No Military Trials for Civilians), who, as the Guardian explained last week, have “called for an international day of action to defend their country’s revolution, as global opposition mounts towards the military junta.” In their statement, “appealing for solidarity” from the worldwide Occupy movement that has followed the example of the Egyptians and “taken control of public squares in London, New York and hundreds of other cities,”the Egyptian activists point out that “their revolution is ‘under attack’ from army generals,” and that they too are fighting a 1 percent elite “intent on stifling democracy and promoting social injustice.” Read the rest of this entry »

“The Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out”: Students March in London

The slogan came from “Occupy Wall Street,” but it was a perfect fit for the thousands of student protestors marching today against the Tory-led government’s assault on students.

It was exactly a year since the first march against the government’s plans to cut funding to universities and to triple tuition fees, and, on that occasion, 50,000 people took to the streets, and the government was given its first notification that it might not be possible to force the people of Britain into submission without them putting up a fight.

That initial fight was lost, as Parliament approved the Tories’ bill in December last year. However, not content with endangering the future of university education and transferring the entire financial burden of arts, humanities and social sciences courses onto students, for nakedly ideological reasons, the government has now proposed further fundamental and damaging changes to the university sector in its white paper, which I discussed in an article last week, and which treats students purely as consumers, completely ignores the public value of higher education, and involves plans to introduce private providers into the university sector. Read the rest of this entry »

As Hackgate Resurfaces, John Pilger Criticizes Mainstream Media, Salutes Independent Investigative Journalists

I was recently alerted, by my good friend Ann Alexander, to a transcript of a speech given by the legendary investigative journalist John Pilger at the “Reclaim the Media” conference, organised by NUJ activists, which took place in central London on October 26 to discuss the fallout from the phone-hacking scandal that discredited Rupert Murdoch’s media empire over the summer, and led to the demise of the News of the World.

This is timely, of course, as the phone-hacking scandal has not gone away, and, in the last few days, in advance of another appearance by James Murdoch in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Thursday, News International launched a voluntary compensation scheme for victims of phone-hacking, the day after the Metropolitan police stated that the number of possible victims of News International’s phone-hacking had reached 5,795, which was nearly 2,000 more than the police estimated in July.

In October, the Guardian noted that News International was facing more than 60 new compensation claims, and it seems unlikely, therefore, that the scandal will go away, especially as it has now emerged that, for eight years, a private detective was paid by News International to follow celebrities (including Prince William), and also to follow lawyers (those working for Milly Dowler’s family, who were followed last year and this year) and politicians (including cabinet ministers, and Tom Watson MP, who has made it his mission to expose News International’s wrongdoing).

However, Ann alerted me to the article because she was thinking about me, in a very kind manner, and picked up on a section of Pilger’s speech in which he spoke about a Ministry of Defence document released by WikiLeaks, which stated that there were “three main threats to the ministry’s view of the world” — namely, “Russian spies, terrorists, and by far the greatest threat — independent investigative journalists,” and she was thinking about my investigative work, primarily in connection with Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

We Are All Greece: Expert Explains How the Greek Crisis is Being Manipulated by Banks and Governments to Enslave Us All

In response to the ongoing Greek financial crisis, which I discussed in my article on Saturday, Crisis in Greece: Experts Call for Return of the Drachma, As Prime Minister Cancels Bailout Referendum, I was directed by my friend George Kenneth Berger to a video of the Spanish author and professor Pedro Olalla, who has been living in Athens since 1994, discussing the crisis, what it means for Greece, and for the wider European community, in which, in clear language that can be understood by those without specific economic expertise, he explains how Greece’s crisis has largely been manufactured by financial speculators and their willing and unquestioning servants in government.

Like others whose expertise is not in economics, I often struggle to understand quite what has been happening in the world since the financial crisis of 2008, and I found this to be a useful pointer towards a bleak truth that I can, nevertheless, at least partly comprehend from what has been happening in the UK since the Tories managed, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, to form a government 18 months ago. The Tories’ campaign of austerity involves falsely blaming all of Britain’s ills on its deficit — and making the ordinary people pay for it with savage cuts to education, welfare, health and any other services that involve the state — while obscuring the financial sector’s huge responsibility for creating the crisis. In this topsy-turvy world, the banks demanded and received huge bailouts, but then refused to reform their behaviour or to pay the taxes they owe, despite having created a situation that led to increased unemployment, reduced revenues, increased borrowing to compensate for the shortfall and for the increased pressure on the government’s finances.

Pedro Olalla’s 15-minute video, “Palabras desde Atenas — Words from Athens,” was recorded on October 5, and is available below, via YouTube, where, I’m glad to note, over 125,000 people have already seen it. It is subtitled in English (from the original Spanish), and this morning, in an attempt to understand more fully what was being explained, and to provide a permanent record in print, I transcribed the subtitles, and, with some minor edits for style and comprehensibility, have posted it below. Read the rest of this entry »

Occupy USA: A Campaigning Message from Kevin Zeese in Washington D.C.

As the “Occupy” campaign continues to resonate throughout America and around the world, just seven weeks after “Occupy Wall Streetbegan in New York’s financial district, two campaigns in Washington D.C. — the October2011.org movement in Freedom Plaza (campaigning under the slogan, “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed”), and the Occupy D.C. movement in McPherson Square — are both still going strong, and as the first issue of The Occupied Washington Post is produced — with a front-page feature by Chris Hedges, entitled, “A Movement Too Big to Fail” — I’m cross-posting below a rallying cry for support from Kevin Zeese, one of the organizers of the Freedom Plaza Occupation, who also has an article in the movement’s newspaper.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin in January in Baltimore, when, during a visit to the US to campaign on the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, I was invited by David Swanson to take part in an event as part of the promotion for his book, War Is A Lie, and I’m looking forward to meeting him again at Freedom Plaza — and also visiting the “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy D.C.” campaigners — in January, when I will be visiting the US again to renew the campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of its opening. Read the rest of this entry »

Crisis in Greece: Experts Call for Return of the Drachma, As Prime Minister Cancels Bailout Referendum

This week’s G20 Summit in Cannes was overwhelmed by the Greek economic crisis, when Prime Minister George Papandreou (who was not invited) threw a huge spanner into the works by stating, while the ink was still drying on the latest bailout plan for the Greek economy, that he would be submitting the agreement to a referendum. In response, the markets took fright, the G20 leaders ran around like headless chickens, and Papandreou was left fighting for his political survival when his finance minister and long-time rival, Evangelos Venizelos, publicly opposed the plans.

As was reported early this morning, the latest news is that, although George Papandreou narrowly won a vote of confidence last night, he “has agreed to step aside to make way for a government ‘of broad acceptance’” that, it seems, will be led by Evangelos Venizelos. As the Guardian explained, “The deal with Venizelos was struck in a desperate bid to avoid snap elections that Papandreou said would be ‘a catastrophe’ for a country on the edge of political and economic collapse.”

Prominent voices call for the return of the drachma

The referendum may have been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that the huge problems with the bailout deal for which George Papandreou wanted a referendum have been resolved. In the last few days, these problems have, to my surprise, been most eloquently explored in the mainstream media outside Greece in a column for Fox News by Peter Morici, a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former chief economist at the US International Trade Commission.

In his column on Thursday, Morici began by explaining that, although the latest bailout plan for Greece involved writing off half of the debt held by private institutions, it also involved a further round of “draconian austerity measures” that will be ruinous for the Greek people, as they will “further drive up unemployment, and shrink Greece’s economy and tax base at an alarming pace, placing in jeopardy eventual repayment of Athens’ remaining debt.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Bank Transfer Day, As Campaigners Ask US Banks to Repay $108 Billion and Call on Citizens to Open Credit Union Accounts

Dovetailing with some of the key issues highlighted by the “Occupy” campaign,  which shows no sign of dissipating seven weeks after it began on Wall Street, other campaigners have declared that today is “Bank Transfer Day,” and are asking their fellow citizens to close their bank accounts and to open accounts with credit unions instead.

Over 80,000 people have declared that they are attending “Bank Transfer Day” on Facebook, where more than 48,000 people have also declared their support. The organizer, Kristen Christian, explained that she established the day as a result of proposals by banks to charge a monthly fee to customers with less than $20,000 in their accounts. “I started this because I felt like many of you do,” she said. “I was tired– tired of the fee increases, tired of not being able to access my money when I need to, tired of them using what little money I have to oppress my brothers & sisters. So I stood up. I’ve been shocked at how many people have stood up alongside me. With each person who RSVPs to this event, my heart swells. Me closing my account all on my lonesome wouldn’t have made a difference to these fat cats. But each of YOU standing up with me … they can’t drown out the noise we’ll make.”

While Kristen Christian has focused specifically on an alternative to the banks, others campaigners have also seized on “Bank Transfer Day” as an opportunity to highlight the $108 billon (out of $204 billion) that was given to the banks in 2008 but has not been paid back. The shocking details of how the banks still owe $108 billion are here. Read the rest of this entry »

National Student-Led Demo Against University Fees, Austerity Cuts and the Planned Privatisation of Higher Education, November 9, 2011

It’s hard to believe that it’s just a year since 50,000 students, lecturers, university staff, schoolchildren and concerned citizens marched through central London to protest against the Tory-led coalition government’s plans to triple university tuition fees, to cut all funding to arts, humanities and the social sciences courses, and to cut the Education Maintenance Allowance, which supported schoolchildren on lower incomes, but now the time has come for concerned parties to take to the streets once more to show their opposition to the government’s white paper on higher education reform, which focuses on students as consumers, completely ignores the public value of higher education, and points to a privatised future of greater cost and greater inequality.

In September, nearly 400 academic campaigners, members of professional bodies, and concerned individuals published a hugely important response to the government’s plans, a document entitled, “In Defence of Public Higher Education,” in which they provided nine reasons for defending higher education as it currently stands, including a recognition that “higher education has public as well as private benefits and these public benefits require financial support,” a recognition that “public universities have a social mission and help to ameliorate social inequality,” that “public higher education is part of a generational contract in which an older generation invests in the wellbeing of future generations,” and that “education cannot be treated as a simple consumer good.”

They also concluded, appropriately, that the “commodification of higher education” is  “the secret heart of the white paper,” and that the government “seeks a differently funded sector, one which can provide new outlets for capital that struggles to find suitable opportunities for investment elsewhere” — a conclusion that applies equally to the government’s malignant plans to privatise the NHS. The authors also concluded that the government’s plans are “based on ideology rather than financial necessity, and will make no lasting savings.” Read the rest of this entry »

How Iraq Veteran Scott Olsen, Beaten by Oakland Police, Became a Symbol of the Occupy Movement

Yesterday, in Oakland, campaigners from the “Occupy Oakland” protest movement — part of the global “Occupy” movement inspired by “Occupy Wall Street” — staged a general strike, after calling for “no work and no school on November 2,” and “asking that all workers go on strike, call in sick, take a vacation day or simply walk off the job with their co-workers,” and that “all students walk out of school and join workers and community members in downtown Oakland.” The “Occupy” camp also said, “All banks and large corporations must close down for the day or demonstrators will march on them.”

This is how “Occupy Oakland” described the day’s events on its website:

Huge, enthusiastic, crowds swarmed through downtown Oakland with half a dozen major marches on banks and corporations that shut down Wells Fargo, Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and many others. Police stayed clear of the strikers who ranged freely, from Broadway to Grand Avenue and around the Lake. By late afternoon the crowds had swelled to over 10,000. Waves of feeder marches continued to pour into the Oscar Grant Plaza, including 800 children, parents, and teachers who had gathered at the Oakland Main Library.

The evening march to the Port stretched from downtown to the freeway overcrossing in West Oakland and thousands more protestors kept arriving as the third convergence of the day reached its peak. Over 20,000 people joined the march which made its way to the main entrance of the port and shut it down completely. Port officials confirmed that the workforce was sent home.

Although there was violence late last night between police and a minority of protestors, focusing on this misses the whole point about yesterday’s strike action, which came about as a response to violence, and not as an excuse for it — and, specifically, the violent suppression last week of the “Occupy Oakland” camp, when the police used tear gas, and fired what Reuters referred to as “crowd-control projectiles,” severely injuring one particular protestor, Iraq veteran Scott Olsen, a former member of the Marine Corps, who remains seriously ill in hospital. As Reuters explained, “Doctors and family members have declined to comment on his condition, saying last week that he was awake and communicative, though not able to speak.” Read the rest of this entry »

Petition for Babar Ahmad to be Tried in the UK and Not Extradited to the US Reaches Target of 100,000 Signatures

For Babar Ahmad, the British citizen held for seven years fighting his planned extradition to the US to face terrorism charges that were found to be hollow when investigated in the UK, the realisation that an e-petition to the British government, asking for him to be tried in the UK and not extradited to the US, has reached its target of 100,000 signatures, must be welcome news indeed.

Last night, the target was reached, which now means that Babar Ahmad’s case will be debated In Parliament, and is one of only five petitions to reach the 100,000 target required to ensure a Parliamentary debate. In seeking justice for Mr. Ahmad, the e-petition states, “In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.”

After exhausting all legal avenues in the UK, Babar Ahmad submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which, as I explained in an article last week, Sign the Petition to the British Government: Prevent Babar Ahmad’s Extradition to the US, Put Him on Trial in the UK, delayed his extradition. In July 2010, the ECHR halted the extradition of Babar Ahmad and three other men — Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat and Talha Ahsan — and called for further submissions, after lawyers argued that, if they were convicted in the US, their conditions of confinement would be so severe that they would amount to a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF), which guarantees that no one will be “subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Lawyers for the men argued that they would face life without parole (except Aswat, who faced a 50-year sentence), and that holding them in a “Supermax” prison, would contravene their rights, because prolonged isolation is a form of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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