Memories of Youth and the Need for Dissent on the 29th Anniversary of the last Stonehenge Free Festival

Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.

Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.

Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?

The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »

“Kindness is Better than Greed”: Photos, and a Response to Margaret Thatcher on the Day of Her Funeral

St. Paul's Cathedral at Margaret Thatcher's funeralGuests leave Margaret Thatcher's funeralThe crowd at Margaret Thatcher's funeralThe police at Margaret Thatcher's funeralMaggie True BritThe man in the Margaret Thatcher hat
Kindness is better than greed: A message to Margaret ThatcherDing Dong Welcome to Vomit Pig CityThe Witch is Dead

“Kindness is Better than Greed”: A Response to Margaret Thatcher on the Day of Her Funeral, a set on Flickr.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, I came to bury Margaret Thatcher, not to praise her. However, due to a hospital appointment, I missed the procession and only arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral after the funeral service, when the guests were leaving, although I was in time to take a few photos as reminders of the day when the woman was laid to rest who, during my lifetime, did more than any other individual to wreck the country that is my home.

My most fervent hope is that I will live to see Margaret Thatcher’s legacy overturned, and for a caring, inclusive society to replace the one based on greed, selfishness and cruelty that was her malignant gift to the people of Britain.

Since her death last week, I have largely avoided the sickening attempts by the Tories to use it for political gain, although I was absolutely delighted that their insistence on providing a lavish funeral at taxpayers’ expense backfired, because only 25 percent of the public thought that a state funeral was appropriate, and 60 percent opposed it. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: A Riot of Colour, Solidarity and Indignation on the TUC March in London

Thousands march against austerityThe sun on the rallyAusterity is failingNo cutsMusical protestRedDog's vultures
The teachers' pink balloonsMaking some noiseCut Trident, Save £100 billionDon't be fooled by the sky-blue capsFlags and bannersSolidarity with Greece
The Fire Brigade Union's pipersNo to nuclear!Lewisham NHS campaignersBoudiccaFiddling for social justiceApproaching Trafalgar Square
Operation VendettaAusterity meets corporate power at Piccadilly CircusThe austerity bus by Piccadilly CircusTony Blair, war criminalThe marchers reach Hyde ParkJustice 4 Domestic Workers

A Riot of Colour, Solidarity and Indignation on the TUC March in London, a set on Flickr.

Following up on the photos I published yesterday of the best placards and banners I saw on Saturday’s 150,000-strong march and rally in central London (“A Future That Works,” organised by the TUC), this second set of photos features the march more generally, and includes photos I took of various union members and activists on Victoria Embankment, and also as the march proceeded up Whitehall, along Piccadilly, and into Hyde Park for the rally at the end of the day.

There various speakers, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, addressed the government’s crimes against British workers — and also schoolchildren, students, the old, the ill, the homeless, the unemployed and the disabled. My archive of articles about the Tories’ wretched policies, and the resistance to them, is here. Read the rest of this entry »

If Abu Qatada is Guilty of Crimes, Why Not Prosecute Him in the UK?

When it comes to dealing with Muslim “terror suspects” in the UK, and recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights preventing the British government from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, but approving the extradition to the US of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and two other men, it is often difficult to discern notions of justice, fairness and a sense of proportion when the opinions of so many politicians and media outlets are clouded by hysteria and — often — racism that is either thinly-veiled, or not even hidden at all.

The problems with the planned deportation of foreign nationals to their home countries, and the extradition of foreigners and British nationals to the US, began under Tony Blair, when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a policy of detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and also signed an extradition treaty with the US that required little, if anything in the way of evidence to be provided before “suspects” could be extradited to the US.

In a follow-up article, I will look at the cases of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and the two other men whose extradition to the US was approved last week, but for now I want to focus on the case of Abu Qatada, and his planned deportation to Jordan.

Tony Blair’s policy of detention without charge or trial involved rounding up a number of foreign nationals alleged to be terror suspects — including Abu Qatada –  and imprisoning them on the basis of secret evidence that was not disclosed to them. The intention — as well as removing their right to a trial in the country that had exported habeas corpus around the world — was to deport these men to their home countries, ignoring the fact that the UN Convention Against Torture (to which the UK is a signatory) prohibits the return of anyone to a country where they face the risk of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held

Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website, and written by Andy Worthington.

Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, Shaker Aamer, a British resident, and originally one of 16 British prisoners in Guantánamo, arrived in Camp X-Ray, the rudimentary prison in the grounds of the US naval base in Cuba’s easternmost bay, which was used to hold prisoners until the first blocks of a more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened for business in May 2002. On the same day, his fourth child, a son, was born.

A hugely charismatic figure, Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, had moved to London in 1996, and had worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors working on immigration cases. He met and married a British woman and was granted residency. In June 2001, he took his family to Kabul — as did his friend Moazzam Begg — to volunteer for an Islamic charity. As his British solicitor Gareth Peirce noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, “Their work was teaching the sons and daughters of Arabic-speaking expatriates in the capital,” but after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, “the school was flattened in the first days of the bombing.”

Shaker made sure his pregnant wife and their three young children were safe, but was seized by Afghan bounty hunters, at a time when bounty payments of $5,000 a head were widespread. He was then sold on to other bounty hunters on two occasions, and on the third occasion was bought by Northern Alliance soldiers, who eventually handed him over — or sold him — to US forces. Read the rest of this entry »

Britain’s Secret Post-9/11 Torture Policy Revealed: Was Tony Blair’s Government Guilty of “Developing Something Close to a Criminal Policy”?

As the British government’s toothless torture inquiry is abandoned by ten NGOs and lawyers for the former Guantánamo prisoners, who have long recognized that it was nothing more than a whitewash, but have now given up on even trying to engage with it, politicians in the Tory-led coalition government are not the only ones feeling the heat. Yesterday, in a world exclusive, the Guardian‘s Ian Cobain exposed a top secret document, entitled, “Agency policy on liaison with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatment,” which “reveal[ed] how MI6 and MI5 officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas.”

Describing the document as reportedly being “too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition,” and as contributing to the decision by the NGOs and lawyers to boycott the inquiry because it does not have “credibility or transparency,” the Guardian explained how the secret policy “was operated by the British government for almost a decade,” and how it “instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought must be balanced against ‘the level of mistreatment anticipated’ — the degree to which the prisoner or prisoners will suffer.”

The Guardian also explained how the document revealed the fears of the government and the intelligence agencies that they were breaking laws, as it “acknowledged that MI5 and MI6 officers could be in breach of both UK and international law by asking for information from prisoners held by overseas agencies known to use torture,” and also “explained the need to obtain political cover for any potentially criminal act by consulting ministers beforehand.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Good Day for Justice: British Supreme Court Bans Use of Secret Evidence by Intelligence Services

In a triumph for the principles of open justice, and a snub to the Tory-led coalition government, the British Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the government and the intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence in court to prevent open discussion of allegations that prisoners were subjected to torture.

The appeal, by lawyers for MI5 — but with the explicit backing of the government — sought to overturn a ruling in the Court of Appeal last May, when judges ruled that the intelligence services could not suppress allegations, in a civil claim for damages submitted by six former Guantanamo prisoners, that the British government and its agents had been complicit in their ill-treatment. The six are Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga, and they argued, as the Guardian put it, that “MI5 and MI6 aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment and extraordinary rendition.”

The ruling last May precipitated a huge crisis in the government, as the first of hundreds of thousands of classified documents emerged from the court, revealing the extent to which Tony Blair and Jack Straw were up to their necks in wrongdoing, preventing consular access to a British citizen in Zambia, in Tony Blair’s case, and in Straw’s, approving the rendition of British citizens to Guantanamo the day before the prison opened in January 2002. I covered this story in detail in my article, UK Sought Rendition of British Nationals to Guantánamo; Tony Blair Directly Involved. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

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The Battle of the Beanfield

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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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