Brexit, Boris the Narcissist Clown and “Career Psychopath” Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, in an image produced for the Daily Telegraph.

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It’s now two weeks since 92,153 members of the Conservative Party voted for Boris Johnson to be the new Party leader — and Britain’s new Prime Minister. 

Johnson, in case you’ve just landed on earth from outer space, is an Etonian who pretends to play the buffoon (although behind it lurks a vile temper), and who, for eight dreadful years, was London’s Mayor, when he showed little or no interest in the actual requirements of the job, indulged in countless expensive vanity projects, and pandered shamefully to foreign investors with money. 

Johnson’s elevation to the leadership of the UK was greeted by his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, with the most extraordinary put-down of his unsuitability to be PM in an article for the Guardian entitled, ‘I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister.’

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The War on Social Housing – on the Centenary of the Addison Act That Launched the Creation of Large-Scale Council Housing

The unnecessary destruction of Robin Hood Gardens Estate in Poplar, in east London, March 2018, to make way for a new private development, Blackwall Reach (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, July 31, is the centenary of the first Housing and Town Planning Act (widely known as the Addison Act), which was introduced by the Liberal politician Christopher Addison, as part of David Lloyd George’s coalition government following the First World War, to provide Britain’s first major council housing programme, as John Boughton, the author of Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, explained in an article published yesterday in the Guardian.

Boughton explained how, when Addison “introduced his flagship housing bill to the House of Commons in April 1919”, he spoke of its “utmost importance, from the point of view not only of the physical wellbeing of our people, but of our social stability and industrial content.”

“As we celebrate the centenary of council housing”, Boughton noted, “this sentiment is not lost in the context of the current housing crisis. From the rise in expensive, precarious and often poor-quality private renting to the dwindling dream of home-ownership, it is fuelling discontent. This escalating crisis means that increasing numbers of people are now forced to deal with the painful consequences of the country’s inability to provide such a basic human need — a stable, affordable home.”

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Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

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Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It

Julian Assange, photographed after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday April 10, 2019 (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters).

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Last week, when Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after the Ecuadorian government withdrew the asylum it had granted to him after he sought shelter there in 2012, I was about to set off on a long weekend away, without computer access, and I only had time to write a few brief paragraphs about the significance of his case on Facebook.

I noted that his arrest “ought to be of great concern to anyone who values the ability of the media, in Western countries that claim to respect the freedom of the press, to publish information about the wrongdoing of Western governments that they would rather keep hidden.” 

I also explained, “Those who leak information, like Chelsea Manning” — who leaked hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, and is now imprisoned because of her refusal to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks — “need protection, and so do those in the media who make it publicly available; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as much as those who worked with them on the release of documents — the New York Times and the Guardian, for example.”

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Please Watch ‘The Trial’, A Powerful Video About Guantánamo’s Broken Military Commission Trial System

A screenshot, from 'The Trial,' of Ammar al-Baluchi's defense team - from the left, Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

In the long and horrendously unjust story of Guantánamo, the two key elements of America’s flight from the law since 9/11 have been the use of torture, and the imprisonment of men, indefinitely, without charge or trial. A third element is the decision to try some of these men, in a trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington.

That system — the military commissions — has struggled to deliver anything resembling justice, in large part because it was designed to accept evidence produced through torture, and then to execute prisoners after cursory trials. The Supreme Court ruled this system illegal in 2006, but Congress then tweaked it and revived it, and, after Barack Obama became president, it was tweaked and revised again instead of being scrapped, as it should have been.

Throughout this whole sorry period, the US federal courts have, in contrast, proven adept at successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, but at Guantánamo the commissions have struggled to successfully convict anyone. Since 2008, just eight cases have gone to trial, but six were settled via plea deals, and, of the other two, one ended up with the prisoner in question (Salim Hamdan, a hapless driver for Osama bin Laden)  being released after just five months, while the other was an outrageously one-sided affair, as the prisoner in question (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al-Qaeda) refused even to mount a defense. The commissions also have a history of collapsing on appeal — and with good reason, as the alleged war crimes most of the prisoners were convicted of were actually invented by Congress. For an overview of the commissions, see my article, The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Stansted 15 Avoid Jail, The “Hostile Environment” Continues with Disgraceful New Windrush Flight to Jamaica

The Stansted 15 on Wednesday February 6, 2019, outside Chelmsford Crown Court, on the day they learned that no one would face a custodial sentence for their role in preventing a deportation flight from leaving the airport in March 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

So there was good news on Wednesday, as the Stansted 15 — activists who prevented a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport for west Africa in March 2017 — avoided jail. Three received suspended sentences (with two also receiving 250 hours of community service, with 100 hours for the third), eleven others were given 100 hours of community service, while the 15th “received a 12-month community order with 20 days of rehabilitation”, as the Guardian described it.

However, two troubling aspects of the story remain significant. The first is that the protestors were convicted on charges of terrorism, and, alarmingly, that conviction still stands. As Ash Sardar wrote for the Independent, “Rather than being convicted of aggravated trespass, as other protesters who committed similar offences had been in 2016, the Stansted 15 had an initial trespass charge changed four months into their bail to a charge of ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a scheduled terrorist offence, which potentially carries a life sentence.” The 2016 protest, at Heathrow Airport, against proposals for the airport’s expansion, involved three protestors who were part of the later actions at Stansted — the three who received the suspended sentences. 

Continuing with her analysis of the sentencing in the Independent, Ash Sardar added, “This particular bit of legislation – from the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, if anyone’s interested – was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. Its application in a protest case is completely unprecedented in English courts. You might not agree with the actions of the Stansted 15, but this punitive and misguided use of legislation to criminalise protesters should have you worried regardless.” Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha: Victims of US Vengeance in the “War on Terror”?

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha. Saifulllah was photographed a few years ago in Guantanamo; the photo of Uzair is from before his capture in 2003.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the “war on terror” established by the US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most distressing developments has been the death of the presumption of innocence and of any form of due process.

In response to the attacks, the Bush administration tore up and discarded all the laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, and as a result everyone they rounded up as a terrorist (or a terrorist sympathizer or facilitator) was regarded as guilty — without the need for any proof.

The terrible legacy of this time is still with us. Although the processing prisons in Afghanistan (Bagram, for example) and the CIA “black sites” have closed, 40 men are still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, the defining icon of the US’s post-9/11 lawlessness.

Of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since it opened over 17 years ago, on January 11, 2002, 729 men have been released, but only 39 of those 729 have been released through any legal process — 33 through the US courts, as a result of them having their habeas corpus petitions granted by judges in the District Court in Washington, D.C., and six others through the military commission trial process at Guantánamo itself (one after a trial, and five through plea deals). Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Conviction of the Stansted 15, on Terrorism-Related Charges, Must Be Overturned

The Stansted 15 (Photo: Kristian Buus / Getty Images).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

As someone who has spent the last 13 years working to end imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, it has always been chilling to see these institutional crimes echoed in the UK. Under Tony Blair, foreign-born, alleged terror suspects were held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, while other foreign nationals, and British nationals too, also regarded as terror suspects, were subjected to a form of house arrest, also on the basis of secret evidence, under what were known as “control orders.”

Unfortunately, throughout this period, the use of immigration detention was also on the rise. As the Guardian explained in an article in October based on a survey of its history, “The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act – however, it was not until the Labour government under Tony Blair that the detention estate expanded to become what it is today. In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people, with another 200 or so held under immigration powers in prisons. Capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 spaces.”

The Guardian article noted that “[m]ore than 27,000 people were detained in 2017, according to the most recent figures”, adding, “Detention is now a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement efforts, but locking up immigrants without a time limit is a relatively recent phenomenon.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The WOMAD World Music Festival 2018 – Global Joy and Creativity, Threatened by Brexit

Photos by Andy Worthington from the WOMAD world music festival 2018.See my photos on Flickr here!

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Since 2002, the end of July every year has been defined for me by my participation in WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance), the world music festival founded in 1982, which I attend with family and friends, working at the children’s workshops. These involve hundreds of children making all manner of wonderful creations, and they culminate in a childrens’ procession on Sunday evening through the whole of the festival site.

I’ve taken photos of the festival every year, and have made them available on Flickr since 2012 — see the photos from 2012 here and here, from 2014 here, from 2015 here, from 2016 here and from 2017 here.

This year everyone expected that the heatwave that began at the end of May would continue throughout the festival, but although Friday, the first day of the festival (and the two days before when we were setting up) were deliriously hot, the weather turned on the Saturday, although the festival-goers’ spirits were generally undimmed.

I had a wonderful time this year, thanks to the great company, in particular, as well as — of course — great music as always from around the world. I also particularly enjoyed helping to facilitate the children’s creativity during the workshops, and also enjoyed playing with Richard from The Four Fathers at the Open Mic at Molly’s Bar (where my son Tyler joined us beatboxing) and also watching Tyler perform with his friends Caleb and Haroun, and, on Sunday evening, taking part in a wonderfully successful workshop with two other members of the BAC Beatbox Academy, Conrad and Nate, who came from London to give a WOMAD audience an exhilarating masterclass in the art of beatboxing. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Torture: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner’s Memories Provide A Reminder That We Need Accountability

Protestors with Witness Against Torture calling for the closure of Guantanamo and accountability for torture outside the White House on January 11, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.




 

How short memories are in this goldfish world of ours. Less than a month ago, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued two reports, one on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001–2010’ and the other on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues.’

On Facebook, I commended Dominic Grieve MP for his stewardship of the ISC, and for having spent years trying to uncover the truth about Britain’s involvement in post-9/11 rendition and torture, inspired, I have no doubt, by the US’s demonstration of checks and balances in its own political system, with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,200-page report, of which the 528-page executive summary was issued in December 2014, providing a permanent reminder that, in contrast, the UK tends to prefer an all-encompassing blanket of “official secrecy” regarding its own wrong-doing.

I wrote of the ISC’s reports, “This is compelling stuff, and a testament to Grieve’s determination to go beyond previous whitewashes, but what is clearly needed now is an official judge-led inquiry which will leave no stone unturned — and no senior ex-officials (up to and including Tony Blair and Jack Straw) unquestioned. Grieve noted that the committee was ‘denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister’ (Theresa May) and so ‘reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end.’” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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