Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Iraq - suicide attack kills 9 US troops

The US military says nine American soldiers have been killed and 20 wounded in a suicide car bombing of a patrol base northeast of Baghdad, according to news agency reports. BBC News 24 flashed the news onto screens shortly before 01:00 GMT with Sky News following suit and were the first to post on their new-look website. CNN also reported on the news at the top of the hour along with al-Jazeera English.
The attack was in Diyala province, an area that has been the site of fierce fighting between US and Iraqi troops, Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militias, according to reports. There were at least 46 other deaths throughout the country on Monday including a least 20 dead in Ramadi [BBC].
There were few other details with regards tonights attack, however there were reports from other news agencies quoted by the BBC that at least 15 blasts had hit the capital Baghdad.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

China - 'under attack' by western media

Channel Four's Lindsey Hilsum is often highly critical of China

One doesn’t have to look far to find news items critical of China. Whether it’s human rights, displacement of residents in order to make way for new factories and office blocks or the state of the environment, China is the subject of continual criticism in the media. Today is of no exception. Sky News might be thought of as having a ‘vendetta agenda’, as almost weekly they highlight negative issues of this large emerging economy. With a special report from Russia, Sky News reported on the illegal hunting of tigers for their supposed medicinal properties. The report said that although hunting was illegal, “one doesn’t have to look far to find products made from tigers”. In David Bowden’s report he said, “The Siberian - or Amur - tiger is the biggest of all the big cats and lives exclusively in the vast forests of the Russian far east. But poaching and traditional Chinese medicine are threatening to wipe them out.” Recently a BBC report highlighted the breeding of tigers in order to make tiger bone wine.
Manufacturing in China also comes under fire. The BBC highlighted a ban on a number of Chinese made toys and other products cited as being dangerous. And the newspaper USA Today reported that China was to blame for a “tainted ingredient” that had been added to pet food. The tainted food had killed some animals and hospitalised others throughout the US last month.
The environmental impact of China’s industry is never too far from the news. On Monday the BBC reported how much of the Yangtse river was “irreversibly polluted”, whilst a critical report on Channel 4 News told how China was destroying valuable rain forests in the country. Lindsey Hilsum said, “China is trading in timber that has been logged in parts of south east Asia and Africa where timber laws are lax.” And that this timber could be “exported under the label 'Made in China' - so no-one need ever know the timber came from Indonesia. And no Chinese law would be broken.” Just today on BBC LDN, a report told listeners how there was a shortage of fence panels and partly blamed the shortage on increased exports to China. Speaking to the Norwich Evening News, Paul Masterman, who works for timber merchants A&W Cushion Ltd, in Barn Road, Norwich, said “That [the January storms] were a big problem for the fencing industry, but it wasn't the only problem. Demand in Europe has also been forced up by China and Russia.”
It is of course true that China faces many challenges in solving many problems, both in regards to its environment and the effect that the new economic boom is having upon its people. However the constant criticism without constructive support, advice and encouragement, will do little to curb these practices. Indeed Chinese authorities may become increasingly defensive, rather than acknowledge the deepening problems. There exists in China, a strong patriotic spirit and a sense of pride. No-one, least of all an entire country, likes to be criticized. And western media in particular needs to balance the criticism with some of the positive efforts China is making in tackling some of the problems highlighted in the news [Chinadialogue].

US - killer's multi-media manifesto emerges

Paranoid, psychotic and violent, these were just some of the descriptions given to Cho Seung-Hui‘s behaviour as seen in a video he himself released to the media. The 23 year old South Korean had apparently left the first crime scene after killing two victims and recorded a video of himself before heading out to kill again. But prior to his second excursion he had the forethought to mail the video and a number of photographs to NBC television. It had a date stamp of 9:15 indication he had posted the package after his “message from beyond the grave”. Amongst the items were photographs showing Cho Seung Hui posing with a number of weapons; guns, knives and hammers. In the video Cho is heard reading a rambling manifesto which is peppered with expletives and anger against his unnamed enemies described only as ‘you’.
"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today” he is heard saying…But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off." MSNBC.com reported that Cho also discussed "martyrs like Eric and Dylan" apparently referring to Columbine High School gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 13 people and themselves on April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado. In another tract he says, "You had everything you wanted. Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust fund wasn't enough. Your vodka and cognac weren't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough. Those weren't enough to fulfill your hedonistic needs. You had everything." These statements are only part of a significant package which consisted of 27 Quicktime video files, an audio file and 23 photographs as well as an 1,800 word statement. Police Col. Steve Flaherty said the material "may be a very new critical component of this investigation.” However, the killer’s multi-media ‘manifesto’ will do nothing to ease the pain for the victims, their families and friends. The disclosure of the material by NBC was swiftly picked up by news broadcasters. It became the top story on BBC News 24, Sky News and CNN. Even CCTV9 and al Jazeera English broadcast extracts. Sky News specifically looked at whether Cho may have copied scenes from a South Korean film ‘Oldboy’. There are certain similarities between a still taken from the film and one of Cho holding a pistol to his head, but this may prove to be a coincidence. It has been suggested he repeatedly watched the film which in the US was rated R for strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language. Oldboy (Hangul:올드보이) was directed by Park Chan-wook and is based on a Japanese manga of the same name, written by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Iraq - A day of carnage leaves 170 dead

Baghdad has seen its worst day of violence since the US led clamp-down started two months ago and four days ago. More than 170 have died in a series of attacks that followed an announcement by Nouri al Maliki that he hoped to soon bring his country under Iraqi control. But soon after his upbeat statement a reign of terror hit the streets of Iraq’s capital. CNN continually broke into regular programming with the Breaking News. First it was 30 dead, then 66, the death toll rising all afternoon. By the day’s end it was above 170 and described by Channel 4 News as being “A day that defies belief.” The first blast hit near to a hospital killing around 11 people. A further 35 died in the second bomb blast in the mainly Shi’ite area of Sadr city in north-east Baghdad. Then can the most devastating attack of the day at Sadriya market. Here at least 118 died with over 100 others injured. This was the scene of another tragic blast only months before in which over 130 died. But the killing was still not over. Only minutes later a fourth bomb a short distance away killed another four Iraqis [BBC].

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

US - gunman named by police

Following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, news stations in the UK have been saturated with coverage. Sky News has covered few other stories today and along with CNN have kept viewers up to date with new information emerging at press conferences. One new fact to emerge today was the name of the gunman. Identified from fingerprints on a handgun, police named him as Cho Seung-Hui, a 23 year old South Korean who was living and studying in the US. Later reports soon emerged suggesting he had recently become ‘increasingly violent and disturbed’ according to one student. Another report suggested he had left notes in his room which heavily criticized richer students at the university. He has also been described as ‘troubled’ by one professor, whilst others have said he was a ’loner’. There are conflicting reports as to how many weapons have been found by police. Most report the finding of a 9mm Glock handgun. Other reports say that a Walther P22 handgun was also found at the scene [CNN]. In some of the more tragic details to be revealed it was reported that Liviu Librescu, a professor and holocaust survivor, apparently died trying to save students. There are currently 17 injured people being treated in hospital. All are described as stable. Sky and BBC are looking at the possible ramifications following the shootings, and whether new gun laws might be implemented. According to Sky News, there over 200 million guns in the US; at least one for each member of the population. In particular both networks looked at the lax gun laws in the state of Virginia. US networks have so far avoided the repercussions and how gun laws might be affected. It was the grief, the shock and the condolences being sent by world leaders that CNN concentrated upon.

Iraq sees another deadly weekend

The massacre in Virginia in the US has left the nation reeling. Tragic as it is, the incident is something which the Iraqi population experience daily. This weekend was particularly tragic. According to the Monterey Herald at least 289 people were killed or injured across the country on Saturday. A car bomb in the Shi’ite city of Karbala killed 36 and injured more than 160. The attacker detonated explosives at a crowded bus station in the city close to a shrine holy to Shia Muslims, at around 0915 local time (0515 GMT) [BBC].
Another bridge in the capital, Baghdad, was struck by a bomb killing at least 10. And a further 3 were killed elsewhere in the city by another blast [CNN / CBS].

Sunday and Monday also saw continued violence. On Sunday over 40 people died in a series on blasts in the capital [BBC] and on Monday there were reports of an ambush by militia men [BBC]. According to reports, gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint in the Abdaiyah area of Mosul, also wounding four soldiers. Coalition troops also died over the weekend too. Two British service personnel died and another severely injured when two helicopters collided on Sunday [BBC]. Tributes poured in the following day for the two [BBC]. Further problems emerged for the Iraqi government this week as Moqtada al Sadr called on six prominent Shi’ite politicians to quit. An attempt to force the Maliki led government to set a time line for US withdrawal had been earlier been rejected. This was cited as being the main reason for the decision to withdraw [BBC]. Moqtada al Sadr, himself, has not been seen for sometime in public. US officials have claimed he has fled to Iran, while his supporters claim he remains in Iraq.
The effect that the new US led initiative to curtail the violence was having, was also called into question and there were further calls for Britain to withdraw from Iraq. But speaking at his monthly press conference, Tony Blair said on Tuesday that it was important for Britain to stand side by side with its allies. “If we want to remain a strong power capable of wielding real influence in the world then we have to keep these two principles intact; one, that we are allies with America and strong central partners in Europe, and secondly that we are prepared to use hard as well as soft power. And if you give up either of those two principles, for a country like Britain of 60 million people, a small geographical space in the 21st century, we will reduce significantly our power and influence. I know that’s not a popular thing to say in certain quarters but I believe it to be true.” He said that if Britain and its allies had not intervened in Iraq and more specifically Afghanistan it would “reduce our ability to fight terrorism effectively, even in our own country”.
He said he believed in an “interventionalist policy” and cited Bosnia as one example where by not intervening saw the deaths of more than 100,000 people before the international community stepped in. He said too that the situation in Darfur in Sudan needed a clear message to be sent. Added to this he said that the world was now greatly different since the terror attacks in America in 2001 - “I believe the attack on September 11th was not just an attack on America but also an attack on the western world and western values.” He said it was important for Europe and Britain to continue to stand alongside the US and said, “the biggest danger is that America moves to a more disengaged position.” And he warned, “if that happens, Europeans … will realize what they’ve lost.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

US university massacre - 33 dead

At least 30 people have been shot dead by a gunman. Not in Iraq but in the US. This is a country often known for gun-crime but the latest massacre has shocked a nation. The shooting occurred at a University in Virginia at around 7:15 a.m Local time. The news broke slowly on UK screens, much of the news coverage taken up with the Defence Secretary’s statement in parliament following the ‘cash for stories’ row that has dominated the UK press over the last week. But by 16:00 BST [15:00 GMT] most news stations were covering the story. According to early reports at least 20 students had died at the hand of a gunman, apparently an ‘Asian’ who was ‘looking for his girlfriend’. Suggestions of jealousy were cited later by the Sky News Washington correspondent, as being behind the shooting. A press conference held several hours later cleared up some of the confusion behind the incident; the worst school shooting in US history.

Officials confirmed that 33 people were dead including the gunman, and that 51 were being treated in hospital. Two had been killed in a dormitory, the first scene to which the police had been called. Here the police found the doors chained shut from the inside. Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said initial reports had indicated the shooting at the Ambler Johnston dormitory was “domestic in nature”. A ‘lock-down’ of that building was put in place, but that did not cover the whole campus. Between the time the initial call came in, and an e-mail was sent to students, nearly two hours had elapsed and a second incident was under way. This was at Norris Hall were most of the victims died, some 28 students at the hands of a gunman whose identification has not yet been confirmed.
Calls to this incident were received at around 09:15 a.m and police were soon surrounding the building. However, Chief Wendell Flinchum said “there was not a shoot out between officers and the shooter”.

The Virginia Tech President added that the names of the victims would not be released until the next of kin were notified. Officials said that at this point there was no conclusion as to whether there’s a connection between two shootings. The BBC correspondent speaking from Washington said it was clear that the authorities “had not obtained all the answers”. But according to the authorities the Red Cross, the FBI and ATF were all working together [vsp.virginia.gov]

President Bush has said he was “horrified” on hearing of the incident and that “our nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones”. But there may be political fallout to come. Questions are already being asked as to why there was a two hour gap between the two incidents and no warning to those other than at the dormitory building. Gun control will also be another issue raised following this tragic incident.

And it was an incident which had been captured not only by news broadcasters, but by students on the campus. Jamal Albarghouti had used his Nokia N70 camera phone to shoot several seconds of footage which captured 27 shots on the soundtrack. He told CNN that he felt compelled to shoot the video, but he was very saddened and shocked by the shooting. Jamal who had originally come from Palestine, and had lived for several years in Riyad in Saudi Arabia, said he had experienced a bombing in Saudi Arabia but added “I never thought I’d experience something like this here”. His short video was broadcast by CNN i-report, FOX and Sky News amongst others. But the gravity of the sound that rings out in the video did not reflect the true horror of what happened at the receiving end of those bullets [BBC].

Friday, April 13, 2007

Iraq & Iran dominate the news

The freed hostages and the Green Zone bombing has dominated the news

A week yesterday 4 British troops were killed by roadside bomb in Basra, the same day as 15 navy personnel arrived home after 13 days being held captive in Iran. Since then both countries at the centre of these events, Iraq and Iran, have dominated news headlines.

On Friday some of the former captives spoke of their ordeal. Speaking at a press conference, they spoke of being blind-folded and held in isolation throughout their captivity [BBC]. They said they were threatened with 7 years in prison if they did not admit they were in Iranian waters before their capture. Captain Chris Air told the packed press conference that fighting back “was not an option”.
"We are aware that many people have questioned why we allowed ourselves to be taken in the first place and why we allowed ourselves to be shown by the Iranian authorities on television,” he said. "Let me be absolutely clear, from the outset it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option".
The Iranian response was dismissive of the allegations of maltreatment saying the British government had been “dictating to the sailors what to read and what to say” as part of an “organized propaganda by the British media.” [BBC].
But Lieutenant Felix Carmen insisted they were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters. During their detainment the sailors said they had been subjected to psychological pressure and ‘mind games’. They said that Faye Turney, who was not present at the conference, had been told she was the only person remaining in captivity for four days of her detention. They all spoke of having been kept in solitary confinement for at least a week before being allowed to socialize and play chess together under the glare of the Iranian media which they described as a “complete set-up”.
The thirst for further details culminated in some of the sailors being paid by some media organizations for their stories. The Sun, ITV News and The Daily Mirror all paid undisclosed sums for several of the former captives tales. The apparent decision by the military to allow the former captives to sell their stories was sharply criticized from several quarters. A military commander was quoted in the Sunday Times as saying the sailors were behaving like “reality TV contestants”. But another spokesman from the MoD had earlier said that the experiences by the 15 service personnel had amounted to “special circumstances” which had precipitated the decision to allow them to approach media organizations [BBC]. In a statement the MoD said: "Serving personnel are not allowed to enter financial arrangements with media organizations. However, in exceptional circumstances such as the awarding of a Victoria Cross or events such as those in recent days, permission can be granted by commanding officers and the MoD." But the MoD decision was described by Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, as “a serious error of judgment”. Families of soldiers killed in Iraq also weighed in with condemnation. And as the bodies of four soldiers killed in Iraq returned to the UK a week later, families requested that there be no Government representatives present.
By Monday the furore surrounding the decision to allow the sailors’ stories to be sold escalated when the Sun published Faye Turney’s story after paying undisclosed sum said to be into 6 figures. In the story she said she feared being killed and that at one point thought her captives were measuring her for a coffin [BBC]. They had been measuring her and others for suits given to the captives prior to their departure. As the public digested the experiences of the seamen, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a disquieting message to the West over the country’s continuing Uranium enrichment. "With great honour, I declare that as of today our dear country has joined the nuclear club of nations and can produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," Mr Ahmadinejad told the audience at Natanz [BBC]. The announcement drew strong criticism from the US with one official saying it would only serve to “isolate Iran” further.

The ‘cash for stories’ still dominated the papers and news media on both Tuesday and Wednesday with Defence Secretary Des Brown and eventually the Prime Minister Tony Blair making statements on the issue. On Wednesday, several days after the decision had been made to allow the stories to be sold; Mr Blair said “with hindsight” it had been a “bad decision”. There had seemingly been no plan as to how to handle the thirst from the media to report on the story and how the captives had been treated [BBC]. Des Brown had earlier shifted the blame from the Prime Ministerial office by saying “the buck stops with me” [BBC].

Wednesday also saw further criticism of the Iranian regime. Major General Caldwell openly blamed the Iranians for supplying Iraqi militants with weapons. He told reporters that the Iranian regime were not only providing weapons but also training to Shia insurgents [BBC].

The accusation came a week after the release of the hostages and the deaths of four soldiers in Basra which the Prime Minister had tacitly implied the Iranian regime was complicit. Thursday saw the return of the bodies of the British service personnel to RAF Lyneham. But there was less of the fanfare surrounding their return as seen the previous week for the returning sailors. Hours of Live media coverage had been allocated to the sailors’ return last Thursday, but as the four Union Flag draped coffins arrived on British soil there was little coverage of the events [BBC]. Second Lt Joanna Yorke Dyer, 24, Cpl Kris O'Neill, 27, Pte Eleanor Dlugosz, 19, and Kingsman Adam James Smith, 19, were attacked on 5 April near Basra. Their deaths marked the bloodiest day for UK troops in Iraq since November. And it was another bloody day in Iraq Thursday after two suicide attacks brought chaos and death to Baghdad. In the morning a suicide truck bomb destroyed a bridge on the River Tigris dividing Shia and Sunni areas. Cars plunged into the river and at least 8 people were killed when the British built Sarafiya bridge collapsed [BBC]. It was one of only a few remaining bridges linking the two sides of the city and will cause widespread disruption. But it was the attack only a few hours later which had the strongest political impact. A believed suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the Iraqi Parliament within the supposedly heavily fortified high security Green Zone in central Baghdad. Seven people were killed including one MP, Mohammed Awad, a Sunni representative. Twenty two civilians were injured. Early reports had suggested 8 people were killed, two of them MPs, [BBC] but these figures later proved to be incorrect. On Friday, security at the parliament was stepped up whilst an investigation was launched into how the bomber penetrated the Green Zone. Three individuals, said to be café workers, were detained for questioning. Meanwhile the parliament met to show its solidarity with the dead MP [BBC]. As CNN’s reporter spoke from the scene of the explosion she made a slip of the tongue saying the MP killed was Mohammed Atta. He of course was the ringleader behind the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and who flew flight AA-11 into the World Trade Center. It is ironic in as much as the events that occurred on that fateful day have led to the desperate situation in Iraq. Thursday’s attack on the Iraqi parliament came only a day after the Algerian capital was hit was struck by a series of suicide car bombs near to the Prime Minister’s office [BBC]. At least 23 were killed, and over 160 injured, in those bombings. Groups linked to al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

British hostages back home

The 15 naval personnel held in Iran since March 23rd, have arrived back on British soil. Sky News, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera English all covered the event Live with France 24 dipping in occasionally.

The British Airways flight from Tehran touched down at Heathrow at 12:03 BST [11:03 GMT] and within 45 minutes they had disembarked and boarded two RAF Sea King helicopters which arrived ahead of their arrival. The Prime Minister spoke to express his being “glad” at their return whilst expressing his sadness at the news that 4 British troops had been killed near Basra in southern Iraq by what he called a “terrorist act”. He reiterated that there had been “no deal” with Iran to secure the release of the 14 men and one woman. As he spoke the plane carrying the released sailors touched down with cameras from all around the world focused on the aircraft. The released sailors briefly stopped for a photo opportunity before climbing aboard the helicopters all the time surrounded by armed police and security personnel. The helicopters left Heathrow followed for a time by news helicopters from Sky News and the BBC. Just over an hour later they touched down at Royal Marine Base, Chivenor in Devon, a military base 250 km from London, which would pose greater privacy for the sailors as they were reunited with their families. Throughout the event all the networks discussed what the diplomacy behind the scenes may have been. Many also discussed some comments coming from US officials as well as the American press which had described the British response as not being “bullish” enough. The happy news of their return is however tempered by the deaths of 4 British troops and their Kuwaiti interpreter in southern Iraq. It brings to 6 the number of British service personnel killed in Iraq this week [BBC / Sky News]

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Iran releases British hostages

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced that he is to release the 15 sailors that were taken hostage 13 days ago. Speaking at the end of a press conference and a ceremony in which medals for bravery were handed to soldiers, the Iranian President said he was returning the sailors as a ‘gift’ to Britain in the “spirit of the Prophet Mohammed”. The Iranian President was later seen meeting the captives in what is likely to be criticized as yet another propaganda show. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was pleased to hear the news, which broke at around 13:00 GMT. However it appeared Mr Blair, and the Foreign Office, was caught off guard as he took nearly three and a half hours to make a statement. His address to the waiting media was brief lasting a little over one and a half minutes: “I’m glad that our 15 service personnel have been released. I know their release will come as a profound relief not only for them but to their families that have endured such distress and anxiety over these past twelve days. Throughout we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm; not negotiating but not confronting either. I would like to thank our allies in Europe, our allies in the United Nations Security Council for their support and also our friends and allies in the region who played their part. We’re grateful to all of them as we are to the officials in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence and here in Downing Street for the work that they have done. And to the Iranian people I would simply say this; we bear you no ill will. On the contrary we respect Iran as an ancient civilization; as a nation with a proud and dignified history. And the disagreements that we have with your government we wish to resolve peacefully through dialogue. I hope as I’ve always hoped that in the future we are able to do so. That’s all I’ve got to say for this evening, thankyou very much indeed, thankyou.” And with that the Prime Minister returned to Number 10 accompanied with his Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. According to Sky News the 14 men and 1 woman will be handed over to the British Embassy in Tehran and are expected to fly home on Thursday [BBC].

UK - Big Brother surveillance society

Big Brother style surveillance, as depicted in George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four, is expanding its presence into every part of British life. Cameras can be seen almost everywhere. From the moment one leaves home, Britain’s citizens may be watched by CCTV cameras which adorn high streets. Take a bus or a train and the cameras continue their surveillance. Enter a shop, restaurant or public house [bar], and Big Brother will watch while you shop, eat or drink. Now Britain is to see, or rather hear, talking cameras [BBC]. The talking cameras will be installed in Southwark, in London, Barking and Dagenham, in London, Reading, Thanet, Harlow, Norwich, Ipswich, Plymouth, Gloucester, Derby, Northampton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Wirral, Blackpool, Salford, South Tyneside and Darlington. The idea behind the talking cameras is that a disembodied voice would order people not to break the law. In a no smoking area the order to desist might be heard. If litter is dropped the order to pick it up might be issued.
Talking CCTV cameras are only part of the technological surveillance of little Britain. Already facial recognition systems are under trial in a number of areas and number-plate recognition systems are commonplace. ANPR [automatic number-plate recognition] systems are not only used by the police, but can often be seen at petrol station forecourts. Speed cameras often known by their trade name, Gatso, are now being gradually replaced with SPECS. The camera system, manufactured by Speed Check Services Ltd, work by recording a vehicles number plate at each fixed camera site, using ANPR technology. As the distance is known between these sites, the average speed can be calculated by dividing this by the time taken to travel between two points. Further initiatives have been proposed which would track vehicles using GPS technology. GPS tracking would enable authorities to charge motorists for the distance they travel [BBC].
The argument for the use of these systems is to cut crime, reduce accidents and to counter terrorism. At first sight this may be a laudable use. However, as the rule of law becomes increasingly stricter, a society can become stifled and paranoid. Curtailing violent crime, vandalism and theft is perhaps a legitimate use of surveillance technology. But when the same technology is used in defence of a totalitarian or fascist state, its use may be questioned. The issue of ‘thought crime’ may soon be an issue as discussions have already taken place to install CCTV with microphones [BBC]. The devices would be able to pick up conversations up to 100 metres away. However, even the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett has described the move as “a step too far” and likened it to Aldous Huxley’s book A Brave New World. In an interview with the BBC, he said, "As you walk down the street you expect to be able to have a private conversation. If you can't guarantee that - and here is someone speaking who has been pretty tough in terms of what should be available to protect society - I believe we have slipped over the edge." With all of the advances and uses of technology already being implemented, it is a dystopia which society has already entered. And with devices such as mobile-phones, and RFIDs built into passports there is no hiding from an all surveying State [Opendemocracy /

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

War on Terror - Gitmo convictions & releases

Australian David Hicks was this week convicted in Guantanamo bay for aiding the Taleban in Afghanistan. He pleaded guilty at a military tribunal on Monday. He was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and has remained their until his recent court appearance. He was set to serve up to 7 years in an Australian prison but according to reports may serve as little as 9 months [BBC]. His father had earlier said that his ‘guilty plea’ was “a way of getting home”. Hicks had changed his plea at the last minute. Another inmate at the controversial detention centre, criticized his treatment and said he had been tortured in order to gain his confession. Abd Al-Nashiri said “From the time I was arrested five years ago, they [the US] have been torturing me. It happened during interviews”. In his confession, Al-Nishiri is said to have admitted his part in the bombing of the USS Cole. Meanwhile, Bisher al-Rawi, a British resident held a Guantanamo Bay for five years, was set free and returned to the UK this weekend [BBC]. At least 8 other British residents remain in custody at the camp. They are Jamil el-Banna, Binyam Mohamed, Shaker Aamer, Omar Deghayes, Ahmed Errachidi, Ahmed Belbacha, Abdelnour Sameur and Jamel Kiyemba.

Solomon Is. - Tsunami death toll rises to 28

A tsunami hit the Solomon Islands on Monday killing at least 12 people [BBC]. But whilst the death toll was nowhere near the devastating events of 26th December 2004, the panic that ensued amongst the people of the islands was said to be great. The island of Ghizo was the worst hit according to reports, but in Australia tsunami warnings were also issued. Ghizo, popular with Australian divers was hit by 3 metre high waves. One woman described her escape in a canoe. Naomi Baea said a house had collapsed on one elderly woman and that as they made their way across the ocean, she and her family were surrounded by dead dogs and peoples possessions that were washed away. Others spoke of the devastation left in the wake of the tsunami [BBC]. There was scant news coverage of the event by most of the major broadcasters despite the large magnitude of the earthquake which triggered the tsunami. The magnitude was measured at 8.0 on the Richter scale by the USGS occurring at 8.453S, 156.956E. This initial tremor hit at 20:39 UTC on the 1st April, 07:39 local time on the 2nd April. Since thence there has been nearly 20 aftershocks since the initial earthquake, though most have been measured at less than 6.0 on the Richter scale. Today it was reported that aid was beginning to arrive on the islands [BBC] as the death toll was said to have risen to 28 [CNN].

Iraq - '1,800 dead in March attacks'

Seven weeks of the US led security crackdown has seemingly made little progress. Last week was the deadliest week since the start of the operation which has mainly focused on Baghdad. Hundreds of Iraqis have died in dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks. Whilst BBC and Sky only sporadically cover the continuing violence in Iraq, CNN bring almost daily coverage. Last week, three days of violence killed over 400 people, and the death toll for March exceeded 1,800. The attacks, including market bombings, attacks on funerals, as well as attacks aimed at coalition troops were all over the country. In Tal Afar in northern Iraq, 152 were killed in a series of truck-bomb blasts targeting mainly Shia Muslims. Reprisal attacks followed the next day with indiscriminate gun battles against Sunnis. In Baghdad and Khalis bombings killed 124 Iraqis.
In another incident a US airstrike killed 16 civilians according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Besides the increased attacks from insurgents, Brig. General David Grange, speaking on CNN’s This Week at War, said the security crackdown was “having an effect”. But CNN correspondent Kyra Phillips said “it’s not safe” as a result of the US initiative in Baghdad. She said it was like the “wild, wild west” with gunfire and ‘pot-shots’ being aimed at her convoy as they made their way around the city. However, in Washington on Thursday, General Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs Chairman, said that death squad activity had been seriously diminished. But he said the “large bombs perpetrated by al-Qaeda had increased”. As regards the issue as to whether the country was gripped by civil war, Admiral William Fallon of the US Central Command, disputed this when he spoke to Kyra Phillips earlier in the week. He said “it was not true” that the whole country was at war with each other. “I don’t think it is civil war”, he iterated, “there are factions fighting one another; small factions”. This is in contrast to a recent US document which described the situation as “civil war plus”. CNN correspondent Kyra Phillips also disagreed with his assessment. “If this isn’t civil war, I don’t know what is. The fighting is everywhere”, she said. The fighting continues to take the lives of coalition soldiers too. On Sunday and Monday the British lost two more troops to hostile action bringing the death toll to 136. In Monday’s incident a soldier was killed by small arms fire whilst on routine patrol [BBC] whilst Sunday’s incident also involved firearms [BBC]. The US death toll is far higher now standing at 3,257 [icasualties.org]. More than eighty US troops were killed in March alone. Throughout the war there has also been more than 25,000 injured. Many have passed through the Walter Reed hospital in the US which has been highlighted in news reports for being rat infested with mould growing on the walls. President Bush visited the hospital last week and apologized for the conditions and said he would “fix the problem”. One of many problems the President has to fix.

Iran - hostage crisis unresolved

Hostages - pawns in a game of political chess

Day 12 of the stand-off between Britain and Iran and the 15 sailors still remain captive. Threats and continued diplomacy have had little effect on the Iranian government to release the 14 men and one woman. The EU said on Friday “release the captives or face the consequences”. But so far there has been no more pressure on the Iranian regime other than a stepping up of the harsh words and rhetoric.
In video released by the Iranian authorities, so called confessions and other statements were made by some of those held. “We’ve been arrested in Iran, and our treatment has been very friendly. We’ve not been harmed at all” Nathan Summers, one of the captured sailors, said. And in an apparent 'confession' he said, “I’d like to apologize for entering your waters without permission”.
Matthew Chance, a senior international affairs correspondent for CNN, described the video releases as ‘Another propaganda salvo, another disturbing confession, probably made under duress.’

Videos were not the only ‘propaganda’ to emerge. Faye Turney, the only woman in the group, wrote three letters which were released by the Iranian authorities. In one letter she wrote, “I am writing to you as a British service person who has been sent to Iraq, sacrificed, due to the intervening policies of the Bush and Blair governments”. The reaction from many commentators and politicians was that the letter had been made under duress. It is of course unverifiable how much duress, if any, was made on Faye Turney. In a later part of the same letter, she adds that, “It is now our time to ask our governments to make a change to its oppressive behaviour towards other people”.

In Iran there have been anti-British protests. Hundreds rallied Friday shouting “Death to Britain” and “We condemn the British Invasion”. Hardliners were also seen protesting outside the British Embassy in Tehran holding placards calling for the sailors to be executed for spying.
Ahmed Khatami, a member of Iran’s Experts Assembly, added to the rhetoric emerging from Iran on Friday. At a meeting he said, “Britain must know that if it continues their bullying gestures they will have an expensive price to pay.” What price Britain might pay was unclear, but the anger building in the country was self evident. The cleric also said that the EU, the UN as well as the US should stay out of the diplomatic efforts, saying their interference would only complicate matters.

On day 9 of the crisis Margaret Beckett, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, said that “things had got a little quieter” which she regarded as a “good sign”. But speaking on Russian TV, the Iranian ambassador painted a different picture saying that procedures had already started to put the sailors on trial for espionage. Gholamreza Ansari also said the British military were considered to be “occupiers and invaders, and if the British government apologized for this mistake the problem could be solved on this level”. Messages coming from Iran were confused with no confirmation that any trial was imminent and with statements saying the Iranian government wanted the crisis solved in a “friendly and humane fashion”. The negotiations between the two countries were said to be continuing with a “diplomatic note” having been received by the British government. Margaret Beckett said that they had “returned a diplomatic note”.
In the war of words, President Bush also stepped in saying the hostages must be handed back immediately and described the detention as “inexcusable behaviour”. In Iran, Mahmoud Amedinejad condemned Britain for not apologizing. Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the situation might move to a “different phase” if the hostages were not released. The voices coming from London have avoided the talk of hostile or military action, however there have been comments coming from the US which point to a far more aggressive approach. John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN, was recently quoted as saying Iran needed “regime change”. Speaking on CNN, Bolton said pro-democracy movements in Iran needed more support. He said the hostage-taking was an attempt to “test weakness in Britain’s response”. He said he would “favour a military force” if Iran did not stop its development of a nuclear weapon as well as continuing to fund terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. John Bolton described recent comments by the Saudi King as amounting to a “lack of gratitude” and added that it may come to a “time of reckoning”. King Abdullah had described the US presence in Iraq as being an “illegitimate occupation” that could lead to civil war enveloping the whole region [BBC].

The Detroit Post in its editorial Tuesday said that ignoring of sanctions “leads to the necessity for more aggressive action” as seen in Iraq. “Iran can’t be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons or take hostages” the editorial said, “By continuing down its current path, Iran is inviting strikes against its weapons-making facilities and perhaps even broader action”. The posturing by the US in the Gulf region with ongoing ‘war games’ may also raise tensions in Tehran. Rumours that a US missile had been fired at an Iranian ship sent oil prices to a new high of $66 a barrel, an indication of the volatility of the situation.

New video emerged Saturday which showed two more of the captured sailors. Both were shown in front of a naval chart with each of them ‘admitting’ their mistake of sailing into Iranian waters. The footage of Lieutenant Felix Carmen and Captain Chris Air was comfort to members of their families as they learned their sons were safe. But government officials criticized the use of the hostages for propaganda purposes saying it was “unacceptable”. Yet more footage emerged on Monday, day 11 of the crisis. The UK government said they “would not be swayed by stage-managed television broadcasts”. The sailors so far named are leading seaman Faye Turney, operator mechanic Nathan Summers, sailor Adam Sperry, Lieutenant Felix Carmen and Captain Chris Air. On Friday, Channel Four News named Danny Masterton, Paul Barton and Joe Tindell as being amongst those held by the Iranians, and today Sky News named a further two as being Arthur Batchelor and Mark Banks. Whilst Downing Street conducts “intense” diplomatic dialogue with Iran, Terry Waite, a former hostage himself, has offered to act as an intermediary. And as the Iranian authorities release more pictures of the captured sailors playing chess, the political manoeuvring continues with Tony Blair saying today that the “next 24 hours was critical” [CNN].