Monthly Archives: September 2007

Blackwater and violence in Iraq

The earlier incident when Blackwater was involved in publicised violence in Iraq, in Falluja, led to “an upsurge in violence” according to a report in the Independent (28/9/2007).
The US have persuaded the Iraqi government not to expel Blackwater after making a case that security would fall apart if they weren’t present. Yet civilian involvement in Iraq remains a focus of deep resentment among Iraqis who feel that their conduct remains unregulated as terms of engagement are undefined.
As far as Blackwater and other large companies are concerned if the huge contracts they have engineered cease then dividends will fall. So what is the case for ending the war with this logic? New Labour in Britain goes along with this as does the Tory opposition. As for the Lib-Dems who knows? They say they are against the war while in Birmingham they maintain the Tories in power, so what’s the choice? Gordon Brown gave the initial impression he would do things differently but as the days go by there are more and more similarities to Blair. If Brown wants to get British troops out of Iraq it is clear that it will not be an easy task. After withdrawal from the centre of Basra they were quickly re-engaged on the Iranian border. To keep America’s (and others) arms trade alive a new conflict is needed – and since World War II the US has been successful in keeping conflict going somewhere or other on the planet.

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Pauline Campbell’s case dismissed

Pauline Campbell sent this report of her acquittal when common sense prevailed at the court hearing. How much it cost to get to this point is another question.
North Avon Magistrates’ Court – Wednesday 26 September 2007
Defendant: Pauline Campbell
Charge: Obstructing the highway
Judge: District Judge David Parsons
Defence barrister: Mr Peter Thornton QC, head of Doughty Street Chambers; instructed by Messrs Hickman & Rose, London
(1) The alleged wrong occurred outside HMP & YOI Eastwood Park on 24 January 2007, at a prison-death demonstration to protest against the death of mother-of-five Caroline Powell, 26, who died in the ‘care’ of the jail on 5 January 2007. Ms Powell was on remand, and therefore legally innocent, when she died.
(2) Today’s trial finished at around 5.30 pm, and was attended by representatives from the ‘No More Prison’ group; Crossroads Women’s Centre, London; and other supporters. A demonstration was also held outside the court building, commencing at 9.30 am.
(3) Reporters, photographers, and local television were present at today’s court hearing.
(4) BBC Online News report: “Woman cleared after jail protest“; published 26 September 2007 –

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This is Blackwater. “Profitable Patriotism.”

Al Jazeera takes a look at Blackwater’s operation in Iraq(24/9/2007). The ratio of private personnel to military used to be 1 in 60. Now it is 1 in3. As the Iraqi government performs a u-turn in allowing Blackwater to stay because of a security imperative, they insist on an enquiry into the deaths of innocent civilians. The Iraqis have long objected to the presence of mercenaries when their are no clear guidelines covering their activities.
While there is now some exposure of US mercenaries there has been talk of the involvement of other nationalities, including South Africa and Britain, where one operation appears to have a church front.

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Our Human Dustbins

600 dead in custody in 2006, one third of which were suicides. Pauline Campbell alerted me to the Guardian sub headline as she continues to demonstrate after the deaths of women in “the care” of HM Prison (privatised) “service”. BBC Report including Pauline Campbell’s comments.
Here is Pauline’s report of her second demonstration at HMP Send this year”:
Prison-death demonstration – Thursday 20 September 2007
to protest against the tragic death of the young mother Lisa Doe, aged 25
who died on 11 September 2007 while in the care of HMP Send, Surrey
(1) The protest on 20 September 2007 was the 26th demonstration to be held since protests began in April 2004.
(2) Lisa Doe is the seventh woman to die in prison so far this year.
(3) The appalling death toll: 39 women prisoners * (including Lisa Doe) have died since Sarah Campbell’s death in 2003. Lessons are not being learned.
( * 12 women died after Sarah Campbell in 2003; 13 died in 2004; 4 died in 2005; 3 died in 2006; 7 deaths so far this year = 39)
[Figures refer to apparently self-inflicted deaths; England and Wales]
A small group of protesters held a peaceful 3-hour demonstration outside HMP Send and, for part of the afternoon, were joined by two relatives of Ms Lisa Doe, who laid flowers in memory of their loved one.
At 2 pm, Mr Andy Peacock, Head of Reducing Reoffending (Duty Governor for the day) emerged from the jail, and spoke to protesters, but said he was unable to comment on Ms Doe’s death.
At 3.45 pm, a Serco prison van (BW04 VZH) was stopped as it attempted to enter the jail. The driver was informed that protesters considered the jail to be unsafe, in view of the recent death, and he was asked to take the women to a place of safety.
Surrey Police were summoned to the prison. Officers 1905 and 2751 attended; sergeant 1905 indicated that Section 14, Public Order Act 1986, would be invoked if the prisoner transport van was not allowed to proceed into the jail. The Serco vehicle was eventually allowed to enter the prison, and no arrests were made.
A number of visitors to the jail spoke to protesters, and expressed concern about the physical and mental wellbeing of their loved ones held in HMP Send.
The Conservative MP for Mole Valley, Sir Paul Beresford, was invited to attend the demonstration, but did not respond to the invitation.
The protest was attended by Sky Television; local reporters and photographers, and was also covered by local radio.
At the end of the afternoon, protesters left bouquets of flowers and a memorial placard at the prison entrance, in memory of Ms Doe.
“Another woman has died, and another family is left to grieve.
“This latest death at HMP Send brings into sharp focus the prison’s custodial care record. Two young mothers have lost their lives at Send Prison this year: Emma Kelly on 19 April 2007, and Lisa Doe on 11 September 2007. It is particularly worrying that both women were on ‘suicide watch’ when they died.
“Courts must act responsibly and stop sending women, many with psychiatric and drug-dependency problems, to the punitive regime of a prison, when they are in need of treatment and care. Unless and until this inhuman practice stops, more families will have to deal with the tremendous pain and anger resulting from the death of their loved ones.” [Pauline Campbell]
Photos of the demonstration are available from freelance photographer Guy Smallman.
(Charitable/non-profit publications are not generally charged, but a by-line must be given.)
The demonstration was also attended by a freelance video journalist; anyone wanting contact details – please e-mail me.
Pauline Campbell
[Bereaved mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died while on ‘suicide watch’ in the care of Styal Prison, 2003]
Trustee of The Howard League for Penal Reform
Awarded The 2005 Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize

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Business as usual

The extraordinary situation, where private companies have become an integral part of the war effort, continues as Blackwater provides security for convoys supplying forces in Baghdad. At one time privatisation of what was considered the business of the state was unthinkable, but the U.S. has driven not only coach and horses, but a whole army through the dearly held principle. Margaret Thatcher found herself unable to move in this direction and it wasn’t until New Labour moved in with Blair and friends that we find schools, health, prisons swept into the privatiastion pot. Gordon’s recent flirtation with Maggie was no empty gesture.

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Brown’s heavy hand brings back colonial memories

Gordon Brown’s announcement that he won’t attend a summit in Lisbon if Robert Mugabe does smacks of colonialism and again raises questions of his difference to his predecessor. Other African leaders have said they won’t attend if Mugabe doesn’t.
The Independent (22.9.2007) reports responses from Africa which make the Brown posturing appear childish and immature.
“Zimbabwe’s UN ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, said Mr Brown had ‘no right to dictate’ who should be at the summit.’
He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that Mr Mugabe ‘has a sovereign right’ to attend the summit. He said: ‘He is part of Africa. Gordon Brown has no right to dictate who should come to Lisbon.’
He added: ‘The quarrel is between Britain and Zimbabwe. The United Kingdom Government [is] trying to put this quarrel into a multilateral forum.
Really the meeting between Europe and Africa should go ahead. There are bigger issues to discuss than the differences between the UK and Zimbabwe.’
The Prime Minister also faced strong criticism from The Tanzanian president of the Pan-African Parliament, Gertrude Mongella, who accused him of trying to ‘manipulate’ Africa and insisted that ‘arm twisting’ by rich nations would not solve the problems of the crisis-hit state.
Dr Mongella said: ‘We do know there are some problems, but if somebody wants to arm-twist Zimbabwe, that’s not the best way to solve the problems. I think this is again another way of manipulating Africa. Zimbabwe is a nation which got independence.
I think in the developed world there are so many countries doing things which not all of us subscribe to: we have seen the Iraq war – not everyone accepts what is being done in Iraq.’
Dr Mongella added: ‘So if we want to talk about the people of Zimbabwe, we should not punish them by the actions of their leaders. I think if we want to move in the right direction, with the African way of doing things, you discuss things under a tree till you agree. So if somebody does not come under a tree to discuss, that is not the African way of doing things.’
Zambia’s President Levy Mwanawasa warned that he would stay away from the summit if Mr Mugabe is barred. He said: “I will not go to Portugal if Mugabe is not allowed.
” Source Independent 22.9.2007.

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Not for our consumption

I hadn’t noticed mention of a substantial anti-war march held in Washington at which many arrests were made. The main feature reported was that it was led by Iraq war veterans. Al Jazeera reports this (16/9/2007).

The UK press are still hung up with Northern Rock and the McCann saga so the rest of the world seems remote and inconsequential. We know George W. doesn’t case for Al Jazeera which is a bombing target as much as all the nations on the U.S. list for action. However what excuse is it for the British media to fall in line and fail to cover such an event?

Keeping the faith

The education system in Britain maintains many forms of selection as the great comprehensive dream fades into history. Now a report on faith schools in London shows how schools there “Cherry pick” their pupils The characteristics of their intake are affluent, middle class, and yes, white. Racism is alive and sick here too.
New Labour’s ham-handed way of introducing league tables encourages schools to select children who are judged less problematic. The report above focusses on London and secondary education yet in Birmingham there are some primary schools who find ways and means of selecting their intake. Some of these are faith schools, some are not. One school in inner city Handsworth will only admit children who can show achievement in SATs results. It has been declared “a beacon school”!
Ed Balls speaking for the government declares it has “no policy” on faith schools. “Let the people decide” he declares. Here in Birmingham there is an appetite for privilege and division among different groups in the community. They are aggressive in their wish to get their children into the grammar schools while a local gurdwara campaigns for Sikh faith school at all levels. Since Blair encouraged faith schools some have been opened for Muslim girls in Birmingham. (It’s quite amazing how Blair’s zeal for faith-based institutions quickly gave him grief when they were then supposed to harbour and promote “extremists!”)
Seventh Day Adventists provide a school for mostly African Caribbean pupils. In the latter case there is some justification while racism pervades education elsewhere. Nevertheless the result is division upon division and the community is reaping the consequences.

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Floods hit Africa, but go unreported

Turning to Al Jazeera I was amazed to read about serious floods affecting “large swathes” of Africa with the heaviest rain in 35 years. The effects on the population is very serious:
“International aid agencies are calling for more help as floods continues to devastate large swathes of Africa.
Dozens have died and an estimated one million people affected by the prolonged rains.
In the east of the continent, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda are the worst hit countries, with at least 87 people dead.
Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda have also been affected.”
(source Al Jazeera 15.9.2007.
Reuters on the other hand report on flooding in West Africa. So what’s going on? Shows just how selective the daily digest brought to us is!
The British press is taken up with the story of the Northern Rock crisis when the inevitable consequences of capitalism have come home to roost. It’s not even on thne BBC News front page. So what of the significance of news from a continent, which least pollutes the planet, taking the consequences of the over-industrialised part?

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Racism is felt at a high level

The Guardian (15.9.2007) reports on supermodels mounting a demonstration with the claim that racism has reached its highest point since the sixties.
There is a smugness in society that we have gone through a period of “multiculturism” (the acceptable term for the more radical antiracist movement) and have come out on top. If you’ve been on the receiving end of racism you may not see it that way.
Black people I’ve spoken to recently seem to have taken an air of resignation that discrimination is an inbuilt feature of existence. Just at a time we’re looking at 200 years since abolition, the result has been the view that that was then. Don’t blame the current generation for what happened a long time ago. If you consider the story about the supermodels it looks as if the consequences haven’t gone away at all.
My apology and challenge on behalf of Birmingham has fallen on deaf ears. Only the Stirrer took notice, but the responses were dominated by a very racist contributor called “headless chicken” I think.

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