There are three big holes in the government’s defence of the drone killings of 3 British citizens in Syria in this last month. One is the legality when under Article 51 of the UN charter every country has the right of self-defence, but any armed attack would have to be “imminent or actual”. More specifically the need for pre-emptive self-defence must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation”. That does no conceivably fit what happened. Cameron told the Commons that Khan and Hussein, the two British jihadists killed, had been planning to attach public commemorations in the UK, and No.10 later specified VE Day in May and Armed Forces Day in June, long before the two men were killed in August. On that basis the killing was clearly not within the law.
Second, there is the much more blatant fact that these killings defy the unambiguous vote of the Commons in 2013 rejecting UK bombing in Syria. It is clear that Cameron intended at the end of July this year to recall Parliament which had just gone into recess in order to win a vote to start a UK bombing campaign in Syria, but at the last minute pulled back. Then by September the abrupt rise of Jeremy Corbyn made it unlikely, or at least uncertain, that such a vote could then be won, so Cameron and Fallon decided to make the issue a prior settled one in order to get their way. But this is a blatant abuse of Parliament for which the government should be expressly censured.
A third very serious gap in the government’s handling of this episode concerns the legal advice received by the PM and National Security Council from the government’s Law Officers. Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, has been keeping a very low profile, and it is crucial that that advice, and the reasons for it, should now be fully disclosed, both regarding these drone killings already executed and any that might organised in future.
Cameron never answered any of these charges in the House, but concentrated instead on his own agenda (as he always does, irrespective of the questions asked). That was to try to demonstrate his readiness to take tough action against ISIS and to win plaudits from the more bloodthirsty parts of the press. But above all, he should not be allowed to get away with operating drone killings as a matter of policy without any parliamentary sanction.
This last week something little-noticed happened which could have very worrying consequences for the future. All local authorities, NHS trusts, schools, universities, further education colleges, and prisons had a new statutory duty imposed on themto prevent extremist radicalisation taking place within their ambit. These new duties will be vastly intrusive. Local authorities will have to make checks on the use of its public buildings, its internet filters, and on any unregulated settings such as school clubs and groups and tuition centres. In case there is any backsliding, government inspectors will check to make sure all necessary actions are taken. And most sinister of all, the target for all this isn’t just extremist behaviour (whatever exactly that means), but ‘non-violent extremism’.
Read more “Tories talk of freedom, but authoritarianism is their hallmark” »
David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation commissioned by Cameron, has just produced a 373 page report, ‘A Question of Trust’, which, partially at least, restored the fundamental principle of a free society into the toxic atmosphere of MI5/GCHQ’s (and the government’s) obsessive desire to introduce a snoopers’ charter in which the whole population is potentially targeted for algorithmic monitoring, with all the abuse, error and hacking that that entails. He rightly condemns the current Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) as “incomprehensible, undemocratic, unnecessary and intolerable”. But his central proposal is to shift oversight of the surveillance process from the Home Secretary to a new independent body and in particular to pass the power to authorise surveillance away from government to a panel of senior judges. This is long overdue and should be strongly supported.
Read more “The spooks are still playing dirty tricks to get their snoopers’ charter: they must be stopped” »
It could only happen in Britain. In the US, by contrast, a so-called Freedom Act (though it is far from that) has just been passed. It will at least partially curb the power of government to collect bulk data on the lives of its citizens. The Cameron government however is doing the opposite and is determined this time to push through the snoopers’ charter which it failed to get in the last Parliament and which MI5/GCHQ have been aching to get on the statute book ever since the Twin Towers of 2001. This would not only give ever greater powers of mass surveillance to the police and secret services, it is also intended to prohibit server encryption which makes surveillance more difficult. This is a complete contradiction of the Snowden revelations. These exposed industrial-scale eavesdropping by State bureaucracies which had been proceeding secretly and without a shred of accountability ever since 2006, and without Snowden would probably have been proceeding unhindered to this very day.
Read more “The securocrats in MI5 and GCHQ are now going flat out to get their uncontrolled snoopers’ charter” »
Bang on cue, Cameron yesterday reiterated what Andrew Parker, head of MI5, had demanded just before, that in the light of the Paris killings the UK security services needed more surveillance powers. Whenever there is a terrorist incident MI5 never misses an opportunity to demand ‘more resources’, closely followed in tandem by Cameron and May. Nobody of course would wish to deny the security services the funding and powers they need to target terrorists, but there are genuine questions to be asked as to how far extra powers are needed, especially if it is in the blanket form of mass surveillance.
Read more “The snoopers’ charter that refuses to die raises its ugly head again” »
The whole narrative of the UK government’s response to the brutal revelations of US rendition and torture at Guantanamo and ‘black sites’ spread across E. Europe, the Middle East and Asia has been one of subterfuge, deception and downright lying, in sharp contrast to the determination of the political class in the US to get (most of) the ugly truths out in the open. It casts a profoundly dishonourable shame on this country both for its smothering blanket of secrecy and almost total lack of accountability for the grave misdeeds of Britain’s deep shadow State. The duplicity of all UK governments over this issue in the last decade has been shocking.
Evasion 1: The Blair government systematically denied any involvement for years, even though government memos were disclosed which showed that Straw delivered British Terrorism suspects to Guantanamo and even though Blair knew that the US was torturing its prisoners.
Read more “Lies, deceptions, ISC, MI5” »
The report published today by the US Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Dianne Feinstein, makes horrifying, even disgusting, reading. The tactics used against prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay or foreign CIA black sites (i.e. torture chambers) included water-boarding (simulated drowning), ‘rectal rehydration’ (leading to anal fissures and rectal prolapse), sleep deprivation for a week or more imposed on those shackled, forced to stand and naked, hooding, iced-water immersion, slamming against walls, and threats of sexual and physical violence against prisoners’ families. The Senate committee also notes that at least 26 of the detainees were ‘wrongfully held’, and the evidence used against them was often based on hearsay or mere rumour. In extreme cases Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded 183 times, and Abu Zubaydah 83 times who emerged an utterly broken man – maybe the aim of the exercise. This was justified by the CIA on the grounds that the information extorted by torture ‘saved lives’ by revealing future plots. The Senate committee after years of investigation stated it could find not a single case of this kind, only that torture revealed false information (anything to stave off further torture) or information already gleaned by more traditional forms of intelligence gathering.
Read more “How far was the UK complicit in CIA rendition and torture?” »
May’s shenanigans today in the Commons over the European arrest warrant is the perfect example of how far relations with the EU are being treated as an outpost of internal Tory party politics. Any same person knows that the European Arrest Warrant and other key parts of EU cooperation, like criminal record checks and joint cross-border investigations, make sense because they catch criminals and increase safety for citizens across the EU. May promised a vote in Parliament on this today, but astonishingly has been ducking and diving to avoid one at all costs because the government is running scared of the fanatically anti-EU Tory Right. The motion due to be voted on in today’s business in the House doesn’t even mention the European Arrest Warrant. Instead it refers only to a document that includes 11 of the 35 measures requiring to be transposed into domestic law in order to meet the UK’s obligations, but again it doesn’t include the European Arrest Warrant. The Home Secretary’s opt-out and then opt-back-in has been a game of Eurosceptic hokey cokey for the sake of internal Tory party management – brazenly putting party interests before those of the country.
There are around 3,600 organised crime groups active in the EU and involved in drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation, and theft. Cross-border crime is a reality, and to dispense with the European Arrest Warrant and cross-border EU cooperation to deal with it is deeply irresponsible, especially when it is pandering to back-bench ideological prejudice. The urgent need for this measure is shown by the fact that last year over 1,000 foreign criminals were deported under the European Arrest Warrant, mostly for drug trafficking, murder, fraud, child sex offences and rape. Senior police officers have made clear how important it is in enabling them to deport foreign criminals without going through a lengthy extradition process.
There are many recent examples to prove this. In 2005 an EAW enabled the UK to quickly extradite from Italy a fugitive bomber, Hussain Osman, who with accomplices had tried to carry out a terror attack in London. In 2012 Jason McKay was extradited from Poland within 2 weeks for murdering his partner, when under the old extradition arrangements it would have taken several years. Altogether the UK has deported over 4,000 criminals under the EAW, 95% of whom are foreign criminals removed from the UK. One such operation tackled a Romanian gang that was trafficking children into the UK, and resulted in the arrest of 126 suspects for human trafficking, benefit fraud, money laundering and child neglect, including the identification of 272 trafficking victims.
Playing political party games with police controls against crime on this scale and with such sickening human consequences is unforgiveable.
The security services are getting desperate. Over the last 4 years they, and their political figurehead May, have tried time and time again to push mass surveillance through Parliament. Whenever a security scare arises or a trial of alleged terrorists or belated arrests over a drugs scandal, the cry is always foisted on the public that what we need is a comprehensive snoopers’ charter which will record all the communications of all the citizens in the UK. No mention of the fact that they have already been doing this for over a decade through GCHQ’s Tempora and Bullrun programmes as Snowden revealed, and what they desperately want now is to legitimize their illegal activities. No mention that they already infiltrating our smartphones via the Dreamy Smurf programme which can turn them on even when we’ve switched them off. No mention that Nosey Smurf can turn on the microphone in a mobile remotely to listen in to our conversations, nor of Tracker Smurf which can track our location in real time.
Read more “Despite Snowden May won’t take no for any answer over mass surveillance” »