Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Obama

Nuclear Bunkum

This article was published in The Nation on Sunday, 11 March 2012

 

 

Delusion

Delusions are particularly scary when they take over whole nations. Growing up in the 1950s, I often heard the phrase “living under the shadow of the bomb”. It was used to excuse all kinds of irresponsible individual behaviour, hedonism and mass hooliganism.

Much satirical fun was had with the British government’s ludicrous public information campaigns. In the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe in 1960, Dudley Moore, from the audience, asks a panel, “Following the nuclear holocaust, could you tell me when normal public services would be restored?” Another question casts doubt upon the value of the four-minute warning. Peter Cook responds: “Let me tell you that in this great country of ours, some people can run a mile in four minutes”. Cook advises, in the event of a nuclear attack, to crawl under the kitchen table and place a brown-paper bag over the head.

Alan Bennett fields another question thus: “Now I can see one or two of you are thinking, now look here, what if one of our American friends makes a boo-boo, presses the wrong button, and sends up one of their missiles by mistake? It could not happen. You see, before they press that button they’ve got to get on the telephone to number 10 Downing Street, and say, ‘Now look, Mr. Macmillan, Sir, can I press this button?’ And Mr. Macmillan will say ‘yes’ — or ‘no’ — as the mood takes him.”

Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent

In Beyond the Fringe, Peter Cook announced: “That is not to say that we do not have our own Nuclear Striking Force — we do, we have the Blue Steel; a very effective missile, as it has a range of 150 miles, which means that we can just about get Paris — and, by God, we will.”

Today, 52 years later, British governments are still wasting taxpayers’ money on that kind of delusion. During the Cold War, we had MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Because Britain and the USA had the bomb, the USSR would not dare to use theirs. Who will be deterred today, now that the Soviet Union is no more?

 
A secret review into the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is underway. Trident is British in the sense that it cost the taxpayer in 1994 £14.9 billion and costs another £2 billion a year to run. The submarines carrying the missiles were only designed to last 25 years and so will have to be replaced by 2020 at a probable cost of £25 billion. One critic of Trident has called it the UK’s “stick-on hairy chest”. What folly in these belt-tightening times!

 
The 58 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles are operated by the Royal Navy (from four Vanguard-class submarines) but the Americans make them, maintain them and provide the satellite intelligence to target them. According to a US diplomatic telegram released by WikiLeaks last year, President Obama handed over the unique serial numbers of the UK’s missiles to the Russians as part of an arms-reduction deal.

 
One wonders what kind of ally the US would be for Britain in a nuclear war. In April 1982, they even refused their poodle permission to use the US operated airfield on Ascension Island (a British Crown Colony) to refuel RAF aircraft. In 2012, the US does not recognise Britain’s claim to the Falkland Islands, which Hillary insolently refer to as ‘Las Malvinas’.
NGO mafia

A vast collection of think-tanks, charitable foundations, academic courses and government departments are supposedly dedicated to the noble aim of non-proliferation. In reality, this means objecting to the likes of Iran and North Korea having nuclear weapons, but not the USA, the UK, France and Israel.

 
One of the reasons Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 was “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. The committee highlighted his efforts to promote nuclear disarmament. When the New Start Treaty between Russia and the US was ratified in 2010, William Perry, a defence secretary under President Clinton and one of the chief advocates of non-proliferation, remarked that even though the treaty was “small, it was vital, because … we are serious about bringing our own nuclear stockpiles down.” Perry must have known that the Obama administration had recently announced that it was committing $85 billion to the modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal over the next ten years.

 
Perry was silent and, there was no protest from the non-proliferation mafia. Their main business is not actually working towards abolition, but managing junkets associated with the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Every five years, delegates from member states meet to discuss ‘progress’. The reality is that there is merely much fractious debate over minor rewordings to produce ‘final documents’, which everyone ignores.

 

Nuclear Alarmism

 

The task of discouraging states like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina from going nuclear, felt worthy, but was irrelevant. In Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaida, John Mueller argues that the non-proliferation regime was responsible for the disaster that is Iraq. The non-proliferation mafia kept quiet about the invasion of Iraq but continue to put together costly but unthreatening programmes to keep themselves in work – programmes like the Global Zero project, which consists of “300 political, military, business, faith and civic leaders, and 400,000 citizens worldwide working for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons”. The mafia has institutionalised a bogus solution, which allows leaders to avoid reality and has cultivated the false belief that nuclear peace can be accomplished without the need for political action, and without any sacrifice.

 
Sri Lankans have to make sacrifices because the US wants to prevent us buying Iranian oil until Iran stops its nuclear programme.

 

Behavioural Economics

I had this article published in The Island newspaper on October 31 2008

In the run-up to the US presidential election, commentators are wondering what kind of economic policy Barack Obama might pursue. He taught at the University of Chicago but that does not mean that he is of the Chicago school of Milton Friedman. Obama is not a doctrinaire monetarist.

There is a new Chicago school. Behavioural economics combines the insights of psychology with the rigour of economics, factoring human unpredictability into market analysis. This centre ground between the Friedmanites and the Keynesians appeals to politicians.

Richard Thaler teaches at the University Of Chicago Graduate School Of Business and is close to Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s economic advisor. Thaler wrote a column called Anomalies (sometimes in collaboration with Daniel Kahneman, the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for economics) in which he described economic behaviour that did not fit in with the accepted norms of economic theory. Anomalies showed how, in reality, homo economicus failed to pursue his own self-interest. Decisions were based on received wisdom or bizarre rules of thumb rather than logic.

Thaler has collaborated with Cass R Sunstein on a book called Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Sunstein was for ten years a colleague of Obama’s at the University of Chicago Law School (he is also affianced to Professor Samantha Power, who was Obama’s foreign policy adviser until she resigned after calling Hillary Clinton a ‘monster’).

“People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement!” Thaler and Sunstein write in Nudge. “We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.”

Dan Ariely of MIT, author of a bestselling book Predictably Irrational, describes an experiment where customers were thrown into confusion by an abundance of choice. “Jams are hardly complex things, but people saw 24 stacked together and thought: ‘I have no idea how to deal with this.'”

Markets go haywire when the choice is more complicated than buying jam. The world-wide credit crunch following the sub-prime mortgage fiasco is a recent example. The followers of John Maynard Keynes would want tight regulation and prohibition of excessive borrowing. To the followers of Milton Friedman any interference with market forces would be anathema. Behaviouralists argue that a gentle nudge works. Behaviouralists tend to be more hopeful than Keynesians about redeeming free enterprise.

In the eighties, UK orthodoxy was to force people to take responsibility for their own pensions. Now most will be automatically enrolled in a retirement-savings scheme. They can opt out, but the inertia that stopped them taking up a pension plan will keep them in. George Osborne, who would doubtless take over from the hapless Alistair Darling as Chancellor of the Exchequer if there were to be a UK general election today, is a believer in ‘libertarian paternalism’ and the PM himself (at the time of writing, Gordon Brown) has expressed an interest in Sunstein’s concept of ‘presumed consent’.

The customer is king but what if the king is confused? Is the customer an emperor with no clothes, no sense, no savings, and huge debts accrued against the security of property that is now plummeting in value? Daniel Gilbert and Tim Wilson have coined the term ‘miswanting’. Dramatic increases in consumption failed to lift the collective mood. George W Bush’s instinctive response to 9/11 was to command the American people to go out and shop for their nation as the best way to defend it against the infidel. The result has been worldwide recession.

Britain is stricken with pleonexia – destructive consumerism. Binge drinking has become the main national sport and alcohol-related deaths continue to rise. The overall death-rate from alcohol has almost doubled from 6.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 1991 to 13.4 in 2006. Dr Christopher Record, a liver disease consultant says “Alcohol now is 50% less expensive than it was 25 years ago and, needless to say, consumption has gone up by 50% pro rata.”

The Economist’s columnist, Bagehot, suspects that the theories of behavioural economists appeal to politicians because they provide a cover for a hands-off approach to problems they should be facing head-on. “Nasty behaviour—such as the propensity of some British teenagers to drink too much, get pregnant or stab each other—is often symptomatic of a deeper malaise: skewed values, social atomism, despair and so on.” Problems of this kind might require the smack of firm governance, rather than a gentle nudge, but the term “nanny state” has long been part of the dictionary of political abuse.

From the perspective of behavioral economics, the key factors are inertia, overconfidence, and loss aversion. In their everyday existences, people tend to stick with what they are doing, even if trying something different wouldn’t be difficult.

Behavioural economists have taught politicians and policy-makers that the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is not infallible. Their theories and experiments are of interest to politicians because of their relevance to decisions in the public sphere – whether to grant patients buying power in the health service, whether to compel individuals to save for their old age. They also have relevance to business in the private sector for what they can reveal about consumer behaviour.

Thaler has an investment company, Fuller and Thaler’s Asset Management Inc. whose mission statement says: “Investors make mental mistakes. Fuller and Thaler’s objective is to exploit them”.

Let us hope that Sri Lankan businesses do not use the findings of Thaler, Sunstein, Ariely, and Kahneman et al to manipulate customers and seek unethical advantage. Providers must respond with justice to the rational concerns of their customers.

The UK’s chief consumer watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading, launched a behavioural economics unit and the National Audit Office has called for more government agencies to apply the discipline’s findings. Watch this space.

Now the markets themselves have gone completely haywire and have lost any pretence of rationality or conforming to text-book theories. Those who demanded deregulation are running to governments for bail-outs. It will be interesting to see how the behavioural economists will help Obama through this mess.

 

Obama, Osama, Blake and Prabakharan

This was posted on The Agonist on May 23 2011

Death of Bin Laden

President Obama decided not to release any photographs of Bin Laden’s body or video footage of the burial. He said it was important to keep photographic evidence from “floating around as incitement or a propaganda tool”.

The body was prepared for burial “in conformance with Islamic precepts and practice”, then placed in a weighted bag and dropped into the water from the vessel’s deck. Officials said this was to avoid his grave becoming a shrine.

Leon Panetta , Director of the CIA, said that, “Obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn’t appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him.”

Death of Prabakharan

May 18 2011 marked the second anniversary of the death of Vellupillai , leader of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) at Nandikathal lagoon north of Vellamullivaikkal near Mullaithivu.

For some Tamils, Prabakharan had the status of a demi-god. A Tamil Catholic priest (Fr SJ Emmanuel, former Vicar-General of Jaffna, now living in Germany) compared him to Jesus. The surviving LTTE initially claimed that Prabakharan was alive but the government published pictures of the corpse which was conclusively identified by former LTTE commander in the Eastern province ”Colonel Karuna” (Vinayagamoorthy Muaralithan) now deputy leader of the governing SLFP party). Further confirmation was through DNA testing against genetic material of Prabakharan’s son, Charles Anthony, who had been killed earlier by the Sri Lanka army. Circumstantial evidence suggested that Prabakharan senior’s death was caused by massive head trauma, perhaps from a shot at close range. There are also allegations that he was executed.

Sutirho Patronobis, wrote recently in the Hindustan Times: ”army chief Sarath Fonseka had initially told me that Prabakharan and a few of his remaining lieutenants were shot dead in an ambulance while they were trying to crash through a Sri Lankan army deployment. The official version changed a day later: Prabakharan was killed inside a mangrove forest near the bank of a lagoon in a last burst of gunfire. His body was then burnt and the ashes scattered across the sea.

A month later, the defence ministry said it was after the chance discovery of the body of Prabakharan’s bodyguard that the army realised that the LTTE chief was possibly dead. Unlike the attack on Bin Laden, in which four or five others were killed, hundreds of LTTE cadres died in attempting to save Prabakharan; no stealthy helicopter strike, it was a bloody fight. Fonseka is currently on trial for saying in an interview that surrendering LTTE leaders with white flags were executed.

Prabakharan was a Sri Lankan citizen who had been at war with the Sri Lankan government since 1975. In that year, he made his first known killing. The ensuing conflict led to around 100,000 deaths (although it is impossible to arrive at a definitive figure) . He was killed by the legitimate armed forces of a sovereign nation answerable to a democratically elected government on its own territory.

The USA was rather lukewarm in its reaction to this major victory in the global war on terrorism: “The Department of State welcomes the fact that the fighting has ended, and we are relieved that the immense loss of life and killing of innocent civilians appears to be over. This is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to turn the page on its past and build a Sri Lanka rooted in democracy, tolerance, and respect for human rights. Now is the time for the government to engage the Tamils, Sinhalese, and other Sri Lankans to create a political arrangement that promotes and protects the rights of all Sri Lankans”.

The Rise and Crimes of the LTTE

In 1972, a group of students formed a militant group called the Tamil New Tigers (TNT). One member of this group was Prabakharan, who was born in Jaffna in November 1954. On July 27 1975, the former mayor of Jaffna, SLFP politician Alfred Durayappah, a Tamil, was assassinated.  Later Prabakharan claimed that he had fired the fatal shot.

The TNT became the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and by means of murder and intimidation became the dominant group. Separatist militancy was further fanned by the anti-Tamil riots which followed the 1977 general election, in which the UNP came to power. The LTTE were proscribed in 1978 by which time most of its rivals had been eliminated. The anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, Black July, sent many Tamils into exile from where they funded the growth of the LTTE.

Over many decades, Prabakharan used cease-fires to regroup and re-arm. Unlike the IRA leaders, he had no interest in compromise and would settle for nothing less than a separate state of Tamil Eelam, comprising one third of the island’s land mass and two thirds of its coastline, including the strategic harbour of Trincomalee. The LTTE continued to murder Tamils as well as Sinhalese. The distinguished foreign minister, Lakshman Kadigarmar, was one of the Tamil victims.

The LTTE was guilty of many crimes over the thirty years of the conflict. They assassinated Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka President Premadasa. An attempt on the life of President Kumaratunga failed but she lost an eye. In that attempt, 23 civilians were killed.

In 1985, LTTE gunmen shot dead 146 Sinhalese civilians and injured 85 others as they were praying at a sacred Buddhist shrine in Anuradhapura. A further 18 people fleeing from that massacre were shot dead in Wilpattu forest. Later in the same year, in Dehiwatta village, 100 LTTE men hacked to death 15 women and children as they were sleeping.

In 1986, an LTTE bomb exploded aboard an Air Lanka flight carrying mainly French, British and Japanese tourists killing 21 (including 13 foreigners – of whom 2 British, 2 German, 3 French, 2 Japanese, 1 Maldivian and 1 Pakistani) and injuring 41.

Throughout 1988 and 1989, there seemed to be an LTTE massacre of villagers every day. In June 1990, the LTTE marked the breakdown of ceasefire talks by overrunning police stations throughout the north east of Sri Lanka. The LTTE killed 600 police officers who had surrendered. On June 10, over 400 unarmed police officers were shot dead in police stations across eastern Sri Lanka.

On August 3, 30 Tigers attacked four mosques in the Kattankudi area, where 300 Muslims were prostrate in prayer. The Tigers sprayed automatic fire and hurled hand grenades at the worshipers. Most of the victims were shot in the back or side. Speaking to the New York Times, Mohammed Ibrahim, a 40-year-old businessman said, “I was kneeling down and praying when the rebels started shooting. The firing went on for 15 minutes. I escaped without being hit and found myself among bodies all over the place.” Mohammed Arif, a 17-year-old student who also survived the massacre said : “Before I escaped from a side door and scaled a wall, I saw a Tiger rebel put a gun into the mouth of a small Muslim boy and pull the trigger.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kattankudi_mosque_massacre

Killings continued on a daily basis over the years. In 1994, presidential candidate and opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake (we know his son-in-law) was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber who exploded herself at a campaign rally in Colombo. Fifty others were killed in the blast and a further 75 were seriously injured.

The most deadly LTTE attack on a civilian target in the history of the group’s operations occurred in 1996. The Central Bank (located in the twin towers of the Colombo World Trade Centre) was bombed and 90 people were killed and 1,400 injured. In 1997, another bombing at the WTC killed 13 and injured hundreds.

In 1998, a Black Tiger squad drove an explosives-laden truck into the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, a major Buddhist shrine, killing seven and injuring 25. The attack took place just days before foreign dignitaries were expected to attend celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Sri Lankan independence at the temple.

Later that year the LTTE shot down a plane with 55 passengers (including 48 Tamils) and crew while it was flying over LTTE held territory. Everyone onboard was killed.

In 1999, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam, a Tamil, who was working on a constitutional package aimed at ending the decades-long conflict, was killed by an LTTE suicide bomber.

In May 2000, the LTTE celebrated the holiest day of the Buddhist calendar, Vesak Poya, by detonating a bomb hidden inside an ice-cream box on a bicycle killing 20 people and injuring 75.

In 2001, a 14-man suicide squad attacked an air force base and the adjoining international airport. They destroyed many aircraft, crippling the country’s economy and reducing tourism.

In 2006, the award-winning author Nihal de Silva and seven Sri Lankan tourists were killed by an LTTE land mine in Wilpattu National Park.

In the same year, The LTTE bombed a bus carrying 140 civilians in the north east. The blast killed 68 civilians including 15 school children, and injured 78 others. It was caused by two claymore mines placed side by side on the bus by LTTE cadres, which sprayed the packed bus with millions of ball bearings upon manual detonation. Survivors, including school children, of the blast were shot as they ran away.

In the same year, a suicide bomber in a truck killed 103 sailors on buses going or returning from leave at a transit point and wounded 150 other sailors. Several civilians were killed. Two people were killed and 14 others wounded, mostly civilians who were passing by the site in an attempt on the life of defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

There are many more instances of LTTE cadres hacking to death unsuspecting villagers at home or at prayer, or on buses or trains (often using multiple bombs in several carriages) on the way to work or school.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_attacks_attributed_to_the_LTTE

The Military Solution

President Rajapaksa decided in 2006 that a negotiated settlement was impossible and began a military campaign against the Tigers.

By the early months of 2009, the LTTE was on the verge of certain defeat but  would not give up, perhaps hoping that other countries might save him. There was constant pressure on the government from the USA, UK, EU and Norway to call a cease-fire. The government resisted because the LTTE had a history of using cease-fires to regroup and re-arm and also to continue killing. The government argued that it was doing its best to get food and medicine to civilians in the north who were being held hostage by the LTTE.

The LTTE had always employed forcible recruitment, every family had to sacrifice a child to the cause of Eelam. This gained pace as defeat loomed. Children under twelve were recruited. Civilians who resisted were executed.
Civilians turned on the LTTE who attempted to forcibly recruit men and women in the Puthumathalan area. Several LTTE cadres were killed and many injured. This incident occurred when the LTTE attempted to forcibly recruit a young girl, despite her protests. According to civilians who escaped from the area, the LTTE had dragged the girl and torn her clothing until she was almost naked. This incident had incited her relatives and people in the vicinity who then attacked the LTTE cadres. At least six vehicles in which the group had come had been set on fire by the angry civilians. Later the people surrounded an LTTE political office in the area and set it on fire. In retaliation, a group of armed LTTE cadres came to the area and indiscriminately attacked unarmed civilians, killing and causing injuries to several of them in the presence of the humanitarian agencies working in the area.

In Outlook India Ashok Mehta, former GOC of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka wrote: “The LTTE’s principal handicap has been Prabakharan . Because of him, the Tigers missed several opportunities for a political settlement””from the devolution package to even better offers later from president Chandrika Kumaratunga and prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Chasing the chimera of Eelam,  became a liability.”

Robert Orris Blake and Human Rights

Assistant Secretary of State, Robert O Blake, recently visited Sri Lanka. Blake was previously US Ambassador in Colombo. In February 2007, he received minor injuries from a mortar blast while disembarking from a helicopter at a Sri Lankan air base in Batticaloa, where he was to attend a development meeting. The Tigers claimed they were not informed by the government that the ambassador was present and were only returning fire from the Sri Lankan Army.

Blake had been anxious for some time to visit Sri Lanka to lecture the government about the report to the UN General Secretary on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. That was before his government shot dead without trial a man who was not a US citizen in a nation that was not the USA.

Blake was asked at a press briefing whether his country’s battle against international terrorism was likely to be undermined by accountability issues on the grounds that Bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was shot. Blake’s six-foot seven frame swayed in the breeze somewhat. Although Pakistan comes within his area of responsibility, it was obvious that he had not been in on the plan to assassinate Bin Laden in that country.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (a South African Tamil who has long been a stern critic of Sri Lanka) and groups such as the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have raised such issues. Pillay has urged the White House to make public the “precise facts surrounding Osama’s killing to ensure the operation adhered to international law”.

A discomfited Blake dodged questions and hurried away after only a brief session. Blake said that he had been travelling around Sri Lanka so he wasn’t aware of specific allegations levelled against the US over the Osama killing. “Let me tell you, that Osama bin Laden was the leader of an armed group that was engaged in armed conflict against the government of United States. He was therefore a lawful target. We certainly stand by our actions”.

Was Prabakharan not engaged in armed conflict with the government of Sri Lanka? Was he not a lawful target?

Blake caused some alarm in Sri Lanka when he made a statement before the Senate subcommittee on the Middle East (West Asia) and South Asia. His address included a telling phrase. This is the first time he has gone on record to publicly state, “Positioned directly on the shipping routes that carry petroleum products and other trade from the Gulf to East Asia, Sri Lanka remains of strategic interest to the U.S.”

Once in Sri Lanka he tried to soft-pedal. ”In my official meetings today, I assured the Sri Lankan government that the U.S. is committed to a strong long-term partnership with Sri Lanka and that reports of our alleged support for ”˜regime change’ have no basis whatsoever. I expressed support for the government’s efforts to recover from its devastating civil war, and encouraged further steps towards reconciliation, and a peaceful, united, democratic Sri Lanka. I think the government has made some positive progress. It is very important that this progress be sustained. ”

Bin Laden has been hunted for ten years, Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded and occupied because Bin Laden has been held responsible for the death of 3,000 people on 9/11. Prabakharan was responsible for countless more deaths, but Sri Lanka is accused of war crimes in defeating his evil campaign. Since the death of Prabakharan two years ago there have been no terrorist incidents in Sri Lanka and most of the Tamil groups fighting for a separate state of Eelam are now working with the government.

We shall see whether the assassination of Bin Laden will end Islamic terrorism.

 

Dawn and Disillusion: the Bathetic Blair and Brown Era

I published this on Open Salon in the days of hope shortly after Obama’s first  presidential election victory.

blair1

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.”

William Wordsworth: The Prelude. Book xi.

I remember another election victory. It was another time, another country. I remember the new hope that many of us living in the United Kingdom felt when the Labour Party won the 1997 general election and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair became prime minister.

On the BBC’s election night programme Professor Anthony King described the result of the exit poll, which accurately predicted a Labour landslide, as being akin to “an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth”. Blair entered Downing Street on a wave of optimism and good will, on 2 May 1997.  He promised to restore trust in politics and breathe new life into Britain’s tired institutions.

blair2

May 2 1997 at the Imperial War Museum

 On the bright morning of 2 May 1997, I wandered down to the Imperial War Museum. A complete stranger, a very tall man conducting a poll for MORI embraced me, shouting “Isn’t it great”. I was as enthralled as he was. This was like a new dawn after so many years of Tory rule. I have never voted for any party but Labour in my entire life. My father had been a staunch Labour supporter for the whole of his too-short life. I voted for Labour in that 1997 election and felt that i had personally achieved something. Many of us were drunk with joy.

It was sobering experience to walk around the Imperial War Museum and to see the remembrance of so many lost lives. The reconstruction of a Great War trench was particularly sobering. My grandfather had fought in that war. I wonder if  my father’s experience in the Second World had helped to truncate his life so cruelly.

Eighteen Years of Tory Misrule

 The Conservative party had been in power since 1979, first under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and then under John Major. Thatcher’s radical approach had led to the death of manufacturing industry, which in turn helped her to annihilate the unions and destroy all vestiges of working class power. The north of England became a wasteland. There were record levels of unemployment, homelessness; there were beggars in the streets of every city and increased rates of suicide, particularly amongst young men.

Nationalised industries were dismantled and sold off at a loss with the taxpayer footing the bill. The health service, long the pride of the nation, was fragmented and subjected to mad concepts of ‘quasi markets’.

In 1981, there were riots all over the country, fuelled by racial and social discord. Later, The Poll Tax Riots were mass disturbances, arising out of opposition to the Community Charge (commonly known as the poll tax).

Whatever positive changes Thatcherism achieved, the social costs to the British population were severe. The poverty rate doubled. Britain’s childhood-poverty rate in 1997 was the highest in Europe.  Industrial production fell sharply and unemployment tripled during her premiership. When she resigned in 1990, 28% of children in Great Britain were considered to be below the poverty line, reaching a peak of 30% in 1994 during the Conservative government of John Major, who succeeded Thatcher.

The Major Years: a Nation Ill-at-Ease with Itself

Major abolished the poll tax but otherwise things got no better. Major’s slim majority proved to be unmanageable, particularly after the  UK’s exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism on 16 September 1992, Black Wednesday, when billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was wasted in a futile attempt to prop up the currency’s value.

In its dying years, the Conservative administration lost none of its arrogance, despite its ineffectuality. John Major is often described as mild-mannered and decent, if ineffectual. Tony Banks (a politician, not the member of Genesis) was noted as an MP for his irreverent wit. He had known Major when he they were both on Lambeth Council. Banks said of Major in 1994 that “He was a fairly competent chairman of Housing. Every time he gets up now I keep thinking, ‘What on earth is Councilor Major doing?’ I can’t believe he’s here and sometimes I think he can’t either.”

Major’s greatest crime was destroying the rail network.

Destroying the integrated network and selling it off to private companies caused immense difficulties. Nobody wanted it except Tory ideologues and those who stood to make a fat profit at the taxpayers’ expense. After a series of rail disasters with many fatalities, there was a growing consensus that maintenance work was not being done properly and the complex plan to split the railways into 25 different companies was a horrendous mistake. After the Paddington rail crash, in October 1999, a Guardian/ICM poll found that 73% of all voters would support renationalizing Railtrack. The megalomania of nice, decent, grey, boring John Major was killing taxpayers who had paid out their hard-earned money to make rich people richer when he sold of the nation’s railways for the sake of profit and political dogma.

The Conservative Secretary of State for Health, Kenneth Clarke, (he later made a bid for the party leadership but was hampered by the fact that he was in Vietnam peddling cigarettes to the third world on a retainer of 100,000 GBP a year from British American Tobacco) had set about dismantling and fragmenting the National Health Service in the same way that the railways had been smashed.

How naïve could we be?!

So on that day in May many of us were overjoyed that the scoundrels were out of office and a bright, shiny, clean, new team could put things right.

blairnoelG

During the Blair years Britain was less bleak than in the days of Thatcher. There was rising individual prosperity but it was all based on bubble of credit from unsustainably high house prices.

The Blair government introduced some social policies seen by the left of the Labour Party as progressive, such as the minimum wage and measures to reduce child poverty and money has been pumped into public services. The effort has been undermined by madcap experiments in neo-liberalism which have undermined health services, education and transport by the attempt to introduce quasi-markets. Prisons have been privatized and there are record numbers of people occupying them – how else to make a profit?

New Boss- Old Boss

Soon after taking office, the new administration announced that it would be continuing the economic policies of the outgoing administration in the interests of stability. One of Blair’s “triumphs” had been to abolish Clause IV of the party constitution. This dealt with nationalization of the commanding peaks of the economy. By getting rid of this central pillar of Old Labour principle, the party became New Labour. On attaining power there would be no attempt to re-nationalize privatised industries, like the railways or water, even though 73% of the population wanted that. New Labour brought further privatization by stealth. Blair and his finance minister, and later successor, Gordon Brown, pursued with great zeal the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), using private capital to fund public projects.

Private Finance Initiative

In practice this is a bad deal for taxpayers and involves a hidden privatisation of public services. The UK Accounting Standards Board has called PFI an “an off-balance-sheet fiddle” because the government can move the cost of public works out of the public sector borrowing requirement. PFI can only be implemented through an anti-competitive process which inevitably leads to corruption. The big corporations wouldn’t be interested if it were otherwise. For a small investment, companies can be sure of long-term profit guaranteed by the taxpayer.

The financial pressures of PFI directly caused 93 deaths at Maidstone and Stoke Mandeville hospitals. Clostridium difficile is spread by poor hygiene – basically patients were eating traces of other patients’ faeces. The official report said both hospitals were “preoccupied with finances”, instead of being preoccupied with faeces and were seriously impeded by the PFI. Nurse numbers were slashed and patients were constantly moved around; the combination of these two factors was a foolproof way of spreading infection.

Profits (as high as 58%) for the private companies comes from the budgets of the hospitals, so less is available for direct care. Beds reduced by 30% with the first wave and budgets for clinical staff reduced by 25%. Most National Health Trusts are in serious financial difficulty and many will become insolvent.

New Labour continued and extended ‘reform’ of the health service which had been one institution that united, whatever their grumbles, the entire nation in pride. Perry Anderson once remarked: “the very term ‘reform’ now means, virtually always, the opposite of what it denoted fifty years ago; not the creation but the contraction of welfare arrangements once prized by their recipients”.

Bribery and Corruption

 Much of the reason for the voters’ distaste for the Major administration was because of what became known as the “sleaze factor”. There was what seemed like an endless succession of sex scandals. It was later revealed that boring old Major himself had had a four-year affair with health minister Edwina Currie.

New Labour had profited from all this but soon became bemired in sleaze itself. Julian Glover wrote: “If the Tories gave birth to modern sleaze, we now know that New Labour educated it into adulthood.”

There was the “cash for honors” investigation. It was alleged that Lord Levy (formerly a pop music entrepreneur) was tasked with raising funds for the party and was offering knighthoods and peerages in return. Levy became known as Lord Cashpoint.

Blair himself was interviewed by police. He and the Labour party were not exonerated from acting illegally. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service was made solely on the basis of a lack of evidence and an assessment of the likelihood of a conviction. Some of the police officers involved in the enquiry claim there was political pressure applied to them and that some of the politicians interviewed were less than helpful.

In 1997, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was involved in a political controversy over the Labour Party’s policy on tobacco sponsorship. Labour had pledged to ban tobacco advertising. Health minister Tessa Jowell was said to be fiercely anti-tobacco but was forced to argue the case for exempting Formula One from the tobacco advertising restrictions. Ecclestone had donated a million pounds to the Labour Party. Blair apologized and the money was returned but it was later proved that he lied about the timing of decisions in this matter. Jowell herself was forced to resign when she displayed alarming levels of ignorance about large bribes her husband had received from Silvio Berlusconi.

The government stopped an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office which seemed to be leading to prosecutions of senior executives at British Aerospace over bribes to Saudi princes in relation to arms deals.

Blair’s Philosophy

Rick Lowry described John McCain as a conviction politician without any convictions. Blair was a career politician with no trace of socialist principles or ethics who joined a socialist party as a career move. His father had been a prospective Conservative candidate and his political leanings appeared to have rubbed off on the young Tony, who stood in a mock school election as the Conservative candidate.

Blair liked to portray himself as “a straight kind of guy” and was a committed Christian who eventually became a Catholic. He could have joined any political party. The historian, Tony Judt, wrote of him: “Tony Blair is a political tactician with a lucrative little sideline in made-to-measure moralising.” Judt also called Blair: “the garden gnome in England’s Garden of forgetting…the inauthentic leader of an inauthentic land.”

blairnewlab

Blairism incorporated most of the political and social tenets of Thatcherism. Peter Mandelson was often thought of as New Labour’s Prince of Darkness. It was his media savvy that helped to make the party electable. He famously declared, “We are all Thatcherites now”. The curtailing and large-scale dismantling of elements of the welfare state under Thatcher largely remained under New Labour and the privatization of state-owned enterprises was not reversed by any programme of nationalization.

Iraq and Afghanistan

In December 2006, John Major led calls for an independent inquiry into Tony Blair’s decision to join the USA in the invasion of Iraq. Blair’s reputation for honesty and integrity, already damaged by allegations of excessive “spin” because of his reliance on the dark arts of Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, was dealt a severe blow.

His defenders argue that he sincerely believed before the war that the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged WMDs was accurate; that the dossiers informing his decision were not dishonest in their presentation of the intelligence evidence. Nevertheless, Blair continues to be condemned internationally as a proven liar and a war criminal.

The second Lancet study published on in October 2006 estimated 654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5% of the population, through the end of June 2006.

I could never have imagined on that day in May at the Imperial War Museum that Blair could do this.

There has been a strong feeling in the British military that they are unappreciated. There have been stories of soldiers being advised not to wear their uniforms when they have been home on leave because some have been physically attacked.

There have been many complaints about inadequate equipment and inefficiency in the Iraq and Afghan theatres. In 2006, the household cavalry in Helmand were expected to operate in Scimitar light tanks without air-conditioning. Soldiers have been killed wearing inadequate protective gear. An SAS commander in Afghanistan recently  resigned blaming a lack of adequate resources for the deaths of four service personnel, including Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British female soldier to die in Afghanistan. They were killed on 17 June when their Snatch Land Rover struck a roadside bomb in Helmand Province earlier this year. In his resignation letter, he is understood to have accused ministers of “gross negligence” in allowing soldiers to go into battle without adequate resources.

Coroner Andrew Walker, criticizing a lack of military equipment at the inquest of Cpl Mark Wright, who died after the wrong helicopter was sent to rescue him from a minefield in Afghanistan, said, “Those responsible should hang their heads in shame”.

Many British soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An article marking the 25th anniversary of the Falklands campaign claimed that 300 veterans had since committed suicide: 50 more than died in the conflict itself. Far greater numbers can be expected as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain’s jails are overcrowded.  Nowhere in Western Europe jails more of its population than England and Wales, where about 147 people per 100,000 are in prison. A National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) study showed that one in 11 prisoners- 8,500 people—are former members of the armed forces: double the proportion just five years ago. The vast majority are guilty of drink or drug-related offences.

A Man of Peace

That decent Christian gentleman Blair is now trying to bring peace to the Middle East after sending British troops to Iraq and Afghanistan against the wishes of most of the British people. Lord Levy, who has been described as “a leading international Zionist”, has praised Blair for his “solid and committed support of the State of Israel”. In 2004, Blair was heavily criticized by 50 former diplomats, including ambassadors to Baghdad and Tel Aviv for his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq war.

Hope Springs Eternal

It is ironic that Gordon Brown was so desperate to get Blair’s job and when he did it all turned to shit in his hands. His popularity ratings plummeted to the lowest of any prime minister. He was only saved by the financial crisis. New Nobel laureate Paul Krugman praised him. His stock soared. How did he achieve this? He achieved it by abandoning the policies he had always pursued and turned to nationalization. The banks in their greed had caused the crisis. After screaming for de-regulation for so long they were now coming to the government to be bailed out. Gordon Brown in effect nationalised the British banking system – with taxpayers’ money of course.

Celebrate a new dawn but watch out. The nights draw in quickly.

Reconciliation in Honduras

Malign Influence of US in Latin America.

Honduras, like many another Latin American nation, has suffered from its proximity to its powerful northern neighbour. The US commitment to capitalism and opposition to communism has meant that it has been prepared to support the use of terror and torture in Latin America.  In 2012, however, perhaps the greatest danger to the citizens of Honduras arises from the drug-taking habits of US citizens.

Ousting of Manuel Zelaya

The Honduran Truth and Reconciliation commission was set up to investigate the  constitutional crisis in 2009 which culminated in the ousting of democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. However, the troubles of this benighted nation go back much further than 2009.

Zelaya was popular in some quarters and his  economic and social policies earned him praise from labour unions and civil society groups. He  planned to convert the Soto Cano Air Base, where one of the three US Southern Command Task forces is based, into a civilian airport. His attempts to forge alliances with the leftish administrations of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, caused anxiety in some US circles.

There was widespread international condemnation of the “coup”. All Latin American nations (with the exception of Honduras itself), as well as the US, United Nations, and others, publicly condemned Zelaya’s ousting. Every country in the region, except the US, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country. President Obama said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras.” A good detailed description of the events can be found at

http://www.optimumonline.ca/article.phtml?e=mesokurj&id=402&page=10

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in May 2010 to investigate the crisis of 2009.  The Commission concluded that Zelaya’s  removal from office was a coup but also criticised Zelaya. It said the move was illegal and not a constitutional succession as some of Zelaya’s opponents said. The Commission identified Zelaya’s decision to press ahead with a referendum on constitutional change as “a point of no return”. Zelaya’s opponents  argued that the referendum was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president. Zelaya  repeatedly denied this. The report also said that 20 people were killed in the repression which followed the coup.

Michael Kergin a retired Canadian career diplomat,  was a member of the Honduran TRC. He wrote: “There are indeed factors which might explain, but do not excuse, the excessive use of force during this period: a traditional culture of violence in Honduras, decentralized control over a widely and thinly dispersed police force; and a lack of professional training at the operational level. The small country was also suffering collective paranoia out of its isolation from the international community, exacerbated by its former president testing its borders with support from South American heavy hitters such as Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina.”

The Power of Fruit

The USA has bullied  Honduran governments  since the late 19th century mainly to support the dominance of US companies, like the United Fruit Company, who built an enclave economy in the north controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to national economic growth, but attracted thousands of workers from other parts of the country. The fruit companies also encouraged immigration of workers from Jamaica and Belize thus introducing  an African descended, English speaking and largely Protestant population into the country, fuelling ethnic tensions.

Defending Freedom against Communism

Honduras did not suffer as horrific a conflict as neighbouring El Salvador  but the Honduran army  quietly waged a campaign against  communist  militias like the  Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, who employed kidnappings and bombings in their fight against the government.  The Cinchoneros claimed to represent the country’s poor and opposed Honduras’ right-wing governments, though their revolutionary agenda was never a serious threat. However, their links with other Latin American guerrilla groups caused the US anxiety.

During the early 1980s, the US maintained a military presence in Honduras in order to support the Nicaraguan contras. There was  a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units, most notably Battalion 316. Battalion 601 had collaborated in assassinations with the Chilean DINA. They also collaborated with the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance. At least 19 Battalion 316 members were graduates of the US School of the Americas. Training was also  provided in Pinochet’s Chile.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation was moved along in May 2011 when a court decided to drop the last of the charges, these relating to corruption, that were levelled against Zelaya following his removal. Zelaya returned to Honduras in May 2011 and told a roaring crowd: “The problem of poverty, of corruption … will not be solved with violence, but through more democracy, greater citizen participation and better transparency.”

Current President Porfirio Lobo was democratically elected, but the legality of his position is compromised by the ousting of Zelaya. Under President Lobo, Zelaya returned to a country that has enacted many of the changes he advocated before his removal, including a change in the procedures for amending the constitution. In a recent demonstration of Honduran progress, Zelaya spoke to a National Popular Resistance Front rally and encouraged peaceful change.

Crime, Drugs  and Human Rights

According to Guatemala’s planning minister, Fernando Carrera: “Honduras is today one of the most violent countries in the world, and the principal thoroughfare for drugs on their way from the producing countries in the south to the consuming countries in the north.” Drug cartels bribe security forces and judges to look the other way. Honduran security chief Oscar Álvarez resigned because he said he lacked the resources to stem police corruption.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world at 82 homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Some, such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, suggest the only answer is to stop fighting drug trafficking and legalize it.

Despite growing support for de-criminalisation in the US, the US is standing firm against it. Many Latin American governments are calling legalisation to ease the problems they have because of the drug culture of US citizens.

Obama Calls for more Human Rights

In an April 26 conversation with President Lobo, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concern about human rights in Honduras. A number of journalists and civic activists have been killed.  President Lobo has responded by naming a special human rights advisor to ensure that these killings and other acts of intimidation are investigated. He welcomed a team from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to visit Honduras
Current  news is that Obama decided to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants no older than 30 with high school degrees and no criminal history a chance to stay and work in the US. The president has said that as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants living in the U.S. could benefit from the change. However, this was too late for Marlon Roberto Cortes who is back in Tegucigalpa. Cortes handcuffed and hauled to a holding centre in Boston and deported to Honduras  in March without being able to say goodbye to his family.

“The country in which I could have had the chance to get ahead is the United States,” Cortes said. “I did everything I had to do to get that and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let me … I feel more American than Honduran.”

Trade Imbalance, Sweat Shops and Export of Workers

In 2003, Honduras sent around 370 soldiers to Iraq to support the US invasion. This was largely an attempt to improve foreign relations with the US over the issue of the many thousands of Hondurans working in the US . The money these migrants send back to their families in Honduras is a crucial factor in the Honduran economy.
The relationship between the US and Latin America is a complex and unequal one. The USA is Honduras’s chief trading partner, with two-way trade in goods increasing to over $7 billion in 2006. Trade is dominated by the maquila industry, which imports yarn and textiles from the US and exports finished clothing. Two-thirds of the foreign direct investment comes from the US.

Reconciliation and the Future

According to Michael Kergin: “Lack of confidence in the instruments of government to effect reform remains widespread throughout the country. Hondurans often look to the international community to address domestic problems … Audiences were not impressed with the commissioners’ observation that change imposed from outside and without the support of the Hondurans themselves and their institutions of government would not endure or prosper.”

Kergin believes: “The chances of avoiding the mistakes of the past are improved when Hondurans discuss ways of strengthening their institutions of government. By looking to the future, rather than by exhuming past divisions, Hondurans are more likely to reach some form of lasting accommodation. To the extent that the Honduran Commission has facilitated a dialogue of reconciliation, its work will have been worthwhile.”
However, while President Lobo  has some  popular support, there is a general view that he will be unable to prevail against entrenched interests. There is little  confidence that legislators will be prepared to undertake the necessary institutional reforms or liberate the political party structure from the preponderant influence of the economic oligarchs.

Liberation of Libya

 

 

This article appeared in the December 4 edition of the Sri Lankan  newspaper The Nation.

 

 

 

How is  that liberation of Libya thing working out?

Now, I am well aware that Muammar Qaddafi may have had a few little faults. I have no wish to downplay  his  darker side. I have written about this in some detail at:

http://pcolman.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/the-milo-minderbinder-school-of-foreign-polict/

He armed many terrorist groups and bankrolled the genocidal leader of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam, trained Charles Taylor of Liberia, gave sanctuary to Idi Amin.

The plus side was that Libya’s oil revenues were distributed very widely, creating  a welfare state from which virtually all Libyans benefited, with  high standards of healthcare, high rates of schooling for girls as well as boys, a literacy rate of 88% per cent, more opportunities for women than in other Arab countries and the highest per capita income in Africa.

How  does Colonel Gadfly compare to other monsters around the world? Saddam Hussein was hanged; Osama Bin Laden was shot; many other bad people have been assassinated. What was his kill rate compared to GW Bush, Tony Blair and Barack Obama?

Would he have fallen if he had not given up his nuclear weapons? Hugh Roberts, writing in the London Review of Books, said:

“Numerous states in Africa and Asia and no doubt Latin America as well (Cuba and Venezuela spring to mind) may wish to consider why the Jamahiriyya, despite mending its fences with Washington and London in 2003-4 and dealing reasonably with Paris and Rome, should have proved so vulnerable to their sudden hostility. And the Libyan war should also prompt us to examine what the actions of the Western powers in relation to Africa and Asia, and the Arab world in particular, are doing to democratic principles and the idea of the rule of law.”

Western intervention was justified by the news that , on 21 February, the regime was using its air force to slaughter peaceful demonstrators in Tripoli and other cities. The main purveyor of this story was al-Jazeera, but the story was quickly taken up by Sky, CNN, the BBC, and ITN. At this point, according to Human Rights Watch,  the total death toll since 15 February was 233. The total death toll in Tunisia was 300 and in Egypt at least 846. According to Roberts, the “‘genocide’ claim was histrionic rubbish which none of the organisations with an interest in the use of the term was moved to challenge”.

Sound familiar?

Roberts again: “The slanted coverage in the British media in particular, notably the insistence that the regime was faced only by peaceful demonstrators when, in addition to ordinary Libyans trying to make their voices heard non-violently, it was facing politically motivated as well as random violence (e.g. the lynching of 50 alleged mercenaries in al-Baida on 19 February), was consistent with the destabilisation theory. And on the evidence I have since been able to collect, I am inclined to think that destabilisation is exactly what was happening.”

“It is tendentious and dishonest to say simply that Qaddafi was ‘killing his own people’; he was killing those of his people who were rebelling. He was doing in this respect what every government in history has done when faced with a rebellion. We are all free to prefer the rebels to the government in any given case. But the relative merits of the two sides aren’t the issue in such situations: the issue is the right of a state to defend itself against violent subversion. That right, once taken for granted as the corollary of sovereignty, is now compromised.”

A  report has been prepared for the attention of  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Yes, another one. This one apparently says there have been war crimes in Libya. Yes – Libya. Not Sri Lanka.

Who has been committing the crimes? The freedom fighters supported by NATO seem to have been doing their share.

According to the UN report, thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias, that is the victors supported by NATO,  in Libya. The Independent reports that many of the prisoners are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment while being held in private jails outside the control of the country’s new government. A UN resolution was secured in March in order to protect civilians from merciless suppression  by the Qaddafi regime. Political prisoners  held by the Qaddafi regime have been released, but their places have been taken by up to 7,000 new “enemies of the new state” under the control of revolutionary brigades, “with no access to due process in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary”.

The report states that  both sides committed war crimes in the bitter battle for Colonel Qaddafi ‘s hometown, Sirte. Armed militias continue to  control many towns settling  internecine feuds through gun battles.

The city of Tawerga, whose residents were mainly black, was largely destroyed by rebel fighters from neighbouring Misrata. A number of black Africans were lynched following claims, often false, that they were hired guns for the Qaddafi regime. “Cases have been reported of individuals being targeted because of the colour of their skin.” Blacks have been targeted  for torture and  “ revenge killings, or taken by armed men from their homes, checkpoints and hospitals, and some allegedly later abused or executed in detention”.

The report acknowledges the brutality of the outgoing regime. Ban Ki-Moon said: “I was deeply shocked by my visit to an agricultural warehouse in the Khallital-Ferjan neighbourhood of Tripoli where elements of the Qaddafi regime had detained civilians in inhuman conditions, had subjected some to torture and had massacred as many as they could and burned their bodies”.

Quadaffi  strongly opposed the installation of the US military’s ‘Africom’ on the soil of any African country. He funded a wide range of development projects in sub-Saharan countries. Libya is rich not only in oil. Quadaffi  planned to exploit the immense water reserves under Libya’s Sahara and to transform the economic prospects of the Sahel countries. Western , particularly French, water companies are now salivating at the prospects of profit.

Obama Tortured by British Shock!

The London Times reported a while ago that  Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. He worked as an army cook but became involved in the independence movement aimed at overthrowing colonial rule.

“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down,”

Onyango served with the British Army in Burma during the Second World War. Although a member of the Luo tribe from western Kenya, he sympathized with the Kikuyu Central Association, which evolved into the Mau Mau. Mrs Onyango said that her husband had supplied information to the insurgents. “His job as cook to a British army officer made him a useful informer for the secret oathing movement.”

Mr Onyango was probably tried in a magistrates’ court on charges of political sedition or membership of a banned organization, but the records do not survive because such documentation was routinely destroyed in British colonies after six years.

British involvement in Kenya began late in the 19th century when at the Berlin Conference of 1885, European nations carved up the African continent. East and southern Africa fell under the British sphere of influence. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter to administer East Africa until, in 1895 the British government established a Protectorate.

Kenyan society was clearly divided along racial lines during colonial rule. White Europeans dominated politics, economics and were at the top of the social scale. Asians occupied the middle levels of society. They were mainly involved in small-scale agriculture and industry, retail, trade, skilled and semi-skilled labour and generally worked in the middle level of the civil service. Africans, who formed the majority of the population, were mostly poor farmers and had very little say in how Kenya was run.

The occupation of land, particularly in the Kikuyu areas of the cool central highlands, by European settlers had long been a source of bitter resentment. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land.

Settler farming was uneconomic, supported by government subsidies for most of the colonial period, whereas early Kikuyu cash-crop farming was efficient and undercut settler prices. But Africans were soon banned from growing tea, coffee, and sisal, and a minimum price set for maize removed their advantage. Some Kikuyu were allowed to occupy land as tenant farmers with no legal rights on white settlers’ farms, which had been their homes, in exchange for their labour. The real income of these Kikuyu fell by about 40% during the period 1936 to 1946 and fell even more sharply after that. The settlers demanded ever more labor and further restricted access to land in an attempt to turn the tenant farmers into laborers. Overstocking, soil erosion, and hunger spread. “Improvements”, like the digging of terraces by female forced labour, were bitterly resented.

Thousands migrated to Nairobi whose population doubled between 1938 and 1952. By 1953, almost half of all Kikuyu had no land claims at all. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation.

After World War II, there was an increase in the number of white settlers in Kenya. Most were demobilised British officers who hoped to benefit from the comfortable lifestyle that was available to them and their families. Black Africans who had served with British forces during the Second World War returned home to Kenya with hopes for a better life. I have met the spoilt offspring of some of these creatures.

There was a civil war among the Kikuyu because some Kikuyu managed to retain their land and forged strong ties with the British. Divide and rule.

The Mau Mau were able to be portrayed as savages by the British because of lurid tales of oaths which included promises to kill, dismember and burn settlers and rituals which included animal sacrifice or the ingestion of blood. There were rumors of cannibalism, congress with goats, orgies, ritual places decorated with intestines and goat eyes.

A State of Emergency was declared in October 1952. Troops arrested nearly 100 Kenyan leaders, including future president Jomo Kenyatta. In the first 25 days of Operation Jock Scott, 8,000 people were arrested. The British fielded 55,000 troops in total over the course of the conflict, although the total number did not exceed more than 10,000 at any one time. The majority of the security effort was borne by the Kenya Police and the Tribal Police/Home Guard. Over the course of the conflict, some soldiers either could not or would not differentiate between Mau Mau and non-combatants, and reportedly shot innocent Kenyans. Many soldiers were reported to have collected severed rebel hands for an unofficial five-shilling bounty,

The small numbers of British troops, a high degree of popular support for the rebels, and the low quality of colonial intelligence gave the Mau Mau the upper hand for the first half of 1953. Over 1800 loyalist Kikuyu (Christians, landowners, government loyalists and other Mau Mau opponents) were killed. The Mau Mau mainly attacked at night, emerging from the forests. They attacked isolated farms, but occasionally also households in suburbs of Nairobi. Only the lack of firearms prevented the rebels from inflicting severe casualties on the police and European community.

In 1954, Nairobi was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Africans and arrested 17,000 on suspicion of complicity, including many people who  were later revealed to be innocent. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned and thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu reserves in the highlands west of Mount Kenya. Entire rebel leadership structures, including the Council for Freedom, were swept away to detention camps and the most important source of supplies and recruits for the resistance evaporated. The authorities repeated the exercise in other areas so that by the end of 1954 there were 77,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. About 100,000 Kikuyu squatters were deported back to the reserves.

One British colonial officer described the labour camps thus: “Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging – all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” Cholera swept through the camps. Official medical reports were ignored, and the British lied about conditions in the camps.

Atrocities were committed on both sides. Mau Mau militants were guilty of human rights violations, and many of the murders of which they were guilty were brutal in the extreme. More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by Mau, and hundreds more disappeared, their bodies never found.

Kenya’s whites saw the killings by the Mau Mau as irrefutable proof of African barbarism, but Africans were engaging in practices perfected in Europe. Galician serfs hacked their Polish landlords to pieces in 1846; Spanish peasants used the scythe and the axe on latifundista families in the civil war; Ukrainian peasants did the same or worse to their better-off neighbors between 1941 and 1944.

In January, 1953, Mau Mau murdered a white couple and their six-year-old son on their farm with knives. Many settlers sacked all their Kikuyu servants. Europeans, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases built full-scale forts on their farms.

In March 1953, 1,000 rebels attacked a loyalist village, where 170 non-combatants were hacked or burnt to death. Most of them were the wives and children of Kikuyu Home Guards serving elsewhere. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other Mau Mau implicated in the massacre were brought to trial and hanged.

Only 32 British civilians were killed by Mau Mau militants. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British was about 20,000, and large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation have documented about 6,000 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings and rapes.

A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative Mau Mau suspects during an interrogation, explained that:

“I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [Mau Mau] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was ‘bury them and see the wall is cleared up.’”

Many settlers took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects, running their own screening teams and assisting British security forces during interrogation. Many white settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Mrs. Katharine Warren-Gash—who liked to think of herself as a “white Kikuyu,” ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There they were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labour, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many women gave birth at Kamiti, but the infant death rate was overwhelming. The women buried their babies in bundles of six at a time. Mrs. Warren-Gash brought the archbishop of Mombasa to Kamiti, where he conducted a mass oath-cleansing ceremony in person.

Neil Ascherson, in the New York Review of Books, described an encounter he had in Cyprus in the late 1950s. “Pordy Laneford had come from Kenya. He sat on his hotel bed, a chinless wonder with watery blue eyes and a small moustache, and chatted about himself. He was even younger than I was. Pordy had been named after a Devonshire trout stream which ran past his family home, a bankrupt farm (as he described it) run by a military father who collected medals and taught his children about the Empire. Pordy also took up medal-collecting and Empire. He signed up with the Rhodesian police. But soon, to his surprise, he was discharged ignominiously for torturing an African suspect. He looked around for ‘something which was good fun and sort of helped to hold the Empire up.’ In Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion had begun, so Pordy joined the infamous Kenya Police Reserve, the paramilitary force recruited mostly from white settlers. He explained to me how important it was to kill captured suspects at once, without waiting for the ‘red tape’ of trials and witness statements. ‘Killing prisoners? Well, it’s not really the same thing, is it? I mean, I’d feel an awful shit if I thought I’d been killing prisoners.’”

“I had met other Pordys before, in different parts of the Empire. It was that schoolboy innocence which made them so terribly dangerous, because it was an incurable condition. They were worse, in many ways, than those compulsive sadists who emerge whenever licensed savagery is in prospect. For Pordys, torture was just a lark, a naughty sport like shooting pheasants out of season. Addicts are treatable. Fun-lovers will always hanker for more fun.”

Ascherson was reviewing books by Caroline Elkins and David Anderson.

Caroline Elkins, Associate Professor of History at Harvard has written a book on the period, Imperial Reckoning: the untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, which won a Pulitzer Prize and a lot of attention.

According to her calculations, up to 320,000 Kikuyu—nearly a third of the population—may have passed through the more than 50 camps, a figure which does not include the people, mostly women and children, held behind barbed wire in the fortified resettlement villages.

She also attempts to put a figure to the total loss of Kikuyu lives, the born and the unborn. She projects population growth from the 1948 census total, compares the result with the 1962 census figure, and finds a gap between them of over 136,000—at the very lowest estimate of growth rates. In her introduction, Elkins declares: “I now believe there was in late colonial Kenya a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead.”

Lawrence James, who has written extensively on the British Empire, criticized Elkins’s book as being one-sided. James in turn was criticized for being too kind to the British. A number of historians have questioned her methodology and asserted that her figures are grossly exaggerated.

Demographer John Blacker writing in African Affairs demonstrated in detail that Elkins’ estimates of casualties were grossly over-estimated.

In the Journal of African History, Kenyan historian, Bethwell Ogot, wrote that the Mau Mau:“Contrary to African customs and values, assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practiced included the following: decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man’s inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practicing it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides, although Elkins sees no atrocities on the part of Mau Mau”.

David Anderson went into the surviving trial archives of Emergency Kenya. He examines the grounds on which at least 1,090 Africans were sent to the gallows within a few years—a total without parallel in the late British Empire. He then uses the evidence to reconstruct in detail the story of the Mau Mau rebellion, with its intricate background and its terrible consequences.

Caroline Elkins did lengthy archival research in Kenya and London but also uses oral testimony, which can be unreliable. Nevertheless, the brutality revealed in her interviews is in all too many cases corroborated by witnesses who could not have cooked up the stories in collaboration. Chroniclers of King Leopold’s “Congo Free State,” for example, have always lamented that the firsthand witnesses to its atrocities were all European or American.  Nobody let the Congolese speak for themselves.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan, history. On March 3, 1959, a hundred detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. A force of five hundred riot police had already been assembled. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured. In spite of a frantic cover-up campaign, Britain’s domination of Kenya was fatally damaged.

Anderson writes: “What is astonishing about Kenya’s dirty war is not that it remained secret at the time but that it was so well known and so thoroughly documented.”

Ascherson comments: “The British need to believe that their Empire was run and eventually dismantled with restraint and humanity—as opposed to the disgusting brutality of the French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, and German colonial empires. Punctures in that belief have to be mended.”

“The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

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