Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Wednesday ? - “Failed state”

A quick introduction into the Wednesday ?

I propose using the Wednesday ? on a trial basis over the next few weeks. The purpose of it, unlike Questioning The Headlines, is to look at specific words and/or phrases that are used, mainly by those in power, as a means of short-cutting any criticism or independent thought.

I want to highlight these words and phrases, and promote public debate. This is where you come in. It would be fantastic if you could post your own thoughts, so that we can de-construct some of the (inherent?) assumptions contained within them.

“Failed state”

Last week's meeting on Somalia looked at the options available to the international community, in their endeavours to help the people of this conflict-ridden nation. Somalia has been described as the “world's most failed state”.

The Fund For Peace (FFP) produces an annual index that ranks states in terms of their “failures”. FFP do not provide a definition of what constitutes a “failed state”, but list 12 indicators that they believe make up state failure.

A “failed state” is thought of one that has lost control of their geo-political sphere, unable to provide its citizens with the security (welfare, and law and order) that they need nationally and internationally.

Assumptions of the “failed state”

A “failed state” does not necessarily imply that it was once successful. The FFP index demonstrates that failure is relative to other states. The assumption here is that a state, much like an individual, is responsible for its plight. Is it?

Little is made of any outside influence that may have contributed to a state's ability to provide for its citizens. Outside influences may be other nation states meddling in the socio-political dynamic, or multi-national corporations using their economic resources to profit from the political status quo.

According to the FFP index, 14/20 of the most failing states are African. Many are former colonies, whose borders were (re)-drawn prior to independence by their former masters, who failed to take into adequate account the ethnic and tribal fissures that were already present. Consequently, localism has to rule in some areas, as the state can not.

Failed States Index 2005-2010
“Failed state”?

Whilst the FFP index ranks 177 countries in terms of their relative failures, at what point, and who decides, which nation is officially a failed state? For instance, North Korea is ranked as the 22nd most “failed state”. Given that North Korea requires food aid to feed to chronically under-nourished, is it a “failed state”?

Geo-politically linked to Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are rated as being more of a “failed state” than North Korea. Equally they are seen as not having failed enough, as both nations contribute to the Amisom forces fighting to oust al-Shabab from Somalia.

I am not disputing the fact that many states, like Somalia, need help. I commend the FFP's reasons for creating this list, but it is unclear as to who chose the factors that influence “failed states”, and how, or why, these particular factors were chosen? Were others available but not used?

For example, the UK government produced its integration strategy last week deferring power, and control, to 'local' experts as a means of strengthening law and order amongst the people it considered “troublesome”. Does this move away from state control to localism indicate that the UK state is moving closer to “failing”?

Around the same time, The Children's Society reported that asylum-seeking and migrant children are left homeless, hungry and destitute. The UK has a duty to protect these children regardless of their immigration status. Is African displacement and famine that far removed from British homelessness and hunger?

When a state does nothing to protect the most vulnerable residing within its borders, despite having the framework and capacity in place to help, is this not a key indicator of state failure? If not, why not? Because that for me is an essence of a “failed state”.

Over to you.

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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Wednesday ? - British values of tolerance

A quick introduction into the Wednesday ?

I propose using the Wednesday ? on a trial basis over the next few weeks. The purpose of it, unlike Questioning The Headlines (which I will do again shortly), is to look at specific words and/or phrases that are used, mainly by those in power, as a means of short-cutting any criticism or independent thought.

I want to highlight these words and phrases, and promote public debate. This is where you come in. It would be fantastic if you could post your own thoughts to add to the discourse. By doing so, hopefully, we can build on a cultural understanding of these terms, and de-construct some of the (inherent?) assumptions contained within them.

British values of tolerance”

The Telegraph reported yesterday that the coalition government would be publishing their new integration strategy for immigrants coming to make the UK their home. The article continued:
The integration strategy will state: “We believe in certain values and will actively promote them: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; democracy and the rule of law. Long-standing British values of tolerance are the bedrock of our society. We will champion a united British identity, across class, colour and creed.”
I could have added the term “long-standing”, but this will be discussed as part of my critique. Equally, I could have covered “British values” as a stand-alone subject, but I want to keep this post shorter than my other analyses, and I would like you to stay awake.

Assumptions of the “British values of tolerance”

In terms of what is being promoted, I would hazard a guess that this phrase is being used to summon up that fuzzy feeling of “being proud to be British”; we are a civilised people, who have welcomed peoples of different race, creed, and religion to the UK. It assumes that we do not just “put up with” people from different backgrounds, but that we were the first nation to promote a “tolerance” that advocates equal rights.

The idea that it is traditionally British, embeds these values with being white, middle/upper class, able-bodied, and more than likely, male.

The world in 1897 - British possessions coloured red
British values of tolerance”?

Beyond the rampant theft of resources in Africa and Asia as the British Empire extended its power, another part of its expansion was evangelical, which saw us trying to “civilise” other nations. This was not a tolerance, this was an imposition of our behaviour onto those who lived in different parts of the world.

Since the turn of the 20th Century, whilst the British have allowed peoples from other cultures to settle in the UK, it has come with ever increasing legislation and consternation.

The Aliens Act of 1905 was the first act to introduce immigration controls for the UK; it was designed to stop an increasing number of Jewish immigrants entering the UK. Ever since, the British have legislated for other people to join them as a means to fill gaps in the labour market (British Nationalist Act 1948), and then have passed acts to stop them entering the UK (Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962) as a result of a public backlash.

Racially motivated riots over the last 60 years or so do not indicate that we live/have lived in a society that has promoted tolerance in the way that the phrase indicates. Clearly, we welcome people into the UK when it fulfils British economic needs, but that we “put up” with them living here. The notion that this British value of tolerance is “long-standing” is faulty.

Although the term implies an equality of residential rights in the UK, it rests on the idea that immigrants are/were “lucky” to have come here. It does not take into account whether people were well-educated in their country of birth, nor that they took menial work and wage in the UK, let alone whether they have been driven out of their homes because of war. Including those that Britain engages in.

There is also a denial of other nation's values of tolerance in this term. Societies around parts of Asia and Africa regularly welcome foreigners, and strangers, into their homes, and treat them as family members or long-standing friends. Why is their value of tolerance supposedly not as good as ours?

Supposedly, this integration strategy also promotes ideas of tolerance to hate groups in the UK. My fear is that this strategy only promotes the kind of toleration discussed above, and that we are pandering to an outdated idea.

After a century of official multi-cultural living in the UK, it would be interesting to know what today's “British values of tolerance” mean now. Over to you.

Friday, 17 February 2012

London 2012: BP - sustainable partner?

Deepwater Horizon drilling unit on fire
Further to my posts on London 2012, in particular this one about Locog's choice of sustainability partners, I am pleased to see that this open letter, by the the UK Tar Sands Network, has received national media coverage in today's GuardianBlinkered Justice is happy to have played some small role in helping bring this issue to a wider audience. 

If you wish to get involved in this campaign, please contact the UK Tar Sands Network at info@no-tar-sands.org. 

Free music download: police and thieves – the police

Robert Peel

Please see the post below for further background.

The Independent adds that SOCA's notice on the closed RnBXclusive.com also stated:
"Soca has the capability to monitor and investigate you and can inform your internet service provider of these infringements. You may be liable for prosecution and the fact that you have received this message does not preclude you from prosecution”.
The message is clear; individuals will be prosecuted even if you happen upon the website by accident. Will you? SOCA obviously see themselves as the guardian of online copyright infringement. Are they?

Although the Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010 that came into force in June 2010, allows for the criminalisation of individuals who consistently download/share files illegally (paragraph 42), the onus initially falls on ISPs to curb those who regularly fall foul of the Act.

To set this in context, the DEA was rushed through parliament just before the UK national elections in 2010. Critics point to the role of Lord Mandelson in pushing through the DEA without sufficient scrutiny, after the music industry lobbied him; there is evidence that the British Phonographic Industry drafted part of the DEA. Although this part has since been dropped, it reveals the extent to which commercial interests can influence law and order.

One particular bone of contention for ISPs is the aspect of 'technical measures'. ISPs may be called on to restrict access of the internet, or even possibly remove access all together, from those customers who regularly transgress. Ofcom, who oversee the DEA, can take action against ISPs who fail to report these acts. Two of the largest ISPs, BT and TalkTalk, have appealed against the DEA.

A smaller broadband provider, aaisp.net, have provided an analysis of the DEA from their perspective here. They highlight the seemingly incompatible roles that they have to play.

Copyright (c) Liccia
At the same time as trying to grow their business and retain customers, they have to report on these same customers, resulting in a loss of trust and the likely loss of this custom to alternative ISPs. When customers transfer to a new ISPs, the history of the notices levied against the customers disappear, meaning that the copyright holder has to start again with any action. Nobody wins.

In fact, as TalkTalk point out in their Statement of Facts and Grounds, there are any number of ways that individuals can download music freely and, therefore, get round the DEA.

Whilst this document is obviously specific to TalkTalk, and their particular grievances, it highlights a number of concerns with the DEA that other less powerful organisations may not have had the finances to shed light on. For those interested, I would refer you to paragraphs 199-212, and the concerns raised therein.

Given that many features of public life are now dealt with on the internet only, including some government services, the restriction/removal of internet access seems a punitive measure. A denial of the right to participate as a full citizen of the UK is only going to further marginalise and exclude those who have less ability to participate as citizens in the first place.

A report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) also found that there was an imbalance between copyright enforcement and innovation. The report illustrates how the music industry might help consumers find the products that they are looking for legally, at a reasonable price, and suggest that the music industry acknowledge that file-sharing is not the only reason for the relative decline in CDs, vinyl etc.

Its authors suggest:
The music industry and artists should innovate and actively reconnect with their sharing fans rather than treat them as criminals...Alternative sources of income generation for artists should be considered instead of actively monitoring the online behaviour of UK citizens.” (Bert Cammaerts) 
the DEA has given too much consideration to the interests of copyright holders, while ignoring other stakeholders such as users, ISPs, and new players in the creative industry...” (Bingchun Meng)
The clumsy use of SOCA as a Big Brother-type sentinel guarding the copyright 'safe' also demonstrates how far(?) states have moved towards finding ways of policing the internet.

Nationally, the UK still relies heavily on the authoritarian, Peelian force, albeit online, to deter, and warn its public of future, punitive sanctions. However, the internet is global. Any tech-savvy individual could re-route their IP address, or anonymise it, to download free materials, rendering geo-spatial boundaries meaningless, and the forces within them powerless.

Just as the LSE calls for innovation from the music industry to combat the alleged impact of file-sharing, perhaps it is time for the law and order industry to look afresh at regulating cybercrime.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Free music downloads: police and thieves - the thieves

Nipper hears His Masters Voice (c) NewYork1956
Using the term 'free music download' on www.google.co.uk, this is what my search result revealed.

On the first page of results, amongst the odd service that I am aware of, such as Spotify and we7, were a host of others including mp3raid, WuZAM and beemp3. In fact, the latter named entities ranked higher than the former services. Why?

I am writing this post with reference to the news that the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) closed down a music download website, RnBXclusive.com, on Tuesday. A man has been arrested, and bailed, on fraud charges. This follows the recent high profile arrest of Kim DotCom, who ran the music sharing website Megaupload.

SOCA had posted a message up on the defunct website declaring:
"As a result of illegal downloads, young, emerging artists may have had their careers damaged. If you have illegally downloaded music, you will have damaged the future of the music industry."
Who are the “young, emerging artists” who have had their careers damaged? Have they already signed a record deal? Is it with a major or independent label? Are they unsigned? Without them, is there no “future of the music industry”? Do SOCA know something that the music industry do not, because the music industry is unsure what the future holds.

Beyond these words, the assumption is that the “future of the music industry” will look much the same as it does now. Moreover, the statement presumes that illegal downloading, or more to the point, the availability of free musical content online is a bad thing. Is it?

Lady Gaga (c) pink_daisy
There is a coalition of artists who believe that the use of free music can be a means to building an audience. The likes of Lady Gaga gave away free music as part of her business model.

That does not mean that artists are happy at their works/copyright being abused, but equally, they are coming to terms with illegal downloading and file-sharing. A music industry think tank advocates artists giving their albums away for free, and discusses how artists might profit from it whilst simultaneously defeating the services that provide free downloads of their material.

Either way, artists appear not to want to criminalise those who download their material for free. From well-known artists in the UK, to smaller, independent artists in the U.S.A., they see state regulation of the internet as a bad thing for artists.

Recording artists have long been dealt a raw deal. After years of record companies offering a pittance to their artists for their work, the internet appeared to offer salvation and a chance to control their destinies.

However, recording artists receive an even smaller portion of the pie when signing up with the new digital record companies of today. The likes of Amazon, iTunes, Last.fm and Spotify pay their artists even less than their traditional counterparts. Just who is stealing from recording artists?

In the case of RnBXclusive.com, SOCA have decided that the thieves are largely males, aged 18-25, who have downloaded music from this site. However, as my search above demonstrates, there are a variety of sites where people can supposedly download music 'legally' and 'for free'.

The problem is that many operate outside of the UK's borders. Some supposedly operate legally within their own borders, but not necessarily within the laws of the in-country hosting internet service providers (ISPs). Therefore, it is difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to ascertain whether these services are 'legal' or 'illegal'.

Furthermore, they all appear high in Google rankings. How does that happen?

Whilst it may be partly explained by the inbound links and keywords used by the more nebulous sites, surely they can not be using any different links and keywords to those used by Spotify or Last.fm. Could the higher ranking of sites like mp3raid, WuZAM and beemp3 be explained by advertising? Are Google, and other search engines, profiting from marketing 'illegal' downloads?

(c) Surka
The Independent notes that RnBXclusive.com was largely funded by advertising. Therefore, the owner was generating his 'fraudulent' income from those advertising on his site. Surely then, just as individuals are supposed to be responsible for checking the 'legality' of the site that they use, advertisers too must he held equally, if not, more accountable, given that they sustained this business.

Given that the 'legality' of downloading free music is unclear, and that Google, a trusted means of sourcing information, promotes these sites above others, it seems somewhat disproportionate that individuals can be heavily punished for transgressing a very blurred line. Especially when those propping up these 'illegal' services financially do not appear to have been sought after in the same way.

Whilst the official narrative runs that it is the artists who are the victims, artists themselves are offering free music downloads to build up their followings. It is possible that 'illegal' downloading might also provide them with a means to take greater control of their works and their income streams. 

If this be the case, then it is the record companies that are set to lose the ability to control the market, and the profits generated from it, not the artists. Therefore, downloading music freely is not in the commercial interests of businesses that currently do very nicely from it. 

Artists have regularly been, and continue to be, victims of legal 'theft'. It just appears more culturally palatable to portray males, aged 18-25, as criminals, rather than the 'legitimate' enterprises making large sums of money from it.

You may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?...

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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Glencore, Africa, & the World Food Programme: Ill-gotten gains and food security (part 2)

Faraah with her family (c) Oxfam East Africa

The Guardian previously reported that the World Food Programme (WFP) had paid £50 million to Glencore for their wheat. They have since scaled back their earlier misgivings, but their earlier article reveals:
Glencore admitted that it bet on a rising wheat price after drought in Russia, according to investment bank UBS. "[Glencore's] agricultural team received very timely reports from Russia farm assets that growing conditions were deteriorating aggressively in the spring and summer of 2010, as the Russian drought set in … This put it in a position to make proprietary trades going long on wheat and corn," UBS said in a report to potential investors, disclosed by the Financial Times.

On 3 August 2010 the head of Glencore's Russian grain business, Yury Ognev, urged Moscow to ban grain exports, according to the UBS report.Two days later Russian authorities banned wheat exports, which forced prices up by 15% in two days.
Glencore dispute what UBS report, claiming that it made no difference to their business. Maybe.

The WFP state that hunger and starvation are caused by, amongst other things, war. In their strategic plan, 2008-2013, the WFP have five objectives, the final one of which is 'Strengthen the capacities of countries to reduce hunger, including through hand-over strategies and local purchase'.

One of the tools the WFP uses to achieve this objective is 'Advocacy', a point which I will return to later, but worth bearing in mind as you read through the rest of this post:
Political awareness is the first step in the fight against hunger. WFP has long been confronted with this fact and has thus created a broad and successful variety of instruments to disseminate information on, explain, and mobilize resources to fight global hunger. Advocacy will continue to play a prominent part in WFP’s activities at the field, regional and global levels, in order to reach the whole range of actors in the fight against hunger. Furthermore, WFP will use the impact of its advocacy in the pursuit of a variety of objectives – from fundraising for its operations to influence on broader policy issues, such as climate change – that are instrumental in affecting positively the fight against hunger.
Glencore produces aluminium, a major material in the production of war materials, including guns and missiles. With partners UC Rusal, they own 38% of the global market. In their newsletter of September/October 2007, Corporate Watch write that (UC) Rusal are the main aluminium supplier to the Russian military.

Ethiopian national defence force soldier with AK-47 assault rifle
Russian military hardware is widely available for sale in the markets of Somaliland and Somalia. In fact, Africa Files estimates that there are 100 million small arms in commission around Africa, the majority around the Horn of Africa. The WFP bought the wheat from Glencore to feed the millions starving in this region.

Even if what UBS claims is untrue, that Russian authorities banned wheat exports for a couple of days in order to artificially inflate its price, and profit margins, then surely Glencore are making "ill-gotten gains" regardless. They are doing so by profiting from war, and the substantial sales raised from their sale of aluminium to arms manufacturers, and by providing the wheat that the WFP buys to feed those displaced by a war that Glencore helps sustain.

This cynical, cyclical supply and demand business model reminds me of the way that the Italian Mafia made a mockery of EU waste management directives a decade ago. In short, mafia-related enterprises monpolised industrial waste management contracts, and illegally dumped toxic residues around the Italy countryside. They then bid for, and won, provincial contracts to clean up the areas that they had polluted. Is this any different to what Glencore are doing?

Selling aluminium to arms manufacturers, and selling wheat to the WFP, is not 'illegal'. Glencore are a 'legal' entity. However, if we consider it right to indict national leaders from Africa on charges of "ill-gotten gains", then equally we have to consider it right to charge leaders of multi-national companies, such as CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, for doing the same.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) regularly seeks to prosecute Africans on war crimes charges, yet has not pursued one western political or military leader on similar grounds, despite the wealth of abuses suffered the world over. The African public are wary of the ICC, distrustful of what they see as a white-man's version of justice.

Despite these well-intentioned indictments, will Africa come to see this case as reaffirmation of human rights colonialism when we abjectly fail to charge the likes of Glencore on the same grounds?

A final word on the WFP. If the WFP are not politically aware enough to know that the likes of Glencore are heavily involved in the war machinery, an act that the WFP consider leads to hunger and starvation, or even know of their dealings in the U.N. Oil For Food scandal, then they have little hope of ensuring that the future national governments in the Horn of Africa will reduce hunger.

A strategy that benefits war profiteers only teaches future leaders to act as they already do.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Glencore, Africa, & the World Food Programme: Ill-gotten gains and food security (part 1)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 'The Chance for Peace',16 April 1953
President Teodoro Obiang
The Guardian has reported that French authorities are impounding the assets of three serving African leaders and their families, in a case known as "ill-gotten gains". Those accused include Omar Bongo and his son, Ali Bongo from Gabon, the Congo-Brazzaville leader, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, and the Equatorial Guinean President, Teodoro Obiang and his son, Teodorin Obiang.

When balanced against their supposed state salaries, the assets that each of these clans had accrued over their years in power leaves left many questions unanswered. Hence, this legal action, initiated by anti-corruption NGOs. My initial reaction was one of satisfaction; the powerful should be held to account for their actions.

The tail end of this piece notes that NGOs are unable to bring corruption cases against African leaders in the UK, despite London allegedly being the "No. 1 destination for kelptocrats", according to Tim Daniel, a British Lawyer and anti-corruption expert. It is up to our authorities to do so.

In the UK, we have charged James Ibori, a former governor from the Delta state of Nigeria, with corruption. This region has a wealth of oil and natural reserves, and it has become synonymous with corruption, as money and power intermingle in a tale of filthy lucre populated by sly "Lucans".

In their book, 'Where vultures feast', Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas, wrote that the IMF could not account for 150,000 barrels of oil that was being produced daily, the implication being that former Nigerian dictator, General Sani Abacha, and his cohorts were siphoning off the proceeds.

Six months later, Abacha completely redrew the allocation of crude oil contracts, handing a third of future supplies to Glencore, who later gained greater control of the Nigerian crude industry.

Later in the Congo, The Australian reports:
The breakthrough came in 2005, when Elliott detectives discovered that two consignments of Congo oil had been loaded on to a vessel called the Nordic Hawk for sale to Glencore, a British company set up by Marc Rich, the Swiss-based trader. 
Glencore intended to sell the oil on to BP in what should have appeared as a normal industry transaction. 
Kensington promptly applied to the High Court in London for injunctions to seize the proceeds of the Nordic Hawk consignments on the grounds that they were fraudulently concealed sales by the Brazzaville Government... 
...Somewhere along the way, millions of dollars went missing, and the judge noted that an examination of the bank statements of one of Gokana's companies "reveals that there was virtually no connection between the cash passing through its bank accounts and the sums it should have received for the oil it sold". 
Where the money went remains a mystery.
Glencore's website reveals that they also have operations in Equitarial Guinea. As part of its E&P portfolio, they have operated under the guise of Noble Energy, along with other oil giants, with the agreement of, and help from, the U.S. government. Yesterday, Glencore were due to merge with Xstrata to form one of the largest companies in the world.

Is it a coincidence that Abacha and Sassou-Nguesso were dealing with Glencore at about the same time that they were said to have been misappropriating resources and funds? Is it a coincidence that Glencore's name is linked to all the geographical areas ruled by those charged in France? 

Saddam Hussein on trial July 2004
Beyond this, Glencore have a history of dubious corporate activity. It was reported that the CIA believed that Glencore did business with Saddam Hussein and that they received millions in illegal kickbacks during the U.N. Oil For Food programme. Reuters refer to human rights and environmental abuses in Colombia, and pollution-related health problems in Zambia. This does not includes a number of other abuses that they have been associated with in Australia, Colombia and Kazakhstan, as detailed by Donal O'Driscoll for Saving Iceland.

Furthermore, this behemoth has strong political ties. For example, Glencore owns 8.75% of United Company (UC) Rusal Limited. Chaired by Oleg Deripaska, through his En+ group, and co-chaired by Nathanial Rothschild, who runs Vallar which has a 40% stake in Glencore, both are friends of former EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, and UK Chancellor, George Osborne. Wikileaks reveals that Deripaska has Vladimir Putin's ear.

This is what the 1% have and do. More than bonuses, more than tax breaks, they have the political and economic power to do as they please, harming whoever gets in their way.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A poetic social construction of crime

Oscar Wilde and his lover, Alfred Douglas,
prior to his trial in 1894

As we each slink off to our weekends, I am publishing the poem below, written by Criminonymous. You can find another piece here, published on Anna Raccoon a few days ago.  No need for me to add any more; the strength of the piece speaks for itself. 

The only thing we have to blame is blame itself

I fail to see what we gain from blaming the individual
The working class criminal whose education was minimal
Some see their behaviour as indefensible
That the casual accrual of wealth through unconventional or deviant methods
Demeans the tax-paying, hard-working and indebted

If it were only explained more clearly in schools
That it’s just a few tools
Who monopolise the making and enforcement of rules
Why do we assume that the criminal law is the best way to respond to these issues?
Crime is a social construction
Should homosexuality be a crime?
Obviously, obviously not
But some countries still consider it as such
Do you think that alcohol should be criminalised?
These things vary over space and time
It is wrong to assume that the laws as they stand
Are based on rational calculations
Nor should it be assumed
That the direction in which the criminal law is currently headed
Is necessarily in the long-term interests of society as a whole

Some people see ‘criminals’ as totally different to them
When they think about crime
They remember what they have seen in the media
They immediately think about the most heinous of transgressions
But this is only a tiny fraction of what ‘crime’ really entails
Incidentally, many of these people are swing voters
The central focus of modern-day locusts
But when elections are based on fear
There is no incentive to ensure that our electorate is educated
And this lack of knowledge is perpetuated

In reality, all are equally likely to be caught up in something this forlorn
Because you have no control over where or when you are born
Some people truly believe that they had immunity
Thinking: “They are not us, so they deserve no impunity”
But we were all born in the same world, without equality of opportunity
Substitute assumed fallacies for humanity
It’s safe to say that we’re pretty lucky
I could have been born in Kentucky
Home to sixteen of the one hundred poorest counties in that country
Equally, the Queen is lucky not to be an Armenian from 1915
Got any pre-teens?
Elsewhere they make green jeans for the armies
Like Akala said, as hard as some of us have it
We’re still far better off than ninety per-cent of the planet

It is totally understandable that in this environment of propaganda
People make false assumptions about crime and justice
We don’t get to decide what counts as a crime
When the law should change its mind
Or where our priorities should lie
Nor are these decisions made well for us
So forget your anxiety regarding impropriety
And consider the long-term interests of our society


Thursday, 2 February 2012

Time to discuss U.S. state-sanctioned drone killings?

MQM-107E drone (c) U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt, Michael Ammons
As reported by the BBC, President Obama's Google “hangout” revealed that the U.S.A. conducts drone strikes against suspect al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, mainly in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Drone strikes have increased significantly during Obama's administration, but it is difficult to verify the number of deaths as a result of these attacks. During this “hangout”, he said that the strikes targeted "people who are on a list of active terrorists," and:
"al-Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan"
"For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we're already engaging in."
CIA officials claim that drone strikes killed 1400 suspected militants and 30 civilians between July 2008 and June 2011, whereas in five years up to June 2011, the Conflict Monitoring Center, based in Islamabad, estimates that 2052 people were killed, “mostly civilians.”

In October, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) collated their figures, which repudiate what the CIA admit to. If nothing else, the drone attack in Waziristan in March 2011 highlights the CIA's inability to produce accurate figures for the numbers of civilians it has killed.

Moreover, this latter attack illustrates Obama's contradictory language. If this was not an “intrusive military action”, then what is? If he means that because there are no armed personnel physically involved, that this action is any less “intrusive”, then what of the battle for the 'hearts and minds' (more later)? Do 'hearts and minds' exist outside of the corporeal body?

Barack Obama hope (c) Andrius Burlega

Amnesty International have registered their concerns with the U.S. government, and asked them to clarify the basis for these killings:
The US authorities must give a detailed explanation of how these strikes are lawful and what is being done to monitor civilian casualties and ensure proper accountability.

"What are the rules of engagement? What proper legal justification exists for these attacks? While the President's confirmation of the use of drones in Pakistan is a welcome first step towards transparency, these and other questions need to be answered.”

Other than Amnesty's opposition to what is going on, there is little else being reported on this issue. Rather than argue over the state-defined 'legality' of these killings, there are a few points that I wish to highlight.

Obama speaks of drone attacks killing “people who are on a list of active terrorists.” Who possesses these lists?

According to an excerpt from Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest and William M Arkin, there are three separate “kill lists.” The National Security Council (NSC) keeps one, the CIA does, and so does the military. Interestingly, the lists are not co-ordinated amongst these agencies, one of the reasons being the 'legal' implications associated with each individual hit.

If there is not consensual agreement across U.S. government departments, how can it 'legal' for the U.S. government as a whole to carry out such attacks?

The FBI have a list of wanted terrorists on their website. On this list, is one Anas Al-Liby. According to his summary, he has political asylum in the UK, and was known to be living here recently. Has anyone seen any drones flying overhead?

Al-Liby may or may not be on any of the “hit lists” discussed above. He may or may not now reside in the UK. But just as the paradox of 'the body' and 'the mind' reveals the non-compatible objectives of the 'war on terror', here we have another anomaly; the local and the transnational.

Anwar al-Awlaki (c) Muhammad ud-Deen
The New York Times partially covered this ambiguity in their report following a drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. The crux of their commentaries centred on al-Awlaki's birth within the borders of the U.S.A., the assumption being that this is somehow more disturbing that it happened to an American-born citizen.

Al-Qaeda suspects that threaten the national interests of the U.S.A. do not just live in the FATA region of Pakistan. They live and walk amongst us all. 

The U.S. government will not be deploying (non-intrusive?) drone strikes that target mosques in the U.S., at which suspected militant, jihadist Imams preach and their followers pray, because it is illegal. Why then act as judge and jury just because al-Qaeda suspects live elsewhere?

On a day when The Guardian reports that the U.S. 'no-fly' list of suspected terrorists has worryingly doubled in a year (including some 500 U.S. nationals), and on a day when a NATO report indicates that the Taliban are winning the battle for the 'hearts and minds' of the Afghan people, is it not time for the U.S. government to explain who they are targeting, and how this might be beneficial to national and global security?

Or are they afraid to do so because they will be acknowledging that they are carrying out state-sponsored assassinations?