Saturday 22 August 2009

Mass murder - a tale of two sentences

So Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, got his release, to cries of outrage from the United States government. It was “absolutely wrong”, said Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

Then in a bizarre coincidence, up popped former US army officer Lt William Calley – not much heard of since the 1970’s when he was convicted of the mass murder of 500 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. Yesterday Lt Calley offered his first public apology for the crime.

Back in 1971, he was sent to gaol for life. And what was the reaction of the US government? The unbending determination that it would be “absolutely wrong” to release a mass murderer before he had served his full sentence? No, actually President Nixon quickly cut his punishment to three years’ house arrest.

And there were no doubts about Calley’s guilt unlike that of Megrahi (see my blogs of July 27 and Aug 16), nor was he dying of cancer. Double standards, anyone?

Sunday 16 August 2009

Lockerbie - no cover-up!

So we may never know the truth about Lockerbie. Last month, it was revealed that the only man ever convicted for Britain’s worst ever terrorist outrage, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, might be freed on compassionate grounds.

Now, what do you know? He has applied to withdraw his appeal against conviction. You can hardly blame al-Megrahi for doing whatever it takes to get home to Libya when he has terminal prostate cancer, but there are serious doubts about whether he really committed the crime (see my blog of July 27). His conviction looked to many like a sordid political stitch-up, and his release seems to be heading the same way.

The Scottish Conservatives’ justice spokesman Bill Aitken says there’s been too much in the way of "secret briefings, hints of special deals and international cloak and dagger." Hear! Hear! All of us have a right to know who really bombed Flight 103. It would be intolerable if al-Megrahi’s release were to be used to silence any further investigation.

Friday 7 August 2009

Ferry disasters

More than 60 people are now feared to have drowned after the ferry Princess Ashika capsized off Tonga. There were 117 people aboard, and most of the victims are thought to be among those sleeping in cabins below deck – mainly women and children.

The vessel had been on its way from the capital Nuku'alofa to some of the country’s outlying northern islands. The cause of the shipwreck is not yet known, but the Tongan government said the ferry had passed safety inspections.

The world’s worst ferry disaster – indeed, its worst peacetime maritime disaster – was the sinking of the Do┼ła Paz in the Philippines just before Christmas 1987, after a collision with a tanker. Both vessels caught fire, and just two of the crew and 24 passengers were picked up by another ferry in the area.

No one knows exactly how many people drowned. According to the ship’s manifest, it was carrying 1,568 passengers, but often only the head of a family was counted, nor did the crew appear to have collected the names of people who bought tickets after boarding. So most estimates put the number drowned at between 3,000 and 4,375. For the story see A Disastrous History of the World.

Thursday 6 August 2009

It's not just Darfur + Hiroshima

Another conflict in southern Sudan has now claimed more lives this year than the violence in Darfur over which President Omar Hassan al-Bashir faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. (See my blog of March 5th)

At least 185 Lou Nuer people were killed on Sunday when they were attacked by men from the Murle ethnic group. According to the United Nations, most of the dead were women and children. The conflict, which is being exacerbated by food shortages, has claimed more than 700 lives this year.

On this day…..64 years ago, an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Those close to ground zero were vaporised immediately, and over the days that followed, many more died from injuries, burns and the effects of radiation – taking the death toll to 92,000 in the first two weeks. Illnesses caused by radiation would continue to claim lives for years after, taking the total number of victims to at least 140,000.

The area around the epicentre is now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and one of its main features is the so-called A-bomb dome – the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, the closest building to the epicentre to survive in any recognisable form. I remember visiting the area in 1993, and the thing that sticks in my mind is how the traffic lights by the dome cheerily pealed out Coming through the Rye when it was time to cross.

Monday 3 August 2009

Iraq - in my beginning.....+ redaction

As it began, so it is ending. The famous secret Downing Street memo of 23rd July, 2002 made it clear that by then the Americans had already cooked up their conspiracy to attack Iraq and “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”, and that at least Messrs Blair, Straw and Hoon knew it.

Then the imperative was to get into Iraq, now it’s the opposite – to get the hell out. (Note for all political leaders – history shows it is much easier to start a war than to end one.) But the tactics are the same.

Yesterday a car bomb killed at least six people in the market place at Haditha, on Friday the death toll was at least 29 from a series of explosions outside mosques in Baghdad, on Thursday seven were killed by a blast in Baquba, north-east of the capital. The spin machine is still on track, though. The line is unshaken - the security situation has improved “amazingly” and US troops may be able to leave earlier than expected.

Redacted….I had never heard the word until a few months ago. Now we get it all the time – it’s what Labour did with documents providing evidence of the security services' complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed. MP’s did lots of it when they published “details” of their expenses.

Let’s get rid of this word. There are perfectly decent alternatives – censored, concealed, suppressed, hidden from the prying eyes of the lower orders, for example. As Orwell saw – an attack on language is a vital element in the destruction of liberty.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Bhopal, America and extradition + 1,000th anniversary

Almost 25 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster, a new arrest warrant has been issued for the former boss of the company responsible. When the Union Carbide pesticide plant at Bhopal in India leaked poison gas in the early hours of December 3, 1984, 2,000 people were killed in the next few hours, followed by at least 15,000 over the next few weeks. How many more have died from its effects in the years that followed is not known, but it is thought that more than half a million have been damaged in some way.

Warren Anderson was arrested soon after the disaster, but got bail, left India and has never returned. Now a court at Bhopal has asked the Indian government to seek his extradition from the United States. In view of the Obama regime’s intransigence in demanding the extradition of the British computer hacker Gary McKinnon, it will be interesting to see how it reacts if a request comes from another government to surrender a US citizen for alleged wrongdoing abroad.

On this day…..1,000 years ago, a fearsome Danish army landed in England. Over the next two and a half years, the Danes harried the land mercilessly – ravaging fifteen counties and burning down towns such as Oxford and Northampton.

Eventually in April 1012, they accepted £48,000 – an enormous sum in those days – to leave the country in peace, but not before they had murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Danes had demanded a separate ransom for him, but he bravely insisted that nothing more should be paid, so they pelted him, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, with the “bones and heads of cattle” then split his skull open with an axe.