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Lieutenant General David Richards, the British general commanding NATO troops in Afghanistan, meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on October 9, 2006, in an effort to persuade him to stop the Pakistani ISI from training Taliban fighters to attack US and British soldiers in Afghanistan. The day before, he tells the Sunday Times there is “a Taliban problem on the Pakistan side of the border.… Undoubtedly something has got to happen.” Richards has evidence compiled by NATO, US, and Afghan intelligence of satellite pictures and videos showing training camps for Taliban soldiers and suicide bombers inside Pakistan. The evidence includes the exact address of where top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan. Richards wants Pakistan to arrest Omar and other Taliban leaders. One senior US commander tells the Times: “We just can’t ignore it any more. Musharraf’s got to prove which side he is on.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/8/2006] What happens between Richards and Musharraf is unknown, but there are no subsequent signs of the ISI reducing its support for the Taliban or of Pakistan arresting Taliban leaders.
A British high court approves the extradition of Haroon Rashid Aswat to the US. Many media accounts have described Aswat as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). However, British authorities appear to be ignoring his possible connection to the 7/7 bombings and are allowing him to be extradited to the US on unrelated charges of helping to create a militant training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). The US has promised that he will not be sent to the prison in Guantanamo or turned over to a third country. [Guardian, 11/30/2006] As of mid-2008, Aswat has yet to be extradited.
Rashid Rauf in Pakistani custody. [Source: Farooq Naeem / Agence France-Presse]Terrorism charges are dropped in Pakistan against British-Pakistani militant Rashid Rauf, but he remains imprisoned there. Held since early August, Rauf was part of a British-based plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). British officials have been seeking his extradition for five months, and the decision not to prosecute him in Pakistan on the charges apparently clears the way for him to be returned to Britain; although there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Britain, Pakistani officials indicate they are ready to send Rauf home. However, Rauf, who has denied any links with terrorism, still has to face trial next week on charges of carrying fake identity documents. His lawyer Hashmat Habib says the court’s decision to drop the terror charges clears Rauf of involvement in any bomb plots, and characterises the fake ID charges as “minor.” On the contrary, Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz says he will contest the court’s decision and insists Rauf had been involved in planning terrorist activities. “We did recover hydrogen peroxide from his possession and concentrated hydrogen peroxide mixed with gas can cause explosions,” he says. [Times (London), 4/12/2009] Rauf will escape prison in late 2007 in mysterious circumstances (see December 14, 2007).
Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a high ranking Taliban leader, is reportedly killed in Afghanistan by a US air strike. Osmani is easily the highest-ranking Taliban leader to have killed or captured since 9/11. He was in charge of Taliban operations in six provinces in Afghanistan. A Taliban official confirms his death a few days later. According to news reports, British and US forces tracked him by his satellite phone signal and bombed his vehicle once he was in an unpopulated area. [London Times, 12/24/2006; CBC News, 12/27/2006] Osmani was captured in 2002 but then apparently accidentally released a short time later (see Late July 2002).
The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) receives over twenty complaints from Northern California residents reporting excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents upon their entering the country. The residents say they have been interrogated about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, and political associations when they returned from traveling abroad, regardless of their First Amendment rights. The residents say their books, business cards, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories were examined and sometimes copied. When they complained, some of them were told, according to the ALC, “This is the border, and you have no rights.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008]
Interrogation at the Border - Nabila Mango, a US citizen from San Francisco, returns from a trip to Jordan in December 2007. She will say she is told by customs officials at San Francisco International Airport to list every person she met and every place she slept. Her Arabic music books, business cards, and cell phone are examined, and she believes some of her documents are copied. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Her daughter tries repeatedly to call her on her cell phone during the interrogation, but Mango finds that customs officials erased the records of her calls. [Washington Post, 2/7/2008] “In my 40 years in this country, I have never felt as vulnerable as I did during that interrogation,” Mango will say. “I want to find out whether my government is keeping files on me and other Americans based on our associations and ideas.” A California citizen, Amir Khan, will also say he is stopped and interrogated every time he returns to the country. He has his laptop, cell phone, and personal notebooks searched. He is never told why he is being singled out. “One customs officer even told me that no matter what I do, nothing would improve,” he will say. “Why do I have to part with my civil liberties each time I return home?” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Software engineer Kamran Habib, a permanent US resident, has his laptop and cell phone searched three times in 2007. Now, Habib says, “every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It’s better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well.”
Search and Seizure - Maria Udy, a marketing executive in Bethesda, Maryland, will say her company laptop is seized by a federal agent as she attempts to fly from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to London. Udy, a British citizen, is told by the agent that he has “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she will recall. Udy is told that it is standard procedure to keep the computer for 10 to 15 days; over a year later, her laptop will not have been returned, and she will not be given any explanation. A tech engineer who wishes to remain anonymous will say he has a similar experience in the same airport months earlier. The engineer, a US citizen, says a federal agent requires him to open up his laptop and type in his password. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he protests. “It belongs to my company.” He has little choice; he logs on, and the agent copies down every Web site he had visited on the laptop. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)‘s Susan Gurley will say her organization has filed its own FOIA request to find out what happened to seized laptops and other electronic devices. “Is it destroyed right then and there if the person is in fact just a regular business traveler?” she asks. “People are quite concerned. They don’t want proprietary business information floating, not knowing where it has landed or where it is going. It increases the anxiety level.” The ALC’s Shiran Sinnar says that by examining the websites people visit and the phone numbers they store, “the government is going well beyond its traditional role of looking for contraband and really is looking into the content of people’s thoughts and ideas and their lawful political activities.” Legal experts say that if conducted inside the country, such searches would require a warrant and probable cause. The government insists that a laptop is legally the same as a suitcase, and can be opened and examined essentially at will. Law professor David Cole disagrees: “It’s one thing to say it’s reasonable for government agents to open your luggage. It’s another thing to say it’s reasonable for them to read your mind and everything you have thought over the last year. What a laptop records is as personal as a diary but much more extensive. It records every website you have searched. Every email you have sent. It’s as if you’re crossing the border with your home in your suitcase.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Nabila Mango, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, Amir Khan, David D. Cole, Maria Udy, Washington Dulles International Airport, Shirin Sinnar, Susan Gurley, Kamran Habib, San Francisco International Airport
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Mullah Bakht Mohammed. [Source: Al-Jazeera]Britain spends more than £1.5 million (approximately $2.4 million) in Afghanistan in a scheme to bribe members of the Taliban to stop fighting and abandon their ranks. Yet the operation fails to persuade any significant Taliban members to defect, attracts mostly lower-level foot soldiers, and results in no decrease in fighting in Helmand Province. “It hasn’t had the results we’d hoped,” admits a senior British Foreign Office official, “though not for want of effort on our part.” The money is allocated in January and May through intelligence agencies and the UN-backed peace strengthening commission after the killings of two top Taliban commanders and ruling shura members, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani and Mullah Dadullah Akhund (see December 19, 2006 and May 13, 2007). The funds are disbursed with the intention of capitalizing on a dip in Taliban morale and anticipated defections referred to as the “Dadullah effect.” The money is used to “spread this message” and pay for housing and transport for any Taliban who decide to defect. The Sunday Times reports that efforts to use Dadullah’s death to warn others were likely undermined by the Afghan government’s release of five Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Dadullah’s brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, in return for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Mullah Bakht Mohammed is now believed to be commanding Taliban operations in Helmand. The Sunday Times report does not mention if or how the bribe money is accounted for, or if any of the money is diverted to Taliban structures. [Sunday Times (London), 7/22/2007]
British MPs debate the Iraq oil law that was recently approved by the Iraq Oil Committee (see January 16, 2007).
Jeremy Corbyn says: “News was leaked out last week of a proposed new oil law that the Iraqi Parliament is to be invited to approve in a few weeks’ time. This is a mysterious piece of legislation, and I hope that the Minister will be able to throw some light on the matter when he responds to the debate. Apparently, the drafters of the new law were not in Iraq but in Washington, and they were assisted by people in London. The proposed law bears an uncanny resemblance to the British-imposed oil law in Iran in 1952, after the shah was imposed on the people of that country. BP and other oil companies made massive amounts of money from that arrangement in the succeeding years. There is deep suspicion that the oil law that is now being proposed for Iraq is the reward for the invasion, and that it will involve the privatization of oil production and the sale to certain oil companies of cheap oil that ought to be for the benefit of the Iraqi people…. It would be illegal [for 15 or 20-year oil contracts to be signed while the country is still under occupation], because Britain and the United States are, in law, occupying forces. They do not therefore have the legal authority to make fundamental changes to what is happening in that country. Those are the terms of the Hague convention, and that ought to be understood.”
Michael Meacher says: “It is also immensely important and significant that… a new draft law is about to be pushed through the fledgling Iraqi Parliament by the United States that will set up contracts to allow major US and British oil companies to extract substantial parts of the oil profits for a period of up to 30 years. No other Middle Eastern producer-country has ever offered such hugely lucrative concessions to the big oil companies. OPEC—the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries—has, of course, always run its oil business on the basis of there being tightly controlled state companies. Only Iraq in its current dire situation, with US troops propping up its Government—without them the Government would not survive—lacks the bargaining capacity to be able to resist. If this new draft law is conceded by the Iraqis under the intense pressure that is being put on them, it will lock the country into a degree of weakness and dependence for decades ahead. The neo cons may have lost the war, but my goodness, they are still negotiating to win the biggest chunk of the peace, when and if it ever comes…. This rearguard attempt to pre-empt the lion’s share of the remaining oil and the massive future profits over a 30-year period—there is no authority to extract it from another country without its agreement—can only intensify the insurgency. It is bound to foster much-increased resentment… and increase the violent resistance, even when the occupation has come to an end. Above all, this policy is utterly short-sighted, because it is diametrically opposed to the policy into which the whole world will ineluctably be forced by the accelerating onset of climate change.” [House of Commons, 1/24/2007]
The British government admits it should have credited a postgraduate student’s article as being part of its so-called “Dodgy Dossier” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 3, 2003). “In retrospect we should have acknowledged” that sections of the document were based on an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, says a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, says the incident is “the intelligence equivalent of being caught stealing the spoons.… The dossier may not amount to much but this is a considerable embarrassment for a government trying still to make a case for war.” Labour leader Glenda Jackson, an outspoken opponent of war with Iraq, calls the dossier “another example of how the government is attempting to mislead the country and Parliament on the issue of a possible war with Iraq. And of course to mislead is a Parliamentary euphemism for lying.” Blair’s spokesman disputes the allegation that the government lied; instead, he says, “We all have lessons to learn.” The Blair administration insists the dossier is “solid,” no matter what its sources. “The report was put together by a range of government officials,” says a Downing Street spokesman. “As the report itself makes clear, it was drawn from a number of sources, including intelligence material. It does not identify or credit any sources, but nor does it claim any exclusivity of authorship.” Conservative Party shadow defense secretary Bernard Jenkin says his party is deeply concerned about the dossier. “The government’s reaction utterly fails to explain, deny, or excuse the allegations made in it,” he says. “This document has been cited by the prime minister and Colin Powell as the basis for a possible war. Who is responsible for such an incredible failure of judgment?” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003; BBC, 2/7/2003; Office of the Prime Minister, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/8/2003]
Chelsea announces the club lost £80.2m in the 2005-06 season. The loss is far less than the season before, when it was around £140m, but is still the third largest loss in the history of English football. Total losses over the three years since Roman Abramovich bought the club now exceed £300m. [Reuters, 2/19/2007] Chelsea turned over €221m in the 2005-06 season (see February 2007).
Iraq’s cabinet approves the February 15 draft of the proposed Iraqi oil law (see February 15, 2007). The law has not yet been seen by Iraq’s parliament. The only parties that have reviewed the law, aside from its authors, have been nine international oil companies, the British and US governments, and the International Monetary Fund. The cabinet expects that the law will be quickly passed by Iraq’s parliament and implemented by the end of May. [Associated Press, 2/26/2007; Inter Press Service, 2/28/2007]
A report by a nonpartisan British think tank, the Oxford Research Group, warns that military strikes against Iran could actually accelerate Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The report says military action could lead Iran to change the nature of its program and quickly build a few nuclear arms. Frank Barnaby, the nuclear scientist and arms expert who authored the report, says, "If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capacity it is doing so relatively slowly, most estimates put it at least five years away." But an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities "would almost certainly lead to a fast-track program to develop a small number of nuclear devices as quickly as possible." It "would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory." Western powers have threatened to expand sanctions on Iran; the US has not ruled out using force against Iran, but says it wants to give diplomacy a chance. [BBC, 3/5/2007]
The British government embellished intelligence used to justify the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, according to Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector. Blix, who led the UN search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003, says a later discredited dossier on Iraq’s weapons programs had deliberately embellished the case for war. Tony Blair’s government published a dossier before the invasion that claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could deploy some within 45 minutes, but the dossier turned out to be riddled with errors and deliberate falsehoods. Blix says, "I do think they exercised spin. They put exclamation marks instead of question marks." Blix says that as a result, Blair and Bush had "lost a lot of confidence" once failures in intelligence were exposed. Britain’s dossier on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction was criticized by a 2004 official British inquiry into intelligence on Iraq. Though the inquiry’s head, Lord Butler, did not fault Blair’s government, he criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on “seriously flawed” or "unreliable" sources. Butler’s review concluded that the dossier, which helped Blair win the support of Parliament to join the US in the conflict, had pushed the government’s case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats. Blix says that if UN inspectors had been allowed to carry out inspections "a couple of months more," intelligence officials would likely have drawn the eventual conclusion that Iraq had no weapons stockpiles and that their sources were providing poor quality information. [Associated Press, 3/12/2007]
David Dein leaves Arsenal’s board of directors over a dispute on the football club’s future direction. Dein, who owns 14.5 percent of shares, wants US investor Stanley Kroenke to take control of the club, but this proposal does not find sufficient support among the other board members, and Dein departs. [BBC, 8/31/2007]
Bisher al-Rawi holding a child after release. [Source: Craig Hibbert]British resident Bisher al-Rawi is released from the Guantanamo prison after being held there for almost five years (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). He and a man named Jamil al-Banna had been arrested by the CIA in 2002 after being given information by the British intelligence agency MI5 that MI5 knew to be false (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). He had worked as an informant for MI5 and they apparently wanted to pressure him to resume informing for them, but he refused. He and al-Banna were interrogated and abused in Gambia, Bagram in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. He says, “My nightmare is finally at an end.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer says of al-Rawi’s US jailers: “Right to the end they treated him with brutality. On the way to the plane in Guantanamo—they knew he was leaving—they insisted still on shackling him, blindfolding him, putting on earmuffs so he couldn’t hear a thing and keeping him in the back of a very hot, very confined van on the way to the plane.” [BBC, 4/1/2007] Britain showed no interest in helping al-Rawi until he publicly revealed in 2006 that he had been an MI5 informant (see April 20, 2006). Then it took over a year of secret negotiations before the US and Britain came to terms for releasing him (see October 3, 2006).
At the end of April 2007, a trial against a group of men accused of planning a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain concluded (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), and a press ban on the trial was lifted. A number of stories come out revealing details on how two of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, were monitored by British intelligence as they interacted with some of the fertilizer bomb plotters (see February 2-March 23, 2004). This leads to new calls for an independent inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, since many of these details were left out of the two official government reports on the 7/7 bombings released in May 2006 (see May 11, 2006). But on May 2, 2007, British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejects demands for an independent inquiry. He says that the May 2006 Intelligence and Security Committee report examined the bombings in “immense detail.” He claims any further inquiry would “undermine support” for the intelligence agencies. “For us then to have a full, independent, further inquiry… would simply have the security service and the police and others diverted from the task of fighting terrorism.” He adds that many claims made in the media about what was known about the 7/7 bombers were “misleading and wrong.” But David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, says that only a fully independent inquiry would “get to the truth” as to why Khan and Tanweer were not stopped despite being monitored. Fifty survivors and relatives of the 7/7 victims sign a letter renewing their calls for a public inquiry. [Guardian, 5/2/2007]
Leeds United enters administration due to debts of £35m that it cannot pay. In return, the Football League imposes a 10-point penalty on the club. Before the points deduction, it was all but mathematically certain that Leeds would be relegated from the Championship to the third tier of English football, as the club required a series of freak results on the last day of the season to stay up. However, relegation to League One is now a mathematical certainty. Had Leeds gone into administration after the last game of the season, the penalty would have been applied at the start of the next term. The auditing firm KPMG is appointed Leeds’ administrators and immediately agrees to sell the club back to chairman Ken Bates without the debt burden. The Independent writes of the administration and sale, “in effect Leeds could wipe out most of their £35m debt at a stroke, and suffer no meaningful penalty.” [Independent, 5/5/2007] However, due to a breach of league rules governing the conduct of the administration, the club will be deducted a further 15 points at the start of next season (see August 3, 2007).
Two British men are found guilty of leaking a secret memo about talks between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. David Keogh, a communications officer at the Cabinet Office, is found guilty of two offenses under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and Leo O’Connor, a researcher for then-member of parliament Anthony Clarke, is found guilty of one offense under the same law. [BBC, 5/9/2007] The memo recorded talks held in the Oval Office between Bush and Blair on April 16, 2004 about the Iraq occupation. Prosecutors claimed during the trial that publication of the document could cost British lives because it contained details about troop movements within Iraq. Few details of the “highly sensitive” memo have been disclosed. However it is known that during his talk with Blair, Bush suggested that allied forces bomb the offices of Arab television network Al Jazeera, a suggestion that many experts and observers have found, in the words of reporter Sarah Lyall, “shocking.” At the time, the White House dismissed reports suggesting this as “outlandish” and a Blair spokesman said, “I’m not aware of any suggestion of bombing any Al Jazeera television station.” [New York Times, 7/12/2006] The jury for the trial is instructed to remain quiet about what they have learned in the courtroom. Keogh originally passed a copy of the classified memo to O’Connor, who passed it along to his boss, Clarke, who is strongly against the war. After receiving the memo, Clarke called the police. O’Connor calls some of the statements in the four-page memo “embarrassing [and] outlandish,” and says he never intended to send copies of the memo to newspapers or other members of parliament. Keogh’s lawyer, Rex Tedd, tells the court that his client “acted out of conscience” and not for any political motivation. “No doubt, he did so misguidedly and he did so in a way which was likely to cause damage.” [BBC, 5/9/2007]
The Commonwealth Fund, a private organization founded to improve America’s health care system, releases a study that finds the US spends more on health care than any nation on earth, yet “consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries.” The report is based on a number of surveys conducted with patients along with information from primary care physicians. “The US spends twice what the average industrialized country spends on health care but we’re clearly not getting value for the money,” says Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. Compared with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Britain, “the US health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high-performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The US is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage, partly accounting for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes. The inclusion of physician survey data also shows the US lagging in adoption of information technology and use of nurses to improve care coordination for the chronically ill.” These findings are similar to those of studies conducted in 2004 and 2006. “The most notable way the US differs from other countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage,” the study’s authors note. “Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health insurance systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their long-term ‘medical home.’ It is not surprising, therefore, that the US substantially underperforms other countries on measures of access to care and equity in health care between populations with above-average and below-average incomes.” The study’s executive summary concludes: “For all countries, responses indicate room for improvement. Yet, the other five countries spend considerably less on health care per person and as a percent of gross domestic product than does the United States. These findings indicate that, from the perspectives of both physicians and patients, the US health care system could do much better in achieving better value for the nation’s substantial investment in health.” Britain receives the highest overall ranking in the study, followed by Germany, and then by New Zealand and Australia, which tie for third. Canada is placed fourth. [Commonwealth Fund, 5/15/2007; Agence France-Presse, 5/15/2007]
The British Royal Court of Appeal rules that the Chagossians were tricked, starved, and even terrorized from their homes by the British government 30 years ago (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973), and can return to their homes immediately. The islanders had previously won a ruling in 2006, however foreign secretary Margaret Beckett had appealed that ruling (see May 11, 2006). Explaining the court’s decision, Lord Justice Sedley says that “while a natural or man-made disaster could warrant the temporary, perhaps even indefinite, removal of a population for its own safety and so rank as an act of governance, the permanent exclusion of an entire population from its homeland for reasons unconnected with their collective well-being cannot have that character and accordingly cannot be lawfully accomplished by use of the prerogative power of governance.” The British Foreign Office says it is “disappointed” with the decision and says it may file an appeal with the House of Lords. [Guardian, 5/23/2007]
Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra loges a £81.6m formal takeover bid for football club Manchester City. The offer is made through a company called UK Sports Investments, a vehicle indirectly controlled by Shinawatra, his son, and his daughter. [BBC, 6/21/2007] Since he was overthrown by a military coup last September, Shinawatra has been dogged by allegations covering assorted instances of corruption, human rights abuses, and running death squads as a part of his government’s war on drugs. [Daily Mail, 6/22/2007] Thai prosecutors have already filed corruption charges and frozen some of his assets. [BBC, 6/21/2007]
It is reported that over 1,000 civilian private contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of hostilities in those countries. An additional 13,000 have been wounded. The casualty figures come from the Department of Labor. Civilians work in a number of areas in Iraq, from providing security and servicing weapons systems, to more mundane tasks such as logistics, construction, truck driving, and maintenance (see April 4, 2007). [Reuters, 3/7/2004] Roughly one contractor dies for every four members of the armed forces. But despite the risks, Americans are lining up for jobs in the two war zones, lured by the prospects of high pay and, for some, adventure. As of the end of April 2007, 224 of the killed contractors were US citizens. [Reuters, 3/7/2004]
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra completes his takeover of Manchester City. Shinawatra, who was allegedly involved in corruption, human rights abuses, and death squads in his native Thailand, made a formal offer the previous month (see June 21, 2007). Shinawatra now owns 74.03 percent of shares through his UK Sports Investments vehicle, very close to the 75 percent he needs to take the football club off the stock market. The previous shareholders, including former chairman Francis Lee and the Rupert Murdoch-controlled BSkyB, were wary of selling to Shinawatra because of the allegations against him, but have been reassured. The only bar to Shinawatra assuming full control of the club is that he now has to pass the Premier League’s “fit and proper person” test (see Shortly After July 6, 2007). [BBC, 7/6/2007]
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra passes the Premier League’s “fit and proper person” test and receives the green light to take full control of football club Manchester City. Shinawatra has already purchased a majority of shares (see July 6, 2007) and this is the last hurdle his takeover has to cross. Allegations that Shinawatra was involved in various instances of corruption, human rights abuses, and death squads (see June 21, 2007) apparently do not prevent him from passing the test. On July 11, one civil servant at the Foreign Office (FCO) will send an e-mail, later obtained by the Telegraph by Freedom of Information Act request, saying that the Premier League thinks that Shinawatra would probably pass the test on that day, and asking if the FCO has any information it could share on him. The FCO also says that the League never follows up on the request, although the League comments: “What we were told by the government was, as these were only allegations, they could offer no comment or advice that was not already in the public domain. Had they offered any form of briefing we would, of course, have accepted.” [Daily Telegraph, 3/13/2008]
Manfo Kwaku Asiedu (left) and Adel Yahya (right). [Source: Metropolitan Police]Four men are found guilty of plotting to bomb London’s transport network on 21 July, 2005, two weeks after the 7/7 bombings (see July 21, 2005). After a six-month trial, the jury unanimously convicts Muktar Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed, and Hussain Osman, of conspiracy to murder. The four are sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 40 years. Evidence included thousands of hours of CCTV film, as well as a suicide note left by Mohammed for his girlfriend and two children asking them to “rejoice in happiness.” The men had also been monitored attending a militant training camp in the Lake District in 2004 (see May 2-August 2004). No verdict is reached for two other men accused of being members of the conspiracy. The men, Adel Yahya and Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, face a retrial. [BBC, 7/10/2007] Asiedu is said to have been the fifth bomber who abandoned his bomb at the last minute. He says he went along with the plot because he feared being killed by the others. Yahya is not accused of directly taking part in the attempted bombings, but is charged with assisting the others, for example by buying some of the bomb-making materials. [BBC, 7/11/2007] Shortly before the retrial is to begin, Asiedu pleads guilty and is sentenced to 33 years in prison, while Yahya pleads guilty to a lesser charge of possessing terrorist information and is sentenced to seven years in prison. [London Times, 11/5/2007; Daily Telegraph, 11/21/2007] The defendants claim that the bombs were fakes and that the plot was a protest against the war in Iraq. Prosecutor Nigel Sweeney tells the jury that the plot “had been in existence long before the events of July 7” and was not a “hastily-arranged copycat” operation. Responding to the defense, Sweeney says: “The failure of those bombs to explode owed nothing to the intention of these defendants, rather it was simply the good fortune of the traveling public that day that they were spared.” [BBC, 7/10/2007] The judge, Justice Adrian Fulford, also dismisses the suggestion that the men did not intend to cause carnage. He says, “This was a viable and a very nearly successful attempt at mass murder.” [BBC, 7/11/2007]
Northern Rock, a large British bank specializing in mortgages, issues an upbeat set of trading results, saying the outlook for its business is “very positive.”
It reveals it has sold a record volume of mortgages in the first half of 2007, up 47 percent on the same period a year before. This gives it a 19 percent share of the new mortgage market, making it the market leader in Britain. It also announces a small increase in interim profits and pledges to increase dividends by 30 percent. However, it notes that “sharp increases” in borrowing rates in the money markets are likely to make life more difficult and that changes in “interest rate and credit risk environments” will influence the size of its annual profits. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
The Football League imposes a 15-point penalty on Leeds United due to irregularities in its administration. However, Leeds will be allowed to play in League One, the third tier of English football, in the coming season. The club had entered administration at the end of last year, incurring a 10-point penalty that was meaningless because the club was virtually certain of relegation at that time (see May 4, 2007). [BBC, 8/3/2007]
Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, is first alerted to the problems at the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008] In a phone call with officials at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Treasury, he is told about the potential impact of the global credit crunch on Northern Rock’s business. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Matt Ridley, a former chairman of the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock, asks Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King about possible support to help Northern Rock overcome a difficult period. In addition, Ridley starts to look for a buyer for the distressed bank. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling is informed of “quite substantial problems” at the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock. The notification comes from Sir Callum McCarthy, chairman of the Financial Services Authority. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008]
Alisher Usmanov, a Uzbek-Russian businessman of dubious repute (see September 2, 2007), becomes a leading shareholder in Arsenal. Together with his associate Farhad Moshiri, a London-based Iranian, Usmanov purchases a 14.5 percent interest in the football club through the company Red & White Holdings for £75m. The stake is purchased from David Dein, who left the club’s board in April when he fell out with other directors over the lack of foreign investment in Arsenal (see April 2007). Dein was previously close to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is now reported to approve of the transaction. The deal makes Red & White Holdings the third largest shareholder in Arsenal, behind Danny Fiszman (24.11 percent) and Nina Bracewell-Smith (15.9 percent). The US businessman Stan Kroenke holds 12.9 percent; nobody else has more than 5 percent. [BBC, 8/31/2007]
Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray accuses new Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov (see Shortly Before August 31, 2007) of a string of crimes in a piece posted to his blog. [Craig Murray, 9/2/2007] Murray learned of Uzbek affairs during his time as ambassador in 2002-2004, but was removed from his position under a cloud after he complained too loudly about the use of torture in the “war on terror.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 152-169] In a no-holds-barred post entitled “Alisher Usmanov, Potential Arsenal Chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker, and Accused Rapist,” Murray sets out Usmanov’s many alleged sins, including his activities as an underworld boss, influence peddling with Uzbekistan’s ruling clan, bribery, and a “particularly atrocious rape.” [Craig Murray, 9/2/2007]
Alisher Usmanov, an Uzbek-Russian businessman who has just purchased an interest in the London football club Arsenal (see Shortly Before August 31, 2007), uses the law firm Schillings to shut down discussion of his controversial past on the Internet. Shortly after Usmanov became an Arsenal shareholder, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray published a blog post saying that Usmanov had committed numerous crimes (see September 2, 2007). Schillings now contacts several independent Arsenal supporters’ websites and blogs to make them remove postings referencing Murray’s allegations. The law firm tells them that repeating the allegations is “false, indefensible, and grossly defamatory.” Most sites comply. Although Schillings forces Murray’s webhost to remove the post, it does not contact Murray himself. [Guardian, 9/13/2007]
The rate at which British banks lend to each other—known as the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor)—rises to its highest level in almost nine years. The three-month loan rate hits 6.7975 percent, which is even higher than the Bank of England’s emergency lending rate of 6.75 percent. This suggests that banks are reluctant to lend money to each other because of the emerging credit crisis. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King writes to the Treasury Select Committee about current problems on financial markets. He tells it that the Bank will be prepared to provide emergency loans to any commercial bank that runs into short-term difficulties, provided this is because of temporary market conditions. However, he appears to rule out following the lead of the European Central Bank and US Federal Reserve in pumping huge sums into the banking system to ease problems with liquidity. [BBC, 9/13/2007; BBC, 8/5/2008]
News of the financial difficulties of troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock breaks in the British media. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] The BBC reports that Northern Rock’s situation is so bad that it has asked for and been granted emergency financial support from the Bank of England, in the latter’s role as lender of last resort. BBC business editor Robert Peston says Northern Rock is not in danger of going bust and there is no reason for its customers to panic. However, he adds that “the fact it has had to go cap in hand to the Bank is the most tangible sign that the crisis in financial markets is spilling over into businesses that touch most of our lives.” [BBC, 9/13/2007]
Following a report that troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock has asked the Bank of England for emergency funding (see September 13, 2007), a run on the bank begins. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] Northern Rock issues a statement confirming the emergency funding and blaming “extreme conditions” on financial markets. The Bank, the British Treasury, and the Financial Services Authority say they believe Northern Rock is solvent and that the standby funding facility will enable it to “fund its operations during the current period of turbulence in financial markets.” However, this does not reassure savers. The share price plunges 32 percent and depositors try to withdraw their savings. Queues form outside a number of branches, the bank’s website collapses, and its phone lines are jammed. Under current British legislation, savings are only protected up to £33,000 ($66,000). [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Bank of England tries to find a buyer for the troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock. It holds talks with Lloyds TSB, another large British bank, about possibly buying Northern Rock, but according to reports, by September 17 these discussions founder. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling intervenes in the crisis surrounding the troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock. A run on the bank began three days ago (see September 14, 2007) and shows no sign of abating, as there are still queues outside a number of branches. Amid a further slide in the company’s share price and fears the run will undermine confidence in the whole banking system, Darling issues a statement saying the Treasury will guarantee all deposits held by Northern Rock. He says savers will not lose a penny and that his action is motivated by the “importance I place on maintaining a stable banking system.” The move appears to work and the queues outside branches will subside the next day. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Bank of England says it will inject £10 billion ($20 billion) into the money markets to try to bring down the cost of inter-bank lending. The move is prompted by the financial crisis, which has recently engulfed leading British bank Northern Rock. One week ago, Bank of England governor Mervyn King had said the Bank would not make such an injection (see September 12, 2007). [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] “This represents a U-turn on support for money markets,” says Ian Kernohan, an analyst at Royal London Asset Management. He adds, “As every parent knows, it’s all very well to talk tough, but if you don’t follow up your credibility is damaged.” Calyon analyst Daragh Maher says: “Only one week ago, governor King was arguing against providing liquidity to money markets as this would risk causing greater problems further down the road. This strategy has come in for considerable criticism… [and the change announced today] will of course open it to further criticism that its earlier strategy was flawed and that this shift may be too little too late.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2007]
Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King defends his handling of the banking crisis that has recently hit mortgage giant Northern Rock to members of parliament. Facing accusations of “being asleep at the wheel,” King says it would have been “irresponsible” to have intervened earlier to save Northern Rock. He also says that he would have liked to have offered financial support to the company in secret but that British and European regulations made this impossible. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov temporarily shuts down the website of Boris Johnson, the Conservative candidate for major of London, in a dispute between Usmanov and former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray. Usmanov has numerous other websites shut down as well. Following the purchase of an interest in Arsenal by Usmanov, an Uzbek-Russian businessman (see Shortly Before August 31, 2007), Murray made numerous allegations against him (see September 2, 2007), and Usmanov used the law firm Schillings in an attempt to shut down discussion of them on the Internet (see Shortly After September 2, 2007). Schillings now pressures Murray’s webhost, Fasthosts Internet, to act against Murray, and it responds by cutting off services to Murray and numerous other bloggers who simply share some technical services with him, even though they had not written about Usmanov or been the subject of a complaint by him. Johnson calls the action “a serious erosion of free speech,” adding: “This is London, not Uzbekistan.… It is unbelievable that a website can be wiped out on the say-so of some tycoon. We live in a world where Internet communication is increasingly vital, and this is a serious erosion of free speech.” Bob Piper, another affected blogger and local Labour Party politician in Birmingham, calls the situation “outrageous.” [Guardian, 9/20/2007]
Troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock announces that it is canceling the dividend that it was due to pay shareholders in October. The dividend would have cost the bank £59 million ($118 million). In addition, the bank says that it is in preliminary talks with people who want to buy all or part of its business. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling announces that the government’s scheme to protect savers with money deposited in British banks and building societies is being expanded to guarantee 100 percent of the first £35,000 ($70,000) of savings. Previously, a slightly lesser percentage of the first £33,000 a saver had on deposit was guaranteed. Darling adds that this is the first stage of a wider reform of the compensation system. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
David Miliband (L), Manouchehr Mottaki (R). [Source: Press TV]Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticizes ongoing talks between British officials and the Taliban in Afghanistan, characterizing them as the wrong approach. “Such moves indicate the continuation of the wrong policies which will only strengthen the Taliban and undermine Afghanistan’s government,” he says at a meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband in New York. He also slams Britain’s counter-narcotics efforts, pointing out that the production of narcotics has been increasing in Afghanistan despite British presence in areas of the country central to opium production, such as Helmand province. [Press TV, 10/2/2007]
The British Treasury agrees to protect 100 percent of new savings deposited with distressed mortgage giant Northern Rock after September 19. The Treasury had issued a similar guarantee three weeks ago (see September 17, 2007), but that had only covered deposits made up to September 19. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The chief executive of the British Financial Services Authority, Hector Sants, tells a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee that the regulator did not expect distressed bank Northern Rock to run into trouble. He tells MPs, “In terms of the probability of this organization getting into difficulty, we had it as a low probability.” He also admits that there are “lessons to be learned” from the failed regulation of Northern Rock. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
FC Barcelona wins a £2.1 million lawsuit against Fran Merida, a player who left the football club when he was 16, later joining Arsenal FC. Merida is found not to have honored a pre-contractual agreement he had with the Catalan giants. Spanish clubs cannot sign youth players until they are 18, whereas clubs in England can sign 16-year-olds under British law, meaning that some Spanish players sign for English clubs on turning 16. [Daily Telegraph, 10/11/2007] Arsenal will decide not to appeal the ruling and pay the fine for Merida. Reportedly, this decision is taken to improve relations between the two clubs, which have been poor since a similar problem with Cesc Fabregas’s move to London in 2003. [Daily Mail, 10/31/2009]
A consortium led by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group puts forward a proposal to rescue troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock. Under the plans, Northern Rock would keep its stock market listing, but would be rebranded as Virgin Money. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
John McBeth, a former chairman of the Scottish Football Association, says that Jack Warner, a top FIFA executive and president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, asked for a fee for an international friendly match in 2004 to be paid into his personal bank account. “Trinidad and Tobago came to play Scotland at Hibernian’s ground in Easter Road in Edinburgh,” says McBeth. “And after the game he asked me to make a check out to his personal account for the game. And I said ‘We don’t do that, it should go to the association.’ I then found out later that he’d approached several other staff in my organization—to do exactly the same thing.” Warner denies the allegations. McBeth had previously been withdrawn as a potential FIFA executive committee member after making comments alleging corruption in football circles in Africa and the Carribean. [BBC, 10/29/2007]
On the eve of a visit to London, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia says that his intelligence service warned Britain of an impending plot before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), but that British authorities failed to act on the warning. King Abdullah says, “We sent information to [Britain] before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.” He also says that Britain did not take terrorism seriously for a while. However, British authorities deny all this. [BBC, 10/29/2007] Details of the warning are not specified. However, this may be a reference to one or two discussions between Saudi Arabia and Britain in early 2005 about information indicating there was to be an attack in London (see December 14, 2004-February 2005 and April 2005 or Shortly Before).
Troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock announces that its chief executive, Adam Applegarth, has resigned. It originally says he will step down from his post after completing a review of the bank’s operations no later than the end of January 2008. However, he will actually leave early, in the middle of December. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Former British prime minister Tony Blair admits that he brushed off pleas from his ministers and advisers to try to prevent President Bush from going to war with Iraq, and that he turned down an eleventh-hour offer from Bush to pull Britain out of the conflict. Blair says he was convinced that Bush was doing the right thing in invading Iraq. He also says he wished he had published the full reports from the Joint Intelligence Committee instead of the cherry-picked “September dossier” that made false accusations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—a dossier that Blair says was one of the main factors in his losing the leadership of his country (see September 24, 2002). Blair, speaking as part of a BBC documentary, confirms what many people already believe: that he never used his influence as the leader of America’s strongest ally to try to force Bush away from military confrontation with Iraq. Instead, the invasion “was what I believed in, and I still do believe it.” The documentary shows that many of Blair’s closest advisers in and out of government, including foreign policy adviser David Manning, UN ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, foreign secretary Jack Straw, and even the US’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, all had serious doubts about the rush to war. But Blair says of his position, “In my view, if it wasn’t clear that the whole nature of the way Saddam was dealing with this issue had changed, I was in favor of military action.” Blair says he and Bush affirmed their intentions to invade Iraq in September 2002, during meetings at Camp David (see September 7, 2002). Bush promised to try to get a second resolution against Iraq in the UN; in return, Blair promised to support Bush in his planned invasion should the UN resolution not pass. Blair also says that, just before the House of Commons voted to authorize Britain to use military force against Iraq (see March 18, 2003), Bush called Blair to offer him the opportunity to withdraw. Blair declined. “He was always very cognizant of the difficulty I had,” Blair recalls. “He was determined we should not end up with the regime change being in Britain and he was saying to me, ‘Look I understand this is very difficult and America can do this militarily on its own and if you want to stick out of it, stick out of it,’ and I was equally emphatic we should not do that.” [London Times, 11/17/2007]
Jamil al-Banna speaking to the press after returning to Britain. [Source: Getty Images]On November 18, 2007, two British residents, Jamil al-Banna and Omar Deghayes, are released from the Guantanamo prison and returned to Britain. However, both men are immediately arrested when they arrive in Britain, because Spain has had an outstanding extradition request for them and two others since December 2003. The two others were later cleared of all wrongdoing. Al-Banna and Deghayes are released on bail a month later. [BBC, 12/20/2007] Then, on March 6, 2008, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon drops the extradition request after ruling that they are unfit to stand trial. British doctors who recently examined them say they are in poor health due to torture and inhumane treatment at Guantanamo (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). For instance, al-Banna is said to be severely depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and has diabetes, hypertension, and back pain. [Guardian, 3/6/2008] However, an article in The Guardian will say that while the two men are in poor health, that is really just a face-saving excuse to drop the extradition. Al-Banna in particular appears to have been framed by the British intelligence agency MI5, which gave the CIA false information about him and his friend Bisher al-Rawi that led to their capture and long imprisonment (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002 and December 8, 2002-March 2003). Al-Rawi was freed from Guantanamo earlier in the year (see April 1, 2007). The Guardian will say of al-Banna and Deghayes: “The innocence of the men will probably not be acknowledged publicly. It should be, if they are to rebuild their lives after the years of horror.… British complicity in the rendition of al-Banna from the Gambia to Afghanistan, and then to Guantanamo Bay, is in the public domain and shames us all.” [Guardian, 3/6/2008]
Troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock names a consortium headed by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as the preferred bidder to purchase it. The bank is up for sale because it has been hit hard by the credit crisis and requires new funding. The Virgin offer includes the immediate repayment of £11 billion ($22 billion) of the £25bn ($50 billion) Northern Rock has borrowed from the Bank of England to help it through the crisis. The remainder is to be paid over the next three years. RAB Capital, which is the second-largest shareholder in Northern Rock with a stake of about 6.7 percent, says it will oppose the move from Virgin. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Olivant group unveils its rescue proposal for the troubled British lender Northern Rock, which is up for sale because of problems it has encountered during the credit crisis. Olivant is led by Luqman Arnold, formerly head of British Abbey bank. The company says it could immediately repay up to £15 billion ($30 billion) of government money that Northern Rock has borrowed to help it through the crisis. However, Olivant will later complain about the negotiating process and will not submit a final bid. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Distressed British mortgage giant Northern Rock is dropped from the FTSE 100 index of leading London-listed blue chip shares. The move comes as part of the biggest shake-up of the index since the crash of 2001, when the “dotcom” investment bubble burst. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Taliban’s former chief spokesman, Mullah Mohammad Is’haq Nizami, reveals that talks are being held between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and key lieutenants of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mullah Nizami says that he has been relaying messages for months from Kabul to Mullah Omar’s aides in the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s ruling council based in Pakistan. The Quetta Shura is thought to be responsible for orchestrating attacks across the border in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan. The disclosure contradicts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s carefully worded statement to Parliament a day earlier insisting that no negotiations would be held with Taliban leaders. “We are not negotiating with the leadership, but we want to support President Karzai in his efforts at reconciliation. If he is successful in bringing across those members of the insurgency who then declare that they will give up fighting and support democracy and be part of the system, then these are efforts at reconciliation that are important to the future of the whole country,” Brown states during a session of prime minister’s questions. Mullah Nizami, who also ran the regime’s radio station Voice of Sharia until 2001, says that the negotiations aim to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. “Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taliban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate,” he says. Nizami fled to Pakistan in 2001 when the Taliban regime collapsed, but returned to Kabul under an ongoing reconciliation programme in an effort to open talks. Mullah Nazimi further explains that the Taliban want to take part in the Afghan government, want sharia law instituted, and want the withdrawal of international forces. The Belfast Telegraph reports that talks will continue “under the table” until the two sides can agree on something warranting a public announcement. The Independent reports that the British government was prepared to admit that the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had taken place and that dialogue should be opened with Taliban leaders, but Gordon Brown changed his mind just before prime minister’s questions on December 12, denying any negotiations with Taliban leadership. Brown’s denial is further contradicted by a report that British MI6 agents had engaged in secret talks with the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent leaders in Helmand Province earlier this summer (see Summer 2007). [Independent, 12/12/2007; Belfast Telegraph, 12/13/2007]
British military sources tout the success of secret meetings and negotiations held with elements of the Taliban, claiming that direct contact has led insurgents to change sides and has provided intelligence leading to the deaths of key insurgent commanders. But critics, such as officials within the Afghan government, argue that the tactics—including the use of bribes for information—undermine democracy and allow the Taliban a back door back into power. In addition, Afghan military sources claim that insurgents are using coalition forces to settle scores with rivals. American officials say the policy of engagement by the British has led to serious mistakes, such as the agreement reached in Musa Qala in February under which British forces were withdrawn in return for tribal elders pledging to keep the Taliban out. The Taliban quickly occupied the town and held it for seven months. The Independent also reports that the Taliban has killed and tortured insurgents, children included, who were seen to be collaborating with British and the Afghan governments. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government continues to officially deny Britain has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban. [Independent, 12/14/2007]
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf mysteriously escapes from a prison in Pakistan. Authorities will say he escapes after freeing himself from handcuffs while being transported from one prison to another. The two policemen escorting him allowed him to stop and pray at a mosque. According to The Guardian, “The officers claimed that when Rauf walked into the mosque they waited outside in their car, never considering for a moment that he could simply walk out of the back door.” Furthermore, they do not report the escape for several hours. The two policemen on the duty are arrested, but it is unclear what happens to them. The Pakistani government will say they must have been bribed to allow Rauf to escape.
Linked to Pakistani Militant Group - Rauf, a dual Pakistani and British citizen, was implicated as a leader of a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain using liquid explosives (see August 10, 2006). He was arrested in Pakistan. His wife is closely related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant group that has a history of links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Was He Allowed to Escape to Avoid Extradition? - Rauf’s lawyer will claim that it is not a case of simple bribery. “You could call it a ‘mysterious disappearance’ if you like, but not an escape,” he will say. “The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not.” In December 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped, but he remained in Pakistani custody on charges of carrying explosives and forged identity papers (see December 13, 2006). In November 2007, those charges were dropped and a judge ordered his immediate release. But less than an hour later, the Pakistani government announced that he would be extradited to Britain to be charged in the airplane plot, and he would remain in custody until that happened. His escape took place as he was getting close to being extradited. People at the mosque where he is supposed to have escaped will say that they never saw him or any policemen on this day, and the police never came looking for him later. [Guardian, 1/28/2008] In November 2008, it will be reported that Rauf was killed in a US drone strike, but his family will insist he remains alive (see November 22, 2008).
Since Britain has withdrawn its troops from the Iraqi city of Basra, attacks against British and Iraqi forces have dropped by 90%, according to the commander of British forces in southern Iraq. Major General Graham Binns says that the reason for the drop is simple: the presence of British forces in downtown Basra was the single largest instigator of violence. “We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?’” Binns says. Britain’s 5,000 troops pulled out of their barracks—in a palace built for the use of former dictator Saddam Hussein—in early September, and instead set up a garrison at an airport on the edge of the city. Since the pullback, Binns says, there has been a “remarkable and dramatic drop in attacks.… The motivation for attacking us was gone, because we’re no longer patrolling the streets.” Last spring, British forces waged relentless and bloody battles with Shi’ite militias through the streets of central Basra. British forces have now left the in-town patrols to Iraqi forces, who, Binns says, can now handle the remaining problems in the city. By the middle of December, British troops will return control of Basra province back to Iraqi officials, formally ending Britain’s combat role in the area. Binns says, “We’ve been in that de facto role since we moved out of the palace… but we hope the transfer will symbolize the end of a period many in Basra city perceived as occupation.” Binns says he and other British military officials were surprised that the expected spike in what is termed “intra-militia violence” after the pullback never occurred. Binns says the Mahdi Army, the Shi’ite militia led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is “all powerful” in Basra. The rival Badr Brigade, tied to Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, will not openly challenge the Mahdis in the city. Britain’s troop levels have steadily declined from a high of 46,000 in March 2003 to about 5,000 now. [Associated Press, 12/15/2007]
SRM Global, a hedge fund that controls 9.9 percent of shares in ailing British bank Northern Rock, warns Chancellor Alistair Darling not to consider nationalizing the bank for less than a fair price. In a letter sent shortly before Christmas, SRM says it has been advised that otherwise there would be a breach of the Human Rights Act and it would have a strong case to pursue ministers through the courts. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The Associated Press reports that 2007 is the deadliest year yet for US troops in Iraq, though the death toll has dropped significantly in the last few months. The US military’s official count of US war dead for 2007 in Iraq is 899. (The previous high was 850 in 2004. The current death toll since the March 2003 invasion is 3,902.) The unofficial count for Iraqi civilian deaths in 2007 is 18,610. [Associated Press, 12/30/2007] CNN reports that there was a spike in US deaths in the spring as the “surge” was getting underway. There were 104 deaths in April, 126 in May, and 101 in June: the deadliest three-month stretch in the war for US troops. [CNN, 12/31/2007] The reasons for the downturn in US deaths are said to include the self-imposed cease-fire by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army, a grassroots Sunni revolt against extremists (see August 30, 2007), Iran’s apparent decision to slow down its provisions of aid for Shi’ite fighters, and the US “surge” (see February 2, 2007). General David Petraeus, the supreme commander of US military forces in Iraq, says: “We’re focusing our energy on building on what coalition and Iraqi troopers have accomplished in 2007. Success will not, however, be akin to flipping on a light switch. It will emerge slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating fewer bad days and gradually more good days.” Security consultant James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation warns that the US is not out of the weeds yet. “The number of people who have the power to turns things around appears to be dwindling,” he says, referring to Iraqi extremists. “But there are still people in Iraq that could string together a week of really bad days.… People have to be really careful about over-promising that this [decline in violence] is an irreversible trend. I think it is a soft trend.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2007]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling tells the Financial Times that he is planning to give the Financial Services Authority (FSA) more power to deal with failing banks to avoid another crisis like the one that has engulfed Northern Rock (see September 14, 2007). He proposes giving the FSA the power to seize and protect customers’ cash if a bank gets into difficulties. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Troubled British mortgage giant Northern Rock agrees to sell £2.2 billion (about $4.4 billion) of its mortgage assets to US investment bank JP Morgan. The assets represent about 2 percent of its mortgage portfolio and the price represents a 2.25 percent premium on the assets’ value. Northern Rock says it will use the funds to pay back some of the £25 billion ($50 billion) in emergency loans it has been given by the Bank of England to help it through the financial crisis. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The British Treasury signs Ron Sandler, an experienced banker, to head ailing mortgage giant Northern Rock in the event of its nationalization, according to media reports. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008] Commercial companies are currently finalizing bids in an attempt to keep the bank private, but it will be nationalized the next month and Sandler will be appointed to run it. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
At a meeting with management, the largest two shareholders in the troubled British mortgage lender Northern Rock—hedge funds RAB Capital and SRM Global—put forward a proposal that will stop the bank’s management negotiating its sale without consent from its shareholders. The bank needs to be sold to a new owner because of problems it has encountered during the credit crisis, and both major shareholders are worried they will not get much for their holdings (see November 26, 2007 and Shortly Before December 25, 2007). However, the bank’s management argues that the proposal should be rejected, as it would make a sale harder, and the other shareholders follow their lead, opening the way for the bank to be sold. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirms that talks are taking place to secure a private sale of ailing mortgage bank Northern Rock. However, he also says he has not ruled out the possibility of nationalizing the bank. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling announces a plan to sell government-guaranteed bonds worth about £25 billion ($50 billion) to help the sale of stricken mortgage giant Northern Rock to a private investor. The proceeds from the sale of the bonds would be used to pay off emergency loans the bank has taken out from the Bank of England. The British treasury thinks the bonds would speed up a private sale of the troubled lender. Although Northern Rock shares rise by about 42 percent on the news, the bank will be nationalized the next month and the bonds will not be issued. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
The House of Commons’ Treasury Select Committee says that Britain’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) was guilty of a “systematic failure of duty” over the crisis at stricken mortgage giant Northern Rock. MPs say the financial watchdog should have spotted the bank’s “reckless” business plan. In addition, they call for the Bank of England to appoint a head of financial stability. The FSA says it has already admitted failings in relation to Northern Rock and insists it is “addressing” them. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group submits a bid to take over the ailing British mortgage giant Northern Rock. Another bid is submitted by the bank’s own board of directors. These are the only two bids submitted by the deadline, as all the other potential buyers have already dropped out. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] Under the terms of its rescue plan, Virgin would inject £1.25 billion (about $2.5 billion) into the bank and take a stake of 55 percent in it. The bank would be rebranded as Virgin Money. Northern Rock’s managers say their proposal—which gained shareholder backing—includes raising at least £500 million (about $1 billion), reducing the assets on the bank’s balance sheet, and reorganizing its operations. The managers criticize Virgin’s bid over the job cuts it entails, although Virgin says they are needed in order to rapidly repay the government money propping the bank up. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]
The British Office for National Statistics decides that £100 billion (about $200 billion) of debt owed by ailing mortgage giant Northern Rock will appear on government accounts, because of the government’s bailout of the bank. The move means the government may be at risk of breaking its rule to keep net debt below 40 percent of national income. The office stresses that the statistical change to public status should not be confused with nationalization, although the bank will actually be nationalized within days. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008]
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The British Treasury says that it does not like either of two bids recently submitted for stricken lender Northern Rock (see February 4, 2008). The bank is being propped up by government loans and could be sold to a private buyer so that the government can get its money back. However, the Treasury is not satisfied with the bids and sees nationalization as a better outcome for the taxpayer. One of the consortia, led by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is told that it is the front-runner to take control of the bank. The Treasury urges both Virgin and its rival bidder to offer more. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
British Chancellor Alistair Darling rejects two bids to keep troubled lender Northern Rock in private hands and says the bank will be nationalized. Darling says that both bids would require a “very significant implicit subsidy” from the taxpayer, so the bank is to be placed into a “temporary period of public ownership.” Ron Sandler, a banking executive sounded out by the government in advance (see January 12, 2008), is placed in charge of the now state-owned bank. [Daily Telegraph, 2/26/2008; BBC, 8/5/2008] Shares in Northern Rock are suspended from trading the next day. Darling says the nationalized bank will operate “at arm’s length” from the government. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the decision to nationalize is “the right move at the right time” and is one which “protects savers” and is in “the best interests of taxpayers.” Conservative Party shadow chancellor George Osborne tells MPs that Darling “is a dead man walking” and Conservative leader David Cameron demands Darling be fired over his handling of the nationalization. Sandler says it will take years for the bank to pay back its loans from the taxpayer, but declines to comment on potential job losses. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
New evidence emerges proving that, despite earlier denials, a senior press officer was closely involved in writing the British government’s September 2002 dossier that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see September 24, 2002), a claim then known to be false. John Williams, then the director of communications at the Foreign Office, was granted access to secret intelligence as he helped prepare an early draft of the dossier (see September 10-11, 2002). Williams was a former political editor of the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper. According to a document that until now has been suppressed by the Foreign Office, Williams was given the same access to classified information as the primary author of the dossier, then-Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett. The Foreign Office document is only now being made available because an information tribunal reviewing pre-war intelligence ordered its release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the Williams document was not used as the basis for the “Scarlett dossier.” However, during the Hutton inquiry, Scarlett referred to the “considerable help” Williams had given him in writing the dossier. Additionally, Williams took part in Cabinet Office meetings on the dossier. The document refers to Iraq having missiles capable of “threatening NATO,” including Greece and Turkey, a claim repeated in the published dossier. It also states that there was “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That phrase was used in all three drafts of the dossier, though it was well known by that time that the claims of Iraqi-African uranium deals were based on forged documents. Some of Williams’s more extravagant language was not used. His draft begins: “Iraq presents a uniquely dangerous threat to the world. No other country has twice launched wars of aggression against neighbours.” Someone else wrote in the margin: “Germany? US: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico.” William Hague, the Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, says the Williams document is “further evidence that spin doctors, not intelligence analysts, were leading from the first in deciding what the British people were told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” [Guardian, 2/19/2008]
Chelsea announces a loss of £74.8m for the 2007-08 football season. The figures show a 25 percent increase in turnover, to £190.5m, making the club second only to Manchester United in the Premier League, but the loss fell by only 7 percent compared to the previous season (see February 19, 2007). Chief executive Peter Kenyon allows that the club’s aim of breaking even by 2010 is “ambitious,” but adds: “I don’t think it’s something we are postponing, but it’s always been ambitious. We are determined to meet it, or get as close as we can.” [Guardian, 2/22/2008] The club will actually make a loss of over £70m in the 2009-10 season (see January 31, 2011).
The British financial website “This is Money” warns about the stability of the Kaupthing Edge banking product. Kaupthing Edge is a brand used to attract depositors by the Icelandic Kaupthing Bank. In response to a reader’s question about the brand’s soundness, correspondent Alan O’Sullivan points out that the rating agency Moody’s has recently described Icelandic banks as “fragile” and that its borrowing costs have increased 400% in the last year. For this reason, analysts think it is far more likely to default than any other European bank. As a result, O’Sullivan recommends that savers do not maintain balances on accounts with the bank in excess of the maximum limit on deposit insurance. [This is Money, 2/22/2008] Kaupthing Bank will collapse seven and a half months later. [Reuters, 10/9/2008]
Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, rules that the minutes of Cabinet meetings at which ministers discussed the legality of invading Iraq should be published. In his finding, Thomas says that documents and transcripts concerning the legal discussions should be made public in part because “there is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision.” In this case, Thomas says, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the principles that normally allow the government not to have to publish minutes of cabinet decisions. The government is expected to appeal Thomas’s decision. In and of itself, Thomas’s decision does not have enough legal weight to force publication. Many lawyers, legal experts, and antiwar figures believe that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. On March 17, 2003, then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ruled that the invasion was legal (see March 17, 2003), but Goldsmith had issued dramatically different opinions before the eve of the war (see Before October 7, 2002). One of Goldsmith’s legal opinions against the war, published on March 7, 2003, was kept from the Cabinet ministers, and many argue that had the Cabinet known of Goldsmith’s reservations, some of the ministers may not have supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Former international development secretary Clare Short, who quit the government following the war, says the Cabinet minutes would only give a “sanitized” account of the meetings, but their release would set an important precedent: “[H]aving made this decision, the discussion won’t stop there. There will be pressure for more,” she says. The Cabinet Office has not yet decided whether to obey Thomas’s ruling. [Guardian, 2/26/2008] That office previously rejected a Freedom of Information request for the transcripts. [BBC, 2/26/2008]
Alisher Usmanov, a Uzbek-Russian businessman of dubious repute (see September 2, 2007) who now owns a 24 percent stake in Arsenal (see Shortly Before August 31, 2007), says he only plans to increase his interest by a small amount. According to Usmanov, the investment vehicle Red & White Holdings, of which he is a co-owner, wants a blocking stake in the football club, which would be 25 percent plus one share. This would give it a veto on major club issues. [Reuters, 2/27/2008]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock says it will cut about 2,000 jobs and reduce its residential mortgage lending by half. The job cuts, which account for about a third of its staff, will be made by 2011 under plans to turn around the ailing bank’s fortunes. The staff unions strongly protest the move. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The British Financial Services Authority (FSA) admits failures in its supervision of recently nationalized mortgage giant Northern Rock. The FSA admits it is guilty of “a lack of adequate oversight and review” of the troubled bank, adding that too few regulators were assigned to monitor it. However, the FSA argues it should continue to have responsibility for regulating the banking system and says it will overhaul its procedures as a result of the weaknesses identified. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock publishes its results for 2007, showing a pre-tax loss of £167.6 million (about $335 million). The bank also says it will be “significantly loss-making” in 2008, but pledges to repay its £25 billion (about $50 billion) loan from the Bank of England by 2010. In addition, it reveals that former chief executive Adam Applegarth (see November 16, 2007) will get severance payments totaling £785,000 (about $1,570,000). [BBC, 8/5/2008]
The European Union (EU) says it will launch a full investigation into the British government’s nationalization and bailout of troubled mortgage lender Northern Rock. Under EU rules, public support can be allowed to stop firms from going bankrupt, but long-term government aid that is seen to undermine competition is not permitted. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
WikiLeaks wins the Economist New Media Award for 2008. The award is given by a panel of judges for the Index on Censorship, a British organization established to promote freedom of expression. The Index comments, “Having faced down an attempt by an investment bank [Julius Baer] to have it shut down, WikiLeaks continues to be an invaluable resource for anonymous whistleblowers and investigative journalists.” [Index on Censorship, 4/22/2008]
Shareholders in the recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock launch a court challenge over compensation they are due to receive from the government. The UK Shareholders Association submits an application for a legal review into the terms of the bank’s nationalization. According to the association, about 7,000 shareholders back the action. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
State-owned British lender Northern Rock says that mortgages in arrears for at least three months have increased significantly over the last four months. On April 30 they accounted for 0.95 percent of its total lending, whereas on December 31 of the previous year they were only 0.57 percent of lending. The bank also says the British mortgage market remains “uncertain.” [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Australian troops at Camp Terendak crowd around newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his December 2007 visit to the camp. [Source: Australian Defense Department]The Australian government announces that its entire deployment of 550 troops is leaving Iraq immediately. Australian troops lower the national flag that had flown over their last enclave, Camp Terendak in Talil. The troops will be officially welcomed home on June 28 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had campaigned on a platform of bringing the nation’s troops home as soon as possible. Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the withdrawal “closed another chapter in a strong and proud Australian military history.” Australian soldiers had rarely engaged in combat per se, but had protected engineers carrying out reconstruction work, had helped train Iraqi soldiers and police, and had taken part in training Iraqis for counterinsurgency operations. Fitzgibbon calls the decision to withdraw overdue, noting Australian deployments in East Timor and Afghanistan. Former Prime Minister John Howard, who made the unpopular decision to deploy troops to Iraq in support of US and British forces, describes himself as “baffled” by the decision to withdraw, and says that had he been returned to office, “we would not have been bringing them home, we would have been looking at transitioning them from their soon-to-be terminated role to a training role.” Rudd counters by accusing Howard of misleading the country over the necessity of invading Iraq, saying, “Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence.” 300 Australian soldiers will remain in Baghdad to help guard Australian diplomats, and 500 more will remain in the Middle East. [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
The USS Peleliu. [Source: Zack Baddor / AP]Human rights groups claim that the US is operating “floating prisons” as detention facilities for prisoners taken in the “war on terror.” The groups claim that the US is keeping prisoners aboard ships such as the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu (see December 27, 2001), and say that the Americans refuse to admit to the existence of such detainees. The human rights group Reprieve has asked that the US list the names and whereabouts of such “ghost detainees” held aboard US vessels. The existence of the detainees has come to light from a number of sources, including statements from US military officials, information provided by the Council of Europe and other parliamentary bodies, and prisoner testimonies (see June 2, 2008).
Details of Detentions - Reprieve says the US has used as many as 17 ships as “floating prisons” since 2001. While aboard, the prisoners are interrogated, then rendered to undisclosed locations. Fifteen of those ships may have operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia, which hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973 and After February 7, 2002). According to information obtained by Reprieve, in early 2007, the Ashland was involved in the detention and rendering of over 100 individuals abducted by Somali, Kenyan, and Ethiopian forces during an upsurge of fighting in Somalia, and then interrogated by FBI and CIA agents. Those individuals have now disappeared, but many are believed to be held in prisons in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantanamo Bay, among other possible sites. One prisoner released from Guantanamo has retold the account of a fellow inmate’s detention: “[H]e was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.” Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s legal director, says the US military “choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights.… By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001 (see November 17, 2005). The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”
British Officials Ask for Accountability - Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, says both the US and British governments must own up to their practices of rendition and “ghost detainees.” “Little by little, the truth is coming out on extraordinary rendition,” he says. “The rest will come, in time. Better for governments to be candid now, rather than later. Greater transparency will provide increased confidence that President Bush’s departure from justice and the rule of law in the aftermath of September 11 is being reversed, and can help to win back the confidence of moderate Muslim communities, whose support is crucial in tackling dangerous extremism.” Tyrie has requested that an investigation into the use of Diego Garcia as a rendition refueling stop be undertaken (see June 2, 2008). Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey adds: “If the Bush administration is using British territories to aid and abet illegal state abduction, it would amount to a huge breach of trust with the British government. Ministers must make absolutely clear that they would not support such illegal activity, either directly or indirectly.” A US Naval spokesman says that none of its vessels have “detention facilities,” but admits that some detainees had been put on ships “for a few days” during their initial days of detention. He refuses to comment on reports that US Naval vessels stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as “prison ships.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008]
Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Guardian, 6/2/2008]
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) predicts “a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets over the next three months as inflation paralyzes the major central banks.” RBS credit strategist Bob Janjuah says, “A very nasty period is soon to be upon us—be prepared.” Bolstering Janjuah’s dire predictions, the RBS bank research team warns that the Wall Street equities index, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 index is likely to fall by more than 300 points to around 1050 by September as “all the chickens come home to roost” from what the Daily Telegraph describes as “the excesses of the global boom, with contagion spreading across Europe and emerging markets. Such a slide on world [markets] would amount to one of the worst bear markets over the last century.” Janjuah also warned of the credit crisis in 2007. RBS predicts that Wall Street would rally a little in early July before quickly fizzling out. “Globalization was always going to risk putting G7 bankers into a dangerous corner at some point. We have got to that point,” Janjuah says. RBS debt market chief Kit Jukes says Europe will not be immune from the problems: “Economic weakness is spreading and the latest data on consumer demand and confidence are dire.” [Daily Telegraph, 6/19/2008]
A poll shows that 53 percent of Americans believe torture should be unequivocally abolished, and 44 percent of Americans favor torture when dealing with terrorists. Thirteen percent say torture should be allowed in general. The poll was taken by WorldPublicOpinion.org, which is associated with the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes. US support for torturing terrorists has grown since 2006, when 36 percent favored the idea. Citizens in other countries were also polled about torture, and they generally show stronger opinions against torture. For instance, 82 percent in Britain, France, and Spain believe torture should be unequivocally abolished. [Deutsche Presse Agentur, 6/24/2008]
The leading British bank Barclays announces that it will issue new shares worth £4.5bn (about $9bn) to bolster its finances, which have been hit by losses on US mortgage-backed securities. Much of the new money will come from Asian investors, led by the state-run Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). The Qataris will invest £1.7bn (about $3.4bn), taking a 7.7 percent stake. [BBC, 6/25/2008] The QIA’s holding company is chaired by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, who is to invest another £533m (about $1bn) privately through a company named Challenger. [Daily Telegraph, 6/27/2008] The Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui will invest £500m (about $1bn) and existing shareholders are also to buy more shares. The China Development Bank will buy another £136m (about $270m) of shares, and the Singaporean investment fund Temasek will buy another £200m (about $390m) of them. [BBC, 6/25/2008]
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org. [Source: New York Times] (click image to enlarge)It is reported that June 2008 was the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the US invaded that country in late 2001. There were 28 US combat deaths there that month, which nearly equals the 29 US combat deaths in Iraq in the same month. A total of 46 soldiers in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed in June, the highest monthly total of the war. There have been 533 US combat deaths since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, began in late 2001 (but this number includes deaths in the region outside of Afghanistan). Top US commanders say that the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with the previous year. US officials and Afghanistan experts say the increasing soldier death toll is a sign of the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says: “What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective. It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved.” [Washington Post, 7/2/2008] The same day as the new peaks of soldier deaths in Afghanistan is front-page news in most US newspapers, President Bush announces that the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be increased by the end of 2008. However, he gives no details on exactly when or by how many. [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
Recently nationalized British bank Northern Rock announces that its chief executive, Andy Kuipers, will leave the bank at the end of August 2008. Kuipers is the final member of its original board to leave the bank after the crisis that led to its nationalization. Northern Rock appoints the vice chairman of Barclays Bank, Gary Hoffman, as its new chief executive. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
State-owned British bank Northern Rock announces bigger-than-expected losses of £585.4 million (about $1.170 billion) for the first six months of the year.
Much of the loss comes from the charges it takes to cover losses from struggling mortgage borrowers. However, it also managed to repay £9.4 billion (about $18.8 billion) of the emergency loan it had accepted from the Bank of England, reducing the amount owed to £17.5 billion (about $35 billion). The British government announces it will inject £3 billion (about $6 billion) to help the bank. [BBC, 8/5/2008]
Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, believes the US war strategy there is doomed to failure and that public opinion should primed for “an acceptable dictator” to be installed in Kabul, according to a leaked diplomatic cable sent by a French diplomat who met with Sir Sherard. The ambassador’s comments are recounted in a coded diplomatic dispatch sent by deputy French Ambassador to Kabul François Fitou to President Sarkozy and the Foreign Ministry. They are later published by the French investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. Claude Angeli, the veteran Canard journalist who reports the cable, says that he has a copy of the two-page decoded text, which is partially printed in facsimile in his newspaper. “It is quite explosive,” he tells the London Times. According to the leaked memo, Sir Sherard, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, tells Fitou that the only realistic outlook for Afghanistan would be the installation of “an acceptable dictator” within five or 10 years, and that public opinion should be primed for this. He says that Britain had no alternative to supporting the United States in Afghanistan despite the fact that the US-led NATO military operation was making things worse. “We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one,” he is quoted as saying. “In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan.… The American strategy is doomed to fail.” The French Foreign Ministry does not deny the existence of the cable but denounces its publication by Le Canard Enchaîné. Acknowledging that the meeting between Sir Sherard and Fitou did take place, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that the cable does not accurately reflect the ambassador’s views. Sources in the British government say the French account is a parody of the British Ambassador’s remarks. The exact date of the meeting is unclear. The Times reports that Sir Sherard imparts his thoughts to Mr Fitou on September 2, but The Guardian and the New York Times clarify that Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the cabled dispatch was sent to the Élysée Palace and the French Foreign Ministry on September 2, relating a meeting that had just happened. [Guardian, 10/2/2008; London Times, 10/2/2008; New York Times, 10/3/2008]
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