Issue 282 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Lord Hutton: not whiter than white|
The Hutton inquiry cut into the government, exposing the messy lies and distortions underneath Blair's Iraq claims. The Hutton report puts a nice big judicial bandage over that cut. Temporarily rejuvenated, Blair parades his Hutton-issue certificate of honesty, augmented by the BBC's 'unreserved' apology. Under the bandage the wound rapidly festers.
What the inquiry revealed, Hutton now tries to cover up using the appalling judgement developed in his years as a judge: Hutton's qualifications include service in Northern Ireland's 'Diplock' courts. These no-jury courts used to try 'terrorists' during the 'Troubles', and were famous for accepting any nonsense thrown at them by the security services. After that Hutton represented the British army at the Widgery tribunal, an early whitewash of the Bloody Sunday killings. More recently Hutton ruled that David Shayler's revelations about MI5 were not 'in the public interest'. Hutton also ruled that General Pinochet could appeal because one of his original judges was terribly biased--Lord Hoffman forgot to declare he was a member of that well-known subversive organisation Amnesty International. By allowing Pinochet's appeal, Hutton started the process that ended with Chile's murderous former dictator avoiding a trial because the general felt a bit poorly.
Brian Hutton's method is: 'Important' people are honest and true. Everyone else must be treated with suspicion. Spy chief John Scarlett was known as Captain Scarlet to journalists who reported the Hutton inquiry--the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee's bureaucratic, please-the-boss persona compared badly with the heroic puppet from children's TV. Hutton took the obviously silly Scarlett at face value. The first version of the dossier disappointed Blair. Campbell insisted on a 'substantial rewrite... structure as per TB's [Tony Blair's] discussion. Agreement that there has to be real intelligence material'. Dutifully Scarlett came up with the new claim that the Iraqis 'may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes'. This was not enough for Campbell, who insisted Scarlett change 'may be able' to 'are able'.
Hutton believed Scarlett inserted the 45-minute claim because it arrived late. In fact Scarlett's spooks simply trawled through Iraqi exile groups for any old rumour to pump up Tony's dossier. Unsurprisingly, Scarlett's secret agents were happy to use deception to serve their political masters and promote war, although Kelly and Gilligan were right that at least some junior spooks were unhappy with the trick. The 45-minute claim actually passed from a disgruntled Iraqi soldier to MI6 via the CIA-backed Iraqi National Accord. The spokesman for the group's leader, Ayad Allawi, who now serves the Coalition Provisional Authority, described the 45-minute information as 'a crock of shit'. The fact that the central claim in the dossier came via exile groups indicates Britain had no spies in Iraq whatsoever, although this mattered little as MI6 did not want to know what was actually happening, they just needed to put together a cut and paste argument for war. Scarlett, Campbell, Blair and now Hutton have all willingly swallowed the 'crock of shit' to justify the war and the whitewash. There was no 'mistake'; neither the government nor the security services 'got it wrong' about WMD--their slogan wasn't 'what's Saddam got?', it was 'let's have a war'.
The September dossier says Iraqi defector and Saddam's son-in-law General Kamil exposed the extent of Iraq's WMD programmes. Just before the war Newsweek published a leaked text of Kamil's debrief with the weapons inspectors. We found out what Scarlett, Straw and Blair already knew: Kamil did reveal the extent of Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programmes. He also revealed that they had all been destroyed since 1991.
Hutton also glossed over Dr Kelly's poor treatment. There have been over 200 leak inquiries since 1997. Less than half a dozen names became public. It isn't fair that some 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war, but they are not even counted, whereas one British military scientist commits suicide and merits his own personal whitewash. However, the fact that the government was happy to throw one of their own to the wolves is a lesson in itself. Kelly was a whistleblower of a sort, although he blew his whistle gently and not in public--he was Shallow Throat. The fact that he supported the war makes his discomfort with the lies even more compelling. The other current named whistleblower is the distinctly more heroic Katherine Gun, a GCHQ translator being prosecuted for exposing US plans to spy on their 'allies' in the UN Security Council in an attempt to win votes for war.
While Hutton helped Blair, his relief will be temporary: Hutton can produce a report, Tony can put on a show of hurt vindication, but neither man can turn up a single gas bomb or germ rocket in Iraq itself. Even US weapons inspector David Kay is saying there are no WMD and calling for an inquiry. The disparity between the real world and the report means that the Hutton effect is as big as the infamously flat 'Baghdad bounce'. The fact that Iraq's 'liberation' is as hard to find as the fabled weapons undermines the 'triumph'. If Blair's recent visit to Basra included a vote of thanks from a newly elected Iraqi parliament there would be little debate about WMD. Instead the PM skulked onto an army base surrounded by unhappy squaddies. The only Iraqis he met were a handful of police. Within a week the British army were shooting unemployed demonstrators.
There is a real possibility that Hutton laid on the whitewash a little too thick for the government. A few mild criticisms, an opportunity to throw out Geoff Hoon as a kind of ministerial chaff to draw away enemy fire would have helped fill the credibility gap. Instead Hutton can only increase public distrust over the war: Labour MPs and Fleet Street are little help, but ordinary people can make all the difference. Just as the massive anti-war demonstrations first changed the agenda on Iraq, so the demonstrations by BBC staff punched the first hole in Hutton. It looks like 'No more whitewash', will become a slogan alongside 'No more occupation' and 'No more war'.
BETWEEN THE LINES
'Are there easy ways to control the skivers?' asks Tips & Advice--Personnel, a 'fortnightly guide to being a cost-effective employer' sent unsolicited to Between the Lines. What follows is an eye-opening account of how to find the legal loopholes in employment protection legislation. Perhaps the most outrageous section advises how to discover if a potential employee is pregnant using a carefully worded medical questionnaire. To not hire someone for this reason would break sex discrimination laws, so clearly the question 'you're itching to ask' is simply curiosity.
The European Commission has drawn up a list of items to be banned from aircraft cabins. Barring martial arts kit such as nunchakus, throwing stars and kubotans is understandable. Lacrosse sticks and harpoons slightly less so. But skateboards?
The Labour Party website continues to amuse. At the time of writing the 'news archive' section displays nothing but a big, blank space. Add your own Orwellian memory hole joke.
George Bush and the corporate thieves
While Tony Blair clung to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as the justification for war on Iraq, the US administration tended to hold more with the argument that the war was about removing Saddam Hussein and delivering democracy to the people of Iraq. As the occupation continues, both arguments are being resoundingly stripped of any credibility.
David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group charged with finding the WMDs, resigned last month, saying he didn't believe there had been any WMDs stockpiled since the 1991 Gulf War. His replacement, Charles Duelfer, a former UN weapons inspector, has previously gone on record saying he did not believe weapons would be found. Even Colin Powell--who last February categorically informed the UN Security Council that 'We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his WMDs; he's determined to make more'--has now admitted it is an 'open question' whether WMDs will ever materialise. US corporation Halliburton has to date spent $40 million on this wild goose chase--enough to support 6,600 Iraqi families for a year at $500 per month.
Meanwhile, 60 to 70 percent of Iraqis are unemployed, rebuilding and renovation supposed to have been carried out by profiteers Halliburton and Bechtel has been shoddy or delayed, and Baghdad frequently goes without power for up to ten hours a day. Iraqis feel their country has been looted--a chant popular with kids is 'George Bush Ali Baba!'. As the resistance to the occupation goes on, the occupiers and corporations cite 'security issues' as the reason for delay. Here we find another source of profit: British security company Group 4 is offering two 24-hour security guards for any building for $6,106 per month--of which just 10 percent is the Iraqi employees' salaries.
So what of democracy? Paul Bremer insists that there is 'not enough time' to organise free elections in time for the (arbitrarily set by the US) deadline of 30 June. His plan is instead to appoint 'organising committees' of the great and the good in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, who will then appoint 'caucuses', who in turn will elect representatives to a transitional assembly, which will take over from the Coalition Provisional Assembly. 'Free elections' will have to wait until the end of 2005. As Naomi Klein points out, going from George W Bush down, this amounts to rule by appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees.
The people of Iraq do not accept Bremer's logic. Shia leader Ayatollah Al Sistani has told his supporters to 'talk to the Americans, but end every conversation by asking when the Americans are going to leave'. Sabah Al Qaisi of the Sunni Council said in the Guardian, 'We want real, free and decent elections. Elections under occupation are not the correct way to do it. We want the Americans to leave and then we will hold elections.' The end of January saw the biggest demonstration since the end of the war, with 100,000 Iraqis marching for democracy.
Bush's dream of being able to claim the US is pulling out of Iraq in the run-up to the presidential election may yet crumble. The battle for real democracy may yet be won on the streets.
|There was a continuous stream of protests at the WSF(Jess Hurd/www.reportdigital.co.uk)|
The World Social Forum (WSF) that took place last month in Mumbai (Bombay) represented another immense step forward for the anti-capitalist movement. It is hard to imagine a better place to hold the WSF than in India, a country with some of the biggest slums in the world set next to advanced industrialisation, where the left are demoralised and disorientated by the rise of the right wing chauvinist BJP, who look set to win again in the forthcoming elections.
Moving the event from the previous venue of Porto Alegre in Brazil opened it up to many people from across Asia. Thousands of people took part from throughout India--from the two large Communist parties, trade unions, women's groups, gay groups, NGOs and groups of the oppressed such as the dalits (untouchables) who were very visible at the forum. Many delegates remarked that they had never seen the progressive movements in India together on such a scale. It is a sign of the inclusiveness and success of the WSF that a rival event, 'Mumbai Resistance', organised by some small Indian groups who believe that the WSF is not radical enough and who are critical of the involvement of the NGOs in the social forums, attracted only a few hundred people compared to the 100,000 plus at the WSF.
The WSF was attended by activists from all round the world--Africa, Europe, the Americas and other parts of Asia such as Indonesia, Tibet and South Korea. Only a few hundred activists from Pakistan managed to obtain visas or get across the border. They received a fantastic response at the WSF. Several of them told us how warmly they had been received, and that they had been invited back to stay or eat with Indian families in Mumbai. Over 150 socialists and anti-capitalists from South Korea, largely from the International Socialist group All Together, made a massive impact on the event, organising two successful south Asian anti-war conferences and making the local papers with their huge banner proclaiming 'Our world is not for sale'.
The WSF opened in style with tens of thousands gathering to hear music and speeches from Ahmed Ben Bella, Jeremy Corbyn and others. Arundhati Roy stole the show with a powerful speech arguing that Iraq and the question of imperialism are key to the anti-capitalist movement and that global resistance, not faith in left wing governments, is needed to ensure real change.
For the next few days the WSF was alive with debate, argument, meetings, stalls, theatre, music, and a constant stream of marches and demonstrations by hundreds of groups and delegations. There were many meetings of several thousand on questions of globalisation and war, and around specific struggles such as the dalits. Six thousand union activists marched to an assembly to discuss the trade union struggle. Around 2,000 people attended a very lively meeting on women and globalisation that began with chants of 'Another world is possible' and ended with calls for freedom from exploitation, oppression, and Bush and Blair. Speakers at the big meetings included many of the best known anti-capitalist activists and writers from around the world--Dita Sari, Samir Amin, José Bové, Walden Bello, Vandana Shiva, Trevor Ngwane, Michael Albert and Nawal el Sadawi, as well as some more dubious ones such as former Irish president Mary Robinson. Significantly Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winner and former economic advisor to Bill Clinton and the World Bank, came to argue his case for reforming capitalism, only to be reminded by the chair that he was there to learn as well as to speak.
Many of the big meetings allowed little time for discussion, so most debates took place informally or at smaller meetings and seminars. In particular the meetings organised by Globalise Resistance and the International Socialists attracted several hundred people at each, and were filled with debate about what sort of change is needed, the legacy of Stalinism, the state of the Indian left, and the future for the movement. The WSF ended with a lively march and a huge closing ceremony at which the declaration of the assembly of anti-war movements was read out by Chris Nineham of Globalise Resistance, calling for a global day of action against the occupation of Iraq on 20 March, one year after the troops were sent in.
Public service demonstrating
Staff at the TV Centre, Broadcasting House and other BBC buildings round the country showed what they thought of the Hutton report when they walked out in protest at the resignation of Greg Dyke. Hundreds of BBC workers joined the spontaneous protests. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear joined staff outside the TV Centre and threatened strike action to defend the journalist at the centre of the storm, Andrew Gilligan. In Nottingham staff collared the local MP as he came into the studio for an interview to hand him a petition denouncing the Hutton report. Radio Foyle in Northern Ireland sent out a statement as staff walked out of the building: 'Journalists here are extremely disappointed that Lord Hutton appears to demand more exacting standards of journalists serving the public interest than of a government committing its country to war.' The apology broadcast by Richard Ryder, acting chair of the governors, angered many staff. Union branches throughout the BBC passed resolutions rejecting his statement.
Although the mood was far from unanimous in support of Greg Dyke--the NUJ has fought a bitter battle all year with BBC management over the sacking of two journalists in the Arabic Service--there was universal condemnation of the Hutton report and determination to fight for the BBC's editorial independence. In the words of one BBC worker, 'We know that the unions are going to have to stand up to the government on this. This is about more than Greg Dyke or Gavyn Davies--Hutton's report is an attack on all journalists. The best way to make our voices heard is to pull the plugs on the broadcasts.'
After the resignation of Andrew Gilligan on 31 January, the focus of the campaign is likely to shift towards defending the BBC from government pressure. Both major unions in the BBC, the NUJ and Bectu, were planning to hold joint rallies on 5 February. Activists will need to build on the wave of anger created by Hutton and the confidence generated by the walkouts to keep the pressure on the government.
The going rate
After years of resentment over poverty pay the dam has finally burst in the civil service. The strikes on 29 and 30 January were well supported in the Home Office and Department of Constitutional Affairs, which have no tradition of militancy. This was despite the decision of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) group executive to suspend action on the vague promise of talks over the new appraisal system which links pay directly to performance.
There is no doubt that New Labour is deeply worried about the effects of strike action in the DWP in particular. Management had steadfastly refused to talk to the PCS about appraisal and stated that the previous pay offer was final. Within a week of the strike vote it improved the offer, albeit marginally, and agreed to negotiations on appraisal. Unfortunately instead of recognising this as a sign of weakness, the left-dominated group executive jumped at the opportunity to suspend action.
It is clear that the Socialist Party, who form the dominant faction on the left of the executive, have learned the wrong lessons from the FBU's defeat. They believe that it is not possible to beat Labour, rather than understanding that it was the failure of the FBU leadership to escalate the strikes which led to defeat. They are desperate for a negotiated settlement.
The DWP executive are due to meet again in the second week of February. It is unlikely they will be discussing a major climbdown by the employer. The response from members on the ground will be crucial. So far the response has been one of anger, with meeting after meeting condemning the decision to suspend action.
There are 92,000 PCS members in the DWP. Over 6,000 have joined since the start of the pay campaign. There is undoubtedly the mood to take on the bosses, and potentially the power to win. The question--as it was with the FBU--is whether a left leadership is up to the task.
This month brings an email from an activist with the AUT at a major British university. He describes how email and the internet have become useful tools in their attempt to organise workers at the university.
He writes, 'We are of course in a good position in the AUT in that almost all members have email at work. However, with the spread of email I think the unions are missing out on a potentially very useful organising tool.' He goes on to add, 'Of course it is only one tool as part of a major improvement in branch activity recently, including recruitment stalls and a newsletter (on paper), but it is an important one.'
The email brings a couple of websites useful for trade unionists to my attention, including a website set up by the TUC especially for trade union representatives, which has helpful information including average wage increases and tips on recruitment.
Also mentioned is LabourNet, which 'promotes computer communications as a medium for strengthening and building organised labour'. Their coverage of international union stories and issues is of particular interest.
There are a host of other useful sites, particularly if you are trying to find information quickly at work. A good starting point is the TUC's website, which includes a comprehensive list of other unions, and has a large section of information on rights at work, and links to other 'union friendly' websites giving similar advice.
One site that particularly caught my eye is the TUC's 'WorkSMART'. This has lots of information about using the internet at work and whether or not an employer can legally monitor/check email. Probably required reading if you want to organise at work via email.
Finally, last month's blogging article brought a number of emails. I said there were few blogs from a socialist perspective, which of course resulted in an email from one of the few socialist bloggers--hoping that I can put a link to their site. Having made such a blanket statement, it seems rude not to give Leninology a plug.
The government has proposed to sharpen the teeth of one of the country's 23 accounting regulators in the hope of avoiding a possible Enron scandal. While in theory the move is to be welcomed, the government's choice of regulator is highly questionable.
Through its inclusion in the government's Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Bill announced in November's Queen's Speech, the Financial Reporting Review Panel (FRRP) has the power to threaten company directors with jail if they refuse to cooperate with investigations into their financial reporting. The proposed legislation would also allow the FRRP to apply for a court order to release documents related to a company's accounts. Failure to comply with an order would be punishable by imprisonment or a fine. The bill would also allow the Inland Revenue to pass information on a company's accounts to the FRRP. Currently, the FRRP can only ask for information requests via the Financial Services Authority.
Yet despite these new measures the FRRP has gained the reputation of being one of Britain's sleepiest watchdogs. In its 14-year existence it has never prosecuted a company. Only since last year has it had the ability to proactively investigate company accounts rather than act on a complaint. Furthermore, one third of the membership of its panel is made up of representatives of the Big Four accounting firms--the very firms it is supposed to be criticising.
The chairman, Richard Sykes QC used to advise British companies on accounting practices. Ian Brindle, the deputy chairman was a senior partner at the time of the collapse of BCCI, which was the Enron of the early 1990s. Another chunk of its panel is made up of representatives from the FTSE 100--those companies that the FRRP is supposed to investigate.
The panel's current annual funding of £300,000 is woefully inadequate to take any company to court or carry out any proper investigation. The panel does not 'name and shame' offenders--rather, it puts out a press release that remedial action has been carried out. Lastly, the panel does not have the right to inform shareholders, pension scheme holders or employees of accounting irregularities.
What the panel can do is ask directors to explain apparent departures from the accounting requirements. If it is not satisfied by their explanations, then the panel aims to persuade them to adopt a more appropriate accounting treatment. The directors may then voluntarily withdraw their accounts and replace them with revised accounts. Failing voluntary correction, the panel can take directors to court--though it has never resorted to legal action so far.
Despite these handicaps, the FRRP has gamely tried to flex its muscles in recent months. The panel said in November that out of a trial batch of 20 accounts, eight looked as if they did not comply with current accounting standards, and three showed 'cause for further clarification'. Tellingly, none of the companies or their directors have been named and no action has so far been taken.
But perhaps none of these firms should worry. The largest fine imposed on an audit firm for failing to flag up accounting irregularities in a client's accounts is just £1,500.
The death of Haydar Aliyev, the 80 year old president of Azerbaijan, was less than headline news in the west. Once a key figure in the 'evil empire' of the Soviet Union, Aliyev ended up as one of the US's favourite Muslim rulers. The first 30 years of his career in the dreaded Soviet secret police included the worst periods of Stalinist terror, when there were nearly a million political executions and up to 10 million political prisoners. By 1967 Aliyev was the chief of the Azerbaijani secret police. From 1969 he ran the country on behalf of his Russian masters. However, like other agents of Soviet rule in republics outside Russia, he also built up a network of local bureaucrats who were beholden to him for their jobs, perks and privileges.
In 1982 Aliyev rose to the summit of Soviet power, the Moscow Politburo. He also retained his grip on Azerbaijan. But he was ignominiously driven from high office five years later by Mikhail Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, who wanted to distinguish himself from the discredited older generation of officials.
Aliyev retreated to his power base of Nakhchivan. He waited while Gorbachev made increasingly disastrous efforts to revive the Soviet economy and bring the non-Russian republics to heel. These efforts included a massacre by Soviet troops in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union an independent Azerbaijani government led by Abulfaz Elchibey, a former anti-Soviet dissident, lost a disastrous war against Armenia. This provoked a military revolt. The US suspended government aid. One of Elchibey's last acts was to invite his old foe to Baku to shore up the government. Aliyev quickly organised the first of many rigged votes to ease himself into power. His political enemies began to fill the prisons, and opposition was heavily restricted.
Within a year big oil companies like BP were doing deals with Aliyev to exploit the rediscovered wealth of the Caspian Sea. The 1,760-kilometre pipeline out to the deep-water port of Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, for instance, is being built at a cost of $3.6 billion. Haydar Aliyev's playboy son Ilham moved into the top management of the state oil company Socar.
Impoverishment and the lack of rights sparked a series of revolts. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan was accepted into the Council of Europe. The US resumed aid, especially for military and security purposes, in recognition of Aliyev's support for the attack on Afghanistan. When Haydar Aliyev developed terminal cancer he arranged for the presidency to pass to Ilham in another series of rigged votes. The presidential succession was supported by both Russia and the US.
Haydar Aliyev was one of the world's top agents of state terror and repression for 60 years. He died peacefully in a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The real war against terror continues.