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Archive for November 11th, 2008

A little bit of history repeating itself… George Monbiot on the lies told in the run-up to the First World War

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From The Guardian

Another anniversary, almost forgotten in this country, falls tomorrow. On November 12 1924, Edmund Dene Morel died. Morel had been a shipping clerk, based in Liverpool and Antwerp, who had noticed, in the late 1890s, that while ships belonging to King Leopold were returning from the Congo to Belgium full of ivory, rubber and other goods, they were departing with nothing but soldiers and ammunition. He realised that Leopold’s colony must be a slave state, and launched an astonishing and ultimately successful effort to break the king’s grip and free Congo’s enslaved people. For a while he became a national hero. A few years later he became a national villain.

During his Congo campaign, Morel had become extremely suspicious of the secret diplomacy pursued by the British Foreign Office. In 1911, he showed how a secret understanding between Britain and France over the control of Morocco, followed by a campaign in the British press based on misleading Foreign Office briefings, had stitched up Germany and very nearly caused a European war. In February 1912, he warned that “no greater disaster could befall both peoples [Britain and Germany], and all that is most worthy of preservation in modern civilization, than a war between them”. Convinced that Britain had struck a second secret agreement with France that would drag the nation into any war which involved Russia, he campaigned for such treaties to be made public; for recognition that Germany had been hoodwinked over Morocco; and for the British government to seek to broker a reconciliation between France and Germany.

In response, British ministers lied. The prime minister and the foreign secretary repeatedly denied that there was any secret agreement with France. Only on the day war was declared did the foreign secretary admit that a treaty had been in place since 1906. It ensured that Britain would have to fight from the moment Russia mobilised. Morel continued to oppose the war and became, until his dramatic rehabilitation after 1918, one of the most reviled men in Britain.

Could the Great War have been averted if, in 1911, the British government had done as Morel suggested? No one knows, as no such attempt was made. Far from seeking to broker a European peace, Britain, pursuing its self-interested diplomatic intrigues, helped to make war more likely.

Germany was the aggressor, but the image of affronted virtue cultivated by Britain was a false one. Faced, earlier in the century, with the possibilities of peace, the old men of Europe had decided that they would rather kill their children than change their policies.

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Richard Norton-Taylor on the UK authorities’ latest abuse of the “national security” trump-card

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue for ultra-scepticism about government trump-card excuses for evading public accountability.

Recent years have seen a profusion of unverifiable claims from UK politicians about the disasters that would result from them coming clean about what they’ve been up to. These range from catastrophic breaches of “crown copyright”, “commercial confidentiality”, and “MPs privacy”, to the joker played by cornered politicians the world over, that revealing the truth would damage “national security”.

One of the most transparently bogus cases in recent months has been the revelation that the UK government withheld, for four years, a police report accusing the Foreign Office of “inconsistency and contradictions, falsehoods and downright lies” in its handling of the notorious Julie Ward murder case.
The authorities claimed, preposterously that “national security” would be compromised if their mendacity was publicised – and have still made no apology for this additional abuse of power.

More worrying still, according to the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee is now urging that the government award itself sweeping new powers to suppress any news story that it chooses to regard as a threat to “national security” (for which, going on past form, we might reasonably substitute “the reputations of government ministers”).

Norton-Taylor writes that:

it is ironic that some members of the cross-party committee – chaired by former foreign office minister Kim Howells – is using “national security” in defence of their quest for new ways to curb the media precisely at a time the high court is inviting editors to oppose the government’s use of “national security” to cover up extremely serious allegations.

Two high court judges have invited the media to challenge the goverment’s claim that information relating to the mistreatment and, it is alleged, torture, of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident detained in Guantánamo Bay cannot be disclosed for reasons of “national security”.

Ministers first obtained the information from the US. Britain’s national security in this case means the American threat to stop sharing intelligence with the UK if the information is revealed.

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, has asked the attorney general to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA by colluding in torture. The ISC has not been told the full story of the role of Britain’s security and intelligence agencies in the Mohamed case and others involving the secret rendition of terrorist suspects by the CIA.

The parliamentary committee should regard the media not as an enemy, but as an ally in the search for the truth behind “national security” claims and as a protector of fundamental rights.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 11, 2008 at 10:00 am

Survey shows that just 22% trust UK government ministers to tell the truth

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From the BBC:

Public trust in senior politicians has fallen in the last two years, according to a survey carried out for the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The survey suggests 22% of people think government ministers tell the truth – down from 27% in the 2006 survey.

Committee chair Sir Christopher Kelly called the results “deeply disturbing”.

And he said a cause was that greater openness “meant people become aware of things which previously were carried on but they didn’t know about”.