Posts Tagged ‘FOIA’

George Osborne Lies about Responsibility for the Collapse of Carillion

January 16, 2018

No, not Marillion, who had a hit in the 1980s with the classic, ‘Kayleigh’, and whose singer was called Fish, ’cause he drank like one, but Carillion, the outsourcing giant which has gone belly-up.

Mike’s put up a post about Carillion’s collapse, pointing out that the company was in dire financial trouble, and had issued at least three profit warnings. But miraculously it was still able to win government contracts.

George Osborne, our former comedy Chancellor to Dave Cameron’s comedy Prime Minister, decided to put his oar in today. Faced with the question of who was responsible for awarding these contracts to the ailing company, Osborne did what every Tory does: he lied and spun. Oh no, whined Osborne, now the editor of the Evening Standard, it’s not the Tories’ responsibility they got government contracts. It’s all the fault of civil servants.

Er, no, George. It’s not. It’s your fault, and the fault of every Thatcherite government since the days of John Major.

If you enter the civil service, you will be told that it is your duty to provide the government with impartial advice. This marks the British civil service out from its continental cousins, where the upper levels of the civil service belong to the ruling party, and so change with each election. There have been cases when the civil service has been less than impartial, such as when the rail network was privatised. This was the brainchild of a particular civil servant, who was a keen promoter of free market private enterprise. But this particular mandarin has been and gone.

Looking back, a scandal like Carillion was almost inevitable. When outsourcing began in the 1990s under John Major, firms like Capita, dubbed ‘Crapita’ by Private Eye, became notorious for the way they continually got government contracts, despite coming in late and over budget on just about all those they had been awarded. Or else the systems they installed just didn’t work. But it was Tory – and Blairite – ideology that private enterprise was always better than the state, even when, to most people, it most certainly wasn’t. And there was a revolving door between these firms and the Tory party. Under John Major, the various ministers responsible for privatising particular firms magically got jobs on the board of the same, now private companies, afterwards. Amazing! But civil servants weren’t to blame for that, although certain high level civil servants did benefit from the revolving door, particularly and most notoriously in the MOD. The system got so bad that John Major’s government got a justifiable reputation for ‘sleaze’. But a French politician was much more accurate in his description of it. He said that in Britain, we called it ‘sleaze’, but in La Patrie, they simply called it ‘corruption’. Indeed. Over the other side of La Manche, a civil servant or politician has to wait two years after they’ve retired from office before they can take up a job with a private firm. Which means that their address book, which is what the firm really wants, is out of date, and they’re of no value to them. Problem solved.

Carillion was allowed to go on because of a series of legislation put in place by the Tories to protect the outsourcing companies. Like as private companies, they are not subject to FOIA, and any attempts to probe their financial affairs is automatically denied by the government on the grounds of ‘corporate confidentiality’. You see, such requests would jeopardise their position by opening them up to scrutiny by their rivals. We’ve seen this used when justifying giving contracts to private firms in the NHS. NHS performance is published and scrutinised, but not those of the private firms angling for lucrative NHS contracts.

This has been brought in by the Tories, including Dave Cameron and George Osborne.

And while we’re at it, let’s make the point that much government advice doesn’t come from the civil service. It came from private consultants, like Anderson Consulting, who were responsible for turning the Benefits Agency as was into the shambles it now is. Under Tony Blair this grew to enormous proportions, so that Blair was taking advice from SPADs -Special Advisors – from private industry, rather than the civil service.

So it’s fair to ask which set of private consultants argued that Carillion ought to be given a contract? Perhaps no-one did, but I think it’s a fair question, given just how much sponsorship the Tories received from private industry. Was Carillion one of their corporate donors?

So who’s responsible for the government awards given to Carillion? You are, George. You, Cameron, and your whole disgusting party. Now stop lying. You were rubbish as chancellor, and you’ve got no business editing a paper either.

William Blum on the Abortive Prosecution of NATO Leaders for War Crimes in Yugoslavia

February 27, 2017

Many people would like to see Tony Blair indicted for war crimes for his part in the illegal invasion and carnage inflicted on Iraq and its people. This isn’t the first time there has been serious consideration of putting the former British premier in the dock for crimes against humanity. In one section of his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, William Blum describes the attempt by Canadian human rights activists, along with their fellows from the UK, Greece and the American Association of Jurists in March 1999 to have 68 leaders , including Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, the Canadian PM, Jean Chretien, and the NATO officials Javier Solana, Wesley Clark and Jamie Shea, brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes against the Serbs during the war in the former Yugoslavia. This collapsed, as the court’s prosecutor, Louise Arbour, was frankly biased towards NATO, and the efforts by her successor, Carla Del Ponte were successfully stymied by NATO leaders. Blum writes:

Yugoslavia – another war-crimes trial that will never be

Beginning about two weeks after the US-inspired and led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began in March, 1999, international-law professionals from Canada, the United Kingdom, Greece, and the American Association of Jurists began to file complaints with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, charging leaders of NATO countries and officials of NATO itself with crimes similar to those for which the Tribunal had issued indictments shortly before against Serbian leaders. Amongst the charges filed by the law professionals were: “grave violations of international humanitarian law”, including “wilful killing, wilfully causing great suffering and serious injury to body and health, employment of poisonous weapons and other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering, wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, unlawful attacks on civilian objects, devastation not necessitated by military objectives, attacks on undefended buildings and dwellings, destruction and wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences.”

The Canadian suit named 68 leaders, including William Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and NATO officials Javier Solana, Wesley Clark, and Jamie Shea. The complaint also alleged “open violation” of the United Nations Charter, the NATO treaty itself, the Geneva Conventions, and the Principles of International Law Recognized by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

The complaint was submitted along with a considerable amount of evidence to support the charges. The evidence makes the key point that it was NATO’s bombing campaign which had given rise to the bulk of the deaths in Yugoslavia, provoked most of the Serbian atrocities, created an environmental disaster, and left a dangerous legacy of unexploded depleted uranium and cluster bombs.

In June, some of the complainants met in The Hague with the court’s chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour of Canada. Although she cordially received their brief in person, along with three thick volumes of evidence documenting the alleged war crimes, nothing of substance came of the meeting, despite repeated follow-up submissions and letters by the plaintiffs. In November, Arbour’s successor, Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland, also met with some of the complainants and received extensive evidence.

The complainants’ brief in November pointed out that the prosecution of those named by them was “not only a requirement of law, it is a requirement of justice to the victims and of deterrence to powerful countries such as those in NATO who, in their military might and in their control over the media, are lacking in any other natural restraint such as might deter less powerful countries.” Charging the war’s victors, not only its losers, it was argued, would be a watershed in international criminal law.

In one of the letters to Arbour, Michael Mandel, a professor of law in Toronto and the initiator of the Canadian suit, stated:

Unfortunately, as you know, many doubts have already been raised about the impartiality of your Tribunal. In the early days of the conflict, after a formal and, in our view, justified complaint against NATO leaders had been laid before it by members of the Faculty of Law of Belgrade University, you appeared at a press conference with one of the accused, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who made a great show of handing you a dossier of Serbian war crimes. In early May, you appeared at another press conference with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, by that time herself the subject of two formal complaints of war crimes over the targeting of civilians in Yugoslavia. Albright publicly announced at that time that the US was the major provider of funds for the Tribunal and that it had pledged even more money to it. 14

Arbour herself made little attempt to hide the pro-NATO bias she wore beneath her robe. She trusted NATO to be its own police, judge, jury, and prison guard. In a year in which General Pinochet was still under arrest, which was giving an inspiring lift to the cause of international law and justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, under Arbour’s leadership, ruled that for the Great Powers it would be business as usual, particularly the Great Power that was most vulnerable to prosecution, and which, coincidentally, paid most of her salary. Here are her own words:

I am obviously not commenting on any allegations of violations of international humanitarian law supposedly perpetrated by nationals of NATO countries. I accept the assurances given by NATO leaders that they intend to conduct their operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in full compliance with international humanitarian law. I have reminded many of them, when the occasion presented itself, of their obligation to conduct fair and open-minded investigations of any possible deviance from that policy, and of the obligation of commanders to prevent and punish, if required. 15

NATO Press Briefing, May 16, 1999:

Question: Does NATO recognize Judge Arbour’s jurisdiction over their activities?

Jamie Shea: I think we have to distinguish between the theoretical and the practical. I believe that when Justice Arbour starts her investigation [of the Serbs], she will because we will allow her to. … NATO countries are those that have provided the finance to set up the Tribunal, we are amongst the majority financiers.

The Tribunal – created in 1993, with the US as the father, the Security Council as the mother, and Madeleine Albright as the midwife – also relies on the military assets of the NATO powers to track down and arrest the suspects it tries for war crimes.

There appeared to be no more happening with the complaint under Del Ponte than under Arbour, but in late December, in an interview with The Observer of London, Del Ponte was asked if she was prepared to press charges against NATO personnel. She replied: “If I am not willing to do that, I am not in the right place. I must give up my mission.”

The Tribunal then announced that it had completed a study of possible NATO crimes, which Del Ponte was examining, and that the study was an appropriate response to public concerns about NATO’s tactics. “It is very important for this tribunal to assert its authority over any and all authorities to the armed conflict within the former Yugoslavia.”

Was this a sign from heaven that the new millennium was going to be one of more equal justice? Could this really be?

No, it couldn’t. From official quarters, military and civilian, of the United States and Canada, came disbelief, shock, anger, denials … “appalling” … “unjustified”. Del Ponte got the message. Her office quickly issued a statement: “NATO is not under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There is no formal inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict in Kosovo.” 16 And there wouldn’t be, it was unnecessary to add.

But the claim against NATO – heretofore largely ignored by the American media – was now out in the open. It was suddenly receiving a fair amount of publicity, and supporters of the bombing were put on the defensive. The most common argument made in NATO’s defense, and against war-crime charges, was that the death and devastation inflicted upon the civilian sector was “accidental”. This claim, however, must be questioned in light of certain reports. For example, the commander of NATO’s air war, Lt. Gen. Michael Short, declared at one point during the bombing:

If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, “Hey, Slobo [Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic], what’s this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?” 17

General Short, said the New York Times, “hopes that the distress of the Yugoslav public will undermine support for the authorities in Belgrade.” 18

At another point, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea declared: “If President Milosevic really wants all of his population to have water and electricity all he has to do is accept NATO’s five conditions and we will stop this campaign.” 19

After the April NATO bombing of a Belgrade office building – which housed political parties, TV and radio stations, 100 private companies, and more – the Washington Post reported:

Over the past few days, U.S. officials have been quoted as expressing the hope that members of Serbia’s economic elite will begin to turn against Milosevic once they understand how much they are likely to lose by continuing to resist NATO demands. 20

Before missiles were fired into this building, NATO planners spelled out the risks: “Casualty Estimate 50-100 Government/Party employees. Unintended Civ Casualty Est: 250 – Apts in expected blast radius.” 21 The planners were saying that about 250 civilians living in nearby apartment buildings might be killed in the bombing, in addition to the government and political party employees.

What do we have here? We have grown men telling each other: We’ll do A, and we think that B may well be the result. But even if B does in fact result, we’re saying beforehand – as we’ll insist afterward – that it was unintended.

This passage comes from a longer piece, ‘War Criminals – Ours and Theirs’, attacking American double standards in supporting politicians, governments and military commanders guilty of horrific crimes against humanity when it serves their interest. This can be read at:

https://williamblum.org/chapters/rogue-state/war-criminals-theirs-and-ours

I realise that this may be hugely controversial. Slobodan Milosevic and his government were responsible for terrible atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, including the organised genocide of Bosnian Muslims. Mike spent a week in Bosnia staying with a Muslim family, as part of an international project to document the terrible aftermath and consequences of the war. However, the Muslims and Croats were also guilty of committing atrocities themselves, though I was told by a former diplomat that in general, most of the massacres were committed by the Serbs.

Blum argues that the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia had little to do with the raging civil war and human rights abuses, except as a pretext. He argues in his books that Milosevic’s regime was really targeted because they resisted the mass privatisations that international capitalism was attempting to foist on them. I don’t know if this is quite the case. Private Eye reviewed Geoffrey Hurd’s book on diplomacy over a decade ago, and commented on how much Hurd left out or attempted to smooth over of his own grotty career. Like how he was the head of the commission by one of the British banks to privatise the Serbian telecommunications industry under Milosevic.

I’ve also read other books, which have made similar allegations. In one book I read on the 7/7 bombings, the author argued that the reports of some of the atrocities supposedly committed by the Serbs were fabricated in order to whip up public support for military intervention. The goal, however, wasn’t to safeguard the innocents being butchered, but to establish firm NATO military control of the oil pipelines running through the country. This control has not been relinquished since.

Again, I have no idea if this is true or not. Ordinarily, I’d suspect claims that reports of war crimes by despotic regimes have been falsified as another form of holocaust denial. You can find any amount of material arguing that the Serbs were innocent of these atrocities on the various ‘Counterjihad’ anti-Islam sites. The book’s author had a very Muslim name, and its central argument was that the 7/7 bombings were deliberately orchestrated by the secret state to create further public outrage against Muslims, and thus more support for the wars in the Middle East. This seems wrong. Incompetence is far more likely. But it’s well argued and footnoted, with the original documents its author obtained under FOIA reproduced. This is complete with blank pages or passages where they were redacted, just like the Watergate report in America.

Regardless of the ultimate responsibility for the atrocities during the war, it seems that there were very strong geo-political reasons for NATO’s entry into the conflict against the Serbs, which are not at all altruistic. And however controversial this episode and its treatment by Blum are, he has a point: if the NATO leaders were guilty of war crimes, then Clinton, Albright, Blair, Chretien et al should be in the dock. If international justice is to live up to its ideal, then it must also be equally binding on the victor. Unfortunately, you’re not going to see it under the present squalid international order.

Wirral In It Together on the Non-Disclosure of Police Findings in ‘Brickgate’

January 14, 2017

I had this kind comment by Wirral In It Together about my article reporting on ‘Brickgate’. This was Angela Eagle’s spurious claim that supporters of Jeremy Corbyn had thrown a brick threw her office window. Not only had Mike over at Vox Political and myself covered it, I also recall seeing Wirral In It Together’s blog posts. Here he adds a few more details on how the police’s conclusions had to be kept back for legal reasons, with the result that the press were given the freedom to repeat Eagle’s lie.

Wirral In It Together writes

Have just found your excellent articles on this subject. You may or may not know that I blogged on it also. I also complained to IPSO which was not upheld. I made an FOI request to the police where the information needed to be basically dragged out of them. They found almost immediately after the incident that although the brick was found on site, there was no conclusive evidence that it was used to break the window, but couldn’t release this information for fear of adversely impacting on the ongoing investigation. So the media jumped in and smeared, with Angela Eagle and her press person Imran Ahmed’s loyal assistance.

Here’s a link to a Twitter moment with all the info I posted, collected in one place: https://twitter.com/i/moments/808788741477302272

38 Degrees Internet Group Want the Views of the Public before Meeting the Government

January 18, 2016

I got this message from the internet petitioning group, 38 Degrees. They’re appealing to their members to give their views on the changes to the Freedom of Information Act before one of the organisers of the petition, Blanche Shackleton, meets the government on Wednesday. They’ve been asking people, who’ve signed the petition and given their views, to pass it on to their friends and family, who may be interested.

This is their message.

Hi,

Have a look at this:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/foi-meeting-comments

Before Christmas, the government was quietly planning to water down our Freedom of Information laws: our right to know what our politicians are up to, and how they’re spending our public money.

Fast-forward a few months and they seem to be backing off because of a big public backlash. Together we built a massive petition and tens of thousands of us have written in to the government consultation. One minister’s quoted in the press saying; “Nobody in the Government wants to touch this now, it’s a very hot political potato.”

None of this is a done deal – yet. But we’re having impact.

We have a chance to win this on Wednesday. One of the 38 Degrees team, Blanche Shackleton, has been invited to give evidence about protecting FOI laws to the people who are advising the government on this. They’re in the final throes of putting together their recommendations. So this is our opportunity to really hammer home where we stand.

Blanche wants to make sure she’s representing as many people as possible on Wednesday. So please can you take 3 minutes to let her know your thoughts on our right to freedom of information, via a short survey? Click here to go to the short survey:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/foi-meeting-comments

Thanks,

I’ve signed, and given my views on this extremely important issue, particularly because of the experience of Mike at Vox Political and the rest of the disability activists and bloggers. They’ve been trying to get the DWP to release the figures for the numbers of people, who have died after being found fit for work by Atos and Maximus. The government has done everything they can to put obstacles in the path and prevent the release of this information.

Campaigners on other, related issues have also suffered the same treatment. Johnny Void, who blogs and campaigns on behalf of the homeless and against workfare, has stated that the government flatly refuses to give the names of the companies participating in it, because otherwise they might suffer resistance and so the scheme would fail.

Private Eye has had their request for information on the extent of British land and estates that are owned by offshore trusts turned down by the Information Commissioner as ‘vexatious’.

The Independent has also had their request for official information on expenses turned down, also because it is deemed ‘vexatious’, by those in authority.

And the Cabinet Secretary made a statement a few months ago in which he said that he wanted even further restrictions placed on the Freedom of Information Act. He has, however, since then said that he’s entirely satisfied with the way it work. Probably because nothing was being released that the government didn’t want released.

This is a government that has made no secret of its intention to stop the public getting hold of information that may hold them to account. They have stated that the purpose of releasing information to the public is not so that the public can challenge official decisions, but so they can understand how they’re made. As numerous manuals on drugs manufacture have printed on their covers, ‘This is for information purposes only.’

Well, drugs can be dangerous, and even legal highs have killed people. But not nearly as many as this secretive, officious and authoritarian government. If you have strong feelings about this issue, as I have, and wish to do something to help people like Mike, Mr Void and countless others hold the government to account, then please feel free to take the survey.

1898 Call from Russian Workers to Form Union against Employers’ Abuses

April 24, 2014

I found this leaflet from the Ekaterinoslav Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in Lionel Kochan’s Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) in 1898. It’s a protest against the appalling conditions and high accident rate at the Bryansk factory. If the direct causes of the strike were particular to late 19th century Russia, I was struck by how many of the issues are recurring in Britain in the early 21st century: starvation, low wages, refusal by the company to permit ‘necessary breaks’ – according to Owen Jones in Chavs, in one call centre workers have to put up their hands, as in school, every time they wish to take a comfort break. Unions and strikers were illegal in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and this government would very much like to go the same way. Boris Johnson has said that he would like to make strikes made illegal, if they were passed without fifty per cent of the workers attending the meeting, even if all the workers present voted overwhelmingly for the strike. The leaflet reads:

Every day we must hear, no here, now there, that a man has died and our blood-suckers continue to stuff their pockets, giving
no consideration to the men who have died, whose families have lost their bread-winner and are perhaps dying of starvation. The whole day we work, pouring out our blood and sweat. Every minute we expose our life to danger, we have no chance to use an essential break, and when there are accidents they accuse us of carelessness! The greed of the capitalists, the long working day, the meagre wage – there is the cause of all accidents. Even the holidays which we have had until now, have seemed too much to these beasts of prey and they have persuaded the government, which is always on the side of the capitalists, to reduce the number of holidays in the year … Comrades, they have fooled us, they have fed long enough on our blood and sweat. Our only salvation can be Friendly Workers’ Unions, against which nothing can stand. Let us join together, comrades, in one general union and demand from the office new changes in the regulations. (p. 45).

People are starving in Britain due to the government’s reforms of the benefits’ systems. Mike over at Vox Political has launched an FOI request and went to court to get the government to release the precise numbers of figures for those who are dying. It’s about 73 people a month, although it may well be much higher. And the Work Programme and various workfare policies, traineeships and unpaid internships are all about supplying industry with unpaid labour. It’s about time all this was stopped, and working people stood together to unite to force the Tories out and overturn their vile policies.