Posts Tagged ‘Official Secrets Act’

‘I’ Review of Movie About British Iraq War Whistleblower

October 25, 2019

One of the flicks coming to our cinemas, if it isn’t there already, is Official Secrets, the film about whistleblower Katharine Gun’s attempt to prevent Blair’s illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq by leaking government emails about it. The I printed a review of it by Demetrios Matheou in last Friday’s edition for the 18th October 2019. Entitled ‘Spies, lies and a drama that resonates’, this ran

Early in the political drama Official Secrets, Keira Knightley’s real-life whistle-blower Katharine Gun watches Tony Blair on television, giving his now-infamous justifcation for the impending Iraq War, namely the existence of weapons of mass destruction. “He keeps repeating the lie,” she cries. “Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”

There’s simply no escaping the resonance. The current occupant of No 10 isn’t the first to economical with the truth; the real shock is that we keep on putting up with it. And the power of the film resides in the fact that the idealistic, courageous Katharine Gun would not.

The film opens with Gun about to face trial for breaching the Official Secrets Act – Knightley’s face expressing the sheer terror of someone in that position – before winding back a year to explain how she got there.

Katharine is working as a Mandarin translator at the intelligence agency GCHQ in Cheltenham. One day, she and her colleagues receive a classified email from America’s National Security Agency, requesting that the Brits spy on delegates from the United Nations Security Council, with a view to blackmailing them to vote for the resolution in favour of war.

In the UK, the very idea of the war is historically unpopular with the public. And here is evidence of its illegality. Katharine secretly copies the memo and smuggles it out to a friend who is an anti-war activist, through whom it reaches Observer journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith). 

Until now, the film has been operating on something of a whisper. Once Smith appears on screen – quickly followed by the equally energetic (nay, combustible) Rhys Ifans as fellow journalist Ed Vulliamy – there is a sonic boom. From her, the action switches urgently between the paper’s investigation of the memo’s authenticity and Katharine’s personal hell as the leak is revealed, which includes the threat of deportation from her Muslim husband, Yasar.

Gavin Hood is an intriguing director, alternating between mainstream fare (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and issues-based dramas charting government malfeasance, such as rendition (Rendition) and the use of drone strikes (Eye in the Sky). He is on strong form here, with a film that’s gripping, righteous, relevant, moving – in short, a very good yarn that just happens to be true.

At the heart of it is Knightley, impressively commanding as a woman who is principled and defiant, but also deeply vulnerable as the government cranks up its intimidation. Around his star, Hood has assembled a comprehensively find cast, with a particularly lovely turn by Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer determined to defend Gun against the odds. 

This looks like a brilliant movie, and I’d like to see it if and when it comes to my neck of the woods. Over one million people marched against the invasion, not just Muslims, but also people of all races and religions and none. One of the marchers was a priest from my local church. I’ve reviewed a book on this site presenting a very strong case that Blair’s invasion constitutes a war crime, for which the slimy creature should be prosecuted along with Bush. According to the late William Blum, there were attempts to do just that, but they were stymied by the British and American governments. The demonstrators’ chant is exactly right: ‘Blair lied, people died’. But despite this and subsequent books exposing his venality and legal tax-dodging through a complex mass of holding companies and off-shore tax havens, he still seems to think that he’s somehow the great champion of British politics. He’s been one of the figures behind the attempts to create a new ‘centrist’ party, and every now and again he pushes his head up from wherever pit in which he’s been hiding to make some comment about contemporary politics. Usually about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. 

Hopefully this picture will remind people that ‘Teflon Tony’ wasn’t some kind of visionary statesman. He was a butcher, who backed the illegal invasion of a country for no better reason than the multinationals’ desire to loot their oil wealth and state industries. Oh yes, and cut off Hussein’s occasional support for the Palestinians. Thanks to him and his master, Bush, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and the Middle East have died or been displaced, a country has been wrecked and its secular, welfare state dismantled and reduced to chaos and sectarian violence. This bloody, illegal war has also claimed the lives of good men and women in the forces and in the civilian organisations trying to rebuild the country.

As for the reason why people like Blair keep getting elected – if government in this country had been genuinely accountable, they wouldn’t. It shows a flaw in our political system, a system in which the media must take its share of the blame. Warmongers like Blair get elected because they have the full support, with some exceptions, of the Thatcherite press and Murdoch papers. The same papers that are trying to bring down Jeremy Corbyn. 

 

 

Counterpunch Demolishes Some Churchillian Myths

December 8, 2017

There’s a very interesting piece by Louis Proyect over at this weekend’s Counterpunch, The Churchillian Myths of 1940, where he takes a well-observed aim at two of the recent films about the Second World War. One is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other is the forthcoming biopic about Winston Churchill’s battle against the appeasers in the British cabinet in 1940, The Darkest Hour. This hasn’t been released yet, and is set to come out on December 21st (2017). It stars Gary Oldman as Churchill, and is directed by Joe Wright.

Dunkirk’s already attracted much criticism because of its historical inaccuracies. I think it’s been accused of racism, because it ignores the large numbers of the British forces, who were Black and Asian. But Proyect also draws on a critique of the film by Max Hastings of the Telegraph to show how the film presents a very mythical view of Dunkirk. The film has it that the British troops are under constant shooting and bombardment by the Germans, and that they are saved by the flotilla of small vessels that went over there to rescue them. In fact, according to Hastings, the Germans largely left the retreating British alone. As for being saved by the small ships, 2/3 of the troops were rescued by the fleet of big ships that were sent by the navy. There were 37 of these, but six were sunk. Proyect also criticises a scene where the sailors aboard a sinking ship discuss how they are going to get to the surface without being mown down by the Germans. He compares this unfavourably to the Poseidon Adventure, producing the quotes by the critics to show that this is actually a far superior film.

More serious is the way the film deliberately omits atrocities committed on the civilian population by the retreating British. Proyect states that at the time the British squaddies were under immense physical and psychological stress. They responded by shooting anyone that moved, including old women and nuns. This is historical fact. Proyect cites and describes one of these incidents. The trooper had been told to take no prisoners, except for interrogation, and so blazed away accordingly.

As for the Darkest Hour, Proyect draws on an article by Clive Ponting on the Churchill Myth. Older readers of this blog will remember that Ponting was the civil servant Maggie tried to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act because he leaked two documents about the sinking of the Belgrano to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell. Ponting was acquitted, because the jury weren’t about to be told what to do by Maggie.

He points out that in fact the difference of opinion between Churchill and the appeasers, like Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, was actually much smaller than most people realised. At the time, Churchill was in favour of making peace with Germany, and had sent feelers out to see what their terms were. Where he differed from Halifax and Chamberlain was that they were in favour of making an immediate peace, while he wanted to fight on for a few more months.

The film does show Churchill hesitating at one point, and Proyect states that this would have been unthinkable a few years ago, as the official archives were still closed and the only source material available were Churchill’s own self-aggrandising writings. In which he portrayed himself as the resolute warrior.

But this ignores just how pro-Nazi Churchill had been, as well as anti-Semitic. What! Churchill pro-Nazi? The very idea! But he was. In 1937 Churchill wrote of Hitler

Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

As for Leon Trotsky, Churchill reviled him with all manner abuse, not just because he was a Bolshevik, but also because Trotsky was Jewish. He quotes Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a revision history attacking the notion of World War II as ‘the good war’, from which he also took the above quote about Hitler from Churchill. Baker writes

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill, “the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.”

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/12/08/the-churchillian-myths-of-1940/

I am not surprised by Proyect’s description of Churchill’s highly equivocal attitude to Nazi Germany. Churchill himself was very authoritarian. He had visited Mussolini’s Italy, though he had not been impressed when the Duce compared the Blackshirts to the Black and Tans, and privately remarked that Musso was ‘a swine’. But he did like General Franco. The historian Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism between the Wars, states that Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany did not come from any deep ideological view, but simply because he was bitterly suspicious of Germany and believed that it would block British interests in the North Sea. Pugh points out that he didn’t seem concerned that a bloc of Fascist states in southern Europe could do the same to British interests in the Mediterranean.

It would be interesting to know what Peter Hitchens thinks of all this. Hitchens is deeply Conservative, but he is a fierce critic of the Second World War as ‘the good war’, and has absolutely no love of Churchill. Indeed, in his book taking aim at New Atheism a few years ago, The Rage Against God, he attacked the cult of Churchill as a kind of ersatz religion, put in place of Christianity. It’s a bit of stretch, as it wasn’t quite an exercising in God-building that the Soviets tried. In the former USSR there was a brief movement after the Revolution to create a kind of atheistic religion, centred around great revolutionary heroes, to harness religious sentiments for the cause of Communism. The cult around Churchill isn’t quite like that. But nevertheless, to some Churchill is almost a sacrosanct figure, against whom you must not utter a single word. You can’t, after all, imagine Dan Snow on the One Show, striding around what remains of Churchill’s office and papers, telling the world how ‘Winnie’ at one time looked approvingly on Hitler and was very nearly ready to make peace. Or that, when it suited him, he was viciously anti-Semitic.

Press TV: Two More MPs in Child Sex Abuse Allegations

December 29, 2014

Press TV has reported that according to Sunday’s Daily Mail, John Mann, the campaigner demanding the prosecution of leading British politicians and lawmakers for child abuse, has been given the names of a further two MPs by an alleged former victim. According to Mann, the assaults took place in the 1980s. One of the alleged abusers is a member of the House of Lords. Mann has also said that there are a number of special branch detectives, now retired, who witnessed the abuse and whose testimony would be ‘absolutely critical’ in securing convictions. The detectives have, however, been silenced by the Official Secrets Act. Under its provisions, the detectives could face 14 years in jail and the possible loss of their pensions if they reveal sensitive information. Mann has requested Theresa May to waive the Act’s restrictions in their case to allow them to testify.

The story is 2 more UK MPs accused in sex abuse scandal , and it’s at http://presstv.com/detail/2014/12/29/392275/2-more-uk-mps-accused-in-abuse-scandal/.

Three things are apparent from this. The first is that occasionally something approaching decent journalism does get into the Daily Mail, though that hardly exonerates the newspaper for the rest of the rubbish it runs demonising the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the working class, and just about everybody who doesn’t have an income under £50,000, and isn’t in the buy-to-let business.

The second, and much more important point, is how the Official Secrets Act has been used to suppress the news of these horrific crimes and preserve the careers of these extremely well-placed perpetrators. It adds further support for the claim of the Surrey newspaper that when they wanted to run a story on the establishment paedophile ring, they were told not to by the MOD, who slapped a ‘D’ notice on them.

The third is that this story is being run by Press TV, the official news agency of Iran. The Islamic Republic is very far from anyone’s idea of democracy. It’s corrupt and oppressive. Nevertheless, it is providing news that we should also be getting from our own establishment news organisations, like the BBC. This has just confirmed my opinion that the BBC’s boast that it provides censored news stories to countries around the world, where the media is strictly controlled and politically awkward stories suppressed, has now been reversed. Under the Tories, the BBC is now censoring domestic news, and British citizens are having to turn to foreign news agencies, such as Press TV and Russia Today, for British news that the domestic establishment is trying to suppress.

I can also remember being told by Iranian friends in the 1990s, when stories of child abuse by Christian clergy emerged, that they considered Iran to be better than Britain in this respect. One of the mullahs – the Muslim clergy in Iran – had been executed after being convicted of child abuse. The Iranian theocracy is still extremely corrupt, but these allegations show that they have no monopoly on corruption, and at least in that case were capable of prosecuting and punishing highly placed perpetrators.

Fabian View of the Need for Freedom of Information in Government and for the People

April 20, 2014

Fabian Book Pic

Peter Archer, in his paper on ‘The Constitution’ in Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought ed. Ben Pimlott (London: Heninemann 1984) 117-131 also strongly recommends the ending of information given only on a ‘right to know’ basis to ministers in government, the removal of part of the Official Secrets Act and the passage of a Freedom of Information Act.

But this has given rise to two problems which Dicey [19th century constitutional theorist] scarcely envisaged. One relates to freedom of information. Those who are entitled, and indeed expected, to make informed judgements, need the information on which to make them. And this is true not only of electors, but of those within government itself. The circulation of documents on a ‘need-to-know’ basis sometimes denies even to Cabinet ministers information on matters which are essential if they are to be more than departmental administrators.

For the general public, the inhibitions are even greater. The time is long overdue for a repeal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, which in a single sentence, bursting with alternatives and disjunctions, creates over 2000 separate offences, and would render liable to prosecution anyone who passes on information about the cost of a military uniform. Even the Society of Conservative Lawyers, in evidence to the Franks Committee in 1971, did not ‘consider it appropriate, in a free society, for journalists or other interested persons to face the prospect of criminal penalties merely because their investigations in the sphere of government activity proved to successful for the comfort of the governors’. But open government requires more than freedom to disseminate information. It requires an obligation upon government to make the facts available, except where there are specific reasons for concealing them. In 1982, the Fabian contributors to Making Government Work proposed a Freedom of Information Act, providing for a Director of Open Information. There would be ‘a presumption that all information of a factual and analytical nature available to government would be disclosed’. and where it was necessary to apply a criterion, it would be decided (subject in certain cases to a final government right of refusal) by the Director.

I don’t know whether documents are still circulated amongst ministers at Westminster on a need-to-know basis. However, I got the distinct impression that under the increasingly presidential system of British politics, the independence of Cabinet ministers is still severely circumscribed and they are pretty much departmental administrators, expected to do the wishes of the Prime Minister.

As for the Freedom of Information Act, this has indeed been passed, complete with an Information Director. However, this is another pillar of open government, which the government is reforming in order to curtail the public’s right to examine the operations of government and its decisions. As for ‘the presumption that all information of a factual and analytical nature available to government would be disclosed’, the government has consistently denied this view. Researchers asking for information on the government’s Workfare programme have been refused it on the grounds that it would generate opposition, make the policy unpopular, and stop it from working. Mike over at Vox Political and other bloggers, who have requested information on the number of people, who have died after having been assessed by Atos have had their requests refused, and then been denounced as ‘vexatious’ for daring to ask them. Mike is due to have his case heard by the Information Tribunal later. We wish him the best of luck. However, the operation of the Freedom of Information Act needs to be reformed so that there is a positive presumption in favour of releasing the information, regardless of whether or not such information will make the people’s governors uncomfortable.