Sun-Earther

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August 27, 2003

National ID cards

Cor, this took me long enough to get round to finishing. Anyway, check this out:

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,11026,1029974,00.html

Forget the biometric testing bit there and concentrate on the idea of compulsory national ID (or "entitlement") cards. I intend to use this entry to explain exactly why they are a very bad idea, and not just from the civil liberties point of view.

The civil libertarian argument against national ID cards is well established and basically revolves around the fact that if you can be arrested for simply walking around without your papers you're not living in a free country. However, such arguments don't tend to cut much ice with the more diehard proponents of ID card schemes, so I intend to argue against them here in terms of practicality and logistics rather than in terms of ideology and principle.

When you're assessing the worth of wide-ranging measures such as introducing a national ID card, there are two key questions you need to ask:

  • What problem or problems is it supposed to solve?
  • How much will it cost?

What problems are national ID cards supposed to solve?

So far, I have heard the following put forward as benefits of the proposed national ID card scheme:

  • It will reduce crime by providing a sure-fire way for the police to identify citizens
  • It will reduce benefit fraud and confirm entitlement to state benefits and services
  • It will make it easier to catch illegal immigrants
  • It will protect the carrier against identity theft
  • It will help to protect us in the War On Terror (TM)

Let's deal with these one at a time:

National ID cards will reduce crime by providing a sure-fire way for the police to identify citizens

Looking in my wallet now, I am carrying a total of seven cards which carry my signature, three of which also have a photograph of me. I'm sure that the vast majority of UK citizens already carry sufficient documentation to be identified as a matter of course. It's difficult to operate in the modern world without (voluntarily) carrying some form of ID. Why do we need yet another card? We don't.

As for reducing crime, not only is there no evidence that ID cards reduce crime in ay way, but the money that an ID card scheme would cost could pay for much more effective measures to reduce crime, as explained below.

National ID cards will confirm entitlement to state benefits and services

Stop and think about this. Do we really want our entitlement to benefits and medical care to rest on the reliability and efficiency of a large-scale Government IT project? Have you seen the Government's record on such projects? Remember when the new system for passports was introduced and the chaos that caused? That was just passports. Imagine what could happen if a similar failure occurred in the system that governed the nation's entitlement to NHS medical care and other services.

I don't need some card to tell me I'm entitled to use the NHS: I happily pay plenty of tax to fund it and I consider it my right to do so. If I get taken to hospital after an accident and I don't have my ID card on me, will I be given treatment? If not, then hasn't the card's introduction created a barrier against my entitlement to the services for which I pay? If I am treated, then surely the card is irrelevant?

There is a theoretical possibility that a national ID card scheme would make it harder (although not impossible) to commit benefit fraud. However, I can find no concrete evidence of that happening in any of the countries that have introduced ID card schemes. This is because the kind of employer who offers cash in hand work is not likely to be the kind of employer who is stringent about checking ID cards.

National ID cards will make it easier to catch illegal immigrants

It seems that this is a very popular argument amongst pro-card types. I gather that the idea is that if you can arrest people for simply not carrying their ID card, you can then round up and deport any illegal immigrants you happen across. However, there is a thriving black market in forged documentation to which these ID cards would be added. There are documented cases of "cloned" cards being available on the black market within a day of them being introduced. All we'd be doing is creating a money-making opportunity for organised criminals.

National ID cards will protect the carrier against identity theft

The proposed ID smartcards will contain almost all relevant data on you, including tax and medical records, and possibly even financial information. You'd be carrying around a complete identity profile in your wallet. Saying that that protects you against identity theft is like saying that carrying the contents of your current account in your wallet protects you from robbery. If you get your card stolen and cloned then someone could be using your identity the very next day.

National ID cards will help to protect us in the War On Terror (TM)

This statement relies on the fallacious assumption that all Al-Quaeda terrorists that will be operating in the UK will be foreign and hence easily identifiable by their lack of ID cards. However, the UK already has a "sophisticated militant Islamic network" ,one of the reasons given for the fact that the UK is placed 10th on the list of most vulnerable terror targets. We have already seen that UK citizens (for example, Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber") are involved in terrorist activity, and so by concentrating only on those without ID cards we are ignoring a large terrorist threat.

How much will a national ID smartcard scheme cost?

The costs of an ID card scheme can be broken down into three basic areas:

  • The cost of the physical cards themselves
  • The cost of the IT project to set up a database containing in-depth details about everyone in the country
  • The cost of the bureaucracy to administer the database and cards

The only one we can realistically predict is the first one. Every large-scale Governemnt IT project to date (almost all PFI projects, by the way) has come in late, woefully over-budget and often dysfunctional, so it's futile to try and speculate as to what level the setup costs will spiral.

The running of the scheme would require a large government department. I have no idea how much this would cost, but it will be in the billions annually. The Government has suggested that the scheme might cost £3.4 billion a year. The cynic in me says that that means it will cost a hell of a lot more.

However, we can be more concrete about the cost of the cards themselves. The kind of smartcards that the Government has proposed using cost £40 each. The cost of a card for each the sixty million people in the UK would be £2.4 billion. Just for the cards themselves. The salary of a London Metropolitan beat bobby is about £26,000. That means that for the cost of the cards themselves, we could pay the salary of 92,000 extra bobbies for a year!

Which do you think would be more protection against crime and terrorism: carrying a little ID card or having nearly 100,000 extra coppers on the beat?

In short, a compulsory national ID card scheme would cost a packet of taxpayer's money that could be better spent elsewhere, would potentially cause great inconvenience to the British public and would fail to address the problems which it was intended to solve. Even if you set aside concerns over civil liberties they are a bad idea and should be stopped. If they introduce the cards, I'll be down in parliament square burning mine with as many like-minded individuals as I can rustle up.

Count on it.

Posted by Jonah at 11:10 AM

PDAs and Phones to converge

Today's "No Shit Sherlock" award goes to IDC for this bit of incisive insight:

In coming years, consumers and businesses will begin to demand advanced handheld devices, such as PDAs and handheld PCs, with voice communication functions that enable users to make mobile phone calls, a new IDC report says.

From http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/68/32500.html.

Posted by Jonah at 10:40 AM

The Real Getaway

The Register put me onto this site: a couple of Londoners retracing the steps of the missions in the PS2 game "The Getaway" in real life. I didn't realise quite how faithful some of the locations were recreated in the game. Excellent idea, boys!


Posted by Jonah at 10:36 AM | Comments (2)

August 26, 2003

Gender Bender

This program claims to be able to distinguish the gender of an author from a sample of his or her writing. I fed it this entry and it told me I was a woman. "Maybe," I thought, "that show's I'm 'in touch with my feminine side'". But no, when you look at the record of results it had at the time I did the test, you'll see that it's pretty much a random 50 - 50 distribution:

Accuracy Results
Am I right?
yes 27448 (50%)
no 27452 (50%)
54900 total responses since August 15, 2003

Bloody software.

Posted by Jonah at 12:48 PM

Tribal Gathering

So, we all went to the tribal gathering tenth anniversary warehouse party on saturday 23rd for Cresley's 30th birthday. I've only now recovered enough to blog about it! While on the whole I had an very good night, there were a couple of things that took the shine off the night for me.

Tickets cost nearly 30 quid a pop, but you got three stages and some of my favourite acts (eg Krafty Kuts, DJ Yoda, Groove Armada) were playing. The fact that it was held the day after Cresley's birthday made it an ideal night out as far as I was concerned. The flyers told us that no food or drink could be brought in but that "we'll make sure it's priced reasonably, so stop whining you tight gits".

There was a bit of rigmarole getting to the venue, presumably an attempt to recapture the whole early-nineties-illegal-rave vibe; we had to ring a mobile number to find out where to go and make our way across Manchester on the basis of a half-remembered A to Z page. This wasn't made easier by the fact that there was the Gay Pride festival and Man City's first home match of the season on the same day. Ed and Annie ended up going the wrong way and only realised when they spotted the fact that all the people going their way were wearing Man City shirts and all the people with glowsticks and daft furry boots were going in the opposite direction.

When we turned up, it turned out that "reasonably priced" means £3.50 for a 330ml tin of warn Budweiser (probably the pissiest beer in the world), and two quid for a bottle of fricking water! Still, I expected the high prices. What I didn't expect and was much more of a pain in the arse was the token system.

You couldn't go to the bar and simply buy a pisswarm Bud. No, you had to queue up in one place to buy tokens (at £1 per token) for use at the bar. You then had to queue again for the bar where you exchanged your tokens for beverages. This made the average trip to the bar last on average 30 - 45 minutes! For the organisers it had the twin benefits of eradicating the need for the bars to have a float/change/etc and making sure we all spent plenty of money on the right to go to the bar in the first place!

Still, the bar fiasco aside, it was a wicked cool party. They had fairground rides and the atmosphere was typically relaxxed and friendly. DJ Yoda was playing when we arrived in the smallest of the three rooms. This was where the hip-hop, scratching and breaks acts were all night, and had a much lower pointy-hat and whistle count than the other two rooms. Yoda played a blinder, including a lovely MC Pitman drop. He also played an extremely beefed-up version of ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" which I missed unfortunately since I'd nipped out to try and cool down.

Yeah, as you'd expect, you only had to walk through the rooms to end up drenched in sweat, such was the humidity and the close press of bodies. Actually dancing meant you ended up pissing out of every pore, but that's okay. I didn't go there to pose or stay dry!

From there on in, events became a bit disjointed and hazy. Key points:

  • Giles Peterson playing "Duelling Banjos" and scratching the banjo part
  • Cresley going on the "Earth Shaker" fairground ride three times in a row
  • Seeing several bouncers and a medic rushing past with some collapsed feller
  • Cresley going ape to the Deep Dish set
  • Repeated drops of the Knight Rider theme and that Punjabi MC tune

The queues for the manky portaloos were all huge, so it was a good idea to start queueing well in advance. There was one incident that annoyed and then amused me in one of the queues. I'd been waiting for about 30 minutes and I was second in line. Just as the cubicle door opened, a very mashed up girl staggered across from the queue next door and bolted in with a shout to her mate. The girl in front of me was incensed.

However, the two boos who'd nicked the cubicle were too ripped to remember to lock the door. About a minute after they got in, the bloke behind me in the queue went forward and whipped the door open! The spaced out girls looked very confused and then shut the door and locked it. Which was their big mistake. After a good five minutes in there, the door rattled and it became clear that they were too fucked-up to remember a) that they'd locked the door and b) how to unlock it! The whoops of laughter as they hammered on the door imagining that someone else has blocked it! After someone shouted instructions to them they managed to get out and stagger off. I saw one of them being carried around , feet dragging, later. Lightweights. When you're at an eighteen-hour warehouse party you have to pace yourself!

Deep Dish were followed by Groove Armada who were pretty good, but not as good as I'd expected them to be. The highlight turned out to be the Krafty Kuts set, which featured a bootleg of "You got the love" by Candi Staton, some incredible scratching and a tribute to the era in the form of SL2's "On A Ragga Tip" and the Prodigy's "Outer Space" interleaved with the original reggae track that the Prodigy sampled. A definite contender for best set I've ever danced to, for sure.

We didn't make it right to the end, though. After the Scratch Perverts, from around 4am, the music was almost all hardcore techno and I've been there and done that. Everybody was in the mood to go and get some reasonably-priced alcohol at home, and besides, the last train of the morning was the 3.43.

Besides, I'm getting too old for that shit now.

Posted by Jonah at 11:09 AM

August 20, 2003

Baniz Daymov reports

I've slung up a page with my mediocre mashups and mixes. It's here:

http://snurfer.org/whairz/

Posted by Jonah at 12:36 PM | Comments (2)

Xtreme! Politics

Jason Whiley, an A-level politics student had a bet with his dad that modern politicians were less fun than those in days gone by. His dad's justification? He found a photo of Enoch Powell on a pogo stick. To try and settle the bet, Jason wrote to every past and present MP he could contact and asked them if they'd ever engaged in a variety of fun antics, including riding a motorised cart or a space hopper. Amazingly, many of them wrote back, and the results can be seen at Statesman or Skatesman?

Posted by Jonah at 11:22 AM

August 19, 2003

Special Weapons And No Tactics

You know those complicated tactical hand gestures used by S.W.A.T. teams and special forces on the telly? Well, here's what they mean.

Posted by Jonah at 11:30 AM

P2P Power Generation

Jeremy Rifkin, writing in today's Guardian, proposes what I think is a fascinating solution to the recent power outaages in the US (and, indeed, Iraq): a fully-distributed power-generation system.

There is an important lesson here to be learned from the development of the decentralised worldwide web. The Pentagon created the precursor to the internet in the late 1960s. The Department of Defense (DOD) was concerned about power blackouts and the potential vulnerability to attack or other forms of disruption of centrally controlled communication operations. They were looking for a new kind of decentralised communications medium, in which all parties could produce information and send it to one another in a way that would continue to function even if part of the system was disrupted or destroyed.

Rifkin draws an analogy with the distributed nature of the internet. However, his proposed power-distibution network bears a closer resmblance to peer-to-peer file-sharing networks of the Kazaa/Gnutella/Soulseek ilk or the Grid. Everyone is both a producer and a consumer of energy which is distributed as needed. It's a great progressive idea, like an electricity credit union. The distibuted nature of the energy network would make it very resistant to the kind of major outage recently experienced by a large chunk of America.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are analogous to personal computers. That is, the fuel cell allows its user to produce, disseminate and use energy. Convertors are attached to either the gas line or the electricity line coming into the home, office or factory. In the case of natural gas, a catalytic convertor strips out the hydrogen from the natural gas, via a steam-reforming process, and stores it for later use in a fuel cell. Alternatively, an electrolyser can be attached to the electricity line and electricity can be used to separate hydrogen from water. This way, end users can store energy, in the form of hydrogen, and use it to generate electricity in fuel cells if and when a power surge or blackout occurs. Hydrogen fuel cells will initially be used as back-up generators.

...

Over the course of the next three decades, millions of people will purchase their own power plants. Fuel cells inside cars, homes, factories and offices will be capable of producing electricity for their own use during emergencies, while sending the surplus back to the power grid to share with others. To connect all those fuel cells - mini-power plants - will require a reconfiguration of every nation's power grid.

The trouble is, I think this excellent idea will face enormous resistance from the entrenched vested interests of the power companies of the world. Surely, like the major record labels it's not in their interests to lose control of the means of distribution. I just can't see them shutting down their power stranglehold and allowing everyone else to generate their own power at cost. However, they could potentially make money hiring or maybe servicing fuel cells. I expect there's even a place for them "bootstrapping" the energy needed to get the network up and running or to make up any shortfalls that occurr. That's the sort of thing the state should be providing, of course, but fat chance of that happening since it's currently the political vogue to hand over your essential services to rapacious, under-investing, infrstructure-slashing private concerns.

The coming together of millions of hydrogen-powered fuel-cell mini-power plants and systems intelligence changes the energy equation for ever. For the first time, the potential exists to replace a traditional top-down with a new bottom-up approach to energy - a democratisation of energy, in which everyone can be his or her own vendor and consumer.

That's the rub: the top down people have been in the driving seat for a good long while now, and they like it too much to get out. I think that what we'll see is yet another example of potentially democratising effects of new technology being resisted by entrenched reactionary forces protecting an outmoded status quo, like national firewalls and lawsuits against music lovers. If that makes me a cynic and a pessimist, then so be it. I'd rather be a surprised pessimist than a disappointed optimist.

Still, fantastic idea if you can get it implemented, Mr. Rifkin!

Posted by Jonah at 10:58 AM | Comments (2)

Are they finally getting it?

According to this piece in the Guardian, the Rolling Stones have just licensed their entire back catalogue to be distributed online at about 47p a pop! This is great news since it means that legal digital musical distribution is starting to gain critical mass. Hopefully the stones should see sales of their songs that are hard to find on physical media makng them plenty of wedge, and other artists or even labels might follow.

I think this is the big money-spinner for the labels in terms of digital music downloads. If a label opens its back catalogue to paid-for downloads, then the label is going to make money from people buying the more obscure or elderly stuff that they can't find anywhere else.

For example, I make a lot of use of P2P file-sharing networks, but not to download the latest records ('cos most new releases are unmitigated shite). I tend to download old stuff by, say, the Salsoul Orchestra or other old breaks. Now, if I was to buy those on vinyl, I'd have to go trawling round second-hand record shops all over the place and I still may well not find them. Even if I did, the label wouldn't make any money out of it because it's second hand. It's not cost-effective for them to re-press the records 'cos that costs and sales wouldn't cover it.

However, contrast this with the digital distribution channel where the cost of publishing is practically zero after the first copy has been made. If I knew I could get a guaranteed high-quality copy of "Magic Bird of Fire" direct from the label, then I'd happily pay a quid for it. May not sound like much, but it's a quid more than they would have made without the download. I've saved time and money, and they've made a quid for almost nothing. Everyone's a winner.

I just hope that the recording industry finally picks the ball up on this and gives us what we want, music downloads, rather than suing us (their own customer base)! Thing is, I don't reckon they will. This fight against musical download services isn't about protecting profits or securing artist's copyright. It's about maintining control of the means of distribution.

You see, that's what has made the major labels fat: if an up-and-coming artist wanted their music to be nationally publicised and distributed at a national (let alone global) level, they had to go through the majors and agree to whatever terms the majors put on that publicity and distribution. We've all heard how one-sided and exploitative recording contracts can be. We know that the artist will see about what, five percent of the price paid for their CDs, which is why music industry bleatings over filesharers ripping artists off seem so ludicrous.

However, an artist can now distribute and publicise their own music globally over the net, and if that takes on then people are going to start asking just what the function of the major record labels is. If you factor in the fact that a talented artist can now make music in their bedroom rather than paying for expensive studio time (often advanced by the labels against any future sales the artist makes), then you can see why the major labels are worried about falling off the gravy train.

But this is where the labels can make money, as I said, from their back catalogue. They're just going to have to come to terms with the fact that advances in technology have democratised music production and distribution and that their future lies in using their major asset: millions and millions of track which are currently unavailable but for which people would pay.

Posted by Jonah at 10:43 AM

August 18, 2003

Happy Birthday Mum!

I'd like to take the opportunity to wish my Mum a very happy birthday. This is almost the end of the Huddersfield Birthday Crush, only Ruth (21st) and Cresley (22nd) to go now! Many happy returns, Ma. Hope you enjoy your "good walk spoiled".

Posted by Jonah at 11:58 AM

The ten "80-est" movies of all time

The ten "80-est" movies of all time,

Media pundits argue back and forth over whether art affects or reflects society. The classic argument, of course, is, 'Did the systematic breakdown of Soviet communism inspire Rocky IV, or did Rocky IV itself cause the fall of communism?' Obviously, this is a flawed question since Rocky can do anything, but it illustrates the difficulty in judging how '80s a movie is by its cultural influence. You see, Valley Girl, might have changed the way stupid girls talked for years, and could thus be considered an important period piece by bimbo historians. However, it's still just a movie about speaking airhead dialect in a mall. That movie gets made every year. A true '80s movie is not about gagging people with spoons, Cabbage Patch Kids or A Flock of Seagulls. It's about how incredibly insane you would look if you tried to remake it today.
Posted by Jonah at 11:56 AM

August 14, 2003

FakeFags

An excellent discovery! Now I can stop worrying about the warnings on fag packets and continue smoking with no health risk whatsoever!

Posted by Jonah at 2:44 PM

August 12, 2003

Sunstroke in That London

So, I've just come back from a weekend jaunt to That London, visiting the usual gang and wishing Celia a last goodbye before she scoots off to the San Francisco and Monterey. Cheerio mate! Good luck with the jobhunting and all that!

Really good to see my That mates again. Muttley's on form as always, and Paul has proved himself to be a bit of a dark horse! Kept that a bit quiet, although I can see why, given the circumstances ... nuff said.

I also met the unconventional Daynal in a pub near the Tate Modern. She seemed to think I'm mean to her in public and pleasant privately, which I didn't reckon was true. I'm nice to everyone all the time: I'm too much of a wuss not to be.

Hung out with the Doomlord and his brother's nascent family on Saturday night. Jacob's well cute but was all tearful because of the heatwave. Poor little mite. The Doomlord answered the door with a shaved head and nothing on but a pair of lycra shorts. It was disturbingly like being greeted by a giant baby. (shudder)

Hooked up with Ceels in Regent's Park for Fruitstock. Foolishly, I'd had a couple of pints before I set off and by the time I'd slogged it from Seven Sisters through the tube and across Regent's Park I was well dehydrated and had the onset of sunstroke. Luckily, Celia's used to dealing with clueless sunstruck poms, so she sorted me out with water and shade.

There was a photographic exhibition on in the park at the same time, title M.I.L.K. (moments of intimacy, love and kinship). One exhibit really knocked me for six. It was a picture of a premature baby holding his mother's finger. The resemblance to Nye was very close and I nearly broke down right there and then. I'm supposed to be past that stage now. Sheesh.

Anyway, darn good weekend, apart from the fact that I was constantly drenched in sweat. I wish I'd brought double the amount of t-shirts!

Posted by Jonah at 10:23 AM

August 6, 2003

I'm gonna be a homo(wner)

Well, guess what? It appears that my offer for the through terrace in Beaumont Park (the nearest thing Huddersfield has to a "nice area") has been accepted! I've got the solicitor on the case and the (shudder) mortgage application underway. Just have to pay for the survey and various fees and the whole process is going to be well underway. It's vacant and we're first time buyers, so we could be in there in as soon as five or six weeks! Still, I realise it's nowhere near in the bag yet, so hold it down, boy.

I bet this homebuying lark is only this much fun the first time round, I tell thee.

Posted by Jonah at 10:55 AM

August 5, 2003

Grand Theft America

Heh, I thought this was going to be a "Bob the Angry Flower" strip!

http://www.ericblumrich.com/gta.html

Needs Flash.

Posted by Jonah at 2:52 PM

Don't it make you feel good?

Whilst casting around The Usual Suspects for tracks to go on my next sub-standard mix CD ("I never asked your sister out"), Ed found this:

http://mch3w.ch.man.ac.uk/org/JDS/personalfiles/dan/stefan/music.html

Toward the end of the 80's, the pop scene had become stagnant. Most music buyers had become disillusioned by the number of 'one hit wonders' dominating the charts and were desperately seeking a new act.
On the 6th of May 1989, a song was released which rescued the world of pop music from certain extinction. That song was none other than Stefan Dennis's 'Don't it make you feel good'
Posted by Jonah at 1:28 PM

You're Bard!

Help prove an old saw right with the monkey shakespeare simulator!

Posted by Jonah at 9:50 AM

August 4, 2003

US imposes travel restrictions on dissidents

"US anti-war activists hit by secret airport ban"

According to this article in the Independent, the Transportation Security Administration of the US is keeping a list of anti-war activists and other dissidents. People on the list are sinngled out for "special treatment" when trying to board a 'plane.

It is impossible to know for sure who might be on the list, or why. The ACLU says a list kept by security personnel at Oakland airport ran to 88 pages. More than 300 people have been subject to special questioning at San Francisco airport, and another 24 at Oakland, according to police records. In no case does it appear that a wanted criminal was apprehended.

It worries me that America is gradually becoming a fundamentalist police state. I hope the American public wake up soon.

Posted by Jonah at 3:19 PM

Copyshop

Virgil Widrich's black and white short film, Copyshop is excellent. Each frame of the film is a photocopy animated and filmed with a 35mm camera.

Posted by Jonah at 12:19 PM

August 1, 2003

BBC rejection letter

I'd love to have seen the application:

http://sponge.xevion.net/~davidd/funny/rejection.jpg

Posted by Jonah at 4:07 PM

Frickin' Asshat

Tim Bray writes on neologisms, including "fricking":

http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/07/26/NastyNeologo

Perhaps it's an obvious variation of frigging, but one doesn't feel the need in the English-language ecosystem for such a variation, and words don't typically get any traction unless they meet some need, if only for novelty. Admittedly, in a spoken diatribe, fricking sounds a bit more percussive; is that enough? Interestingly, frigging is almost always slurred into friggin', while in fricking the -ing is sounded out fully.
Posted by Jonah at 1:29 PM

Safe to share

So the RIAA thinks that they can intimidate music fans by suing users of P2P filesharing software? Over at the The Inquirer they worked out how long it would take for the RIAA to sue every single one of the 60 million P2P users operating today:

http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=10733

Basically they'd have to sue 75 people a day for the mext 22 years before they had even subpoena'd 1 percent of P2P users.

I like those odds.

Posted by Jonah at 11:50 AM

Mondo Guantanamo

I was just reading this article about how Iraqi scientists continue to deny that Iraq had any WMD programs even after Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to them, when I came across this paragraph:

After hiring a lawyer, Helma Saadi sent a written request to L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq. She did not receive an answer from Bremer to that letter or to one sent more recently. She did receive a response to a letter she sent asking whether her husband could be represented by a lawyer. On June 27, Col. Marc L. Warren of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, assigned to Bremer's office, said her husband's status "is being investigated" under the Geneva Conventions to see whether he is entitled to prisoner of war status or some other category.

Some other category? What the fuck? The Bush administration may have thought they could get away with designating prisoners from the Afghan War in 2002 as "unlawful combatants" for some technical reason (that didn't even comply with the Geneva Convention's definition of a prisoner of war), but what's happened in Iraq has been a War, and Amir Saadi was a part of the government against which that war was waged. Therefore he is a prisoner of war and has the same rights and protections as any other prisoner of war.

I think that the way that the US is trying to wriggle out of it's duty as a civilised western democracy to respect basic human rights is a total disgrace. I think this hypocrisy was highlighted very effectively during the invasion when Donald Rumsfeld (correctly) accused the Iraqis of breaching the Geneva Convention by showing footage of US POWs mere months after the US had broadcast footage of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

No country that claims to value freedom has any place running a hellhole like Guantanamo Bay. The prisoners are held without access to legal representation or indeed any kind of communication with the outside world. They are kept in tiny enclosures and the only person they see with any kind of regularity is their interrogator.

They are to be tried by an unsupervised, unaccountable military tribunal with no independent defence counsel and their judgement and sentencing are issued by fiat from the officer in charge. This tribunal does not have anywhere near the same standards of evidence as any balanced court in a civilised country. The tribunal will accept as evidence unsworn statements, uncorroborated assertations from intelligence agencies and "statements given under duress".

Just think about what that last phrase, "statements given under duress", really means. Especially given that the US has for years been running top torture academy the School of the Americas (now "rebranded" as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

This kind of human rights abuse was one of the three main resons that Bush and Blair gave for going to war on Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. In fact, it is the only reason that still even half holds water. Our government could not tolerate such treatment of the Iraqi people at the hands of Saddam Hussein and yet they are now accepting such treatment of British citizens in Guantanamo Bay at the hands of our greatest ally!

In addition to this, our Governemnt has signed an agreement with the Americans which allows the US to request extradition of any British citizen without presenting any evidence whatsoever. There is, of course, no reciprocal agreement. To think that we were led to believe that Blair was buying influence over Bush in reward for his obedience! The only concession that Blair has managed to get for citizens of the UK is a promise not to summarily execute two of them. Great.

It's a great tragedy that the United States of America, for so long a beacon of liberal values and the power of a free society is stooping to the kind of tactics you'd expect from the Husseins and Pinochets of this world. Given that this is the "New American Century", it also worries me what shape the world will be in after the Bush junta has been forced kicking and screaming out of office. Will there even be a Geneva Convention any more? If they can pull out of Kyoto and, more worryingly, SALT, why not the Geneva Convention too? They seem to be doing a good de facto job of pulling out of it so far ...

Posted by Jonah at 11:04 AM