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Monday, 16 May 2016

Every Story Tells A Picture

Below I give you two short stories - each is 10 paragraphs long, drawn from real life. You will see that they are quite similar stories. Even each of the corresponding paragraphs is similar!

Compare them, and form a composite picture in your mind - what do you see in the picture? Is everything as it should be? As well as your eyes, try using your nose to judge whether the overall picture 'smells' right. It is also fine to follow your gut instinct.

Maybe you see a face in the picture, akin to a suspect in a police sketch artist's drawing? Maybe a man doing something bad in a high place? Or unhappy children? Maybe you don't see anything at all, because everyone disappeared along with the evidence of what happened?

Maybe you'd like some Inspector Clouseau theme music to accompany you?...

Story #1: 'Operation Condor’ - Impunity 

1. Jack Straw presided as Home Secretary during the 1998 arrest by London’s Metropolitan Police of Chile’s ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was being chased internationally along with 36 others of the Chilean security state apparatus. This was triggered by an arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge, related to atrocities that (allegedly) flowed from Pinochet’s pen during his time in office, including the internationally organised abductions, imprisonments, tortures, and temporary or permanent ‘disappearances’ of Pinochet’s opponents, among them Spanish and UK citizens (nowadays we use the catch-all ‘extraordinary renditions’ for much of this activity). The victims included children and pregnant women. The international operation involved several countries other than Chile (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay), with CIA support, and its codename was “Operation Condor”.

2. The organisers’ intention was, in part, to silence the opposition, and to continue 'business as usual' for the dictatorships that otherwise were on the brink of war with each other (hence, the Chilean army’s corruption-investigated contract with BAE to develop a military rocket system, that first brought Pinochet to the UK in 1991 to renew the contract). President Pinochet and other South American dictators put aside their countries’ differences in order to make the deal hold.

3. Throughout the period, Pinochet exchanged political prisoners with other countries via ‘extraordinary rendition’ operations. The head of Chile's CNI secret police, Manuel Contreras, and the other countries’ intelligence chiefs, were left to get on with it. Before his death in 2015, Contreras had been sentenced in Chile to more than 500 years in prison for his crimes. A number of other security agents in his chain-of-command have met a similar fate. Other agents, politicians and civil servants involved in “Operation Condor” have so far escaped justice, but from the moment of Pinochet’s arrest in London they were trapped in their home countries for fear of arrest while travelling, for trial in Spain or elsewhere. In the UK, the penalty for their alleged crimes is a maximum of life imprisonment (and similar penalty in other countries).

4. In accordance with established UK law and international judicial cooperation, the Met executed the court’s warrant by arresting Pinochet, and the Crown Prosecution Service represented the prosecuting Spanish judge in order to arrange extradition ('extradition' = lawful; ‘extraordinary rendition’ = criminal). Using the legal principle aut dedere aut judicare ('if you’re not going to prosecute him, then you must extradite him to us’), other countries joined Spain in requesting extradition, especially European countries whose citizens had been victims. These included Belgium, France, Switzerland, who were represented in UK court hearings by the CPS. Between court hearings, Pinochet was considered a flight-risk, on bail and under house arrest near London, secured by 24-hour armed guard and electronic surveillance. Even if he escaped the country, he could have been arrested again for trial in another country before reaching Chile. Pinochet finally appeared less than two metres from me in the dock at Belmarsh Magistrates Court committal proceedings in December 1998. Later, the Westminster Magistrates Court set Pinochet on course for extradition, trial, and undoubted conviction in Spain. This was all underpinned by decisions of the highest UK court (the House of Lords Judicial Committee, now renamed the Supreme Court).

5. In a political manoeuvre, Home Secretary Straw used his politician’s discretionary powers to release Pinochet just as he was about to be handed over for trial. Weeks later, Straw agreed to explain this ‘get out of jail free’ decision in a private meeting that I attended with the visiting heads of the Relatives of the Disappeared of Chile, Viviana Diaz, and the Relatives of the Politically Executed, Berta Manriquez. Straw said that he had no discretion, and was required by law to release Pinochet. The law required no such thing. I knew it. Straw knew it. Viviana and Berta knew it. Still he assured us that it must be true, because otherwise Amnesty would have taken him to court immediately in order to block Pinochet’s escape, but hadn’t. It was an extraordinary slap in the face to the victims’ representatives, a disregard for their need for truth and justice from the UK, and a betrayal of common decency.

6. Pinochet is reported to have pleaded to the Met’s arresting officer, DI Andrew Hewitt, that he knew nothing about the issues on the warrant. Just to keep his actual knowledge under wraps, he went on to claim memory problems, and memorably Straw declared him unfit for trial. Just as well, since Pinochet’s public statements between the 1973 coup until his 1998 London arrest, his documented oversight of the ‘Caravan of Death’ helicopter squad that swept through Chile in the weeks after the takeover, and his daily breakfast updates from his chief of secret police Manuel Contreras, all point to plenty of knowledge and authorisation. Punishment was meted out to senior officers not carrying out orders harshly enough.

7. At home in Chile by early March 2000, Pinochet realised that his legal and political impunity had cracked in his absence. Under house arrest, and deemed fit for trial by a judge, he died in 2006 before any of his cases came to judgment. By then he had been forced to give testimony to several judges, and been indicted on several counts in several cases involving atrocities and corruption. A couple of ‘truth commissions’ had established the facts and criminal responsibilities in thousands of cases of torture, murder and ‘disappearance’, allowing financial compensation and reputational rehabilitation for victims and their families. Many perpetrators had hoped for a quick-fix "Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation” social process that would then leave them alone. But the victims "Neither Forgetting, Nor Pardoning” fuelled a criminal process that gave judges the courage to send an increasing number of perpetrators to prison. Prosecutions continue until this very day.

8. From the day of the Coup in 1973, through the seventeen years of dictatorship, and the period after the dictatorship when potential key witnesses were still being eliminated, Pinochet’s Chile systematically targeted men, women and children for brutal treatment, even the Relatives of the Disappeared who simply wanted a loved one’s body for a funeral. Pinochet even joked on camera that there were so many mass graves because it was cheaper that way. Convictions and trials continue today in Chile for systematic abduction, torture, murder and ‘disappearance' perpetrated by Chilean civil servants and military officers who unlawfully controlled state institutions.

9. Instead of life imprisonment, Pinochet and several of his collaborators spent most of their lives making hay under the South American sunshine. Torture survivors live today with their dark memories, mass graves continue to be exhumed, and the ‘disappeared’ remain precisely that. This is what happens when elected parliamentarians undermine democratic accountability and play second-fiddle to their military and state security charges. This is what happens when police, judges and prosecutors are co-opted, controlled, and twisted around the little finger of dictatorship.

10. In the end, the truth came out. Still, some in Chile believe that Pinochet should have been immune from prosecution, if all he did was his patriotic and immoral duty of securing the dictatorship by organising the mass arrest, torture and disappearance of people who didn’t like him. In the Santiago office of the Relatives of the Disappeared of Chile, 10 out of 10 people know who Jack Straw is and how he duped himself into freeing Pinochet. Margaret Thatcher had tea and cake with Pinochet and condemned his house arrest in leafy Virginia Water as immoral and cruel (until he disappeared back to Chile with a last-minute gift from Thatcher in his hands that was a calculated insult to the Spanish judge and Chilean victims).

Story #2: 'Operation Jackdaw’ - Impunity

1. Jack Straw presided as Foreign Secretary during a 2004 period that London’s Metropolitan Police has been investigating, and that could yet result in the arrest of Straw and others, including former MI6 senior officer Mark Allen, plus other public sector employees. This was triggered by a criminal complaint issued by London lawyers, related to atrocities that (allegedly) flowed from Straw’s pen during his time in office, including the internationally organised abductions, imprisonments, tortures, and temporary ‘disappearances’ of Libyan dictator Gaddafi’s opponents, among them UK residents and asylum-seekers (in short, ‘extraordinary renditions’). The victims included children and a pregnant woman. The international operation involved several countries other than the UK and its overseas territory of Diego Garcia (Libya, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong), with the CIA as joint leader, and its codename (unless I am corrected) was “Operation Jackdaw”.

2. The organisers’ intention was, in part, to silence Gaddafi's opposition, and to return to ‘business as usual’ between the UK and Libya governments, who otherwise were in ongoing conflict over the 1984 shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher in London, and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie (hence, in March 2004 Tony Blair visited Gaddafi and closed the deal with the famous ‘handshake in the desert’, while Shell and BP secured exploration and drilling contracts with Libya, and the likes of BAE Systems negotiated other large contracts). Prime Minister Blair and dictator Gaddafi put aside their countries' differences in order to make the deal hold.

3. Days before the Blair-Gaddafi love-in, an MI6-CIA ‘extraordinary rendition' operation delivered to Gaddafi two political prisoners, travellers whisked away from a British Airways flight by CIA agents, namely Abdel Hakim Belhadj (or Belhaj) and his six-months pregnant wife Fatima Bouchar. Several days after the Blair-Gaddafi meeting, the same arrangement delivered another set of political prisoners, this time Abu Munthir (’Sami’) al-Saadi, his wife, and their four children, the youngest a girl aged 6 years. Gaddafi’s intelligence chief Moussa Koussa was left to get on with it, in hand with his MI6 colleague Mark Allen, head of counter-terrorism at MI6 (who left to join BP in October 2004), and their CIA etc counterparts. Koussa fled Libya in 2011 for the UK, where he was warmly welcomed as a Gaddafi dissenter, and now lives comfortably in Doha, Qatar. He is not immune from prosecution, and may be the target of an extradition request, especially if Mark Allen is arrested in the UK over “Operation Jackdaw”. In similar vein, if the UK fails to prosecute, then Mark Allen and others have the problem in common that they are not immune in the UK from an extradition request, or from arrest and prosecution overseas while travelling. In the UK, the alleged crimes attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment (and similar penalty in other countries).

4. In accordance with established UK law, and international police cooperation where required, the Met began an investigation into the allegations by questioning suspects, and is reported to have passed the file to the Crown Prosecution Service some time ago, in order to process for trial. If the CPS is unable or unwilling to bring the matter to trial, other countries with a legal interest may exercise jurisdiction via the rule “aut dedere aut judicare” ('if you’re not going to prosecute them, then you must extradite them to us’). Possibly Libya, Morocco, Malaysia, USA, Canada, etc courts would exercise this option, and so be represented in UK hearings by the CPS. Alternatively, the Prosecutor's Office of the International Criminal Court in The Hague may reach out and take over, as allowed by UK law. In such scenarios, Straw et al. may be considered as flight risks, required to comply with bail conditions pending legal transfer overseas or to The Hague, including reporting regularly to a local police station if not also subject to the 24-hour electronic surveillance of an ankle-tag. If they were to leave the UK, they could run the risk of being arrested for criminal prosecution in another country, or sued there by victims.

5. In a political manoeuvre, Blair's government (and now Cameron’s) created a legal mechanism that attempts to give politicians and civil servants the discretion to lock away criminal evidence from the police, courts and victims, by declaring it to be ‘secret’... even if the people locking it away are the ones being accused, investigated by police, or sitting in court. This is ‘life imprisonment insurance’, since there is neither immunity nor time-bar in UK courts for prosecuting ‘extraordinary rendition’ crimes. Not even immunity for former Prime Ministers, or collaborators such as US agents or politicians, never mind Libyans or others. It may not be possible to extradite to the UK, or even question, collaborators such as Moussa Koussa or CIA agents, but that should not prevent the Crown Prosecution Service from doing its job of prosecuting those resident within its jurisdiction. Anything less would be an extraordinary slap in the face for child victims, a disregard for their families’ need for truth and justice, and a betrayal of recent high-level reaffirmations of Magna Carta.

6. Straw and Blair have said publicly that they have no recollection of authorising “Operation Jackdaw”, while Mark Allen’s apparent defence is that it was authorised by his superiors (to Ministerial level). It has also been reported that Jack Straw has been shown the transcript of his telephone authorisation giving the go-ahead for the crimes. What I have never seen reported is that it is absolutely no defence to crimes against humanity that a subordinate's offence was ordered by a superior, let alone when it was authorised on the subordinate's request. If it is reasonable to presume that the correspondence between Mark Allen and the head of Libyan intelligence is not fabricated, then it is reasonable to put Mark Allen on the stand in the ordinary way, for a jury to decide in the ordinary way whether he did the acts on the indictment, and for him to try pleading ‘superior orders or authorisation’ in defence or mitigation.

7. At home in the UK in May 2016, Jack Straw knows that the legal impunity via Blair era laws remains in place, in spite of the political stink. He himself has not cracked under the pressure, and will be relaxed in the knowledge that the High Court in 2016 has affirmed judicial subjugation to the secrecy-impunity laws undermining feudal Magna Carta, by the consent of our Parliament during and after the Blair era. The court kicked out a civil claim against The Foreign Office, Home Office, MI5 and MI6, brought by Belhadj and others renditioned or deported to Libya. Cameron’s July 2010 announcement of a UK ‘truth commission’, namely the ‘Gibson Inquiry’, had its plug pulled in January 2012 before it was properly underway, and there has been no second attempt. Still, the Inquiry did produce a report on its ‘preparatory work’ (that was then sat on by the government until December 2013). The report indicated that UK agents were aware of abuses by "liaison partners" (e.g. Libyan intelligence, CIA), that UK agents were involved in “some cases of rendition”, and that UK agents were aware of “inappropriate interrogation techniques". Since 2013, the victims have been left to their own devices in their search for truth and justice, neither forgetting nor forgiving. No UK prosecutions have taken place (yet), although the CPS currently is in possession of the evidence gathered by the Met Police.

8. From Lord Saville's 2010 report on the 1972 ‘Bloody Sunday’ killings, through 2016’s jury verdict on the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and campaigns for an inquiry into ‘historic’ police abuse of miners at Orgreave that may yet bear fruit, it seems that UK state institutions have regularly set out to cover up their mistreatment of ordinary men, women and children, rather than provide truth and justice. Blair simply defends the photo of his handshake with Gaddafi mid-renditions, on the grounds that it was prudent geopolitical diplomacy. Prosecutions are denied until this very day for systematic abduction, torture and ‘disappearance’ organised from London by civil servants and elected politicians using tax payers’ money to deliver the "air cargo” (a description of the families by Mark Allen, in a 2004 memo to Libya’s head of intelligence).

9. Instead of life imprisonment, Straw and other suspects intend spending their twilight years in clover, while prosecutors search for evidence where the sun doesn’t shine. The victims can come to court, but the evidence remains buried by bureaucracy and obfuscation. This is what happens when the work of our police, judges and CPS is controlled, corrupted, and shown the middle finger of a ‘secrecy’ and ‘impunity’ regime.

10. In the end, the truth will probably come out, as it usually does. Still, some in the UK may believe that our own politicians and civil servants should be immune from prosecution, if all they did was their patriotic and immoral duty of securing oil, gas and other contracts by organising the abduction, torture and disappearance of children and their parents. In Liverpool, 10 out of 10 people would say that the victims of state organised violence and cover-up should never walk alone in their search for truth and justice. A jury should be sworn in, and on conviction the perpetrators justly sent to prison for life (as per Sections 134-138 of the Thatcher government’s 1988 Criminal Justice Act pertaining to torture offences committed in the UK or elsewhere). A bowl of porridge and a cup of water could be served each morning, lest they forget that they are not under house arrest, and neither were their victims.

Well done! But possibly you need more time to compare the corresponding paragraphs of each story? On the bright side, the 'Pink Panther' theme tune will play for 10 hours!

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