Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Don't Despair about the Supreme Court

It's Not up to the Court

by Howard Zinn

The Progressive (November 2005)

John Roberts sailed through his confirmation hearings as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with enthusiastic Republican support, and a few weak mutterings of opposition by the Democrats. Then, after the far right deemed Harriet Miers insufficiently doctrinaire, Bush nominated arch conservative Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. This has caused a certain consternation among people we affectionately term "the left".

I can understand that sinking feeling. Even listening to pieces of Roberts's confirmation hearings was enough to induce despair: the joking with the candidate, the obvious signs that, whether Democrats or Republicans, these are all members of the same exclusive club. Roberts's proper "credentials", his "nice guy" demeanor, his insistence to the Judiciary Committee that he is not an "ideologue" (can you imagine anyone, even Robert Bork or Dick Cheney, admitting that he is an "ideologue"?) were clearly more important than his views on equality, justice, the rights of defendants, the war powers of the President.

At one point in the hearings, The New York Times reported, Roberts "summed up his philosophy". He had been asked, "Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?" (Would any candidate admit that he was on the side of "the big guy"? Presumably serious "hearings" bring out idiot questions.)

Roberts replied: "If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy's going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy's going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution."

If the Constitution is the holy test, then a justice should abide by its provision in Article VI that not only the Constitution itself but "all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the Supreme Law of the Land". This includes the Geneva Convention of 1949, which the United States signed, and which insists that prisoners of war must be granted the rights of due process.

A district court judge in 2004 ruled that the detainees held in Guantanamo for years without trial were protected by the Geneva Convention and deserved due process. Roberts and two colleagues on the Court of Appeals overruled this.

There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration of the Constitution and "the rule of law". The Constitution, like the Bible, is infinitely flexible and is used to serve the political needs of the moment. When the country was in economic crisis and turmoil in the Thirties and capitalism needed to be saved from the anger of the poor and hungry and unemployed, the Supreme Court was willing to stretch to infinity the constitutional right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. It decided that the national government, desperate to regulate farm production, could tell a family farmer what to grow on his tiny piece of land.

When the Constitution gets in the way of a war, it is ignored. When the Supreme Court was faced, during Vietnam, with a suit by soldiers refusing to go, claiming that there had been no declaration of war by Congress, as the Constitution required, the soldiers could not get four Supreme Court justices to agree to even hear the case. When, during World War I, Congress ignored the First Amendment's right to free speech by passing legislation to prohibit criticism of the war, the imprisonment of dissenters under this law was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court, which included two presumably liberal and learned justices: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis.

It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.

The distinction between law and justice is ignored by all those Senators - Democrats and Republicans - who solemnly invoke as their highest concern "the rule of law". The law can be just; it can be unjust. It does not deserve to inherit the ultimate authority of the divine right of the king.

The Constitution gave no rights to working people: no right to work less than twelve hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance.

The Brown decision on school desegregation did not come from a sudden realization of the Supreme Court that this is what the Fourteenth Amendment called for. After all, it was the same Fourteenth Amendment that had been cited in the Plessy case upholding racial segregation. It was the initiative of brave families in the South - along with the fear by the government, obsessed with the Cold War, that it was losing the hearts and minds of colored people all over the world - that brought a sudden enlightenment to the Court.

The Supreme Court in 1883 had interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment so that nongovernmental institutions - hotels, restaurants, et cetera - could bar black people. But after the sit-ins and arrests of thousands of black people in the South in the early Sixties, the right to public accommodations was quietly given constitutional sanction in 1964 by the Court. It now interpreted the interstate commerce clause, whose wording had not changed since 1787, to mean that places of public accommodation could be regulated by Congressional action and be prohibited from discriminating.

Soon this would include barbershops, and I suggest it takes an ingenious interpretation to include barbershops in interstate commerce.

The right of a woman to an abortion did not depend on the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs Wade. It was won before that decision, all over the country, by grassroots agitation that forced states to recognize the right. If the American people, who by a great majority favor that right, insist on it, act on it, no Supreme Court decision can take it away.

The rights of working people, of women, of black people have not depended on decisions of the courts. Like the other branches of the political system, the courts have recognized these rights only after citizens have engaged in direct action powerful enough to win these rights for themselves.

This is not to say that we should ignore the courts or the electoral campaigns. It can be useful to get one person rather than another on the Supreme Court, or in the Presidency, or in Congress. The courts, win or lose, can be used to dramatize issues.

On St Patrick's Day, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, four anti-war activists poured their own blood around the vestibule of a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and were arrested. Charged in state court with criminal mischief and trespassing (charges well suited to the American invaders of a certain Mideastern country), the St Patrick's Four spoke their hearts to the jury. Peter DeMott, a Vietnam veteran, described the brutality of war. Danny Burns explained why invading Iraq would violate the UN Charter, a treaty signed by the United States. Clare Grady spoke of her moral obligations as a Christian. Teresa Grady spoke to the jury as a mother, telling them that women and children were the chief victims of war, and that she cared about the children of Iraq. Nine of the twelve jurors voted to acquit them, and the judge declared a hung jury. (When the federal government retried them on felony conspiracy charges, a jury in September acquitted them of those and convicted them on lesser charges.)

Still, knowing the nature of the political and judicial system of this country, its inherent bias against the poor, against people of color, against dissidents, we cannot become dependent on the courts, or on our political leadership. Our culture - the media, the educational system - tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected President and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system. That is why Cindy Sheehan's dramatic stand in Crawford, Texas, leading to 1,600 anti-war vigils around the country, involving 100,000 people, is more crucial to the future of American democracy than the mock hearings on Justice Roberts or the ones to come on Judge Alito.

That is why the St Patrick's Four need to be supported and emulated. That is why the GIs refusing to return to Iraq, the families of soldiers calling for withdrawal from the war, are so important.

That is why the huge peace march in Washington on September 24 bodes well.

Let us not be disconsolate over the increasing control of the court system by the right wing.

The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, "Equal Justice Before the Law", have always been a sham.

No Supreme Court, liberal or conservative, will stop the war in Iraq, or redistribute the wealth of this country, or establish free medical care for every human being. Such fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence - an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - be fulfilled.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How Much Energy Do We Have?

Are there enough renewables to keep the lights on?
The answer will be comforting to no one.

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (November 29 2005)

In one respect, Simon Jenkins is right. "Nobody", he complained in the Guardian last week, while laying out his case for nuclear power, "agrees about figures" {1}. As a result, "energy policy is like Victorian medicine, at the mercy of quack remedies and snake-oil salesmen".

There is a reason for this. As far as I can discover, reliable figures for the total volume of electricity that renewable power could supply do not yet exist. As a result, anyone can claim anything, and anyone does. The enthusiasts for renewables insist that the entire economy - lights, heating, cars and planes - can be powered from hydrogen produced by wind. The nuclear evangelists maintain, in Jenkins's words, that "even if every beauty spot in Britain were coated in windmills their contribution to the Kyoto target would be minuscule". All of us are groping around in the dark.

So though this is not a scientific journal, and though I am not qualified to do it, I am going to attempt a rough first draft, which I hope will be challenged and refined by people with better credentials. Some of my assumptions are generous, others are conservative. This will be far from definitive and, I am afraid, quite complex, but at least, on the day the government's energy review is announced, we will have something to argue about.

The UK currently has an installed electricity generating capacity of 77 billion watts {2}. Demand for electricity peaks on winter evenings between 5 and 7 pm, when we use some 61.7 billion watts {3}. A recent report by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute estimates that if we do everything possible to improve energy efficiency in the home and install mini-wind turbines and small "combined heat and power" boilers, we could reduce our demand from big power plants by 25 billion watts, or forty percent, by 2050 {4}.

I haven't been able to find a comparable study for offices and industry, so my first leap of faith is to assume that the same cut can be applied across the economy. This is likely to be generous. It is now clear that 2050 is too late: drastic cuts - eighty to ninety percent - in greenhouse gases need to be made by 2030. So my second assumption is that the forty percent cut can be evenly spread across time: that we can, in other words, reduce peak electricity demand by 22% by 2030. This means that it falls by 13.6 billion watts, to 48.1.

Because wind doesn't blow consistently, wind power cannot replace fossil fuels watt for watt. A paper published in the journal Energy Policy estimates that 26 billion watts of installed wind capacity (which could meet about twenty percent of current electricity demand) would replace 5 billion watts of fossil fuel plant {5}. Graham Sinden at Oxford University has shown that a more reliable mixture - 43% wind, 52% wave and 5% tidal stream power - could, at the same volume, replace 8 billion watts of coal or gas {6}.

The National Grid company tells me that wind power could directly deliver "at least twenty percent" of our electricity and remain "economically feasible" {7}. Assuming that the same can be said of Graham Sinden's mixture, 20 billion watts of installed renewable capacity will mop up twenty percent of our reduced demand (48.1 billion watts), displacing 6.2 billion watts of conventional power plant. This leaves us with 41.9 to find.

Figures from the Energy Technology Support Unit at Harwell suggest that if you build only in places with an average windspeed of at least seven metres per second, and keep out of national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, nature reserves and towns and villages, you could produce a maximum of 58,000 billion watt-hours per year of electricity from onshore wind (a watt-hour is an hour of electricity delivered at a rate of one watt). If you build only in shallow water with a firm seabed, out of the path of migrating birds and military exercises, and where grid connections are available, you could generate 100,000 billion watt-hours of electricity from offshore wind {8}. These estimates are probably conservative, as wind turbines are already bigger than the researchers envisaged.

The same study estimated that 53,000 billion watt-hours can be produced from wave power and 36,000 from tidal stream machines. A House of Lords committee reports that it might be possible to generate 24,000 billion watt-hours from tidal lagoons {9}. I won't count electricity from sunlight, because it's expensive and isn't produced when we need it most. This means that if we used all the available sources of variable renewable power in the UK, we could produce 271,000 billion watt-hours of electricity per year.

We have already used up 20 billion watts of installed renewable capacity. Assuming that renewable power is thirty percent efficient, we can multiply 20 by 8760 (the number of hours in the year) and 0.3, to make 52,600 billion watt-hours. Subtract this from 271,000 and we are left with 218,400.

Now here comes the biggest leap of faith. I am going to assume that by 2030 a cost-effective energy storage technology has been developed which has a fifty percent efficiency. The most likely technologies are hydrogen (which can be burnt in gas turbine engines) or a battery system like the one envisaged in the UK's Regenesys project, which was scrapped last year. Either one would add considerably to the costs of power generation, so investors are likely to become interested only if gas prices keep rising (which is likely) and nuclear operators are forced to carry their own insurance costs (which is unlikely). But if either the market or the government swung behind energy storage, then something like half the output from our variable power sources could be turned into a reliable supply of electricity. That means 109,000 billion watt-hours.

To this we could add 17,000 billion watt-hours from willow plantations grown on the farmland currently under set-aside {10}, 6,000 billion watt-hours from farm and forestry waste, 6,000 from hydro power and 5,000 from landfill gas {11}, to give a total for reliable electricity generation from renewables of 143,000 billion watt-hours. Assuming very conservatively that this is evenly distributed across the year (in reality much of it can be held over to meet peak demand), and that at any one time 85% of it is available, this gives us 19 billion watts of installed capacity. We needed 41.9, so our shortfall is some 23 billion watts at peak demand, and 34.8 billion watts of total capacity. (The need for spare capacity could be greatly reduced if we managed demand rather than supply, as the great free-thinker on energy systems, Walt Patterson, has suggested) {12}.

This is more than the apostles of renewable energy were hoping to see, but much less than the nuclear proselytes have predicted. It suggests that we could cut our demand for fossil fuel without building new nuclear power stations. But it is still too much: even 23 billion watts will help to cook the planet. So the choice then comes down to this: we make up the shortfall either with nuclear power, as Simon Jenkins suggests, or with gas or coal accompanied by carbon burial (pumping the carbon dioxide into salt aquifers or old gas fields). The first option means uranium mining, nuclear waste and the threat of proliferation and terrorism. The second means insecurity (gas) or open-cast mining and air pollution (coal) and a risk (though probably quite small) of carbon seepage.

Neither option, in other words, looks pretty. I fear I have succeeded not only in writing the densest column the Guardian has ever published, but also in demonstrating that this problem is harder to solve than I had hoped. Is there someone out there who can prove me wrong?

George Monbiot will be speaking at the Climate March on Saturday. For details see


1. Simon Jenkins, 23rd November 2005. At last Blair seems to see that our future is nuclear. The Guardian.

2. Eg

3. Brenda Boardman et al. 40% House. The Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

4. ibid.

5. Lewis Dale et al, 2004. Total cost estimates for large-scale wind scenarios in UK. Energy Policy no 32, pp 1949-1956.

6. Graham Sinden, 2005. Wind power and diversified renewable energy portfolios. Presentation to the Carbon Trust.

7. Email from Chris Mostyn, Media Relations Manager, the National Grid.

8. Energy Technology Support Unit, 1999. New and renewable energy: prospects in the UK for the 21st century - supporting analysis. ETSU, Harwell.

9. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 15th July 2004. Renewable Energy: Practicalities. Volume I: Report. (it gives an installed capacity of 4.5 billion watts, and a capacity factor of 61% ).

10. Jim Watson et al., April 2002. Renewable Energy and Combined Heat and Power Resources in the UK. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Working Paper 22.

11. Energy Technology Support Unit, ibid.

12. Walt Patterson, 2003. Keeping The Lights On: Working Papers 1-3. The Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Bill Totten

Monday, November 28, 2005

Not Everyone Felt That Way

by Tim Wise

ZNet Commentary (September 12 2005)

When I was a kid, I remember my maternal grandmother defending Richard Nixon for the crimes of Watergate, because, as she put it: "He didn't do anything any worse than what every other President did". Knowing, even at six, that this was hardly a morally compelling justification for one's actions, even if true, I recall how it infuriated me to hear it over and over again, whenever politics were discussed in my grandparent's home.

Little did I realize that such obfuscation was hardly unique to certain members of my family. Indeed, throughout the years, it seemed like whenever Watergate came up in conversation (as it would for a long time after 1974, and Iran/Contra after that), someone would pull out this same canard, repeating with the precision of an atomic clock, that "so-and-so didn't do anything that every other President/Senator/Congressman, or whatever, didn't also do". And invariably, those who would say these things were always staunch supporters of whatever asshole was being criticized: whether it was Nixon, Reagan, or Bill Clinton.

It's almost as if stupid arguments spread by osmosis, or some such thing. So we end up with people who have never met each other, nonetheless miraculously spewing the same apologetics, as if they had gotten some kind of memo instructing them on what to say whenever one of their personal heroes stepped in it.

So too, the oft-heard argument that one shouldn't be too harsh on this nation's founders, or other early USAmerican Presidents, when it comes to slaveholding, or involvement in Indian genocide, because, after all, they were "products of their time", and shouldn't be judged by the moral standards of the modern world.

I heard this one again recently, after an article of mine hit the Internet, in which I discussed, among other things, the depredations of Andrew Jackson: one of this nation's premier Indian killers.

The person who wrote to attack me as a "PC liberal" who "hates America", insisted that Jackson, and others like Thomas Jefferson shouldn't be evaluated on the basis of today's moral "underpinnings". And as with every other instance in which something like this has been said to me, in this case too, the comment was made absent any awareness on the part of its author, as to the position's utter absurdity.

The most infuriating thing about the "men of their times" defense, is that by insisting Jackson, Jefferson and the rest were in line with the standards accepted by all in their day, apologists ignore, in a blatantly racist fashion, that to the blacks being enslaved, or the Indians being killed, slavery and genocide were hardly acceptable.

In other words, the "everybody back then felt that way" argument assumes that the feelings of non-whites don't count. Some folks always knew mass murder and land theft were wrong: namely, the victims of either. That lots of white folks didn't, hardly acquits them in this instance. It's not as if the human brain was incapable of recognizing the illegitimacy of killing and enslavement.

Secondly, beliefs that killing and stealing are wrong hardly emerged in the 20th or 21st centuries. Indeed, the very people who suggest we should cut the founders slack because of the standards of their day, are overwhelmingly the kind of Bible-thumping conservatives who insist morality is timeless, and who clamor for the posting of the Ten Commandments in the public square for this very reason. Yet they appear to have forgotten that among those Commandments (which were not, after all, handed down to Billy Graham in the 1950s, but rather to someone else a wee bit earlier) are prohibitions against murder and theft.

In other words, the founders don't merely offend by today's moral standards; they offended by the moral standards set in place at least by the time of Moses.

But there's something else troubling about this kind of argument: the kind that seeks to paper over past crimes against humanity by insisting we can't hold old timers to today's standards (as if today's standards were really all that much better when it came to justifying war, racism and oppression).

Namely, despite the apparent belief to the contrary, there were also whites in Jackson's time, and before, who opposed the extermination of native peoples, and who supported the abolition of slavery - and not only on grounds of political pragmatism but morality as well.

In other words, even using the fundamentally racist limitation suggested by the apologists as to whose views mattered, it is simply not the case that all whites stood behind racist land grabs, killings and the ownership of other human beings. Thus, Jackson, Jefferson, and whomever else one cares to mention can hardly seek refuge in the notion of a universal white morality either.

That the apologist (and for that matter, most everyone else) knows little of this history is as tragic as it is infuriating. Because the history of white dissent from the crimes of our kinfolk is so rarely told, too many of us become invested in a view of history that is thoroughly bound up with the narratives and interpretations of elites. So not only is the history we remember a white history, it is a very specific, narrow and cramped white history at that: one that normalizes contributing to the death and destruction of racial others as something quintessentially white, perhaps even the essence of whiteness.

Ironically, this kind of historical understanding is itself racist on two levels then: first and foremost, because it erases the non-white perspective, and secondly because it implies that the white perspective is only that of racism; in other words, it suggests that to be white is to be racist, inherently, almost biologically perhaps, (and to forcelose the possibility of turning against racism).

More than that, the argument even suggests that to be white is, by definition, to be a willing contributor to genocide, and to have no choice in the matter; no human agency to go in a different direction. The argument of the apologist, for this reason, denigrates whites as well.

Is it any wonder that with such a stunted understanding of what it means (or can mean) to be a person of European descent, that so few whites think antiracism their struggle? Is it any wonder that whites who have never been exposed to antiracist white history can't then see any alternative to going along with the system as they've inherited it, all the while making excuses about how "that's just how our people have always thought?"

But of course there is another history, and however much white antiracism has been trumped quantitatively by white racism and supremacy, it is still vital to learn of this history, so as to put an end to the excuse making for those who chose to oppress others, as well as to point to a different set of role models whose vision young whites might choose to follow.

We could begin with Bartolome de Las Casas, a priest who traveled with Columbus, and after witnessing the cruelty meted out against the Taino (Arawak) Indians by the "peerless" explorer (who we are still taught to venerate in this culture), turned against the genocidal activities of the Spanish crown and spoke and wrote eloquently in opposition to them.

That we know of Columbus, but that most have never heard the name of Las Casas is because of a choice we have made to highlight the one and ignore the other. That Las Casas existed gives the lie to the argument that Columbus can be excused based on the standards of his day.

We could follow up then with the group of whites in the Georgia territory, who, in 1738, petitioned the King of England to disallow the introduction of slavery there, because they considered it morally repugnant and "shocking" to the conscience. The existence of these whites gives the lie to the argument that slavers in the 18th century can be excused based on the standards of their day.

We could then discuss the ways in which colonial elites actually passed laws to punish whites for running away and joining Indian communities: a move they felt compelled to take only because this kind of emigration from whiteness happened so often that it was perceived as a threat.

In other words, it can hardly be claimed that anti-Indian sentiment was "just the way everyone felt", if indeed many whites ran away to live among Indians, and had to then be compelled to stop on pain of imprisonment or even the death penalty in some colonies.

Likewise, the lack of anti-black racism among most of the white working class in the 1600s, and the recognition on the part of working class, landless white peasants that they had more in common with black slaves than European elites, led those elites to pass laws specifically designed to divide and conquer the class-based coalitions that were beginning to emerge.

Why would that have been necessary, if anti-black racism was already a universally accepted ideology, to which all whites adhered, and for which whites like Jefferson should be excused?

Or what of iconic USAmerican heroes like Thomas Paine, the famous pamphleteer and author of Common Sense, who (as Robert Jensen points out in his upcoming book, The Heart of Whiteness) was an ardent abolitionist, and who condemned so-called Christians for their support of the slave system?

Or Alexander Hamilton, who freed the slaves that became his after marriage, and started the New York Manumission Society. Surely Jefferson and Washington were familiar with Hamilton, to put it mildly, and his example gives the lie to the argument that they can be excused because of the standards of their day, which, after all, was his day too.

Or William Shreve Bailey, of Kentucky, who advocated for the total and immediate abolition of slavery, and who was harassed in the mid-1800s for his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, and for operating an abolitionist paper in the heart of a Southern slave state. That Bailey existed gives the lie to the notion that Southern slaveowners and defenders of slavery can be excused, because, after all, "that's just how everyone felt back then".

Or Ohio politician Charles Anderson who spoke out against what he called the "myth of Anglo-Saxon supremacy", as well as the material manifestations of that myth, including slavery and conquest of much of Mexico in the 1840s.

Or John Fee (also a Kentuckian as with Bailey), who was a radical abolitionist preacher, dismissed from his pastor's position by the Presbyterian Synod for refusing to minister to slaveholders, and who helped to found interracial Berea College in 1858.

Or the celebrated writer, Helen Hunt Jackson, who railed against Indian genocide and the repeated violation of treaties made with Indian nations by the US Government.

Or Robert Flournoy, a Mississippi planter who quit the Confederate army, and encouraged blacks to flee to Union soldiers: an act for which he was arrested. Flournoy, whose name is known by almost no one it seems, also published a newspaper called Equal Rights, and pushed for school desegregation at Ole Miss a century before it would finally happen.

Or George Cable, born to a wealthy family, who became one of the nation's most celebrated writers at one time, and whose classic, The Silent South, inveighed against the reestablishment of white supremacy in the wake of emancipation.

Or George Henry Evans, leader of the Workingmen's Party, who published a newspaper defending Nat Turner's rebellion at a time when most whites viewed Turner's insurrection as among the most vile acts imaginable. That Evans existed gives the lie to the notion that whites can be forgiven for their racism at that time, and in that place.

Or for that matter, poets like James Russell Lowell, or intellectuals like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, or William Lloyd Garrison, or the Grimke sisters. The list, however much longer it should be, is far longer than most probably realize. And every single one of them gives the lie to the apologists' position: that somehow the morals of the day excuse the racist depredations of people like Andrew Jackson.

To be sure, not every one of these persons was free of racist sentiment, and not all of them opposed both slavery and Indian genocide (some, rather, chose to focus their ire on one or the other), but all of them suggest that there was not only one way of thinking about either of those subjects, even among whites, to say nothing, of course, of Indians or African Americans themselves.

To accept the idea that the nation's founders should only be judged by the moral standards of their own time is to ignore that there has been no single set of morals accepted by all, at any point in history.

The victims of human cruelty have always known that what was being done to them was wrong, and have resisted oppression with all their might. As well, some among the class of perpetrators have seen clearly to this fundamental truth. And their lives, and perspectives give the lie to the arguments of those who would rather excuse murderers than praise and emulate true heroes.

Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (Soft Skull Press, 2005) and Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White (Routledge, 2005). He can be reached at and his website is Hate mail, while neither desired nor appreciated, will be graded for content, form and grammar.

Bill Totten

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A News Revolution Has Begun

If you want to know the truth about Iraq, join the millions who have given up on the silences of the mainstream media.

by John Pilger

New Statesman (November 28 2005)

The Indian writer Vandana Shiva has called for an "insurrection of subjugated knowledge". The insurrection is well under way. In trying to make sense of a dangerous world, millions of people are turning away from the conventional sources of news and information and to the world wide web, convinced that mainstream journalism is the voice of rampant power. The great scandal of Iraq has accelerated this. In the United States, several senior broadcasters have confessed that had they challenged and exposed the lies told about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, instead of amplifying and justifying them, the invasion might not have happened.

Such honesty has yet to cross the Atlantic. Since it was founded in 1922, the BBC has served to protect every British establishment during war and civil unrest. "We" never traduce and never commit great crimes. So the omission of shocking events in Iraq - the destruction of cities, the slaughter of innocent people and the farce of a puppet government - is routinely applied.

A study by the Cardiff School of Journalism found that ninety percent of the BBC's references to Saddam Hussein's WMDs suggested he possessed them and that "spin from the British and US governments was successful in framing the coverage". The same "spin" has ensured, until now, that the use of banned weapons by the Americans and British in Iraq has been suppressed as news.

An admission by the US State Department on 10 November that its forces had used white phosphorus in Fallujah followed "rumours on the internet", according to the BBC's Newsnight.

There were no rumours. There was first-class investigative work that ought to shame well-paid journalists. Mark Kraft of found the evidence in the March-April 2005 issue of Field Artillery magazine and other sources. He was supported by the work of the film-maker Gabriele Zamparini, founder of the excellent site .

Last May, David Edwards and David Cromwell of posted a revealing correspondence with Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news. They had asked her why the BBC had remained silent on known atrocities committed by the Americans in Fallujah. She replied, "Our correspondent in Fallujah at the time [of the US attack], Paul Wood, did not report any of these things because he did not see any of these things". It is a statement to savour. Wood was "embedded" with the Americans. He interviewed none of the victims of US atrocities, nor un-embedded journalists. He not only missed the Americans' use of white phosphorus, which they now admit, he reported nothing of the use, in Fallujah, of another banned weapon, napalm. Thus, BBC viewers were unaware of the fine words of Colonel James Alles, commander of the US Marine Air Group XI. "We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches", he said. "Unfortunately, there were people there ... you could see them in the cockpit video ... It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."

Once the unacknowledged work of Kraft and Zamparini had appeared in the Guardian and Independent and forced the Americans to come clean about white phosphorus, Wood was on Newsnight describing their admission as "a public relations disaster for the US". This echoed Menzies Campbell of the Liberal Democrats, perhaps the most quoted politician since Gladstone, who said: "The use of this weapon may technically have been legal, but its effects are such that it will hand a propaganda victory to the insurgency".

The BBC and most of the political and media establishment invariably cast such a horror as a public relations problem while minimising the crushing of a city the size of Leeds, the killing and maiming of countless men, women and children, the expulsion of thousands and the denial of medical supplies, food and water - a major war crime. The evidence is voluminous, provided by refugees, doctors, human rights groups and a few courageous foreigners whose work appears only on the internet. In April last year, Jo Wilding, a young British law student, filed a series of extraordinary eyewitness reports from inside the city. So fine are they, I have included one of her pieces in an anthology of the best investigative journalism {1}. Her film, A Letter to the Prime Minister, made inside Fallujah with Julia Guest, has not been shown on British television. In addition, Dahr Jamail, an independent Lebanese-American journalist who has produced some of the best front-line reporting I have read, described all the "things" the BBC failed to "see". His interviews with doctors, local officials and families are on the internet, together with the work of those who have exposed the widespread use of uranium-tipped shells, another banned weapon, and cluster bombs, which Campbell would say are "technically legal". Try these websites:,,,,,,, There are many more.

"Each word", wrote Jean-Paul Sartre, "has an echo. So does each silence."

{1} Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, edited by John Pilger, is published by Vintage

Copyright New Statesman 1913 - 2005

Bill Totten

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"This Earth is Precious"

In 1854, the "Great White Chief" in Washington made an offer for a large part of Indian land and promised a "reservation" for the Indian people. Chief Seattle's reply, published here in full, has been described as the most beautiful and profound statement on the environment ever made.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.

If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

All Sacred

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man. The white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man - all belong to the same family.

Not Easy

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves. He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land. But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us. This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.

All Sacred

The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother. We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs.

The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father's graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care. His father's grave, and his children's birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads. His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.

I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways. The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.

There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insect's wings. But perhaps it is is because I am a savage and do not understand.

The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night? I am a red man and do not understand. The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday rain, or scented with the pinon pine.


The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath - the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath..

The white man does not seem to notice, the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench.

But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow's flowers.

One Condition

So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition: the white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers. I am a savage and I do not understand any other way. I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive. What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.

The Ashes

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

We may be brothers after all.

We shall see.

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover - our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. This earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.

That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalos are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.

Where is the thicket? Gone.

Where is the eagle? Gone.

The end of living and the beginning of survival.

Bill Totten

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

by Gary Olson

ZNet Commentary (November 25 2004)

As a child I understood how to give; I have forgotten this grace since I became civilized. (Chief Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux)

I always experience mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. I appreciate that harvest festivals of gratitude go back to the ancient Greeks, Chinese, Hebrews and Egyptians and we know that Native Americans observed these harvest celebrations throughout the year. On the other hand, I'm mindful of Jon Stewart's sardonic quip, "I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my family over to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land."

Last Thanksgiving, members of my family paused at the graves of Native Americans in God's Acre cemetery in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's historic district. It seemed an appropriate spot to ponder the land grab, ethnic cleansing, and mass explusion of the "wild savage" Native-American Indian nations by the "civilized" European colonizers.

History records that after the English torched a Pequot village and killed men, women and children, the Protestant ultra fundamentalist, Cotton Mather, approvingly proclaimed, "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day". And in his Thanksgiving sermon, delivered in Plymouth in 1623, Mather the Elder "gave thanks for the devastating plague of smallpox which wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag Indians who had been their primary benefactors". Mather praised God for destroying "chiefly the young men and children ..." Historian V G Kiernan recounts that in 1648 Dutch colonists initiated the practice of offering bounties for Delaware Indian scalps, women included.

Material gain always assumed a larger role than accorded in our national creation myths. Recall that Jamestown wasn't founded by the English state, but at the behest of English financial speculators. And John Steele Gordon reminds us in his Empire of Wealth, "The early Puritan merchants would often write, at the head of their ledgers, 'In the name of God and profits'".

In any event, we know that in short order the New England Indians were decimated or sold into slavery by the Puritans. Toward that end, the English adopted terrorism as their favorite tactic against the Pequots in what is now Conneticut. Through a combination of violence and a smallpox epidemic, the Indian population of North America itself was reduced from ten million (some recent estimates are considerably higher) to less than one million.

In retrospect, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Crazy Horse embodied the territory's fledgling "Department of Homeland Security". As the t-shirt featuring a picture of Indian warriors proclaims, "Fighting Terrorism since 1492". Surely, Native-Americans observing a traditional Thanksgiving would be like African-Americans celebrating Founder's Day of the Ku Klux Klan. In that vein, while every school child hears the legend of the Pilgrims stepping ashore at Plymouth Rock in 1620, how many learn that in 1619, the first African captives were sold to North American colonists at Jamestown?

Note: Some whites always opposed both Indian genocide and slavery. Although largely absent from our history books, their heroic behavior against injustice is also part of America's legacy, the part we should gratefully celebrate. {1}

What about today? As I write this, the Iraq war continues as approach the 2,100 mark in returning coffins we're discouraged from viewing. Again this year, loved ones will experience the pain of permanently empty places at Thanksgiving dinners across our land. While in Iraq there have been upwards of 35,000 funerals since the US invasion in March 2003. Although centuries apart, there's more than a thread of continuity between the colonization of this country and the unspeakable violence visited on Iraqis.

"Welcome to Injun Country", is the military's greeting for new arrivals in Iraq. And this grotesque parallel was unwittingly highlighted by the Pentagon when it labeled an attack against Iraqi resistance fighters as "Operation Plymouth Rock". Is expansion in service to an inexorable profit motive the common demoninator joining both eras? Indian land then, Iraqi oil now. The First Americans understood the Cree Indian Prophecy that

Only after the last tree has been cut down;
Only after the last fish has been caught;
Only after the last river has been poisoned;
Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.

So yes, next Thursday I'll delight in spending time with family and friends while acknowledging a multitude of blessings. But none of this will be remotely associated with a storybook "First Thanksgiving" and its possible manifestations in Iraq today. I'll recall Nez Perce Chief Joseph's eloquent plea, "I hope that no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people".

I'll be grateful that more and more Americans oppose an immoral war based on a pack of lies; grateful the curtain is being lifted on the realities of corporate globalization; proud that in stark contrast to the government's despicable betrayal, our citizens manifested such magnificent solidarity, compassion, and love toward Katrina's victims.

Finally I'll appreciate that recent events allow Americans to connect the dots among racism, war, social injustice and environmental degredation; grateful for what I sense is a rare defining moment for national renewal and a communion of commitment on behalf of fundamental social transformation. These are not insignificant gifts for which to offer a form of grace.

Gary Olson is chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

{1} See Tim Wise, "Not Everyone Felt That Way", ZNet Commentary (September 14 2005)

Bill Totten

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Real Story of Thanksgiving

by Susan Bates

Alternative Press Review (November 23 2005)

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen - once.

The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.

But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared "A Day Of Thanksgiving" because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their "victory", the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over fourteen were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.

Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of "thanksgiving" to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts - where it remained on display for 24 years.

The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War - on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.

This story doesn't have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won't ever be repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank God for all your blessings, think about those people who only wanted to live their lives and raise their families. They, also took time out to say "thank you" to Creator for all their blessings.

It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at the ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival. Here is part of what was said:

"Today is a time of celebrating for you - a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before fifty years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people.

Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people and nature once again are important."

Bill Totten

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dig for Victory

Having an allotment is no longer a tiresome hobby practised by old geezers in wellies and donkey jackets. It's an insurance policy against an uncertain future, as the author has found out for himself over the last three years.

by Paul Kingsnorth

The Ecologist (November 2005)

The best thing that happened to me this summer was thirteen inches long and bright yellow. And boy, was it worth the wait.

I've been trying to grow sweetcorn on my allotment for three years and it's never worked before. I planted the seeds, I watered and tended them, I fed them and after three months of it, in high summer, the cobs were always white, rubbery and completely inedible. They 'hadn't pollinated', I was told, knowingly, by old men wearing gumboots and sly smiles.

But not this year. This time, for whatever reason, I got it right. I carted home my freshly-picked cobs in triumph, tossed them into a pan of water (boil for ten minutes, no salt) and then ate them, with butter and pepper. There was no doubt in my mind that they were the best sweetcorn I had ever tasted, and probably the best sweetcorn ever grown by human hands.

Growing your own food does this to you. It instils such a sense of pride that digging up your potatoes becomes something akin to attending the birth of your first child (only less messy). And the sweetcorn was only the best bit. This year, my allotment also yielded a basket of fantastically tasty peas, three varieties of carrot, fresh cherry tomatoes (red and gold), garlic, strawberries, raspberries, several different types of lettuce, runner beans, French beans, broad beans, red onions, brown onions, yellow courgettes, green courgettes, beetroot (white and red) potatoes (three varieties, including my favourite, the weird-looking knobbly Pink Fir Apple) and pumpkin.

Much of this is still in my freezer. One of the pumpkins became last night's dinner (the best soup I've ever had, too, now that I think about it). Meanwhile, still in the ground, to tide me over for the winter, are dozens of leeks, 10 broccoli plants and two lines of parsnips. All this is organic, all of it was grown from seed by yours truly, and all of it tastes a zillion times better than anything you can buy in the shops.

Three years ago, though, things were very different. I knew nothing about growing food. I had never grown anything at all, in fact, with the exception of a few herbs in a window box once - an experiment which ended when my flatmate accidentally nudged it two storeys down into the street below. I had no idea how to make a bean frame or what a 'mulch' was. Like most other people, I bought my vegetables from the shops. I had friends who had allotments, but far from persuading me to join in, their constant wittering about which varieties of leek they grew and precisely how they made compost made me determined never to become an allotment bore. And why bother anyway when Tesco is just round the corner?

Seeing the light

Curiously enough, it took a Brazilian peasant to change my mind. Three years ago, in the process of researching a book on the anti-globalisation movement, I found myself in the wide fields of southern Brazil, touring a rural settlement with a farmer called Osmar. Osmar was a member of the Movimento Sem Terra, the landless workers movement, which has been resettling landless people on unused land all over Brazil for twenty years, giving them new life and new hope in the process. I had met dozens of people like Osmar, stayed with them, toured their land, seen the work they had put into it and the pride it had given them - and tasted the results.

Now Osmar, with his thumbs hooked into his belt, was gazing out across his pumpkin field as the dusk began to gather over the blue tin roof of his house.

'Every man', he said to me, simply, 'should have a piece of land'. I don't quite know why, but his words stuck with me. When I got back home six months later, one of the first things I did was apply for an allotment.

It didn't take me long to find one. I paid my rent, signed my name and stood, thumbs hooked into my belt, proudly surveying my 300 square yards. It was smothered in brambles and grass. Not just any grass, either, it turned out, but a persistent perennial weed known as 'couch grass' that I still haven't managed to beat back properly three years later. No one had used the plot for years. It was a disaster. What the hell was I supposed to do with it? I felt like giving up before I started.

My knowledge was basic in the extreme:
I knew if you put seeds in soil and added water, they grew

Getting started

But I didn't. I organised with the allotment society to get my plot ploughed up by the council's rotivator (for free), bought myself a book called The Vegetable Expert (Expert Books, 1985) and got stuck in. My knowledge at this stage was basic in the extreme: I knew that if you put seeds in soil and added water, they grew. That was it. It was going to be a steep learning curve. But if Osmar could do it, I told myself, so could I. In any case, I remembered my granddad's allotment; he and his dad had plots side by side, which they used to grow potatoes and beans and escape from their wives. Maybe it ran in the family. There was only one way to find out.

In many ways it was a freak of history that I was able to do this at all. Allotments are a uniquely British institution - like the House of Lords or the monarchy, only less embarrassing and considerably more useful. They date back to the parliamentary Enclosure Acts of the 18th century, which enclosed vast amounts of common land used by the poor and gave it over to wealthy landowners for grazing. As a result, vast numbers of the rural poor were forced to move to the burgeoning cities to work in the factories and mills of the new industrial revolution. But the numbers of people in the cities quickly outstripped the amount of food available to feed them, and hunger and even rebellion threatened.

Every man should have some land

The solution? Parliament decided to 'allot' every worker a piece of land on which to grow their own food. From the mid-Nineteenth Century until the late 20th Century, various acts of parliament granted the right of allotment to ordinary people - you and me - in both town and country. Today, every local council is obliged by law to offer allotment gardens for public use at very low rent (mine costs me GBP 16 a year).

All excellent stuff - but also, surely, redundant? People may have needed land to grow their own food during the Enclosures; or, of course, during the Second World War when the famous 'Dig For Victory' campaign made the allotments of Britain thrive like never before. But today? With supermarket shelves bristling with out of season fruit and veg every day of the year? With most of it fairly cheap? With a global economy providing us more variety than the average 19th Century turnip muncher could have dreamed of? Why grub about in the mud when you can pop into Asda and get a pack of baby sweetcorn for a quid?

The reasons, of course, are many. For a start, growing your own food is immensely personally satisfying. It's also healthy, both when you eat the results and when you expend sweat in digging and hoeing. It's cheaper, by far, to grow vegetables than to buy them - though it takes more time, of course.

Ready for the future

But there's a bigger reason too - for things are changing out there, faster than we possibly realise. The global economy that brings us all this 'cheap' food from afar looks increasingly like it is built on sand. It is certainly reliant on oil, and oil, as last month's Ecologist explained, is not going to last forever. Insecure supplies, terrorism, travails in the Middle East and, of course, climate change, are going to make our reliance on the black stuff seem very tenuous in the very near future. The era of cheap oil is very probably over, and as it ends, the supposedly unbreakable supply chains that bring food to our tables will begin to collapse, or at the very least become much more expensive. Cheap veg, like cheap petrol, is very probably on the way out. Under these circumstances, growing your own begins to seem a very smart move indeed.

Allotmenteering, in other words, is no longer a tiresome hobby practised by old geezers in wellies and donkey jackets; it's an insurance policy against an uncertain future.

My steep learning curve turned out not to be as painful as I thought it might be. That first year, I got a fair bit of ground cleared, weeded and dug over, and began, with the help of my trusty book, to start planting things. Easy things, I thought, for starters: potatoes, courgettes, and carrots. In they went and amazingly, a few weeks later, up they grew. I can still remember the excitement of turning up on my plot one day to see a line of small, green, fluffy fronds where I had planted my carrot seeds. I can still remember, too, the sight and the smell of digging up my first ever potatoes a few months later, and discovering, to my amazement, that not only did they look like potatoes, but they tasted like them too.

From then on, there was no stopping me; and there still isn't. Every month, it seems, I learn something new. How to make leafmould, and why; how to (attempt to) keep slugs away without pellets; how to build a coldframe; how to compost; how to keep pheasants away from my strawberry patch. The list goes on - and this is before we even get to the fringe benefits.

I have, for example, become a much better cook since I started allotmenteering. Suddenly it seems a crime to waste any of my precious crops, so I've had to learn what to do with them. How to make pumpkin soup, raspberry jam, onion marmalade, green tomato chutney, casseroles, and stews. I've also learnt the value of sharing things - from tools to ideas - with fellow plotters; and of true recycling. Want to smother the weeds on your plot with layers of old carpet? Want to edge your borders with planks? Want some glass to build a coldframe or greenhouse? Want to avoid paying for them? Then you do what I, and all good allotmenteers, do, and trail around town hoicking things out of skips. It's free, it cuts down on waste and it's also quite entertaining. It's amazing the things people throw away.

Allotments are a uniquely British Institution
-- like the House of Lords or the Monarchy --
only less embarrassing and more useful

In tune with nature

And there's something else, too: having an allotment helps you understand where you are. It helps you to get to know your local environment; your place. What type of soil does it have? What kinds of insects and birds inhabit it? What does the air smell like on an autumn evening? How often does it rain, and how hard? What grows well and what doesn't? What time does the sun begin to set? Closeted inside homes or offices, these are questions I used to find it difficult to answer. But not any more, and it has made me feel, somehow, like a better and more complete human being.

And the benefits keep coming. I've made new friends, and realised what an interesting, diverse and occasionally bizarre bunch of people inhabit my neighbouring plots. Within a few hundred yards of me there is a young couple from New Zealand, two old geezers in cloth caps who seem to maintain an eternal bonfire for no good reason; an old Indian woman who gardens in a sari and wellies; a city councillor who grows pumpkins the size of Mars; a chain-smoking pensioner from Lithuania and an ever-increasing influx of young people, all keen to grow their own food on their own terms.

For allotmenteering, it seems, is becoming popular - even slightly hip - these days. Food scares, horror stories about supermarkets, increasing lack of green spaces and a simple desire to get out of the house has led to a resurgence in veg-growing. Suddenly it seems on the verge of becoming a movement; a national gathering of people who have been force-fed long enough by the industrial food machine, and want to eat - and live - on their own terms.

Fuller flavour

Who can blame them? Another thing that you learn very quickly when you start allotmenteering is just how tasteless, bland and artificial all those shiny, identical supermarket vegetables are. Suddenly it seems as if you are waking up from a long, weird dream in which all the strawberries tasted of rubber and the apples were made of plastic and all looked exactly the same, and everyone considered this to be normal and barely worth commenting on. Suddenly you look through the sliding doors at those vegetable aisles under the strip lights and see them for what they are. Call that a carrot? Real carrots have mud on them, and they taste of something! Get thee behind me, Sainsbury's.

And this is when you know you've succeeded. This is when you know the allotment has really done its work on you. For at heart, this is not about growing vegetables at all. It's not about mulching, or compost heaps, or long-handled hoes. It is a declaration of independence: here I stand, on my own plot of land. I grow what I want, when I want, and there's nothing you can do about it. And no, I don't have a loyalty card.

As for me: the end of the growing season is approaching, but the year's work isn't over yet. Tomorrow I'm having a trailer full of horse dung delivered from a local farm. That'll take me several joyous days to dig it into my now mostly-empty beds. Then I'll be digging a new bed, and edging my existing plot with planks to keep the couch grass out. After all that, if winter isn't fully upon me, I'll be buying a new shed. Then I'll take my pumpkin soup out of the freezer, sit in front of the fire and wait for the winter to pass, knowing that when it does, whatever else happens, I've got something to look forward to when the spring comes.

Allotments on the Web: Get online before the oil runs out!

Allotments UK - Very useful all-purpose site includes how to get started, where to find allotments in your area, links and tips from users of its many forums,

National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners - All you ever needed to know about allotments, and more,

Allotments Regeneration Initiative - Organisation working to encourage people and community groups to take up al lotmenteering,

Garden Organic - Website of HDRA, the national organic growers' organisation. Also a great place to order seeds and get seasonal advice,

Plot Holes - Amusing blog, subtitled 'An idiot's guide how not to approach a new allotment'. Strangely useful,

Bill Totten

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A War Crime Within a War Crime Within a War Crime

The revelations from Falluja are piling up

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (November 22 2005)

The media couldn't have made a bigger pig's ear of the white phosphorus story. So before moving on to the new revelations from Falluja, I would like to try to clear up the old ones.

There is no hard evidence that white phosphorus was used against civilians. The claim was made in a documentary broadcast on the Italian network RAI, called "Fallujah: the Hidden Massacre". It claimed the corpses in the pictures it ran "showed strange injuries, some burnt to the bone, others with skin hanging from their flesh ... The faces have literally melted away, just like other parts of the body. The clothes are strangely intact." These assertions were supported by a human rights advocate whom, it said, possessed "a biology degree". {1}

I too possess a biology degree, and I am as well-qualified to determine someone's cause of death as I am to perform open-heart surgery. So I asked Chris Milroy, professor of forensic pathology at the University of Sheffield, to watch the film. He reported that "nothing indicates to me that the bodies have been burnt". They had turned black and lost their skin "through decomposition". We don't yet know how these people died.

But there is hard evidence that white phosphorus was deployed as a weapon against combatants in Falluja. As this column revealed last Tuesday, US infantry officers confessed that they had used it to flush out insurgents. On Tuesday afternoon, a Pentagon spokesman admitted to the BBC that white phosphorus "was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants". {2} He went on to claim that "It is not a chemical weapon. They are not outlawed or illegal." This denial was accepted by almost all the mainstream media. UN conventions, the Times asserted, "ban its use on civilian but not military targets". {3} But the word "civilian" does not occur in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The use of the toxic properties of a chemical as a weapon is illegal, whoever the target is.

The Pentagon argues that white phosphorus burns people, rather than poisoning them, and is therefore covered only by the protocol on incendiary weapons, which the US has not signed. But white phosphorus is both incendiary and toxic. The gas it produces attacks the mucous membranes, the eyes and the lungs. As Peter Kaiser of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told the BBC last week, "If ... the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because ... any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons". {4}

The US army knows that its use as a weapon is illegal. In the Battle Book published by US Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, my correspondent David Traynier found the following sentence. "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets". {5}

Last night the blogger Gabriele Zamparini found a declassified document from the US Department of Defense, dated April 1991, and titled "Possible use of phosphorous chemical". "During the brutal crackdown that followed the Kurdish uprising", it alleges, "Iraqi forces loyal to President Saddam (Hussein) may have possibly used white phosphorous (WP) chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels and the populace in Erbil ... and Dohuk provinces, Iraq. The WP chemical was delivered by artillery rounds and helicopter gunships ... These reports of possible WP chemical weapon attacks spread quickly ... hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled from these two areas" {6}. The Pentagon is in no doubt, in other words, that white phosphorus is a chemical weapon.

The insurgents would be just as dead today if they were killed by other means. So does it matter if chemical weapons were mixed with other munitions? It does. Anyone who has seen those photos of the lines of blind veterans at the remembrance services for the first world war will surely understand the point of international law, and the dangers of undermining it.

But we shouldn't forget that the use of chemical weapons was a war crime within a war crime within a war crime. Both the invasion of Iraq and the assault on Falluja were illegal acts of aggression. Before attacking the city in November last year, the Marines stopped the men "of fighting age" from leaving {7}. Many women and children stayed as well: the Observer's correspondent estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were left in the city {8}. The Marines then treated Falluja as if its only inhabitants were fighters. They levelled thousands of buildings, illegally denied access to the Iraqi Red Crescent, and, according to the UN's special rapporteur, used "hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population" {9}.

Over the past week, I have been reading accounts of the assault published in the Marines' journal, the Marine Corps Gazette. The soldiers appear to have believed everything the US government told them. One article claims that "the absence of civilians meant the Marines could employ blast weapons prior to entering houses that had become pillboxes, not homes". {10} Another maintained that "there were less than 500 civilians remaining in the city". It continued: "the heroics [of the Marines] will be the subject of many articles and books in the years to come. The real key to this tactical victory rested in the spirit of the warriors who courageously fought the battle. They deserve all of the credit for liberating Fallujah." {11}

But buried in this hogwash is a revelation of the utmost gravity. An assault weapon the Marines were using had been armed with warheads containing "about 35 percent thermobaric novel explosive (NE) and 65 percent standard high explosive". They deployed it "to cause the roof to collapse and crush the insurgents fortified inside interior rooms". It was used repeatedly: "the expenditure of explosives clearing houses was enormous". {12}

The Marines can scarcely deny that they know what these weapons do. An article published in the Gazette in 2000 details the effects of their use by the Russians in Grozny. Thermobaric, or "fuel-air" weapons, it says, form a cloud of volatile gases or finely powdered explosives. "This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure ... Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 meters per second ... As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal hemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets." {13] It is hard to see how you could use these weapons in Falluja without killing civilians.

This looks to me like a convincing explanation of the damage done to Falluja, a city in which between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians might have been taking refuge. It could also explain the civilian casualties shown in the film. So the question has now widened: is there any crime the coalition forces have not committed in Iraq?


1. The film can be watched at

2. BBC News Online, 16th November 2005. US used white phosphorus in Iraq.

3. David Charter, 16th November 2005. 'Chemical' rounds used against rebel fighters'. The Times.

4. Quoted by Paul Reynolds, 16th November 2005. White phosphorus: weapon on the edge. BBC News Online.

5. Chapter 5, Section III.


7. Eg Mike Marqusee, 10th November 2005. A name that lives in infamy. The Guardian.

8. Rory McCarthy and Peter Beaumont, 14th November 2004. Civilian cost of battle for Falluja emerges. The Observer.

9. Cited by Mike Marqusee, ibid.

10. F J "Bing" West, July 2005. The Fall of Fallujah. Marine Corps Gazette.

11. John F Sattler, Daniel H Wilson, July 2005. Operation AL FAJR: The Battle of Fallujah - Part II. Marine Corps Gazette.

12. F J "Bing" West, ibid.

13. Lester W Grau and Timothy Smith, August 2000. A 'Crushing' Victory: Fuel-Air Explosives and Grozny 2000. The Marine Corps Gazette.

Bill Totten

Monday, November 21, 2005

Inside Guantanamo

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith regularly visits clients in the prison camp he calls America's "law-free zone". This is his chilling report on life behind the wire.

by Clive Stafford Smith

New Statesman Cover Story (November 21 2005)

The twelve-seater Air Sunshine plane sets down at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base just as the sun descends behind the hangar. I am met by a military escort. We josh about the threat that the legal profession poses to national security: lawyers are required to stay the night on the leeward side, safe across the bay from the main base and the prison. He drops me off at the motel, the Combined Bachelors' Quarters or CBQ, where a sign boasts that it is "the pearl of the Antilles".

Here, for $12 a night, a bachelor can share a room with three other soldiers. Even in this age when "Don't ask, don't tell" is the official line on homosexuality in the US forces, the notion of combined bachelors strikes me as incongruous. They give me a room with four beds to myself. After eight visits I am an old hand here and I have my favourite room with a view of the placid Caribbean.

The motel sign also trumpets the base's motto, "Honour Bound to Defend Freedom", but freedom is a relative term here. Iguanas are free enough, and if my escort accidentally runs one over it's a $10,000 fine, as US environmental laws apply in Guantanamo. On the other hand, if you feel the need to hit one of the 500 prisoners who are now four years into their captivity it is called "mild non-injurious contact" and there are no consequences. Two years ago in the Supreme Court, we argued that it would be a huge step for mankind if the judges gave our clients the same rights as the animals.

At the motel, television is the only diversion. I am unsure whether the CIA organised this to spook me, but on each of my recent visits to the base I have had the option of watching Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray waking up over and over again to the same morning. As his clock radio clicks over to 6 am, Sonny and Cher are inevitably moaning, "I got you, babe".

Guantanamo Bay is Groundhog Day. It's reveille at 5.30 am for breakfast. The cook nonchalantly crushes a scorpion that has wandered into the chow hall and greets me with the same cheese omelette as yesterday. I am pinioned to my table by television monitors shouting the American Forces channel at me.

I walk a mile down the road to meet the 7 am ferry. A bus always passes me at the same place and, as usual, I wave to the driver. The tarmac steams as the sun rises over the Cuban hills, stillness and beauty clashing with the rusted barbed wire. I wonder whether the ten-foot snake that was outside my motel door this morning lives in one of the wooden Second World War bunkers that adjoin the road.

Cresting the hill, I see the ferry coming across the bay. As it approaches the landing, tinny music can be heard above the drone of the engine. Each morning for a week it has been Jimmy Buffett belting out "Margaritaville". I have a fantasy that one day we will progress a track or two on that Buffett album to a song called "Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw)". But it never happens.

Most of the lawyers complain about staying on the leeward side, but I enjoy the morning cruise. High in the hills, as the pilot steers us in to the windward dock, four wind turbines slowly rotate. They are majestic, an unlikely sign of environmental sensitivity in such an otherwise harsh world.

The escort meets us at the dock and calls his code in to our un-seen monitor. We stop off at Starbucks and then drive down to McDonald's. A soldier smartly salutes his superior, "Honour Bound, sir!" The officer salutes his reply, "To Defend Freedom, soldier!" The first time I saw this I chuckled, thinking they were joking. It's mandatory. It's the motto.

"Recreation Road" runs alongside Guantanamo Golf Course, grass sparse, leading to the prison camp. I cannot write about the layout of the camp, because that would violate the security rules.

The various camps have been given names steeped in irony. "Papa" is where the prisoners on hunger strike are force-fed. "Romeo" is where the military sexually humiliated prisoners by forcing them to wear only shorts. Forty Muslim men, forsworn from alcohol, live in "Whiskey". I can't decide whether the irony is inadvertent, as is generally the case with irony on this side of the Atlantic, or deliberate and cruel.

Meetings between client and lawyer are held in Camp Echo. Before June 2004, when the Supreme Court ordered that the prisoners be allowed lawyers, this used to be the harshest camp, where prisoners were held in total isolation. Each cell is hermetically sealed from the others and divided down the middle - the prisoner lives on one side and is brought into the other half only for interrogation sessions or, lately, lawyer visits. I am going to stay there all day, until 5 pm. I am glad that we arrived in plenty of time. At 8 am the warning siren will sound on the Tannoy, followed by the national anthem. Everything will come to a stop and the soldiers stand rigid, saluting the nearest flag until it is over.

I go into the camp and must wait for the clients to be prepared. We sit at the "picnic table" by the cells. The guards live a monotonous life and most are friendly. One tells me he saw me recently on CNN, where I said that most of the military were decent people consigned to a terrible task. He smiles as he asks whether he is one of the decent folk or one of the bastards.

Another confides in me that he has been told to keep his distance from the lawyers. I am curious about the minefield that apparently still separates the naval base from the perfidious Cuban communists. "Every now and then you hear an explosion at night", says the soldier. "Those are Cubans trying to escape to freedom". I laugh because I assume he is kidding me, but he is serious. I suggest that any mine that goes off is probably taking out an errant iguana. He is clearly unhappy. I am a cynic, and he does not talk to me again for several days.

A guard takes his hat off and puts it on the table. To remind him of his mission, he has written inside the rim: "Al-Qaeda are pussies".

Many of the guards are from quiet American backwaters and Guantanamo represents their first foray abroad. They have been subjected to the most extraordinary propaganda. One of my clients is only a little over five feet tall, very mild-mannered and cultured. Some months ago he told me about the times before the cameras were installed, when a soldier sat outside his Camp Echo cell 24 hours a day, watching him. He noticed a female guard shaking on her chair and asked her what the matter was. Eventually she asked him whether he truly was a serial assassin - she had been told that he was another Hannibal Lecter and might bite her through the bars. When he finished laughing he devoted many therapeutic hours to calming her down. The US military got its intelligence thoroughly wrong on him, and his guards grew to disbelieve the stories. A number gave him their e-mail addresses for when he got out.

Finally, the time comes to see my first client. There is a cooler full of "Freedom Springs" water bottles, the name printed over an American flag. One soldier suggests that I strip the flag off before passing a bottle to the prisoners, because they might desecrate Old Glory. I recall how surprised some Americans were at the Muslim outrage when Newsweek reported how the Koran had been thrown into the toilet. The parallels seem obvious: insults to their flag reduce many Americans to apoplexy.

Talking to my clients is draining. Even gaining their trust is not easy. After the right to counsel was won, the military tried to outflank us by sending interrogators in pretending to be lawyers. Given that all the real lawyers have to be American citizens, what is to distinguish us in the eyes of our clients from the deception that went before?

We talk about torture. I now have a checklist of the abuses used by the US military and those who do their dirtier work for them. Every now and then I get a flash of perspective: when I went to law school in 1984, did I ever think such a checklist would be necessary? Did I believe that an American tribunal would admit a confession exacted at the point of a razor blade? The soldiers seem to accept the Guantanamo reality without blinking. A minority of the government prosecutors are horrified; the majority go with the flow.

In addition to being devoid of law, Guantanamo sometimes seems like a truth-free zone. I am scheduled to see my client Mohammed el-Gharani. The military says he is 26 and denies that there are any juveniles on the base. Let us assume the camp authorities really believe this: what does it say about the quality of Guantanamo intelligence if they cannot even work out his age after four years of interrogation? Mohammed was not quite fifteen when he was seized, and is still a teenager. I got the birth certificate from Saudi Arabia to prove it, but they still won't believe me. "He sure does look young", says one of the guards.

The prisoners are depressed. There were 32 suicide attempts in the first six months. This was bad PR for the military; something had to be done. Six months later we were told that suicide attempts had zeroed out. Was this true? No. Attempting suicide had merely been renamed "self-injurious behaviour" and another 42 prisoners had become SIBs.

In similar semantic vein one soldier says that he cannot say the word "prisoner", as he has been ordered to refer to my clients as detainees. It is deemed defensible to "detain" a person, where "imprisoning" him without trial is not.

Sami al-Laithi knows all about this. An Egyptian, he was minding his own business in Pakistan when the Americans seized him, and he was then badly abused in Guantanamo. He'll certainly never play football again, as he is confined to a wheelchair with two fractured vertebrae after being ERF'd (that's a recent addition to the Guantanamo lexicon, describing the habits of the Emergency Reaction Force guards, who dress up in Darth Vader outfits and rough up recalcitrant prisoners).

Because Sami complained repeatedly they held him in solitary confinement at Camp V. Three years into this ordeal, Sami's tribunal found him "innocent" - as he had said all along, he never was an enemy combatant. So what did he get for it? The guards came into his cell and offered him a white uniform instead of an orange one. Sami got angry. It took them another five months to set him free.

It is a long day. I have to speak my questionable French to some prisoners, my even more dubious Italian to others. We laugh a good deal, but goodness only knows what they understand of their rights. At 5 pm I have to leave.

En route back to the ferry landing we stop at the NEX, the Navy Exchange. Posters advertise an impending visit by Miss Teen USA, a reminder that the overwhelming majority of the 9,000 soldiers are male. I am surprised that the US military does not treat them better. They cannot bring their families to the base, and are often cut off from their children for six months at a time.

Outside the NEX, stalls sell Guantanamo Golf Course T-shirts, and others that say "Behaviour Modification Instructor". I cannot resist a Lilliputian version for my seven-year-old nephew that says "Future Behaviour Modification Instructor". Will I be liable if he beats my brother up?

The ferry has stopped for the day, so in the evening I take a faster boat back across the bay. Waiting for it to leave, I check out the plaque fifty yards away. This is where Christopher Columbus beached on his second trip, on 30 April 1494. He found nothing of interest in Guantanamo and left the next morning.

The trip across the bay takes no more than ten minutes. As I walk back up the hill to the CBQ, the sun is setting and the Tannoy crackles to life again. It's time for the bugle to blare retreat, the rather defeatist end to every military day.

I stop at the Clipper Club, perhaps the most boring bar in the Caribbean. The management's "standards of appearance" sign prohibits "clothing with bizarre, drug-promoting, obscene and offensive insignia". Patrons are warned that "shirts must cover excessive body hair on the chest, abdomen, and under arms". I pass the test and it's good to have a drink.

"Al-qaeda" supposedly means "the base" in Arabic. Guantanamo means "the naval base" here, and one of the military defence lawyers has developed his own response when any soldier confronts him with, "Honour Bound, sir!" He returns the salute sardonically, "To defend the US constitution!" Guantanamo should consider a change of motto.

Clive Stafford Smith is legal director of Reprieve, a UK charity fighting for people facing the death penalty and other human rights abuses. He has represented forty of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. For more information go to

The books they ban

It is said that when Jeremy Paxman was told that the British prisoner Moazzam Begg's bookshelf contained only two books - the Koran and Paxman's own The English - a Newsnight colleague remarked: "So it's true they torture people in Guantanamo". Begg's problem with reading material, of course, was censorship, which is as sweeping as it is perverse.

Banned magazines have included National Geographic, Scientific American and Runner's World. John Pilger's Hidden Agendas was returned, stamped "Denied". An anthology of First World War poetry was also excluded, as was Robert Hughes's history of Australian colonisation, The Fatal Shore, and, even more curiously, The New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary.

In the case of Scott Turow's legal thriller Presumed Innocent the title alone may have been the problem, but perhaps the strangest cases were the four books returned with the note: "These Items were not Cleared for Delivery to the Detainee(s)". They were Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Beauty and the Beast.

The torture trail

Binyam Mohammed, originally from Ethiopia, lived in north Kensington, London, for several years, seeking asylum, and in 2001 went to Afghanistan. After the invasion he fled to Pakistan, where he was seized for using a passport that was not his own and turned over to the US. He surfaced late last year in Guantanamo.

What happened in the intervening three years? Binyam describes how, in Pakistan, an FBI agent said, "If you don't talk to me, you're going to Jordan. We can't do what we want here; the Pakistanis can't do exactly what we want them to. The Arabs will deal with you." When he asked for a lawyer, the FBI told him he did not have the right to one.

In July 2002, Binyam was flown by CIA plane from a military airport in Islamabad to a prison, not in Jordan but in Morocco. There, a guard told him: "America's really pissed off at what happened, and they've said to the world: either you're with us or you're against us. We Moroccans say: 'We're with you'. So we'll do whatever they want."

A man who called himself Marwan served as Binyam's main interrogator. "Give me the whole story all over again", Marwan would say. Each time, Binyam did what he could. Marwan would give the order: "Idrabo", which means "beat him" in Arabic. The guards would say: "There's worse to come"; and Binyam could hear people screaming across the hall.

Once, Marwan brought in three thugs who cut off his clothes with a scalpel and then, as Binyam screamed, used the scalpel to make a cut in his chest. Next, he says, one of the thugs took his penis in his hand and began to make cuts. The pain was appalling. He says he also suffered torture worse than this, but cannot bring himself to discuss it.

He was in Morocco for eighteen months. He asked a guard: "What's the point of this? I've got nothing I can say to them." The guard replied: "It's just to degrade you. So when you leave here, you'll have these scars and you'll never forget. So you'll always fear doing anything but what the US wants."

In January 2004, Binyam was taken to Kabul, where he endured five more months of torture, mainly psychological at this point. He says that he signed whatever statements were put in front of him. He apparently confessed to dining in April 2002 with five high-ranking Qaeda operatives - a dinner at which they discussed a plot to plant a radioactive "dirty bomb" in New York. He denies that this is true.

Binyam is now charged in a military commission where evidence based on torture is admissible.

The British men still there

Shaker Aamer, forty, is the Saudi father of four British children who live in Battersea, south London. He was subjected to severe torture at the "Dark Prison" in Kabul and at Bagram air force base. Since being sent to Guantanamo, he has been elected to the six-man "prisoners' council" and has been punished with solitary confinement for co-ordinating a hunger strike.

Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna were both in the Gambia setting up a peanut oil plant when they were seized, turned over to the United States and sent to Guantanamo. Britain had recognised Jamil as a refugee from Jordan four years previously; Bisher and his family had fled Saddam Hussein twenty years earlier. Jamil's wife and five children live in London, not far from Bisher's mother and sister.

Omar Deghayes is a refugee who escaped from Libya to Britain with his family as a teenager, after his father was murdered by Colonel Gaddafi. Omar studied law. He was seized in Pakistan, tortured and sent to Guantanamo. The main evidence against him is a videotape of a Chechen rebel, brandishing a Kalashnikov, who is now known to be a man called Abu Walid but was mistakenly identified by Spanish authorities as Omar. The British government has suggested that Omar should apply to Libya for "consular assistance" and he has received visits from Libyan officials who, rather than offering him help, threatened to kill him should he return to Libya.

Ahmad Errachidi, who worked as a cook in London for almost eighteen years, was arrested in Pakistan by bounty hunters, sold to the US military and transferred to Bagram, where the sign on the interrogation room door read "Hell" in Arabic. In Guantanamo, he was accused of being an extremist leader and dubbed "The General". Ahmad has been held in punitive isolation for more than two years, the longest period served in isolation by any Guantanamo prisoner.

Jamal Kiyemba, originally from Uganda, lived in Britain from the age of fourteen. "Ask any MP [military police] personnel in Gitmo [Guantanamo]: where's this guy from? Answer: they will say Britain! Check my incoming mail and you will find that it's from Britain. My GP, my local mosque, my teens, my education, employment, friends, taxes, home and, above all else, my family - it is in Britain. I may not be British according to some piece of paper, but in reality I am a Brit and always will be." Because Britain will not have him, the US recently gave notice that he would be sent to Uganda.

And there may be more: Abdulnour Sameur is an Algerian refugee who lived in south Harrow, London, and Ahmed Ben Bacha is an Algerian who lived in Bournemouth. Neither has yet seen a lawyer and little is known about them.

Copyright New Statesman 1913 - 2005

Bill Totten