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These are some of the issues that interest me right now. If you have any relevant information contact me. Confidentiality is guaranteed. If you simply want to have your say, why not visit my Sunday Times Blog and make your opinions known. Your views are welcome, whatever they are. Just don't make assumptions about mine. You might well be surprised!
Where's the Answer?
If you have any new information on any of these important issues contact me.
Armed soldiers on the streets of London. The Independent Police Complaints Commission report into the death of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes is set to open a can of worms over the government's counter-terrorism policy. I have been astounded at the lack of attention that the involvement of the military in that incident has attracted. It ought to be highly controversial but thus far has not been at all, perhaps in part because the people who actually shot de Menezes were police officers. But is the use of the military a sensible policy? Does the scale of the threat really justify using the military in this way? A British military surveillance team was tracking de Menezes when he was shot on an underground train on 22 July 2005. All the evidence so far suggests the military did nothing wrong. But how much did the difference in procedure between the police and the military contribute to the situation in which de Menezes could be killed, despite not having any luggage that might have hidden a bomb?
Covert Pentagon Spy teams operating inside the US. There has been a lot of controversy over the way in which George Bush bypassed the law to allow the National Security Agency to listen into the phones of US citizens. Ostensibly, this was supposed to be to check on people with links to international terrorists, which makes me wonder how the Baltimore Quakers, students in California and journalists who have written articles the administration didn't like all came to be caught up in the net. This follows swiftly on the controversy surrounding the secret US military intelligence operation Able Danger. Its former commander claims that it identified Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, as a terrorist threat long before the attacks but failed to pass this information onto the FBI. There are all sorts of important questions here but the main one ought to be: Why was a Pentagon intelligence unit operating inside the US anyway? Pentagon lawyers stopped the Able Danger team from handing the Atta intelligence to the FBI. Why? Was it because the operation was acting illegally by drawing US citizens into its investigations? Now the Pentagon wants to relax the rules that limit its ability to spy inside America. Shouldn't it leave that to the FBI? Do Americans really want the military spying on them?
Is the British Army big enough? Senior UK defence sources say the UK needs to be able to cut back our troops in Iraq if we are going to be able to sustain a major operation in Afghanistan. UK troops will take over the lead from the US military in southern Afghanistan in May. But with what level of capability and at what risk? There are also serious questions over the rules of engagement which at Nato's insistence are for peacetime operations. The Taliban are openly preparing for company-level attacks on the Nato forces. So why on earth are we tying our troops hands behind their backs with inappropriate rules of engagement, and how did we get into this ill-prepared mess in the first place?. We were supposed to be reducing the numbers of troops in southern Iraq in order to allow us to provide the forces for Afganistan. But so far the cuts have been relatively small. Will the formation of an all-party Iraqi government allow British military commanders to cut numbers more radically? Is there any hope real hope that the British will be able to scale down their operations in Iraq? Or are we now committed to two major enduring operations that, according to the defence doctrine set out in the 2004 defence review, UK forces cannot manage?
Pulling out of Iraq. Shouldn't we clear up the mess we made first? The allies face major difficulties in Iraq. The insurgency and the inability to get in quickly, win quickly and get out quickly is sapping support in America. Even in the south, the British are now facing a difficult time. There are growing calls in both the US and the UK for the troops to be brought home or, at the very least, for the announcement of a programme for allied withdrawal. UK sources have stopped saying we can't cut and run. Now they say the Iraqis will be left to sort out the mess. Is that the right attitude? Should the troops come home? Or should we stay until we have cleared up the mess we made? If we did leave would the terrorists really just continue attacking Iraqis? Or have we got to the point where we are the problem and not the solution? If we pulled out would the insurgency just fade away? Or would it turn into a civil war that would rip Iraq apart and destabilize the region?
What are we doing to our young men and women? Senior British medical officers say the stress young soldiers suffer in Iraq is as bad as that caused by some of the worst battles of the Second World War. Does this sound mad? The UK Ministry of Defence says it is. But the comments are genuine. It is obvious of course that none of the fighting has been on the same scale as say the Battle of the Bulge or Guadalcanal. But there at least you knew who your enemy was. British soldiers in Iraq know that if they kill an Iraqi they will end up at best facing a lengthy investigation, at worst a war crimes trial. Now what would you do if an Iraqi started shooting at you? Shoot back? Bad decision! The MoD denies this is hitting the morale of young soldiers. That claim is a good example of a practice openly described by Government spin doctors as 'tactical lying'. Know any other good examples of 'tactical lying'? Contact me now.
'We do not torture,' says George W Bush. I can hear you all now. 'Who is this man kidding?' But apparently he's telling the truth, because he can say torture is not torture simply by deciding it is necessary to protect the American people from terrorists. 'Anything we do to that end in this effort,' Bush says, 'any activity we conduct, is within the law.' He even threatened to veto legislation designed to end torture by US agents. Dick Cheney, his vice-president, insists the CIA has to be able to use 'any means available' to get the information it needs. Are Bush and Cheney right? Is the fight against the terrorists so vital to our existence that torture must be used? Or is it immoral? Does it lower us to the same standard as the terrorists killing innocents in Iraq? And isn't information obtained under torture unreliable? While we think about it, what happens to the men and women who are encouraged by Bush and Cheney to torture prisoners when they come back and live in among us? What kind of monsters are we creating?
Does the Blair government really want a democratic Iraq? Then why have UK troops clearly been told to hold back in southern Iraq, allowing the Shia militias to enforce de facto Islamic law as repressive as Saddam Hussein's. This policy, never confirmed, was almost certainly related to the desire to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. It led to the capture of two special forces soldiers by militia who handed them over to police and a major showdown between UK troops and the local authorities in Basra. Do the British have any chance of leaving behind a democratic Iraq and what will happen when they leave? The Shia militias will surely take control of the south-east. How does the British softly softly approach accord with the allies' stated aim of turning Iraq into a democratic state? Or was it simply an acceptance by the Blair government of the advice provided by officials in the Downing St Memos that turning Iraq into a democracy was virtually impossible?
If you have inside knowledge of any of the above burning issues, contact me.