The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 15th June 2007

CWU members march in  Bournemouth

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by Daphne Liddle

Prime Minister Tony Blair last week attacked the media as being like “a feral beast, just tearing people’s reputation to bits”. But Blair is entirely responsible for his own reputation.

 He is a liar – about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction – a craven sycophant to President Bush and an accomplice to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq with intent to steal that country’s oil.

 His reputation is now so bad that his successor and right-hand man Gordon Brown now has to admit that mistakes were made in the way that intelligence reports were spun politically to dupe MPs into believing the lies about Iraqi weapons and backing the war.

 And now the House of Lords has ruled that one of the dirtiest aspects of that war – the torture of Iraqi civilian prisoners and the brutal murder of one of them – does come under the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Act.

 The Lords ruled that the Act applied to Baha Mousa – and therefore to all people anywhere in the world who are detained in the custody of the British state forces; this will open the way for many more Iraqi detainees to claim compensation for ill treatment while in British custody.

 The Lords ruling should lead to a full public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the detention and torture of a group of Iraqis, one of whom, Baha Mousa, died after two days in custody with 93 separate wounds on his body.

 A group of soldiers has already faced court martial over the torture of this group of detainees. Only one – who confessed – was convicted. The rest refused to testify against each other and were acquitted for lack of evidence. No one has been charged with the murder of Baha Mousa.

 The inquiry is not intended to look into the culpability of individual soldiers but various practices carried out routinely on all Iraqi prisoners – such as hooding, being made to stand in stress positions, sleep deprivation and so on – that were outlawed by the Health government in 1972.

 Questions that need answering are how did these practices creep back in? And why are British troops trained to use these techniques to interrogate prisoners?

 They also ruled in the case of five other Iraqis killed by British soldiers but not in custody that the British Human rights Act did not apply to them. The lawyers representing their families will now take the case to the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights.

 Phil Shiner, the solicitor acting for Baha Mousa’s father Colonel Daoud Mousa, and for other Iraqis saying they were abused and tortured by British troops, said: “This is a massive breakthrough in my clients’ efforts to secure accountability for deaths and torture in detention.”

 Shami Chakrabarti of the civil rights pressure group Liberty, which helped to bring the cases to court, said: “There could now never be a British Guantanamo. The British will never be able to build a prison anywhere in the world and say it is a legal black hole.”

 She added: “The significance of this decision is that individual soldiers cannot be left as scapegoats and left to carry the can for the failures of our government and our military high command... the Human Rights Act protects anyone detained by British authorities anywhere in the world.” Chakrabarti went on to say she expected a full independent inquiry to examine the legal advice given to the military about how they could treat prisoners and the training and resources given to military personnel.

 Dozens of Iraqi citizens who say they have been abused and tortured are now set to bring a legal action in the High Court in London against the Government.

Blair’s anger at the press last Tuesday comes as he sees his majority reduced to 35 in a Commons vote over a Tory demand for a Privy Council inquiry into the Iraq War.

 The Tories voted for the war at the time – as did most of the Labour backbenchers who are now trying to distance themselves from it. The Liberal Democrats, led by Charles Kennedy, put up a slightly better opposition to the war but caved in once the invasion had been launched.

 But most of those who once backed the imperialist adventure in Iraq are now regretting it and that is due to the courage and determination of the Iraqi resistance who have given western imperialism a real beating.


The power of language

RUTH KELLY, the Communities Secretary, last week told councils they must reduce the amount of money they spend on paying to translate documents into foreign languages and on supporting various ethnic community groups because, she says, this discourages immigrants from bothering to learn English and integrating into native British society.

 You would get the impression that there are thousands of immigrants who do not learn English because they cannot be bothered, when the reality is that English language courses for immigrants have long waiting lists. Furthermore and the Government is planning to cut them and introduce charges that will put them beyond the reach of those who are struggling to get by on the minimum wage. If there are any immigrants who have not eagerly seized every opportunity to improve their English, it is because they lack confidence; compulsion, deadlines and exams in Britishness are not going to encourage them out of their shells.

What will be the real impact of cutting translation services? The NHS accounts for the bulk of translation services; do we want patients, perhaps with life-threatening conditions, unable to understand what their doctors are telling them? Or unable to describe their symptoms clearly? The courts also rely heavily in interpreters. Can justice be administered properly if some plaintiffs, witnesses or defendants have no idea of what is going on or what is being said?

 But Kelly is mainly attacking local authorities for the amount spent on translations and on ethnic community groups. What will happen if they are cut? A few people will not know how much rent or council tax to pay; they will not know how to apply for benefit rebates; they will not know when to put their rubbish bins out – and they will not know where to find English language courses. Far from compelling them to become more integrated, it will make them more isolated and widen the gulf between them and the rest of the population.

 What will be the effect of cutting funding to ethnic community groups? It will mean that pensioner lunch clubs for the Irish, for those from the Caribbean, from Hong Kong, from Africa, from India and Pakistan and many other places will close. The people who attend them will lose friendship and company; they will lose welfare rights advice – and they will lose a regular decent well-balanced meal. They will be more likely to fall ill and even die alone in their homes with no one noticing.

 Local councils for racial equality have been umbrellas for many community ethnic support groups – from parents of black children who are disproportionately excluded from schools and who need to come together to seek answers from the schools and education authorities – to groups wanting to find somewhere in a local park to play kabbadi. It is by coming together in these organisations that the different ethnic groups get to meet each other and learn about each other – and about the general local community.

 But there have been some problems with the promotion of multi-culturalism if it is done in a divisive way. All communities, including the native English, Scots and Welsh, should by happy and proud to celebrate their cultural traditions. Those who do not have confidence in their own identity and traditions cannot understand or respect those of others. Racism and prejudice thrive on fear and ignorance. But while we are celebrating our diversity of culture and background, we need to remember that we, as working class people, have even more in common with each other, including our future and our children’s future. Wherever we came from, we fight the same battles for higher wages, better conditions, civil rights, education, healthcare, housing, transport and so on. The class struggle binds us all together in a way that does not undermine cultural diversity and identity.

 But when Ruth Kelly talks about integration and classes in Britishness it has got nothing to do with working class solidarity – that’s the last thing she wants. It is to do with inventing a false, politically-spun version of Britishness that will make newcomers feel excluded and intimidated – and vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

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