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Commiserations to Cage Prisoners

Cage Prisoners (now “CAGE”) celebrated the release from Guantanamo Bay in 2004 of British prisoner, Ronald Fiddler, aka Jamal Al Harith:

Jamal Al Harith, 35, is from Manchester and a website designer of Jamaican origin.

Born Ronald Fiddler on November 20, 1966, to devout, churchgoing Jamaican parents, al Harith converted to Islam in his 20s after reading Malcom X’s biography. He has two sisters, Maxine and Sharon.

His family say he is a gentle, quiet man who rarely spoke of his faith unless asked, and after four years learning Arabic and teaching English at Khartoum University in Sudan, he seemed happy enough to return home where he started to study nursing. At this time, he also established a computer business. He later moved back to Manchester, where he worked as an administrator in a Muslim school.

He travelled from the UK to Pakistan at the end of September 2001, retracing a journey he had made to Iran in 1993. He paid a lorry driver to take him from northern Pakistan to Iran as part of a backpacking trip, but they were stopped near the Afghan border by Taliban soldiers who saw his British passport and jailed him, in October, fearing he was a spy. He had been away from home only three weeks when he was captured.

As the operation to mop up al Qaida forces went on into the spring of 2001, he was captured by US forces while being held in Kandahar Jail. He was interrogated by the CIA in Afghanistan before being taken to Guantanamo.

He was released from Guantanamo and returned to the UK on 9th March 2004. After a few hours of questioning he was released without charge and reunited with his family. Jamal was the first of the British detainees to speak publicly about his ordeal. He married in late 2004 and has three children (aged 3,5, and 8) from a previous marriage.

The Daily Mail reported in 2015:

“[A]fter intense campaigning by Tony Blair’s government, British citizen al-Harith – who had pleaded his innocence – was let out two years later.

He launched a compensation claim on the grounds British agents knew or were complicit in his mistreatment and was handed up to £1million of taxpayers’ money to stay silent.”

Fiddler also participated in George Galloway’s “Viva Palestina” convoy, alongside various other lovely people:

A third suspected member of the gang was also revealed as Allexanda Kotey, a Queens Park Rangers fan who grew up just two miles away from Emwazi in west London.

The Muslim convert travelled to the Middle East in 2009 on an aid convoy organised by George Galloway and is suspected of being “Ringo” in the group.

Others on the 100-vehicle convoy included Munir Farooqi, who received four life sentences at Manchester Crown Court in 2011 after being found guilty of trying to recruit undercover police officers to fight in Afghanistan.

Reza Afsharzadegan, a leader of the notorious London Boys gang who was close to Emwazi, also volunteered on the £1 million aid convoy.

Another was Jamal Al-Harith, from Manchester, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who is believed to have slipped through UK border controls to Syria last year.

Fiddler is now dead. He blew himself up at an Iraqi army base in Mosul, while fighting for ISIS:

They announced that a man using the name Abu Zakariya al-Britani was one of two fighters to target Shia militia southwest of the city using reinforced 4×4 vehicles laden with explosives.

An image was circulated showing the smiling Briton wearing military fatigues inside the heavily fortified car. He was surrounded by what appeared to be improvised explosive devices and a detonator dangling in front of him on a wire. A video was said to show the man, whose nomme de guerre signifies that he has a son called Zakariya, speeding into the distance. There followed a plume of smoke.


Shepard Smith calls out Trump

As he has in the past (here, here and here) Shepard Smith cuts a singular path at Fox News:

Even though President Trump didn’t mention Fox in his latest unhinged tweet, I suppose it’s fair to call Smith an honorary “enemy of the American people.”

Update: I took some heat recently for pointing out that Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon had once called himself a Leninst. But Lenin himself referred to his opponents as “enemies of the people.”

Is it a stretch to detect Bannon’s Leninist influence here?

Further update: As a former newspaper reporter, I’ve always liked this scene from the movie “Deadline USA.”

Sweeping antisemitism under the carpet

This is a cross-post by Dave Rich writing on the CST blog

Last month, Al-Jazeera broadcast a four-part documentary series called “The Lobby“ that claimed to expose “how the Israel lobby influences British politics.” The programme, which relied heavily on shaky undercover filming and sinister background music, is now the subject of a complaint to Ofcom.

Mike Cushman of the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ blog reviewed the progamme in an article that was redolent of antisemitic conspiracy talk. He claimed that “the Labour Party has become a pawn of Zionist organisations”; and that “the most senior members of both main parties, with the exception of Corbyn and his close associates, and the Liberal Democrats, [are] part of the network of Israeli influence”. Cushman also suggested that Theresa May does Israel’s bidding “as reciprocity for previous career assistance from the Israelis.”

Cushman’s article goes way beyond even the allegations made by Al Jazeera and his claims are not supported by the material broadcast. He may have been excited by the programme but his conspiracy theories are entirely his own.

If his article had remained on his own group’s blog then this would be a trivial matter; but the article was republished on the website of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and its online publication, Labour Briefing. LRC is one of those factions of the left that has gained in importance since the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The Honorary President and former Chair of the LRC is the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP. The current Chair is Matt Wrack, who is also General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. The LRC’s politics, and the ideas they endorse (or reject), have influence in the Labour Party.

Twenty years ago, it was only neo-Nazis and conspiracy cranks who would claim that the Labour Party was a “pawn” of Zionists and that the Prime Minister was in hock to Israel. Now these allegations get published on the website of a left wing group whose leaders include the Shadow Chancellor. This is how antisemitism spreads into mainstream politics and infects the way people on the left think and talk about Jews, Israel and Zionism.

So it matters a great deal that the LRC website published Cushman’s conspiracy article; and it also matters that they quickly deleted Cushman’s article after I highlighted it on social media on Monday. The article disappeared from both the LRC and Labour Briefing websites within 24 hours of my posts drawing attention to it (the links above are to the Google Cache versions).

Both websites should be applauded for remedying their earlier action by removing the offending article, but there is an important question about what happens next. It is not enough just to sweep this under the carpet and move on. There ought to be consequences for antisemitism in any respectable political organisation.

There has been no explanation why the article was removed by LRC and Labour Briefing. It could be that senior people in both organisations agree the article was antisemitic and removed it on that basis; or perhaps they thought it was embarrassing for their websites to describe the Labour Party in such pejorative terms; or perhaps it was removed for some other reason.  It is important that LRC and Labour Briefing clarify this point, because it makes a difference why it was taken down. To simply disappear the article without an explanation is not good enough.

For example, if the article was removed on the grounds that it was antisemitic, then that, surely, must have consequences for Mike Cushman. Is he still welcome to write for LRC and Labour Briefing? Will other pro-Palestinian campaigners still share platforms with him? If he is a member of the Labour Party, should he remain so? How many antisemitic ideas or attitudes does a person need to express, before others on the left decide not to associate with him? We are repeatedly assured that the left is a place where antisemitism is not tolerated. These are the concrete actions that would demonstrate whether this promise means anything at all.

The lack of disciplinary action against those in the Oxford University Labour Club who were found to have expressed antisemitic attitudes, and the widespread disgust at this lack of action in the Jewish community, shows the damage that is done when there are no consequences for antisemitism.

Then there is the broader question of how LRC and others approach the whole issue of antisemitism. There is a small but vocal faction on the left who repeatedly insist that allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party are a smear with no basis in fact. According to other articles still on the LRC website, antisemitism is “the historical weapon of political Zionism”; while allegations of antisemitism in the party are “fantasies“, a “cheap trick” lacking evidence. Labour Briefing, which is run by LRC, has articles claiming that “false accusations of anti-Semitism” are made “to deter criticism of Zionism and the Israeli state”; “unsubstantiated assertions of antisemitism” are Zionism’s “ultimate weapon of mass destruction” against the left; and that allegations of antisemitism are a “Ponzi scheme“, a vast fraud for political motives. Time after time, genuine Jewish concerns about antisemitism on the left are dismissed as malicious lies intended to shield Israel from criticism.

These assaults on mainstream Jewish honesty and integrity are hugely damaging to the relationship between the Jewish community and the Labour Party. Now that LRC and Labour Briefing appear to have removed an article that contained antisemitic tropes, is there anyone in either organisation who is willing to say, publicly, that this article was antisemitic, and that mainstream Jewish concerns about antisemitism on the left should be treated with respect?

In the moral universe of the anti-Zionist left, Mike Cushman would be seen as a good, honourable person and ‘Zionists’ – however defined – are seen as bad, racist liars. Too often, too many people on the left prefer to ignore or cover up antisemitism within their ranks, or treat it as just an unfortunate choice of words, rather than address it as a political problem; but this approach has only made things worse. As Baroness Chakrabarti wrote in her report into antisemitism in the Labour Party: “It is not sufficient, narrowly to scrape across some thin magic line of non-antisemitic or non-racist motivation, speech or behaviour”. To do so is to leave space for antisemitic ideas to become accepted, normalised and absorbed into left wing thinking about Jews, Israel and Zionism. The Labour Party has felt the consequences of this neglect over the past two years; it will continue to do so until enough people recognise that simply deleting the evidence and pretending it didn’t happen is to passively acquiesce in the spread of antisemitism on the left.

Trump meets Netanyahu, says interesting things

As the his administration sinks further into confusion and scandal of its own making (or is it all going according to plan?), President Trump met with Bibi Netanyahu at the White House and held a joint press conference at which the president answered a question about antisemitism in the US by talking about his Electoral College victory, told Netanyahu to “hold back on the settlements a little bit” (OK, he deserves some credit for that) and offered the following approach to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

“I’m looking at two states and one state,” Trump said. “I’m happy with the one they [i.e., the Israelis and Palestinians] like the best.”

Problem solved. Next!

University of Westminster ISOC tries to stop Maryam Namazie speaking

A quick glance at Maryam Namazie’s twitter timeline will remind you that she is no anti-Muslim bigot.  Criticisms of Islamist extremism and the Iranian regime are, as you would expect, mixed in with condemnations of Trump, the appalling Bannon (do read this chilling piece if you haven’t already), arson attacks on refugee shelters and the Quebec mosque murders.  But the University of Westminster ISOC is doing its best to get her uninvited from a discussion of secularism.

Concerns have been raised about this ISOC in the past – whereas they were perfectly happy to issue an invitation to the vile hate preacher Haitham al-Haddad, it seems they won’t tolerate the presence of secular, liberal Maryam Namazie on campus.

The long, strange trip of Stephen Miller

The problem with being raised in a liberal family in a liberal city (“the People’s Republic of Santa Monica”) and attending a liberal high school is that when you systematically rebel against everyone and everything you perceive as “liberal,” good or bad, you may end up as an adviser to President Donald Trump, defending his most ridiculous claims and saying things like this:

“[O]ur opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Flynn out

The real question isn’t why Michael Flynn was forced out as Donald Trump’s national security adviser (that’s obvious enough), but why someone like him was appointed in the first place.

It’s not like his close ties to the Putin regime and strange behavior were a secret.

The Washington Post reported last August:

Like Trump, Flynn has advocated forging closer ties with Russia. In interviews with The Washington Post, Flynn acknowledged being paid to give a speech and attend a lavish anniversary party for the Kremlin-controlled RT television network in Moscow last year, where he was seated next to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“People went crazy,” said retired Brig. Gen. Peter B. Zwack, a former U.S. military attache in Moscow. “They thought it was so out of bounds, so unusual.” Zwack emphasized that he considers Flynn a “patriot” who “would never sell out his country.”

Flynn, who was no longer in government but received a DIA briefing on Russia before the trip, said the invitation and payment came through his speaker’s bureau. He said he used the visit to press for collaboration on Syria, Iran and the Middle East, and dismissed the ensuing controversy as “boring.” Asked why he would want to be so closely associated with a Kremlin propaganda platform, Flynn said he sees no distinction between RT and other news outlets.

“What’s CNN? What’s MSNBC? Come on!” said Flynn, who also has appeared occasionally as an unpaid on-air analyst for RT and other foreign broadcasters.

Dismayed by Flynn’s behavior since he left the military, former colleagues have contacted him to urge him to show more restraint. Among them are retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who relied heavily on Flynn in Iraq and Afghanistan, and retired Adm. Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. McChrystal declined to comment for this article.

Mullen provided a written statement saying that “for retired senior officers to take leading and vocal roles as clearly partisan figures is a violation of the ethos and professionalism of apolitical military service.” Officers are sworn to execute orders without regard for political positions, an oath to the Constitution that “is inviolable and presidents must never question it or doubt it,” he said.

Update: Here’s the WikiLeaks take:

Aw shucks.

Update 2: Karma got him good, karma got him bad.

The PSC responds to criticism from CAA

Recently the Campaign Against Antisemitism published a report detailing the scale and nature of the antisemitic comments posted on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Facebook page.  The compilers found that over 7% of the comments in November were antisemitic (out of a total of around 3,000).  Their foreword concludes:

We challenge the patrons, trade unions and students’ unions that endorse PSC to publicly withdraw their support until PSC unequivocally endorses and enforces the International Definition of Antisemitism used by the British Government, the College of Policing and the National Union of Students, along with thirty other nations. Sadly it is common for Jews to suffer a double antisemitism: not only are we subjected to antisemitic abuse, but when we highlight that abuse we are accused of dissembling and conspiring to cry wolf as a means of silencing our enemies, a claim which itself is antisemitic. Campaign Against Antisemitism is concerned with antisemitic bigotry. We act without any reference to politics whatsoever. Yet we fully expect that among PSC supporters, this report will be seen as a cynical political manipulation, thus further proving our claim that the pro-Palestine movement is deeply infused with antisemitism.

The examples included cover the full spectrum of antisemitic tropes.  Here’s a sample:

I wasn’t sure about the control mechanism adopted by the CAA:

• PSC permits hate speech against Jews, but does not permit it against other groups. We tested PSC’s moderation policy by posting hate speech against a non-existent people from a comic strip (the “Bangalla People”). The ‘hate speech’ we posted was almost identical to anti-Jewish sentiment which PSC allowed to be published. Within six hours, PSC removed the “Bangallaphobic” content and banned the account which posted it

A moderator might well have deleted such comments because they seemed nonsensical – I would have found it more interesting to hear how the moderators dealt with anti-Arab or anti-Muslim comments.

Now the PSC has posted a response.  In fact it has posted two responses – the first for some reason (together with its comments) has been deleted.  From what I remember it wasn’t too different from this version though.

It acknowledges the problem and indicates that it will do more to tackle this, and I can sympathise with the difficulties of moderating a busy site.  (Although almost inevitably Islamophobia is reflexively coupled with antisemitism, even though that wasn’t the issue here.)

A quick trawl through the site this morning revealed further problematic material – including a textbook case of ‘Zionists’ being used as code for ‘Jews’.  Even if you want to quibble over whether extreme anti-Israel rhetoric is antisemitic – are such hateful and murderous comments compatible with the PSC’s stated principles?

I have asked on the site whether it is possible to tag a moderator directly – this should  make it much easier to identify and deal with such comments.

Hat Tip: Howie

I’m no national security expert…

… but this probably isn’t good.

In light of this, and out of worries about the White House’s ability to keep secrets, some of our spy agencies have begun withholding intelligence from the Oval Office. Why risk your most sensitive information if the president may ignore it anyway? A senior National Security Agency official explained that NSA was systematically holding back some of the “good stuff” from the White House, in an unprecedented move. For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president’s eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets.

Since NSA provides something like 80 percent of the actionable intelligence in our government, what’s being kept from the White House may be very significant indeed. However, such concerns are widely shared across the IC, and NSA doesn’t appear to be the only agency withholding intelligence from the administration out of security fears.

What’s going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM,” meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in wry frustration.

Update: Trump, who as you may recall had a thing or two to say about Hillary Clinton’s private email server, is failing Classified 101.

America First, Israel Second

From the Israeli satirical TV news show “Gav Ha’Umah.”