Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Off to Toronto

I'm off to Toronto now for a few days to give a talk and have a series of meetings about PTSD with the Department of Surgery and the Department of Psychiatry at Toronto University and Toronto Hospital. Poor J has to stay in the UK and work. It will be interesting to be by myself in Canada for my birthday, but I expect it will be an adventure. It's going to snow tomorrow. Apparently. Am reading The Tenderness of Wolves to get in the mood.

If I get a chance I might pop in to an internet cafe and let you know how it is all going, but I'm looking forward to exploring the city in my spare time ( it's a pretty packed schedule though). If anyone has any interesting ideas about what to do in Toronto in winter, please shout!

Giuliani's worst nightmare

Read this and was rather pleased.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Chair of the ISC Margaret Beckett.

Oh dear, I'm getting deja vu already.

Foot & mouth inquiry calls blocked: ''Margaret Beckett said ''a public inquiry would take too long, be too expensive and could discourage key parties from being full and open.''
Iraq inquiry resisted :
''Earlier, foreign secretary Margaret Beckett warned it was "not the time" for an inquiry, saying it could send a dangerous signal to insurgents that the UK did not have the determination to stick it out in Iraq.'

Update: And the 2006-2007 ISC report is now out too. ''Floods and GCHQ and Birmingham kidnap plot and* leaks to the media are the most interesting lines, says my mole.
(*Sounds rather similar to the speech the M15 head gave to editors last November, then.)

Walham power station was almost underwater last summer and provides power for GCHQ and Aldemaston which is a tad scary. The media get reprimanded at for leaks which can jeopardise security and operations. And everything is at full stretch, with anti-terrorism sucking up resources.

As to the 7 July/Crevice bombers link report, no date is given, only that the ISC hopes to report on this 'next year' ( meaning 2008) and says they are carrying out a 'thorough investigation'.
Government response is here.

Further update: Reading the report, a few things jumped out at me besides the stuff picked up in the media. The ISC welcomes the intention to 'strengthen' it ( so will it get its independent investigator after all?). There is also what appears to be an ongoing gripe about not being shown some papers relating to a previous administration ( so, pre-1999 when Labour came to power.)

One of the areas under discussion is that of access to sensitive documentation. The legislation currently allows for the most sensitive material to be withheld from the Committee at the discretion of the Heads of the Agencies or the Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary. We note that, since the Committee was formed in 1994, there has only been one case in which access to papers has been requested and refused. This has been detailed in Annex B to this Report. The Committee believes that, particularly in light of its recent enquiries into Rendition and the links between the 7 July bombings and the fertiliser bomb plot, it is vital that it can have access to relevant documentation, where necessary.

Oh ho, is that an admission that perhaps it feels that it didn't get access to all the facts before? The fact that the report stated that the 7/7 bombers were not named or known to the security services before they bombed London, only for it to come out that lead bomber MSK and his car details were both known in 2004, indicates an 'issue' to me. But perhaps I'm just not feeling 'persuaded' enough.

The Governance of Britain green paper, introduced to the House on 3rd July 2007 suggests what the plans are for the ISC, which is to become more of a Select Committee ( though its powers at the moment are greater than that of a Select Committee as I understand it). The PM said (my emphases)

I feel that the two functions of a Select Committee are first, to investigate, to interrogate and to examine events and what is happening in our country, and secondly, to persuade the country that important things are being done by the services that the Committees are monitoring.
It is the second function to which we can now turn our attention. If we have a national
security strategy, and if there is a debate on that both in Parliament and in the country, and if there is a power to call witnesses and to report on that, I believe that that second important job of a Select Committee, which is to inform the country of the good work that our services are doing, can be best achieved.

Now that strikes me as a bit strange. Why does the ISC and the PM see their work as 'persuading the country of the good work which is being done'? I mean, I'm all for good work being highlighted, but you don't appoint a watchdog or auditors or select committee to do that. That is hardly approaching the task ahead in an independent, investigatory spirit, is it? And yet, I keep being told that the ISC's investigation into 7/7 is just as good as an independent inquiry.

Hmmmm. If someone said they were going to investigate my work in order to persuade people of what a good job I was doing and how damn marvellous I was, and stated that was their aim before they'd even looked at what I'd done that year, or whether I'd made any mistakes, I'd be flipping well delighted.

I must stop being so cynical.

BBC report, Reuters

ISC report out today?

Rumour has it that an Intelligence and Security Committee report will be out today, or this week. Presumably that's the 2006-2007 annual report, which was handed over to the PM on 4th December 2007, rather than the second report into London Bombings which is still being written as far as I know. ( See long post here)

I guess that means that that there will shortly be an announcement of the new ISC Chair as current Chair Paul Murphy has been newly reappointed to the post of Secretary of State for Wales, following the departure of Peter Hain. (ISC Chairs cannot be Cabinet ministers)

UPDATE: 3.30pm: Margaret Beckett is the new Chair of the ISC

There might also be news soon on whether the ISC are going to get an independent investigator after being without one for a few years, whether Gordon Brown's planned reforms of the ISC have got anywhere, and whether the post-Crevice re-report into 7/7 is going to be out before, or after the trials of the three men accused of helping with attack-planning/reconnaissance for the 7 July London bombings, due to begin on March 31. But I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Spyblog has some thoughts


Monday, January 28, 2008

BritBlog Round Up

...over at Philobiblon this week.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Liberal Conspiracy Liveblogging South Carolina Election

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy weekend

Friday, January 25, 2008

Guest conspiracy theory of the week

Why do the Government keep coming back with the unpopular proposal to bang people up without charging them for six weeks?

Is it because the Bush administration has asked them to shove it through?

'US fears Europe-based terrorism'

I have to say the biggest threat comes from overseas, and one of the places we are increasingly worried about is Europe

Michael Chertoff
Homeland Security Secretary

Not that anyone is suggesting CIA officials or any US officials might want to question terror suspects detained for questioning in the UK, before or after their being charged. As far as I know, people in the custody of the UK police and security services are certainly not passed about like parcels or given up for interview to agents of other states.

On an entirely unrelated subject, torture flights ,
secret CIA jails on British islands,
Red Cross not able to visit terror detainees
secret CIA jails in Europe
CIA videos of interrogations destroyed
'ghost prisoners'.

You can see how these wild ideas get started, can't you?
UPDATE: Members of the public commenting on the BBC site do not seem at all keen on the idea of 42 days


What's going on with the ISC?

One of the things I notice in the wake of Peter Hain's resignation to spend more time being interviewed by the police/clearing his name, is that Paul Murphy has been re-appointed to the Cabinet to Hain's old post of Secretary of State for Wales. After being Secretary of State for Wales from 1999-2002, Mr Murphy was made Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from October 2002 to May 2005, whereupon he left Government to become Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee ( ISC), the security services watch dog.

As far as I am aware, serving members of the Cabinet are not allowed to serve on the ISC.
Incidentally, the ISC's 2007 annual report was submitted to Gordon Brown on December 4 2007* but has not yet been published.
*Hmm. I wonder if it will make a strategic appearance at the height of the debate about the Government's new anti-terror laws that are proving so unpopular?

Paul Murphy re-joining the Cabinet presumably means the ISC will have to find a new Chair.
UPDATE: 29th January - I was right. And the new Chair is Margaret Beckett

Why am I following this closely? Well, last year, you may remember a media storm at the end of a big terrorism trial, 'Operation Crevice'. News finally came out that, far from being 'clean skins' as originally described by then-Home Secretary *Charles Clarke (*who was presumably briefed to say this by M15) , two of the 7/7 bombers had been known to the security services and police.

They had been taped, followed, and generally been under surveillance, as part of a big investigation into another plot. This led to a devastating question being asked: could the 7/7 bombers have been arrested, and thus could 7/7 have been prevented?

When the Crevice trial finished and reporting restrictions finally ended, the 7/7 Inquiry group, consisting of bereaved families and survivors of the 7/7 bombings asked the Home Secretary to have an independent inquiry into the 7/7 bombings. We said we were prepared to go to court to try and get a Judicial Review into the decision not to have one if necessary.

Tony Blair predictably once again refused to have an inquiry, but presumably to quell the headlines - the story ran every day for over a week - the ISC were quickly re-tasked by Blair with going back over the matter and making a second report looking at the 7 July bombings in the light of the new evidence which came out during the Crevice trial about the extent to which the police and security services knew about some of the 7/7 bombers.

It was claimed - in fact, John Reid, the Home Secretary at the time told me personally - that the Committee's work would be ''the same as an independent inquiry'' - despite the fact that the Committee is appointed by the Prime Minister, and was effectively being asked to re-investigate its own omissions from the first report in the light of information that had subsequently come out in a public court and caused a scandal in the newspapers.

This is what Paul Murphy said on Newsnight, when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman ( emphases mine) you know, the Prime Minister has asked the Committee to revisit one or two of the issues to see whether it would have made any difference to our conclusions. Personally, I don't think it will...'

(So not-pre-judging the issue at all, there! - RN)

Paxman: But it's clearly not the case, as was alleged, that the perpetrators were so-called ''clean skins''?

Murphy: Well, what was said was that they
[the security services] identified people, um, after they were dead, in the sense that they knew that these two people [7/7 bombers Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shazad Tanweer] have talked to these people who were involved in the Crevice conspiracy, and we knew that, and we were, we reported that in our final report to the, er, Parliament and Prime Minister.

Paxman: But it's not true, is it, I mean, they were known beforehand and identified beforehand a year before the July 7th bombings?

Murphy: No, they weren't identified until after they were dead, they knew that they were two people...

Paxman: Yes, they were, I'm sorry, they were...

Murphy:..who were talking to the Crevice conspirators - but they didn't know their names.

Paxman: It emerged at the trial that Mohammed Siddique Khan's car was traced to him and through that, he was identified.

Murphy: The car was traced after Siddique Khan was killed. It was only then that they [the security services] knew who they were. The issue of course, was whether these people were involved in planning an attack, and they weren't, they were dealing with credit card fraud and relatively less important activity that, they certainly weren't involved in attack planning, but they knew they went to Leeds.

Paxman: Sorry, the evidence that we have is that the car was traced to him [MSK] and that he was therefore identified, over a year before the July 7th bombings.

Murphy: Well, that's not our understanding, but clearly if there is more information that has arisen as a consequence of this trial, the whole purpose of the Prime Minister asking us to have another look at it is to see whether in fact these things are the case or not.

Paxman:Mr Murphy, you've conducted an inquiry. You are the only body to whom these people [the security services] are formally accountable, and you're now being asked by the Prime Minister to carry out another inquiry, because you may have been - what? Misled?

Murphy: No, what he's asked us to do is to have a look at some issues which have arisen from the trial and of course,
to which
we couldn't refer in our report because it was sub judice, and to see whether we can offer some reassurance to people, that at the end of the day our conclusions remain the same as what they were a year ago.

(*cough* So definitely not massively pre-judging the issue at all then! Good grief - RN)

Paxman: Did M15 not tell you that that they had identified Mohammed Siddique Khan, and his car, over a year before the July 7th bombings?

Murphy: We knew that they had, erm, they knew about two people who were doing these things but not their names, and that the identity of these two people were discovered afterwards, but even if they were known, the issue is that, whether they would have been involved in planning a terrorist attack, and the information that they knew at the time was that they were involved in something that was peripheral, for the actual main body of the Crevice trial itself, for the Crevice case. In other words, the attacks which led, or the proposed attacks which these people were dealing with, which eventually led to them being arrested and today, sentenced, they were dealing with attack-planning. The people we were looking at were dealing with something different, although they did have contact with these Crevice planners. Now, what we've got to do is obviously look and see if there was anything further to that, I'm not convinced that there was, but we have an open mind and we have to look at any evidence that might have come from the trial.

Paxman: Well, our information is that they knew a year before the attacks who this man was, who'd been consorting with these Crevice conspirators - but let us leave that to one side. Do you conclude from your experience of your enquiry that you were misled, or should we conclude that you were somehow complicit, or the agents of M15?

Murphy: Well, certainly, neither of those things. Our job is to present an impartial, independent assessment and investigation into, in this case, the events of July 7th. We came up with a number of critical points, we came up with a number of recommendations and conclusions including, for example, the need for better co-operation between Special Branch and the security agencies, we looked at that, but in addition to that, um, we now need to look at some of the issues that arose in the trial, which of course we couldn't use during the course of our reporting. I don't think that we were misled, I, um, have no evidence to suggest that we were lied to, but I do understand the feelings of relatives of the victims of July 7th, and if we can give them any reassurance that by revisiting some areas that we now know arose from this trial, then we'll certainly do that.

Paxman: Mr Murphy, thank you

So - despite the Committee's job being to 'to present an impartial, independent assessment and investigation into, in this case, the events of July 7th' the Chairman made it quite clear before he had even started the second investigation, that the Committee was only going to look at stuff that came up during the trial ( and therefore is public domain and cannot be brushed under the carpet) - and that in any event, he didn't think his Committee's conclusions would be any different to before!

This does not sound very impartial at all to me. Nor is it the same as, or even a substitute for a proper independent inquiry.

The excuse we're given that having such an inquiry will ''divert resources'' is also looking daft given that on the one hand we are being told that the ISC are conducting a second investigation, which will presumably, involve people giving evidence and going through documents and reviewing decisions, ie. diverting resources to do so. Unless you have a tacit admission that they are not going to do a proper, thorough job, in which case, why bother at all?

In any case, why did the Committee not get all the information out of M15 the first time around? That a trial was looming was not an excuse for not mentioning all the facts to the ISC -who are the Security Services watchdog, with wide-ranging powers exceeding that of a select Committee to investigate and review whatever the security services do ( in theory. In practice, the ISC no longer has even a single independent investigator, since John Morrison was sacked for speaking out about [the lack of] WMD intelligence).

If M15 knew the two lead bombers' names because they had bugged, snapped them and traced MSK through his following him in his registered car, then why did they put it about at first that the 7/7 bombers were nameless 'clean skins' - and then later, that they were only peripheral unnamed figures at the edges of another plot, who remained unidentified until after the explosions, when it was later to become clear in public court that this was not the case at all?

Even if the ISC couldn't publish the full details of this until after the Crevice trial ended, it still doesn't excuse the fact that M15 did know this information - and should not have concealed it from the ISC, whose Chairman was still claiming the bombers' names were not known, when confronted by Jeremy Paxman explaining to him that they had been identified.

Interestingly, just before Gordon Brown became Prime Minister he announced his anti- terrorism plans which included making the ISC more accountable, and giving MPs
and peers greater powers to scrutinise the work of the security and intelligence services, allowing them to cross-examine the heads of MI5 and MI6 in public, and placing the ISC on a similar basis as parliamentary select committees, which are accountable to MPs. Nothing more has been heard of these plans so far, but it looks like a tacit admission that there are problems, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, the ISC are still meant to be still working on the second report into 7/7. Their previous report famously found the security services 'not to blame' for failing to prevent the 7/7 bombings. This now looks increasingly shaky. The bombers, not the security services were to blame for the bombs, that is obvious. It is human nature that mistakes get made. It looks like mistakes were made by a harried, over-stretched security services, compounded by a lack of effective communication with Special Branch. The bombers could have been arrested before they set off their bombs, ( for credit card fraud, if nothing else) - but they weren't. Why not? An appalling tragedy then occurred and 52 people died and hundreds were injured in the worst bomb attack on UK soil since the Blitz . Let's learn from it and let's get confidence in the police and security services as high as possible, because they are our best chance of preventing future attacks. Hence the calls for an inquiry.

What is not excusable is trying to cover up mistakes, particularly when you are in a highly sensitive position involving a great deal of public trust. If M15 misled the Committee, or the ISC didn't find out the truth, then the calls for an inquiry will just carry on and on.

With the departure of the ISC Chairman, Paul Murphy, I wonder whether the second ISC report on 7/7 will be any different to the first? And I wonder whether the new Chair will be asked to preside over a different kind of ISC in future- perhaps one with at least one independent investigator? I wonder whether the new ISC Chair will also find him or herself sure of what the Committee will find before it has started investigating?

I hope not. It is crucial for any organisation to be accountable, even spooks, especially spooks - and if the ISC are pre-judging the results of investigations, and not asking the right questions, and having to go back and go through what they have been told all over again, then how are they to have our confidence in ensuring the security services are doing their job and learning from any mistakes made?

We still have many questions and we are still waiting to see if the ISC's next report will answer them. Otherwise, it'll be back to the courts for an Judicial Review to see if we can get the Government to defend why it has still not had an independent inquiry into 7/7 and why so many questions - particularly questions about what was known about the bombers and whether there was reason to arrest them before the 7 July 2005 - remain unanswered.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have joined our calls for a proper independent inquiry. It's hopeless having things coming out in dribs and drabs like this, it only encourages wild conspiracy theories and adds to the distress of survivors and families. It's not good enough.

The Coroner's inquests into the deaths of July 7th are currently postponed until after the trial of three men on conspiracy charges relating to the planning of the 7th July bombings; their trial is expected to start in April this year.

I don't suppose the ISC will get their report into 7 July out until after the trial, possibly even after the inquests - but you never know. Given the stuff that came out at the Crevice trial, why would they risk looking silly a third time by releasing another bland, incomplete report - and then having a load of potentially embarrassing contradictory stuff come out in court?

Then again, if they are confident of their ability to get the whole truth out of the security services, and fulfil their remit to be independent and investigatory, inquiring AND open-minded, they might well release the report earlier.

After all, as the Government is so fond of telling us, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

BritBlog Round up

42 days & the latest terror laws

Blairwatch on 42 days detention

I just got asked yet again about my stance on the the Government's new terror proposals, including the proposal to extend the length of time people can be held and interrogated without being charged with any crime from 28 days to 48 days, which are officially unveiled today.

I've written about this in the Guardian, in the Sunday Times.

I've given evidence in front of the Home Affairs Committee, with Nick Clegg and David Davis
- none of whom back the increased detention plans.

Nor do Liberty. Nor does Parliament's Joint Human Rights Committee. Nor does Amnesty.
Nor does the ex-Attourney General or the former Lord Chancellor.
Nor does the Director of Public Prosecutions.
It is unnecessary and no case has been made to indicate that we need it. Worse than that, it's counter-productive

I said it before 90 days was debated. I've said it on my blog, over and over again for two years - you don't defeat terrorism by throwing away ancient liberties.

I'm sick of saying, it, but I will keep on saying it.

I just hope that people in the Houses of Parliament do the right thing.
Update: Mr Yogurt tells it like it is


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


An explanation, with humour, pictures and arguments of why the authoritarian and stupid SOCPA laws should be repealed, from Tim Ireland.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bete de Jour

I have just discovered a really good blog.
Funny, well-written, touching and well, I recommend you go and have a look.


After the aftershock

I found this essay today, by a German writer. It is called The Radical Loser, and it helped me tie up some loose ends I have been thinking about over the last two and a half years.

Sample paragraph

For what we are dealing with here is not annoyance, but murderous rage. What the loser is obsessed with is a comparison that never works in his favour. Since the desire for recognition knows no limits, the pain threshold inevitably sinks and the affronts become more and more unbearable. The irritability of the loser increases with every improvement that he notices in the lot of others. The yardstick is never those who are worse off than himself. In his eyes, it is not they who are constantly being insulted, humbled and humiliated, but only ever him, the radical loser.

The question as to why this should be so only adds to his torment. Because it certainly cannot be his own fault. That is inconceivable. Which is why he must find the guilty ones who are responsible for his plight.

Mental health and mental illness has been something that I have been thinking about a great deal recently. Because I have written about PTSD, on this blog, and then later in my book, I often get emails from people who want to share their own experiences. I try to help, but I am painfully aware of my own inadequacies. My own experiences of depression, PTSD, survivor guilt and later, grief following bereavement, and my friendships with fellow-travellers along the way have all sparked my interest in mental health to a more acute degree. (Though I was always interested in psychology and spent a year doing an MA foundation course in Psychotherapy a few years back. But back then it was academic. Now it's more personal.)

I am coming to realise that a lot of what I have been doing in the last few years after nearly being killed twice was pushed by guilt, by fear, and a desperate need to understand - and that those reactions, strange as they may seem to outsiders, are not unusual in survivors.They are part of the struggle to stay alive and remain a part of life after finding the fabric of reality can tear and unravel. They are human reactions.

Weirdly, I have had various people attack me on the internet for writing about how I have struggled with guilt, and fear, and anger in the aftermath of various bombs going off in my life. I can only assume that there is something about writing about appalling things that powerfully disturbs these people, or in some cases, draws them to you to try to feed off your confusion and vulnerability.

If I had known when I first started blogging, how exposed I would end up feeling, and later, how bad it would get with unwelcome attention from the 'dementors' of the internet, perhaps I would not have been so honest. I tried to protect myself by staying anonymous, but that anonymity was later torn away. But I tell myself, I would never have come into contact with so many life-affirmingly good people, experienced so many wonderful things, if I had hidden myself and my shocked feelings away, and tried to silence the words that poured out of me. It happened. There is no point wondering what would have happened if my life had taken a different turn.

I know now when people attack you, they are really telling you about themselves, what they hate, what they fear in their own imaginings, in their own nightmares. But it is still hard, and it is still painful. It has taken me this long to get anywhere close to understanding it, and it is an understanding that I wish I did not need to have learned.

I read this article, 'Aftershock' by Alexander Linklater back in 2006 when it was published ( in an edited version) in the Guardian magazine. Three of the people mentioned in it are my friends. Re-reading the full article again now, I realised for the first time how strange and shocking that first year was for them, for me, for so many people, and how we just muddled through it, unaware for the most part of what was happening to us, stumbling in the dark on a strange journey. I suppose what I am feeling now, belatedly is the aftershock of the aftershock.

It has taken me this long to even start to comprehend what happened to us, what happened to me. The last six years have been punch after wallop after slam-dunk, each one compounding the effects of the last. I thought at first that having been hit hard once, and stayed standing, I was somehow extra-well-placed to cope with being walloped again. Now I am starting to realise that, actually, often the opposite was true. I have been so busy firefighting that I have not really had time to stop and reflect and check for the cracks, and repair the damage.

Buildings left standing after earthquakes can be the most dangerous places to shelter when the aftershock happens again.

Looking back, I can see how my reactions, how I was in the aftermath could have seemed strange to people. All those words I wrote, all that anger, all that guilt, all those attempts to understand. People have these ideas about how 'victims' should behave. I myself had an idea about how I should behave. It can be confusing and scary when you find things are different to how you always imagined they would be.

When I discovered that I was not after all, invincible, I felt angry and even ashamed. I wanted to hide, felt I had let myself and other people down. But now I am realising that I am human and that is no bad thing, and nothing to be ashamed or disappointed about, and that I have not let anyone down, by reeling on occasion, or even falling over and not wanting to get up again.

Anyway, the fact that I am able to look back and put down my weapons and my shield for this moment of reflection is a good thing. *This is not self-pity, for what I feel now is sheer simple gratitude at having coming through the storm. If I have gained any wisdom at all after the heat of battle has calmed, then that is a bonus.

And a renewed appreciation of the writing on Alexander Linklater's site is another bonus. I found his articles fascinating, and if you are interested in how people think and feel - which most people who love reading and writing assuredly are - then I hope you find the site where his pieces are collected as interesting as I do.

Update: *Okay, I was, and am feeling blue when I wrote this. It was written the day before what should have been Mum's birthday, a day I was dreading. First Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary, they say these are the worst times. Dammit, I hope so.

Taking Liberties movie nominated for BAFTA!

Chris Atkins, the director of acclaimed political movie Taking Liberties ( now available to buy as a DVD, and there's also a accompanying book which you can buy on amazon ) has just told me that the film is up for a BAFTA!

Well done Chris! Fingers crossed.


for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in their First Feature Film

CHRIS ATKINS (Director/Writer) – Taking Liberties
MIA BAYS (Producer) – Scott Walker: 30 Century Man
SARAH GAVRON (Director) – Brick Lane
MATT GREENHALGH (Writer) – Control
ANDREW PIDDINGTON (Director/Writer) – The Killing of John Lennon

So there's another reason to see it if you haven't already ( and its available to rent off cable as well if you have Virgin Media).

Also up for five BAFTAs the gripping final installment of the Bourne trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, directed by Paul Greengrass. Bourne III is up for Best British film, best director, best visual effects, best sound and best editing

Paul Greengrass's harrowing film about 9/11, United 93 won a BAFTA in 2006, a Variety Award, numerous other awards, and was nominated for an Academy Award. I was honoured to be invited to the to the cast and crew screening of United 93 in 2006 and met Paul, who expressed his strong support for a 7/7 inquiry, a cause he has continued to support, writing a piece for the Mirror newspaper and mentioning it in interviews for the BBC and other international broadcasters. Last time I caught up with him he said he was reading Out of the Tunnel. Woot!

A final piece of good news - congratulations to reader Graham the Funky Ardvark, who is getting married in a few days time. Every happiness, Graham!

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Feel better soon Iain

Iain Dale has found out that he has diabetes. His commenters have stopped arguing with each other and are full of sensible advice, helpful information and words of good cheer. It's times like this that being part of a blogging community can really come into its own.

Spooks and being spooked

'I wish life were like ‘Spooks’, where everything is (a) knowable, and (b) soluble by six people'
- then-M15 Chief Eliza Manningham Buller in November 2006

J and I have just belatedly discovered the excellent BBC series Spooks, which is one reason for the lack of blogging recently, (the other reasons being tax return admin, which I loathe doing, having a sore shoulder from a pole-dancing strain that makes using the mouse painful for long periods, and working on book two.) Having watched Spooks Series 1 over Christmas, and found ourselves completely gripped after two episodes, J and I rushed out and got all the other series in the HMV January sale, and have been sitting white-knuckled clutching our mugs of cold tea on the edge of the sofa ever since. It's such a pleasure when you discover something you like, and then find out that there are 5 more series of it to enjoy at your leisure.

On the subject of terrorism and intelligence, the Observer magazine led with a big investigative feature on the UK Jihadi network. Readers of this blog will have seen a lot of similar stuff before, but it is well worth a read.

Meanwhile Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who seemed a very nice, sensible woman when I had a meeting with her a few months ago, has revealed in an unguarded interview in the Sunday Times that she wouldn't feel safe walking the streets of Hackney after dark. Diane Abbott, my MP, has now invited Jacqui to go on a late night stroll with her around the streets of Hackney and Stoke Newington. I don't usually get spooked walking about at night where I live - though I tend to restrict myself to late-night food-and-DVD runs to the local shops where I know all the shop keepers. And which ones have baseball bats under their counters.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Brit Blog Round Up

...can be spotted this week at Clairwil's gaff.


A land called Paradise

In December 2007, over 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they would wish to say to the rest of the world. This is what they said.

A music video for Kareem Salama's "A Land Called Paradise."
Thanks to Poons

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Inside a terrorism trial

Dave Bones is an independent film maker. A few years ago he began filming Abu Hamza preaching outside Finsbury Park Mosque. He also interviewed Hamza's supporters and people in the crowd. Dave has gone on to follow the stories of some of the people he met: some of whom are now in court on terrorism charges.

Hamid is standing trial at Woolwich Crown Court with Kader Ahmed, 20, Al Figari, 42, Kibley Da Costa, 24, and Brown, 41.

Hamid denies proving weapons training, five charges of soliciting murder and three of providing training for terrorism. The others deny charges relating to training.

Atilla Ahmet, 43, has admitted soliciting murder.

The trial at Woolwich Crown Court continues.

Over to Dave....

'During my erratic experiments in Finsbury park I sort of found "my own way" of film making, which so far financially has drawn a big zero, so in conventional terms of "success" I'm not a film maker am I?

Maybe if I'd tried very hard to get in Islamists confidence, and then tried to expose them I'd have got "somewhere" quicker. You think?

Anyway I'm here and over the years if there has been one thing which has unified my approach to filming people is that I just try and let people talk. Tell me their truth, if you get my meaning. I want to edit it so as they would say-

"I am happy that is a true representation of what I told you"

- whoever they are.

I'm upfront about whatever situational and experiential bias I might have. I realise we all come from different sides to "this". I am very much motivated by a desire for these different sides to meet each other, and to stay in contact, which is why I appreciate Uncle Jimbo's filmed liasons with his local "looney left". I think if Jimbo and these guys are recognising each other, and communicating it has to be a good thing no?

I would think it was obvious that there are a few things I wouldn't support them on. At the time, I thought it was really important that they were preaching against terrorist acts in this country time and time again on the street. Pre 7/7 I thought this was important for, I don't know, maybe MUSLIMS to be hearing. Selfish? Maybe. Ask Rachel.

I don't really challenge people with a camera, I try to absorb. I'm in a situation where I can leave being confrontational to the experts, so thats what I've done. I tried the same thing with the National Front to test my theories. Now this theory testing has put me in a position where I may not be making money from all this, but my videos are, for my good graces being featured by online communities of National Front supporters and Islamic "Fundamentalists".

Now I haven't had any contact with either, and I don't think either group would support me. Neither would I support them. The only Islamists I have ever felt any "support" from as a film maker were Hajj, Abdullah, Jamal (who wouldn't appear on camera) and Mr Dumplings, all of whom, though they weren't allowed to have "friends amongst the kaffir" nevertheless seemed to have built up a level of trust with me. Abdullah's in jail. Jamal is in jail. Dumplings has been in and come out of jail, Hajj is round the corner.

As I've said before, I'm out of this now. Its not that I don't give a shit anymore, I just concentrate on playing guitar and try not to upset myself.'

But Dave is not 'out of this now', because he continued to follow what turned out to be an exhausting and confusing trial, and his reports back from the court room, and his contact with relatives of the defendants can be found on his blog, Malung TV News, starting here.

More here

From Dave's notes made when listening to tapes played in court...

“They call us terrorists.” he said and then something about “Conquering the west before we move on.”. He says that if you believe that you get charged with terrorsm act 2000. Muslims were losing their way. They are obedient to the kuffar but not to their fellow brothers. At this point it is obvious that Atilla is losing it. Someone ( possibly the son in law of the older guy) is comforting him saying “This is your deen” (the path Allah has chosen for him). He says very emotionally that he has to find a second wife. (In conversation on the phone his wife has confirmed to me that they were having a marital dispute and had sought the advice of their close friends separately.) he carries on.

“Since I have become a Muslim I have been fighting myself. I have become more and more of a pathetic clown. Its payback time.”

I couldn't tell what point Hamid had joined the party, but at this point he interjects, referring to an argument he had with Atilla previously. He says Atilla shows his aggressive side. Everyone knows he can be aggressive, he should instead show his intelligent side. He asked how many people got Shahid (martyrdom) on 7/7. The answer was four. How many they take out? 52.

“That's not even breakfast for me.” he said. He said he would use his intelligence to commit acts of bombing and get home to sleep with his wife after. Attack like Jack the Ripper. A voice, I would take to be Atilla's “mmm”s in a non-committal manner.'

As time goes on, Dave begins to reconsider his views on the people he has got to know through filming them. Responding to a commenter, who knows the defendants, he writes

'It's not the post, its the whole thing really. I've been writing about, and in a lot of ways defending Atilla since 2003, not that its made any difference, or for that matter that anyone has been reading.

Looking back over it all I can see somethings I wrote were stupid, some funny, but its all there.

Although I may not have achieved what I set out to do filmwise, I have achieved the other side of what I set out to do- namely to befriend some of the people "society" would be concerned about.

Someone in government said we should "Reach out to those who might be tempted by extremism".

Do they do it? No.

I've often questioned my motivation, at some points filming in Finsbury I think I had a gleeful , ultimately unwholesome motivation of shock, not unlike the Sun newspaper.

Now in 2007, yes I've become a friend of the family and that is important to me.

If these Muslims can look at the world and think "Not all of the kaffirs think this way, or are involved in this" we are safer. More than that I want to be involved in doing something about all this. Its just- what?

You're thoughts re- Mousah and Hamid, no. I didn't know either of them as well as you, or what they were thinking. As I said in the post, if I heard anything which worried me I would have spoken to the anti-terror people.'

The trial continues, with further reports here , here , here, here, here, here, here, here, and here
It gets even more interesting because Musa Ahmet, one of the brothers of the defendants, who was arrested and inprisoned for 8 months following a police raid on a group of men at a Chinese restaurant, and later released without charge, joins the readers commenting on the blog. Here he is interviewed by Dave

The jury may retire to consider their verdicts today.
UPDATE: trial is still going on


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A trip to Scarborough

Picture shows the Scarborough Diving Belle, which J's mum and step-dad were instrumental in commissioning as a beautiful piece of public art (c/o Scarborough Civic Society)

Back from visiting J's family, the last of the trans-UK festive present-swapping seasonal gatherings. Whilst in Scarborough, we caught Alan Ayckbourn's latest sell-out play ''A Trip to Scarborough'' at the Stephen Joseph theatre: possibly the most impossible-to-summarise play ever written. Ayckbourn takes a Sheridan drama, itself a bowdlerised mash-up of an older, more bawdy Restoration comedy, and reimagines it in a Scarborough hotel lobby. The time shifts back and forth from the present-day, to the Second World War, to the eighteenth century, necessitating lightning-fast costume changes and hallucinatory scenes as shady antiques dealers become guffawing dandy Lords, and modern-day con-artists morph into ringletted heiresses.

Talking about it later, we thought the play was about deception and double-crossing, and whether the duplicitous prosper - natural justice being a casualty of a world shattered by war. Whatever the playwright was thinking, and no critic seems to be sure, it was great fun and bounced along with charm and energy, propelled by a sprightly and talented cast.

Dinner at the Stephen Joseph theatre restaurant was less of a success. We arrived at 5.30pm and seeing an almost-empty restaurant, politely asked if we could have one of the empty tables by the wall instead of the one in the centre of the room next to the bar and cash till, so it was easier to talk. This impertinent suggestion was dismissed outright by a waiter who loftily informed us that 'there were no available tables as the restaurant had been booked for months'. Even though we could only see seven people in it.

Anxious not to antagonise him further, we ordered from the uninspiring menu: some bread and olives, cold smoked fish, and ciabatta with chicken liver pate to start, followed by two chestnut, leek and mushoom pies with mash and side seasonal veg, one beer-battered fish n' chips with mushy peas, and a turkey dinner. The starters arrived with indecent haste: the olives wore a sad rime of salt as if they had been decanted out of a tin that morning, and left to fester in brine. The ciabatta was still frozen with great smears of pate unappetisingly blobbed on it, and half a bag of salad dumped on top, splattered with chemical-tasting dressing and some red dribbles that appeared to be ketchup but were perhaps a bottled fruit-based sauce. The little slices of smoked fish was nicer, and gone in a few gulps.

I looked about but failed to catch the eye of the waiter, eventually excusing myself to talk to the staff at the bar ( 'Sorry to bother you - my bread is frozen - could you replace it?') The barman apologised, and seized some fresh warm rolls which were nearby. Thereafter, a new waiter appeared and service improved dramatically.

The fish and chips had a lot of local competition to live up to; served with about quarter of a pint of tartare sauce, perhaps the chef had little confidence in his batter to hold its own, but it was pronounced ''fine''. The turkey dinner was ''lovely''.

J's step-father and I drew the short straw with the chestnut, leek and mushroom pies: not a single chestnut was anywhere to be found, despite careful searching under the puff pastry lid that exploded into a thousand fragments when lifted. The mash was very good, but the parsnips and potatoes served with it ( why?) were flabby and tepid so we left them.

Wary of the pudding menu since J's step dad told us of a bread pudding he'd once had there which 'put me off for life'), we ordered coffee. It arrived promptly, but was so grim-tasting that I wondered whether the startling time-shifts of the play were happening in the kitchen too, and we were drinking wartime coffee made of acorns. After my last festive restaurant meal out, in Rules, London's oldest restaurant founded in 1798, which was a truly decadent experience lounging like Lords and gossiping like courtiers, drinking stout out of a silver tankard whilst scoffing roast partridge and steak and kidney pie, I silently sighed for the eighteenth century, a time when British food was altogether more glorious. The Stephen Joseph theatre is a beacon of excellence with its association with one of Britain's greatest playwrights. Theatre-goers rush to fill it night after night, many travelling miles to attend ; it is a shame that such a cultural hotspot is let down by such a mediocre dining experience.

Miff was looked after by a friend whilst we were away, she has put on weight again and clearly had a marvellous time, as her holiday snaps illustrate.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

This is what feminism sounds like

A great article and a shattering blog post from The Girl

An 'interesting' year

Other people have done much better political reviews of the year. (See Paul and Justin.) So here's the personal rather than the political.

I think I now understand why ''May you live in interesting times'' is a Chinese curse, and not a blessing. 2007 was a year of changes and storms, of joy and anxiety and sorrow. It was a year when I was once again bowled over by the amazingly generous and compassionate support of friends and strangers, without which I would not be blogging now. Looking back on a cold grey New Year's day over the ghost-smoke of a strange, unforgettable year, I feel somewhat battered as well as contemplative. I am relieved to be here on the other side of it. Few more laughter lines, no grey hairs yet, it's hard to fit 2007 into a few paragraphs.

wedding plans and book deadlines, PTSD insomnia and stress symptoms are aggravated by the ongoing harassment which began April 2006. Civil liberties campaigning with lone mass demonstrations, and political rumblings are noted as the 7/7 Inquiry group prepare for the 7/7 revelations from the forthcoming Crevice trial. February: much the same. March: book submitted to publishers, but things don't get much easier, tsk.

April: Despite last-minute ruse of defendant failing to appear at court, the harasser is convicted. I get married to my wonderful J, hurray - and after the longest jury deliberation ever, the Crevice verdict breaks the day before our honeymoon, so bridal bliss temporarily on hold as I am on media duty.

May: Links between 7/7 and the Crevice would-be bombers (which we've had to keep quiet about for 18 months because of the huge court case) , and questions about security services slip-ups are finally all over the UK and international media. A mad 48 hours follows of back-to-back news interviews finishing with live on BBC News, ITN, C4 News and Newsnight. The push for a 7/7 inquiry becomes headline news for over a week, with both the Lib Dems and Tories reiterating calls for one. We (the 7/7 Inquiry group of families and survivors) hand in a demand for a 7/7 inquiry to the Home Secretary, then J and I go on honeymoon - landing on Grand Cayman, and immediately filing copy for the Sunday Times who want a 'Crevice reaction' column. Finally stop working for two euphoric weeks. Return to UK as political documentary Taking Liberties movie comes out nationally, find out that the convicted harasser has absconded, is wanted for arrest and that, incredibly, the harassment still going on. A blogger ''wanted'' campaign ensues, the harasser is quickly tracked down and remanded for sentencing and psychiatric reports - phew.

June: Taking Liberties is a big critical success, Jon Ronson and I do an interview for Radio 4 and then American National Public Radio which questions conspiracy theorists, causing ex-spook David Shayler to speculate that I am either a team of M15 agents, or mentally ill ( a month later he announces he is the reincarnated Messiah). The harasser is sentenced to the maximum 6 months in jail with a tough ASBO protecting 16 other victims. Failed terrorism attempts in London and Glasgow as Tony Blair finally leaves the stage. I make Channel 4 educational documentary about conspiracy theories.

July: Out of the Tunnel comes out on 5 July, which is emotional. 2 year 7/7 anniversary with fellow-passengers, then off to Norwich with J for a family birthday party the weekend of 7/8 July . Back to London Sunday evening-then, on Monday 9 July morning J and I and my sister rush back to Norwich after the terrible news that Mum has had a huge stroke that morning. I continue with the pre-booked contractual author publicity schedule, but cancel the book launch party because I want to spend as much time as possible in Norwich with Dad and the family seeing Mum in hospital. Mum starts to make a good recovery from the stroke, and the family is thankful to be surrounded by people's thoughts and prayers.

August: Mum continues to make good stroke recovery progress but is diagnosed with mylenoma and heart failure. She picks up a gastric bug at hospital which fatally weakens her and leads to complications. On August 22 she dies in hospital with her family at her side.

The survivor and bereaved group launch legal action against the Government to try to force the matter of an independent inquiry helped pro-bono by Oury Clark solicitors and Paddy O'Connor, QC.

September: Over £3500 is raised for charity after Mum's death and over 400 people come to her extraordinary funeral. Blog break. It all gets a bit overwhelming. October: Still off blogging. Meetings with various politicians about 7/7 Inquiry stuff including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

November: More political meetings including giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, more civil liberties campaigning. December:still banging on about terrorism and civil liberties, and missing Mum.

Stats: 2007 saw me involved in just under one hundred interviews, over one hundred meetings, and giving evidence at two Parliamentary committees and one court case. I featured in four books, including the one I wrote myself, two documentaries, one movie. I cancelled two book launches and attended one wedding, ( mine), had one holiday (our honeymoon) and mourned at two funerals (my mother, and the village Squire).

I doubt I will ever have a year like it again. I kind of hope not.

The blog clocked up 350,000 visits and 577,000 page views. I want to thank you again: blog readers and all the people who gave me and my family such unstinting and generous support throughout the year. I am lucky to have it, and I will always be grateful for it. You know who you are.

Now here we all starting another year in what has turned out to be a tumultuous decade so far. I don't know what the year will bring on the campaigning front, although I know that there will be yet more 7/7 revelations during various trials, and that the campaign for an independent inquiry will continue. At present we are waiting for the publication of the ISC report, whereupon I will have quite a lot more to report on this, and related matters - sadly the issues I have been campaigning about are unlikely to go away any time soon. (More as soon as I can on that.)

On a personal level, I would just like this year to be a bit more flipping normal.

I would like to spend more time with my husband and family and friends. I would like to take better care of my health. I would like to have time to write what I want to write, do the work I want to do. That's about it; that is what I know makes me personally happy.

I would really like everyone to have a happy and peaceful, ordinary 2008.
That would be pretty good, wouldn't it? This year I reckon it's do-able.

I wish you health and happiness, peace and joy in 2008,
(and a year that is only as interesting as you want it to be.)