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Tasered Nine Times: Justice for Darren Cumberbatch

Darren Cumberbatch death: Probation staff to get extra training ...

8th August 2017

Darren Cumberbatch was fit and healthy at 32-years-old when he left his family home on the evening of Sunday 9th July to return to the bail hostel where he was staying in Nuneaton. For reasons which remain unclear, however, police arrived at the hostel later that night, during which time, say the police, Darren ‘became unwell’ in their presence. This is putting it mildly. By the time they dropped him off at hospital later that night, he was covered in bruises and burns, later telling a friend he had been tasered nine times. Ten days later he died from his injuries. He was the third young black man to die in UK police custody or ‘following police contact’ in as many weeks.

A justice campaign has been established by Darren’s friends and family to pressure the authorities to reveal what happened and to hold those responsible to account. Their first public meeting was held on Wednesday 27th July, which was attended by around 500 people. The meeting led to calls from the community for the immediate suspension of the officers involved, and for an immediate suspension of the use of tasers, which are thought to have played a role in Darren’s death. Dan Glazebrook interviews one of the campaign organizers, Desmond Jaddoo.

Well, what we know is this. After leaving the family home on the 9th of July, he returned to the hostel at some point. And we know overnight, either the late hours of 9th July or the early hours of the 10th July, the police were called to the hostel; for what reason, we’re unaware. Contact then took place with the police which ended up with Darren being arrested; but when he was placed in the back of a police van, instead of them taking him to custody, the police took him to the George Eliot hospital. They never told his sister Carla, who is his next of kin, that he was hospitalised until the Wednesday, which was the 12th of July. That day, the family went down there, and he had a lot of unexplained injuries: he was battered and bruised, he had burn marks on his feet, parts of his body were swollen, he had various cuts and abrasions that were all unexplained. Then on the 19th of July his injuries were insurmountable and his life support machine was switched off, so he sadly passed away. So what we know in a nutshell is that he was fit and healthy when he left the family home on the Sunday, and then between Sunday night and Monday morning he had sustained several injuries following police contact whereby he ended up in hospital. And that ultimately led to him losing his life.

Now, it’s our understanding that force was used when the police attended. It’s our understanding that a baton was used, that CS spray was used, and that a taser was used. And it’s our understanding as well that Darren told a friend – because he was still communicating then – that he was tasered up to nine times. Now that’s overly excessive because it’s known that people [are lucky to] survive being tasered three times or more. Now the important thing is this: this was what’s called a ‘serious injury event’. This means that Warwickshire police should have reported this to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on the 10th of July because clearly this man had been hospitalised with serious injuries. However, it was not reported to the IPCC until the 19th of July when he died. So that’s an inexcusable delay.

And what do we know about the IPCC investigation? Do we know, for example, is the IPCC treating Macintyre house [where the initial contact between Darren and the police took place] as a crime scene? Is it interviewing the police as suspects or as witnesses?

At the moment, it’s not a criminal investigation. It’s an IPCC independent investigation. However, based on the evidence gathering they can review that at any time. So right now the terms of reference have been agreed, and they’re anticipating between six and nine months for an investigation. But in terms of a criminal investigation, the door on that has not been closed, thankfully.

In previous cases like these, the police have gone to great lengths to cover up what they’ve done. For example Habs Ullah, who died on the 3rd of July 2008 just 90 minutes after being stopped by police officers, police statements were doctored at the behest of the Police Federation; in the case of Christopher Alder who died in police custody in 1998, crucial evidence like gas cylinders and police clothing was destroyed. Can a campaign like this one put pressure on the IPCC to make sure these kinds of things aren’t taking place right now?

Well, I will tell you this – we are holding the IPCC to account. And the idea today, that we’ve tried to show at our demonstrations, is that there’s strength in numbers: to send a clear message that this is a serious campaign; there is serious support for the family and that support can only grow. But importantly, what it signifies is that people want answers – and we want the truth.

The purpose of last week’s march was also to pay our respects to Darren where he fell, by lighting candles outside Macintyre house. But it also shows that we’re good people: it was a well behaved march and one of the things we have to show is that we are better than what we’re stereotyped to be. We don’t need no special treatment, and the most important thing, which I said outside the police station, was this – it is no longer open season on the black community. Because the special treatment sometimes that is dished out to the black community is just totally unacceptable. It’s ungodly as well.

The campaign can be contacted via the Justice4Daz Facebook page or via Twitter: #Justice4Daz

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Deaths in Custody: Theresa May’s Reforms Are More Guff: What is Needed is for the Law to be applied to Murdering Police

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12th October 2015

The movement against police brutality in the US has been making serious waves. Uprisings across Baltimore and Ferguson in particular have made global headlines, and a new movement, dubbed ‘Black Lives Matter’, has seared itself onto public consciousness. Revolutionaries within the movement have been calling for Black Community Control of the police, under their modified slogan Black Power Matters, and the movement as a whole has succeeded in making police brutality a live issue across the US which no politician can afford to ignore.

It is perhaps with an eye to averting such an outcome in Britain that British Home Secretary Theresa May announced in March that she would be launching the first ever public inquiry into deaths in police custody. Though receiving far less coverage, deaths ‘following police contact’ are a major issue in this country as well, with 1,433 taking place in England and Wales between 1990 and 2012, according to campaigning group Inquest. However, not a single police officer was convicted over any of these deaths.

Names such as Christopher Alder, Azelle Rodney, Sean Rigg, Kingsley Burrell and many others have become synonymous with police violence, racism, cover-up – and impunity. This year has seen a number of bitterly disappointing legal verdicts for the families and campaign groups which have been fighting for truth and justice for their loved ones and, with anger growing, the government will not have forgotten that it was precisely such a case – the police execution of Mark Duggan, and particularly the contempt with which his family was treated after the killing – that triggered a youth insurgency across inner-city England in August 2011.

So far, exact details of the inquiry have yet to emerge. And while May has expressed her desire to tackle a number of issues around deaths in custody, no concrete changes have emerged yet.

Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest – a support group providing legal advice to families of those who have died in state custody – gives me her response to the proposed inquiry. ‘We have given it a guarded welcome,’ she says, ‘but there are 2 issues for me. One is that there has been no consultation with the families or with Inquest about the terms of reference, and the terms of reference are going to be critical. But there is also that sense of déjà vu. In 30 years of our organization’s existence, there has been review after review, and there is a whole wealth of evidence out there about what the problems are. The key issue is the fact that recommendations are not implemented.’

Harmit Athwal, who co-authored ‘Dying for Justice’, an Institute of Race Relations report into deaths in custody last year, agrees with Coles. ‘In terms of the IPCC [the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which investigate deaths in police custody], you see the same mistakes being made again and again: investigations take an incredibly long time, a failure to recommend prosecutions and then, when a case gets to an inquest and there’s a critical verdict, it’s coming out about officers conferring,’ explains Athwal.

The end result from all these inquiries is huge documents that take months and years to come out and don’t really have any effect in terms of the numbers of deaths

Ken Fero, whose 2001 film Injustice was critical in bringing deaths in police custody into the public consciousness, is even more unequivocal: ‘It’s another public inquiry. It won’t be effective in terms of preventing police officers killing people. It’s just repeating what we’ve had before in terms of investigations – inquiries into the IPCC, inquiries into the police investigation system, judicial inquiries into the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service]. The end result from all these inquiries is huge documents that take months and years to come out and don’t really have any effect in terms of the numbers of deaths.’

So what will have an effect? What is necessary to bring about justice for those who have died at the hands of the police? Ken Fero is emphatic that ‘there is no need for any new legislation. There is the law of murder and manslaughter and these need to be implemented for police officers. It’s as simple as that. The only change there needs to be is in the determination of the CPS to actually prosecute and the determination of the IPCC to investigate.’

This reluctance of the CPS and the IPCC to rigorously investigate and prosecute is one raised time and again by campaigners on the issue. As Deborah Coles outlines it, ‘One of the problems with the whole investigation process has been the reluctance to approach deaths in police custody as if a potential crime has been committed. We’ve seen a number of cases where we would have expected that successful prosecutions would have been brought.’

Cole specifically mentions Azelle Rodney, whose death triggered a public inquiry which concluded that there was no lawful justification for his killing, and Jimmy Mubenga, suffocated during an illegal chokehold by officers from the private security company G4S. ‘And you have to ask how it is,’ she continues, ‘that there has never been a successful prosecution of a police officer for murder or manslaughter in the last 50 years. Because that does not reflect the evidence that has come out during the investigation and inquest process into these deaths, particularly following the use of force or gross neglect. And that begs very important questions about policing in a democracy – that people can die in really disturbing circumstances and nobody is held to account.’ Athwal agrees, explaining that the IPCC issues critical reports, ‘but that it is then incumbent on the CPS to act upon them – and in 99 per cent of cases, they say there is not enough evidence to prosecute.’

No new inquiry is needed to reveal these CPS failures. The Butler Review had explicitly criticized them back in 1999. But, as Lee Bridges has noted, ‘the report of this review published in 2003 is notable more for the proposed reforms that it rejected than the changes in CPS practices which it introduced.’

Will any real change result from this inquiry? Time will tell. But the signs are not good

So one concern is clearly whether this inquiry will be any different from its predecessors in terms of its recommendations actually being carried out. But Harmit Athwal points to another worrying aspect: ‘One of the issues for us is that it doesn’t plan to look at old or current cases; so I am wondering how it can examine the issue in any thoroughness.’ Ken Fero agrees: ‘One of the caveats is that this inquiry won’t look at previous cases. So the question is – why not, if Theresa May is really concerned about what’s been going on? The only way you can stop the culture of impunity is by looking at the roots of it.’

Indeed, Fero argues that this will fatally undermine the entire inquiry: ‘What’s going to prevent officers killing is the realistic likelihood that they are going to go to jail. So the fact that she’s not willing to reopen cases – because there are cases where we have had undeniable evidence that officers have committed manslaughter and, in a few cases, murder – means that all the changes to the system for the future won’t make any difference to the culture of impunity that the police hold.’

Will any real change result from this inquiry? Time will tell. But the signs are not good.

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Home Secretary Theresa May: Saviour or Executioner of Black People?

Theresa May accuses Police Federation of 'scaremongering' over ...
30th August 2015
Over the last three months, I have been writing a short series of articles on some of the horrific deaths in police custody that have taken place in Britain in recent years and the fight for justice waged by the families of the victims and their supporters. Each story is unique, but there are certain similarities, depressingly familiar to those who have followed such cases over the years.

These include: the brutal use of force by police – even once victims are incapacitated; neglect of their victims when they are clearly in need of medical attention; omissions, lies and cover-ups over what actually happened; and an absolute refusal to administer justice by all the various state agencies tasked with doing so. All of it together amounts to one thing – the effective impunity of the British police. And, no surprise, Britain’s Asian and, particularly, African-Caribbean communities are bearing the brunt of it.

Enter British Home Secretary Theresa May, who is apparently promising to change all this, portraying herself as all but the saviour of the black community, fearlessly taking on the police in a battle to reign in their abuses. She has addressed a community meeting in Brixton, met with the families of two of those who have died in custody (Sean Rigg and Olaseni Lewis), and written an Op-Ed for The Voice, Britain’s largest-circulation black newspaper. She has even done something which no Home Secretary – perhaps even no British government official – has apparently done before: admit that deaths occurring in custody is a problem, and that the families campaigning for justice have been denied it. Specifically, last month, she acknowledged the “pain and suffering of families still looking for answers, who have encountered not compassion and redress from the authorities, but what they feel as evasiveness and obstruction.”

May has made no bones about the failings of the police. Her speech to the Police Federation last year was unequivocal, beginning with a roll-call of some of the latest scandals to embroil the force: “In the last few years, we have seen the Leveson Inquiry. The appalling conclusions of the Hillsborough independent panel. The death of Ian Tomlinson and the sacking of PC Harwood. The ongoing inquiry by an independent panel into the murder of Daniel Morgan. The first sacking of a chief constable for gross misconduct in modern times. The investigation of more than ten senior officers for acts of alleged misconduct and corruption. Allegations of rigged recorded crime statistics. The sacking of PCs Keith Wallis, James Glanville and Gillian Weatherley after Plebgate. Worrying reports by the inspectorate about stop and search and domestic violence…”

Then came the stern warning: “Make no mistake. If you do not make significant progress towards the implementation of the Normington reforms [36 reforms proposed by a review led by David Normington in January 2014], if the Federation does not start to turn itself around, you must not be under the impression that the government will let things remain as they are…”

Back in 2011, May had ordered a review of the police’s use of stop and search, which, she subsequently pointed out, is “excessive and inappropriate” and disproportionately targeted at Black and Asian people. The review revealed that over a quarter of the million or so stop and searches conducted that year may have been carried out illegally.

In April last year, she threatened the police with a barrage of statutory reforms to the practice unless the police improved their performance: “I want to make myself absolutely clear:” she told the House of Commons, “if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the government will return with primary legislation to make those things happen.”

The following August, all 43 police forces in England and Wales voluntarily signed up to her reform program, which included restrictions on the use of “no suspicion” searches, the recording of the outcome of every stop and search, and the involvement of community groups in observing searches being carried out and triggering action against their misuse. As from this month, details of stop and searches carried out by every force – including age, ethnicity, and outcome of each search – will be published on the national police website.

Now Theresa May has turned to deaths in custody. In October 2014, at a conference part-organised by Black Mental Health UK, she announced a number of measures she claimed would tackle the problem. Specifically, she promised to create more alternatives to police custody for those with mental health difficulties, and more transparency in the use of restraint and tasering.

A number of explanations are possible. The most obvious is the quest for the “black vote.” At the Tories’ 2002 annual conference, Theresa May famously lambasted her party for having an appeal and popular base that was “too narrow.” “You know what some people call us,” she said, “The Nasty Party.” If they wanted to get reelected, she argued, they would have to “diversify” their support base – and with the Tories’ current wafer-thin majority, this remains as true as ever. With almost two thirds of African-Caribbeans seeing the police as systematic liars, taking on the police could be a smart electoral move – especially taking them on in the areas in which police racism most visibly manifests itself: stop and search, and deaths in custody.

An editorial in The Voice in summer 2013 suggested this was already paying dividends, with May’s work on stop and search specifically identified as a sign that the Conservatives were gaining ground from Labour in terms of appealing to black and minority voters. With the non-white population growing – and May widely seen to be positioning herself as a future party leader – this could all be a very astute attempt to build up a solid base of support.

However, there is almost certainly more to it than that. For the Tory party’s battles with the police go far beyond the issues outlined here; indeed, ever since coming to power in 2010, the party has been involved in more or less open war with the Police Federation (the closest thing the police are allowed to have to a trade union) over the austerity agenda.

Thatcher had been very careful to exempt police from the attacks to which the rest of the workforce were subjected – even significantly increasing their pay (not to mention providing lucrative overtime opportunities during the miners’ strike) whilst everyone else was seeing theirs cut. Cameron’s party have not gone down this road, arguing instead that the crisis today is so deep that no one (no workers, anyway) should be exempt. And this attempt to push cuts and privatization onto the police has sparked fierce opposition from within the police force, with a 30,000 strong demo by the police held in 2012 quite possibly the biggest political action by the police since they went on strike in 1919 (when the government genuinely feared revolution). Given that Theresa May has so far threatened a lot more than she has actually delivered in terms of statutory reform, could it be that she is simply using the threat of removing the police’s time-honored impunity as leverage to drive through the cuts agenda?

Personally, I am both not as cynical as this – but also much more so. Although it remains to be proven, I believe Theresa May could well be genuine about her desire to tackle black deaths in custody – not, however, because she wants to see fewer black people killed, but more – far more – and not because she wants to move us away from being a police state, but ever further toward it.

Let me explain. We are living through times of an unprecedented emerging crisis of the capitalist world system, both economically and militarily. Economically, the world system is tipping once again into a classic overproduction crisis, of a type endemic to capitalism: a crisis which re-emerges with greater force and destructive potential each time around. Within capitalism, overall demand is never enough to consume all the goods that are produced – because people, as a whole, are not paid the full value of their labor. For some time, this crisis was staved off with the “credit trick”: artificially boosting demand by lending people money to buy things they could not afford – but this collapsed in 2007-8. Capital, desperate for profitable sources of investment, then flooded into property, “commodities” and government bonds, sparking price bubbles in each one. One by one, these bubbles are now bursting.

The day of reckoning – the day, that is, when banks suddenly realize their “assets” are only worth half, or a third, or a quarter, of what they had previously been valued at, and their cash machines stop giving out money – is drawing near.

The Conservatives understand this very well, better perhaps than most of the left; after all, they have had more experience of navigating this system than probably anyone else in the world. So they are preparing for this future. One way they are preparing is through militarism: endless wars to destroy rival capital, and to create the basis for more profitable investment of their own. Libya was here a textbook case: a war costing barely £300 million produced investment opportunities (reserved, we now know, for the conquering forces) of £300 billion.

But this war was just the prelude to bigger conflicts, becoming a launchpad for proxy wars against Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia. These in turn are laying the groundwork for yet more future wars, being prepared as we speak. People do, and will increasingly, flee these battlefields. Yet Europe would rather sink their boats than let them flee to Europe, and have already turned this desire into official policy. Economic crisis is leading increasingly to ever more desperate and depraved forms of warfare against the global South – that is, against the homelands of a large section of the British population.

Malcolm X said it clearly when he said, “You can’t understand what’s going on in Mississippi if you don’t understand what’s going on in the Congo.” What he meant is that the lynchings and discrimination being experienced by African Americans were part and parcel of the US and Western Europe’s ongoing war against African liberation, and third world liberation as a whole; part of the colonizers’ permanent aggression against Africa, Asia and Latin America. He always fought for black and minority communities in North America to see themselves as part of this worldwide struggle, and to identify with the homelands in their struggle against such oppression.

It was for this reason that he was seen as such a threat by the authorities, and for this reason that the Black Panther Party, who continued to put this thinking into practice after this death, were identified by the FBI as the number one threat to US national security. The presence of black and Asian people in Europe and its extensions has always been seen as a threat precisely because of their potential allegiance to their homelands in the ongoing imperialist wars against them. They have always been seen as a potential “fifth column.”

Yet their treatment as a so-called fifth column, and the violence towards them this entails, has the effect of reinforcing their skepticism and hostility toward the state, and deepening their sympathies towards the anti-imperialist movements and states abroad. Racist state violence, then, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: the state’s permanent suspicion about the loyalty of its black and Asian population creates a very real basis for disloyalty; by treating them as “prone to rebellion,” it prompts them to rebel.

Being subjected to racist violence by the British state automatically creates a kinship with those subjected to racist violence by that same state abroad, which is the victims of British wars and economic subjugation. If she is serious about dealing with racist police violence and impunity (which, I reiterate, remains to be seen) Theresa May could in fact be attempting nothing less than the final obliteration of any identification of its non-white population to their blitzed and besieged homelands.

Ultimately what is being attempted is a form of racist flattery: where once black people were effectively told “You’re no better than the n*****s in Africa,” Theresa May is now effectively telling them: “You’re nothing like those n*****s in Africa: they deserve to be drowned and droned and beheaded; but you are worth so much more’.” This is a bold new racism for the 21st century: all British citizens, no matter what their skin colour, should be able to support the drowning, strafing and droning of Arabs and Africans.

Yet just as violence and oppression is being ramped up abroad, so too at home. The combined reality of permanent mass unemployment and a benefits system unable to provide basic subsistence is leading to a growing underclass potentially drawn to revolt, and likely to be drawn into frequent contact with the police. The state’s response has been mass surveillance and, increasingly, mass incarceration.

The public have been led to accept this increasing intrusion of the state into their lives on the grounds of Islamophobic “anti-terrorist” propaganda and hate stories about “feral youth.” Yet police racism and police violence continue to be major fault lines in relations between police and a large section of the public, a major obstacle to the acquiescence of the black community in accepting this massively increased role for the police and security services in the governance of Britain. To co-opt black and Asian people into accepting the structural violence of mass poverty and incarceration requires a limitation on the arbitrary meting out of individual violence and persecution by racist officers. Remember that, against a backdrop of the massive use of racist stop and search, widespread unemployment and benefits cuts, it took the execution of Mark Duggan to actually trigger a riot.

Theresa May, then, is attempting to improve police relations with the black community for a very simple reason: to buy their acquiescence in her war against the poor at home and abroad. We should not be fooled. Through its war on both Libya and migrants in the Mediterranean, this government has facilitated a massive ramping up of violence against Africans, and is preparing the grounds for mass incarceration at home.

Nevertheless, even as we recognize this, and without any illusions, we must use this moment to push for an end to police impunity: to insist on an end to all the institutional practices that allow the police to escape accountability and to demand murdering officers are prosecuted. Genuine community control is the only way to ensure this happens. But we must never forget that it is not only police officers, but Theresa May too, who must be held to account for her crimes.

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The police killing of Kingsley Burrell: The only “lesson learned” is how to get away with it

Police officer guilty of gross misconduct over Kingsley Burrell's ...
12th June 2015
In March 2011, Kingsley Burrell called the police requesting help, fearing he and his son were at risk from an armed gang. By the end of the day, Burrell had been arrested, beaten and had his son taken from him. Four days later he was dead.

Since then, it has been a long, hard struggle by Kingsley’s family and friends to find out the truth about what happened – but last month, during an excruciating five-week inquest, that truth finally came out.

When they arrived on the scene and found no evidence of anyone threatening Kingsley, the police decided to arrest him under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, claiming he was delusional. Both he and his son were taken away in an ambulance, where the police set upon Kingsley in an attempt to forcibly remove him from his son. During the inquest, it emerged that Kingsley had not been asked to relinquish his son before police attacked him. One officer admitted in typically guarded language: “I accept that to communicate to everybody, in an ideal situation, that would have been done.”

Kingsley was then driven to the Oleaster mental health unit of the local hospital and later transferred to another mental health facility, the Mary Seacole Unit. What exactly happened to him during this time is unclear, but his sister Kadisha visited him in the unit the following day, telling the inquest “Kingsley had three lumps, one on his forehead. I said to [his partner] Chantelle ‘take a photo of that’.”

“Kingsley said to me, ‘I can’t move’. He couldn’t move the upper part of his body… He couldn’t move his head, couldn’t move his body, couldn’t move his shoulders,” she said, adding he had deep marks around his wrists. She later discovered that her brother had been left handcuffed to the hospital floor for five or six hours, had not been allowed a drink of water or a visit to the toilet and was subsequently left to urinate on himself. He told her that after he requested the handcuffs be loosened the guards tightened them even more.

On March 30th, police were called back to the Mary Seacole Unit after staff there reported he was acting aggressively; when pressed for more detail in the inquest it transpired that he had been making ‘stabbing motions’ with his toothbrush.

This was apparently all the excuse the police needed to launch another blistering attack on the man they had left barely able to walk just three days previously. Kingsley over the course of the next two and half hours was again beaten, this time whilst sedated, handcuffed and in leg restraints. During this time, he was transferred by police to the Queen Elizabeth hospital, first to emergency to stitch up a head injury he had sustained during the course of the restraint, and then back to the Oleaster Unit of the hospital. During the ambulance journey, a towel was wrapped around Kingsley’s head; when asked why, it was explained that it was because he had been spitting. The restraints were finally removed on arrival at the Oleaster seclusion unit. A staff member present told the inquest that whilst removing the restraints, one officer “knelt on Kingsley’s back between his shoulder blades” whilst others punched his thighs “with a lot of force,” including with the butt of a police baton. He noted: “These were methods that I had never seen before—they were alarming and shocking.” He explained how the police then left Kingsley face down on the bed with the blanket still wrapped around his head. He was motionless.

During this time, Kingsley’s respiratory rate had been dropping; since he was coming out of sedation it should have been rising. The inquest revealed that this drop had been noted but not acted upon on several occasions. Even when it dropped to below half the usual rate, there was apparently “no urgency” about the situation.

Eventually, Kingsley went into cardiac arrest. Community activist Desmond Jaddoo’s blog of the inquest hearings records what happened next: “This afternoon we heard from the Doctor who was on call when Kingsley went into cardiac arrest and it was a complete case of confusion, as she claims that she was told to go to the wrong ward and when she arrived there, there were no compressions being done and they placed him on the floor for a solid surface for compressions. Furthermore, we went on to hear the wrong breathing mask was used initially, along with the defibrillator not having any pads and there was a delay whilst an alternative one was obtained from a different ward.”

Kingsley Burrell was pronounced dead the next day. Last month, the five-week inquest concluded that the police had used excessive force and contributed to his death, as did the covering left over his head, and the neglect he so clearly suffered. It was a damning indictment not only of the police, but also of the various mental health workers and ambulance staff who allowed the brutal treatment to continue, and of the Crown Prosecution Service who refused to prosecute anyone over the death. Had the coroner allowed ‘unlawful killing’ to be considered, it is quite possible the jury would have reached this verdict.

Following the verdict, the all-too-familiar refrain of “lessons learnt” began to emanate from all corners of officialdom. Coroner Louise Hunt pronounced: “The only consolation to family members is lessons can be learnt from such a tragedy.” West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said, “Crucial lessons have been learned from this tragic case and how the force manages people who are detained with mental and physical health needs.” Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson told the press: “Clearly more lessons need to be learned by all the agencies involved so that these tragic incidents are not repeated.”

This is the same refrain that is churned out every time somebody dies while in police custody. Time and again, families are forced to battle for the truth, often for years, against all the odds – but when that truth is revealed, and the states’ culpability in the death of their loved ones is revealed, the state refuses to administer justice. Instead, it calls for ‘lessons to be learned,’ as if police officers beating a man to death is akin to a schoolboy failing a math test. As the chair of the Kingsley Burrell justice campaign Maxie Hayles commented, “We are constantly told that ‘lessons are being learned.’ The black community is totally fed up with hearing this rubbish. It’s almost like we are an experimental project.”

The truth of the matter is that, precisely because justice is never done, these ‘lessons’ are never actually learned. The Institute of Race Relations published a report into deaths in custody in March of this year, examining over 500 black and minority ethnic deaths in custody that have occurred in the UK since 1990. Their report noted that “despite narrative verdicts warning of dangerous procedures and the proliferation of guidelines, lessons are not being learnt: people die in similar ways year on year.”

Indeed, every aspect of the Kingsley Burrell case is depressingly familiar to campaigners on police brutality. Every single element of ‘what went wrong’ had already contributed to previous deaths on several occasions, and everyone has already, we have been told, resulted in ‘lessons being learnt,’ long before Kingsley’s fateful call to the police in 2011.

One such lesson is the lesson of ‘institutional racism’. This was the term used in the 1999 MacPherson report into the death of teenager Stephen Lawrence, which concluded that the police mishandling of that case was a result of the institutional racism of the Metropolitan Police. This racism results in the black community being “under-policed as victims and over-policed as suspects” in the memorable words of campaigner Stafford Scott, with racial stereotyping leading both to the excessive use of force against black people and an assumption that they are deviant.

Despite the ‘lessons learnt’ from the Lawrence case, both factors clearly played a role in Kingsley’s death. PC Shorthouse, a six-foot-four tall police officer involved in Kingsley’s death, told the inquest that his “knees were knocking together” in fear of dealing with Kingsley, prompting the family’s lawyer to ask him: “Are you sure you were not applying the stereotype of Kingsley being mad, black and dangerous?” “No, not at all,” Shorthouse replied. “He was the strongest, most aggressive person I have ever met in my career as a police officer.” Perhaps. But one wonders how much aggression Kingsley was meting out whilst sedated with his arms and legs strapped down, or whilst being beaten face down and motionless on a hospital bed.

Another explanation for the incident was put forth by the Institute of Race Relations in their examination of similar cases: “Black men, especially young black men, acting erratically or even asking for help, are stereotyped first and foremost as bad, mad, and, being black, likely to be involved in drugs and/or violent – so they are met with violence.”

Even when victims display clear warning signs of being in serious danger, police often ignore them on the grounds they believe their victims are “faking it.” As Shorthouse told the inquest, he assumed that Kingsley pleading with him that he couldn’t breathe was “tactical.” Such assumptions were also fatal in the cases of Sean Rigg, Christopher Alder and Habib Ullah, as well as many others.

Yet this ‘lesson’ – that institutional racism and racial stereotyping is dangerous and can even be fatal – is one that had supposedly already been learnt from the MacPherson report in 1999. Just for good measure, it was ‘learnt’ again in 2006 when an IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) report concluded that “unwitting racism” contributed to the death of Christopher Alder – a very generous finding given CCTV footage appeared to show the officers standing around making monkey noises whilst he lay dying – and that four of the officers present when Alder died were guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty.”

Another lesson not being learnt is that, when it comes to holding the state to account, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is not fit for purpose. In 1999, the Butler Report – an official government inquiry into deaths in custody – was seriously critical of the CPS’s obvious unwillingness to prosecute police officers. Yet given the behavior of the CPS in subsequent years, the report may as well have never been written. Even when verdicts of unlawful killing are reached, as the IRR has noted, “there has still been a marked reluctance to prosecute those implicated.” The number of prosecutions resulting from the 509 suspicious custody deaths detailed in their report can literally be counted on one hand – and even where prosecutions are brought, they are not done so effectively.

Following years of campaigning by Alder’s sister, Janet, the CPS did eventually bring a prosecution of the officers involved in Christopher Alder’s death.

However, the CPS then conflicted much of the evidence, meaning the judge had to throw it out, with the most damning evidence – the CCTV footage – never presented to the jury. Janet then brought a civil case against the CPS, in which the judge concluded that she shared Janet’s concerns “as to the standard of the investigation undertaken by West Yorkshire Police into the actions of the Humberside officers.” No surprise then, that the CPS decided last August not to prosecute the police officers implicated in Kingsley Burrell’s death, leading to a protest by the Burrell family and their supporters outside its Birmingham headquarters. Lessons learnt?

The list of lessons that should already have been learnt is endless. Another lesson concerns “positional asphyxia” – suffocation due to a person’s body position blocking their airways. The IRR report shows there have been at least nine cases of deaths in police custody where ‘positional asphyxia’ was identified as a cause of death since 1990. ACPO guidance, says the IRR, already “makes clear that placing suspects in a prone position….gives rise to the risk of death by positional asphyxia and the prone position must be avoided if possible, and minimized if unavoidable. It also recommends that body weight should not be used on the upper body (ie sitting on a suspect) to hold down a person.” This lesson was supposedly ‘learnt’ in the 1990s. Yet it did not stop the officers involved in Burrell’s case from ignoring the advice, putting him in prone position and leaning on his chest, causing the positional asphyxia which led to his cardiac arrest – just as predicted by ACPO’s guidelines. If the British state really is being ‘taught lessons,’ it must be a seriously retarded pupil.

Another lesson that should by now be well understood is that “excited delirium” is a medically dubious diagnosis routinely wheeled out by dodgy police pathologists desperate to avoid verdicts of positional asphyxia at inquests. Refuted by the vast majority of medical experts, this did not stop police pathologists bringing it up both at Kingsley’s inquest, and at the inquest of Habib Ullah earlier this year.

At least the pathologists are giving distorted interpretations of the facts, however, rather than simply making them up. Another lesson is that it is not only racism that is apparently institutional in the police force – so too are cover-ups and lying. Last week, hearings for gross misconduct began against police officers involved in the death of Habib Ullah, all five of whom heavily doctored their witness statements to the IPCC about what happened, removing references to the use of force used, to other witnesses on the scene, to warning signs of his deteriorating condition and much else besides.

As Gerry Boyle, presenting the case against the officers, said: “The nature and extent of the deletions and amendments these five officers made were on a breathtaking scale, covering almost every single aspect of the incident.” (Needless to say, the CPS dismissed the IPCC’s suggestion that those involved be charged with perjury and various other charges). At Kingsley’s inquest, a similar pattern emerged. The testimony of PC Adey and ambulance driver Mr MacDonald-Booth were particularly shameless. Various witnesses had testified that, after his restraints were taken off, Kingsley’s arms dropped to his sides and he never moved again. “I know what I saw” PC Adey said, “he raised his head.” Incredulous, the coroner replied: “I suggest you are wrong, officer.”

In an earlier statement, Adey said he had seen this through a window in the door. But it emerged in the inquest that this window was covered by a locked hatch to which only nurses had the key. Adey also insisted that Kingsley’s face was uncovered, contradicting evidence from six other witnesses that his face was covered with a towel or sheet. “How can they all be wrong, officer?” asked the coroner, showing him CCTV photographs of Kingsley’s head covered. He said he wasn’t looking at him at the time. Adey also denied kneeling on Kingsley’s back, as had been described by two other witnesses.

The coroner, Louise Hunt, also became exasperated with Mr Macdonald-Booth, the ambulance driver, whose testimony in the inquest directly contradicted his own earlier statements. Mr MacDonald-Booth, it turns out, had only recently joined the ambulance service, having previously been – any guesses? – a police officer.

We were told ‘lessons had been learnt’ from the Hillsborough disaster, where police had systematically lied about the 96 football fans killed as a result of poor policing in 1989; we were told the same about the miners’ strike – where police had systematically lied about those they arrested at Orgreave; and again after “Plebgate”, when police officers had lied about what they heard Andrew Mitchell say in Downing St. Lessons learnt? Kingsley’s inquest suggests otherwise.

Yet lessons are being learnt. The real lesson – being taught again and again – is that impunity prevails; that, if you are an agent of the British state, you can falsify your evidence, you can lie in court, you can attack people from vulnerable or minority groups at will, and whatever happens – even if you kill them – that state will protect you. We don’t need any more lessons to be learnt; indeed we have had enough of this lesson being learnt. What we need is for justice to be done.

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The new war in Libya part 2: Is Haftar doing the West’s dirty work? 

19th September 2019

Sources: Libya's Haftar to meet US President Trump at the White House

On April 4th 2019, the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, launched a new offensive on Tripoli. The move came just ten days before a major peace conference was due to take place, under the auspices of the UN, to flesh out an agreement between Haftar and his rival Serraj al-Fayez made a month earlier – and it appears to have been at the behest of – or at least given the green light by – Saudi Arabia. 

 

On March 28th, one week before Haftar launched his offensive, Haftar was in Riyadh meeting with the two most powerful men in the kingdom – King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. Senior advisors to the Saudi government told the Wall Street Journal that, at this meeting, Haftar was promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation. And once it was underway, Saudi-linked twitter accounts launched an “avalanche of tweets” in support of Haftar, according to journalist Mary Fitzgerald. 

 

But why would the Western world’s number one Arab ally be sponsoring an offensive against a government – the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) – which was not only backed by, but in fact largely a creation of, the West itself? Are we seeing an unprecedented divergence between Saudi Arabia and its Anglo-American allies? Is this the beginning of the end of the Saudis’ long-established role of doing the West’s bidding in the region? Has Saudi Arabia gone rogue? Or is something else going on? 

 

Saudi Arabia has a long track record of doing the West’s dirty work, financing violence which the US and UK governments want carried out, but would prefer not to be directly associated with. The current pummelling of Yemen and the building up of Syrian anti-government death squads since 2011 are but the most recent examples; in the 1980s the Nicaraguan contras, UNITA rebels in Angola, the Lebanese Phalangists and the Afghan Mujahideen were all recipients of Saudi largesse; and in the 1970s, the House of Saud bankrolled King Hussein’s attack on the PLO in Jordan. In every case, Saudi Arabia was financing and equipping the enemies of governments and movements deemed undesirable by the CIA. Are we to believe that this mutually-serving relationship has now come to an end? 

 

There is, of course, another explanation: that the Libyan National Army’s attack on GNA-held Tripoli does, in fact, serve western goals just as surely as it serves those of the Saudis. For, whilst the GNA is indeed a creation of the West, it – like so many others before it – has increasingly come to see more of a future, economically at least, with China. 

 

In May last year, the GNA signed a major oil contract with PetroChina, paving the way for GNA’s decision to sign up to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – also known as ‘One Belt One Road’ – in July. Involving over $1trillion of Chinese infrastructure investment across 152 countries, the BRI is the most ambitious attempt to promote South-South relations and reduce trade dependence on the Western world since the end of the colonial era. Trump’s policy towards the BRI was neatly summed up by his former National Security Advisor Steve Bannon in just eight words “Let’s go screw up One Belt One Road”. Following the GNA’s momentous decision to be part of it, notes Samuel Ramani in The Diplomat, “the GNA’s diplomatic outreach toward China has intensified and broadened. In September 2018, al-Sarraj openly called for an expansion of Chinese investment in Libya, and at the February 2019 Munich Security Conference, GNA representatives lauded Libya as a potential gateway for Chinese economic influence in central Africa.” 

 

To those such as Trump, such statements are a red rag to a bull. Trump has made economic war on China a cornerstone of his foreign policy; for the GNA to openly tout Libya as a “gateway” for Chinese economic influence in Africa, then, is a major snub to their US overlords. And China has been receptive, too: continues Ramani, “ In response to these statements, Chinese Ambassador to Libya Li Zhiguo praised the GNA for improving Tripoli’s security situation and stated that China had plans for a swift expansion of its economic presence in Libya”. 

 

Is it so far-fetched to suspect that the US might have approved Haftar’s operation against the GNA in order to punish their insubordination over China – and to entrench their dependence on Western military support? 

 

There is much evidence that the West has indeed been ‘cooling’ in its attitude towards the Libyan government it created. Shortly after Haftar launched his latest offensive, GNA Prime Minister Al Serraj toured Europe’s capitals seeking public condemnations of the LNA advance. He did not receive them; instead, he was rebuffed by both French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. Al Monitor comments, “By failing to explicitly support Sarraj’s demands, the UN Security Council and European nations appear more willing to forgive Hifter’s military advance than the GNA’s ongoing inadequacies as a functional government. Therefore, the GNA, a direct product of the international community, is now being abandoned by it.”  

 

Likewise, the International Crisis Group notes that to the extent that “escalation” – carefully worded to avoid singling out the aggressor – has been condemned by the US, UK, France, Italy and others, “none of these statements included the threat of sanctions and none made explicit mention of the need to support the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.” They add thatTo many Libyans this suggests that foreign governments are tacitly backing Haftar in his ambition to seize the capital and power” 

 

The GNA even apparently feels let down by the UK, the power which arguably did the most to push for both the NATO destruction of the Jamihiriya in 2011, and for the installing of the GNA in Tripoli in 2016. Notes the BBC: “Militia leader and GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha accused the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, of abandoning Tripoli in its hour of need by withdrawing British military and embassy staff from the city when it came under attack. Relations between the countries had been “damaged” by this, he said, and it would be difficult to rebuild them in a short space of time.” The Foreign Office response to this was decidedly not to reassure the GNA that they had the full support of the UK, but merely to note that Britain is “in contact” with the GNA. The Guardian added that, according to then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, “The UK is not ruling out the warlord Khalifa Haftar from a role in a future Libyan government despite his attack on the capital.” Ahmed Maiteeq, Libya’s deputy prime minister, concluded that “Britain just left Libya behind.” 

 

France, meanwhile, has long had a relationship with the LNA and Haftar – who received emergency medical treatment in Paris in 2018 – with the depth of their involvement made public when three French soldiers were killed fighting alongside LNA units in Libya in 2016. Shortly after the advance on Tripoli began in April this year, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, explained that France backed Haftar because he had “fought terrorism in Benghazi and the south of Libya, and that’s in our interest.” The LNA victories in Southern Libya which preceded the attack on Tripoli had been “facilitated by French military operations” according to the intelligence analysts at Jamestown Foundation, whilst a high-ranking government official from the GNA’s Presidency Council has claimed that the French operate a drone control room at the Sidra oil terminal in northern Libya which they are using to attack GNA positions. In May the GNA decided to take revenge on French interests in Libya in May by suspending the operations of 40 French companies, including oil giant Total, who had been operating in the country. 

 

Then there is the US. Haftar was, of course, a Virginia-based CIA asset for decades before returning to Libya with NATO in 2011, and has, according to the New York Times, now allowed the CIA to establish a base in LNA-controlled Benghazi. Following the attack on Tripoli, the US threatened to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, with the UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame commenting “The American line was to say: no, give war a chance.” According to the Guardian, one US “diplomat said the US was more adamant in its opposition than Russia, which had asked for amendments to make the resolution more “balanced” and less explicitly anti-Haftar, but did not go so far as brandishing a security council veto.” US President Trump had apparently had a phone call with Haftar on 15th April, and had been impressed. 

 

Yet none of this necessarily means that the US and its European hangers-on actually seek an LNA/ Haftar victory. As I have argued elsewhere, the aim of Western policy towards the global South today appears to be the creation not of Cold War-style puppet regimes, but rather of ‘failed states’. Unable to compete with China financially, the old imperial powers understand that any stable regional power today – however capitalist, pro-western, or right wing – is far more likely to be drawn towards economic ties with China than the West, and that this threatens the entire edifice of South-to-North wealth-extraction that has been carefully crafted over hundreds of years. By this analysis, a stable Libya under either the GNA or the LNA is equally unwelcome to the West; far preferable is a Libya at war with itself: precisely the scenario, that is, that has been imposed on Libya by NATO ever since 2011. 

 

This makes the Saudi intervention just days before the April UN peace talks were due to begin much more comprehensible. Although it is easy to say in hindsight, of course, these talks did appear to have a much greater chance of success than previous attempts. The summer 2018 attack on GNA-controlled Tripoli by an alliance involving some of the powerful Misratan militias which had been sidelined by the GNA shocked Prime Minister Al-Serraj into incorporating some of them into his government. These militias in turn had a more open attitude towards dealing with Haftar’s LNA, and, on the eve of the planned UN peace conference in April, had succeeded in pushing the GNA towards a more conciliatory attitude. One former US official told Al-Monitor that Haftar was offered a “very generous” deal to join forces with the GNA, in which he would be head of the country’s united armed forces, subject to civilian oversight, but with the prime minister being  “hands off in terms of military operations”. Indeed, such an agreement had already been reached in principle between Serraj and Haftar during talks in the UAE in February. Had the West and its regional proxies at that point made their continued military and financial support for Haftar contingent on his cooperation with this process, he would have had little choice but to comply; instead, as we know, they did precisely the opposite, offering him millions of dollars to reject the talks and advance on Tripoli. 

 

Haftar, then, appears to have been pushed to launch a self-defeating war just when the western militias were ready to contemplate power-sharing. The result is both the weakening of the China-friendly GNA and the deepening of Libya’s civil war – exactly in accordance with western strategic aims. Bringing these two elements together is the fact that China had in fact been a key player pushing for peace. Notes Ramani, “In order to subtly advance the GNA’s position without jeopardizing its neutrality, China has actively supported a ceasefire in Libya, as the GNA has historically possessed an upper hand in peace negotiations, due to its status as Libya’s UN-recognized government.” He adds that “China’s adherence to strict multilateralism in Libya reflects its skeptical view of the ability of external stakeholders to constructively influence the situation in Libya” and that “China’s May 21 expression of support for an expansion of the African Union’s (AU) role in ending hostilities in Libya also aligns with these principles, as the AU has consistently called for a ceasefire in Libya without external interference.” All this has now been thrown into the fire. 

 

It is not simply guesswork to speculate that the Saudis and the West are aiming to keep Libya weak and warring, however: there are ample historical precedents.  In the 1980s, for example, the US and the Saudis ‘supported’ Iraq’s war with Iran with weapons and financial backing. Was this because they genuinely sought a strong, stable Iraq? Just to ask the question immediately exposes the idea as ridiculous. Before the war was even over, it was revealed that the CIA was secretly shipping weapons to Iran as well, whilst the war-wracked Iraqi economy came under concerted attack from US proxy Kuwait through the outright theft of its oil. The US then ultimately used the resulting Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which they had earlier greenlighted, as an excuse to rain hell on Iraq’s (retreating) army, as well as its civilian infrastructure. They then spent 12 years systematically rendering the Iraqi state defenceless before finally destroying it altogether. 

Likewise, the Vance-Owen Bosnian peace plan was, in 1992,  on the verge of acceptance by all sides, before the US pressed their proxies (namely the leader of the Bosnian Muslim faction, Izetbegovic) to reject the deal and keep fighting. Finally, after three more years of war, a virtually identical deal was signed up to by the mutually exhausted parties. 

In Libya today, just as in 1980s Iraq, the West’s proxies are again backing both sides, whilst, as in 1990s Bosnia, they are pushing their dependents into rejecting peace and stepping up their attacks. Meanwhile, the stream of weapons to both the LNA from NATO-allied Saudi Arabia and UAE, and to the GNA from NATO-allied Turkey and Qatar continues apace; there are UN sanctions against shipments, but, notes Bloomsberg, they “are among the world’s least enforced”. In fact, peace would be relatively easy to bring about, should the Western powers actually seek it; as Jason Pack points out in Al-Monitor, “If the main international players would look past their sunk costs and find a common interest in a stable Libya, they might see a fairly simple way out of the seemingly endless wars of post-Gadhafi succession: denying all sides access to external sources of funding and arms, while also forcing the Libyan central bank and the internationally recognized government to eliminate subsidies and cut salaries to militiamen on all sides.” 

Instead, through its proxies, the West continues to sponsor a mutually destructive war between the two rival governments its (repeated) intervention has spawned. 

Originally published in Counterpunch magazine

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The Brexit Referendum: A Historic Moment in Europe’s Slide to Fascism

Originally posted 26th June 2016

Pro Brexit Rally, London UK, organised by UKIP with far right ...

This is indeed a ‘historic moment’, and will be seen as a key

date in future histories of Europe’s current descent into open

fascism. The Brexit movement was driven, first and foremost, by

hostility to foreigners (immigrants), supplemented on occasion

by some pseudo-leftist rhetoric, with an overall narrative

framework emphasizing the decline of national supremacy and

the need to reverse this. The three main elements, that is,

constituent of fascism.

 

Some of my leftist friends tell me this kind of

characterization of Brexit doesn’t help, that it puts the backs up

of sections of the white working class. But the requirements of

political activism cannot be privileged above those of intellectual

honesty; and any strategy lacking an honest assessment of the

real situation is doomed to failure anyhow, however politely we

put things.

 

This proto-fascist movement, then, as I shall continue to

call it, will provide – and clearly, judging by their elated

statements, has already provided – a major boost to all the far

right and proto-fascist forces on the continent. As these forces

are empowered ‘on the streets’ this will, obviously, increase the

physical threat already faced by immigrants and refugees across

the continent. At the same time, it will push European

governments, and the EU itself, in the direction of ever more

hostile policies towards immigrants and refugees, to show they

have ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’ the ‘message’ of the Brexit

vote. This trajectory already exists within the EU, as evident in

the rapid turnaround, under far right pressure, from the initial,

fairly humane, principle proposed by the EU in response to the

Syrian refugee crisis two years ago – to disperse refugees across

the continent according to a quota based on the wealth and

population of host countries – to the policy of allowing refugees

to drown, sinking their boats, or sending them back to Turkey.

All these tendencies will now be greatly strengthened.

 

On an ideological level, Brexit has deepened, legitimized

and popularized the scapegoating of immigrants for the

economic consequences of neoliberal capitalism. Poverty, low

wages, unemployment, and declining public services are all now

associated, in the public mind, with immigration. This

ideological work, of course, did not begin with Brexit, but has

been greatly boosted and developed by it. By drawing attention

away from failures of government policy and the economic

system – cuts to public services, housing and wage markets

heavily skewed in favour of powerful investors, anti-union laws,

failed and costly privatisations, and the unemployment-inducing

impact of technology under capitalism, for example – it actually

allows the further, unimpeded, development of the neoliberal

agenda. And whilst Jeremy Corbyn made a valiant effort at

refocusing attention on such policies every time he discussed the

issue, this narrative was completely overwhelmed by the deluge

of anti-immigrant analysis coming from every other quarter, the

Remain camp included. Intriguingly, he is now being hounded

from within his own party for being ‘too timid’ in his

campaigning: code for not lining up strongly enough with the

anti-immigration agenda in order to ‘show the grassroots he is

listening’. Unfortunately, centuries of colonial supremacist

brainwashing has taken its toll on the collective psyche of this

nation, and that worldview continues to be backed up by

material privileges accruing to the British section of the global

working class. Indeed, it is precisely the defence of declining

privileges which is the guiding principle of fascism (as opposed

to socialism, which advocates liberation of the entire proletariat,

rather than privileges for one section of it).

 

We are told this vote is the democratic will of the people.

Yet democracy, if it means anything, means that those affected

by political decisions are able to exert some influence over those

decisions. In this case, millions of those affected – indeed, the

most affected, EU immigrants themselves (British taxpayers, no

less) – were barred from voting. Their combined vote would

certainly have tipped the vote the other way, by quite a margin.

The vote itself was thus illegitimate and undemocratic, and it is

testament to just how fearful mainstream politicians are of

voicing ‘pro-migrant’ sentiment that no prominent remainer has

ever, to my knowledge, pointed this out.

 

We often hear the refrain that this was a ‘blow to the

establishment’. It was no such thing. The truth is, there was a

split in the establishment – a civil war in the Tory party, between

the centre right and the far right. The far right wing of the

establishment (led by a banker and two Etonian Cabinet

members no less) won by mobilising latent anti-immigrant

sentiment, peppered with the occasional pseudo-left policy

gimmick; again, straight out of the fascist playbook.

 

None of this, please note, is a defence of the EU. Most of

the ‘leftist’ arguments I have heard against the EU (ie, apart from

the anti-immigrant ones) have been essentially correct. It is

neoliberal, it is militarist, it is, yes, even fascist, at least in

elements of its foreign policy (drowning refugees, supporting

supremacist death squads in Libya and Ukraine). But this

trajectory will not be reversed by Brexit, either within the EU, or

within Britain. Brexit is a part of the same movement: capitalist

crisis driving a section of the establishment towards outright

fascism, mobilizing the alienated masses in the process. Brexit

will free the British ruling class to more avowedly discriminate

against immigrants, rip up (what remains of) workers rights and

environmental standards, avoid banking regulations, arm

proxies without worrying about EU arms embargoes, etc – which

will generate immense pressure for other member states be

given similar freedoms in order to bribe them to stay within the EU.

 

And the argument that the EU itself will be weakened also

seems to miss the point. The EU is merely the coordinated

actions of its members. There is no reason to think that, even if

it collapses entirely, its constituent elements will be any less

destructive. Historically, there is no basis for the belief that

fascism is any less warlike than ‘ordinary’ imperialism; quite the

contrary.

 

In its choice of question, the referendum was rigged. A

meaningful choice would have between three broad suggestions:

no change; a shift to the right; or shift to the left. Obviously this

one only included the first two. And who ever wants to vote for

the status quo? Certainly not those who have been battered by

an increasingly vicious economic system implemented by an

equally vicious political elite. The British working class have

been neglected, mocked, or demonized for years whilst their jobs

have disappeared, their wages stagnated and their public

services decimated. The tragedy is that the resulting anger has

been channelled towards the movement it has.

 

The most compelling argument I have heard in favour of

Brexit – the only potential silver lining, really – is that, by

providing new grounds for Scottish independence, it may lead to

the break-up of the UK. Such a turn of events would certainly be

welcome. But it is far from inevitable. If Scots did not vote for

independence in the middle of an oil price boom, it is unlikely

they will see independence as economically viable now prices are

barely a third of what they were then. And a new far right Brexit

government is likely to put the boot in even harder than last time

to prevent such an outcome.

 

It is time for socialists to give up on the illusion that a

genuinely internationalist socialist movement can ever take

power in the West under anything like the current conditions. It

is this illusion that leads them up such disastrous blind alleys as

supporting far right takeovers ‘just in case’ a socialist

government one day inexplicably comes about and uses that

newly found ‘sovereignty’ for something other than hounding

foreigners or granting impunity to financiers. Rather, we need to

organize a genuinely internationalist socialist movement that is

realistic about what it can and can’t achieve, and provides

whatever it can in the way of ideological resistance and practical

solidarity to those under attack – from either ‘wing’ of the ruling

class

 

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The new war in Libya part 1: Government in Name Alone: How NATO’s new ‘Libyan government’ entrenched militia misrule

Originally published in Counterpunch magazine, June 2019

Image result for Abderrahman Swehli

Abderrahman Swehli, UK-backed Misrata militiaman whose support for the ‘Government of National Accord’ ensured it functioned as a front for the paramilitaries

By late 2015, the West’s Libya policy was in total disarray.

To the untrained eye, of course, it looked as though it had been in disarray from the start. The 2011 intervention had, after all, turned the country into a death squad free-for-all, destroying state authority, and drawing militias from across the region – including Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and ISIS – to its vast territory to set up camps, loot state armouries, and train the fighters who went on to attack Tunisia, Nigeria, Algeria, Manchester and elsewhere. The 30,000-strong city of Tawergha – the only black African town on the Mediterranean – was completely ethnic cleansed by NATO’s proxies; it is now a ghost town, it’s former inhabitants scattered across refugee camps where they are still hunted down and killed to this day. Thousands of African migrants remain detained in illegal facilities by the country’s hundreds of militias, where they face regular torture and rape, and public slave auctions have been reintroduced. The country remains at war, without a functioning government, facing rampant inflation and regular power cuts. The criminal justice system has collapsed throughout much of the country, which remains under the control of ever more powerful and unaccountable armed groups. Per capita income has collapsed by more than a third, from $12,250 in 2010 to $7,820.28 in 2014, whilst the country has dropped 40 places in the UN’s human development index, from 53 in 2010 to 94 in 2015. Life expectancy has dropped by three years over the same time period.

If the goal was, as NATO proclaimed, to improve human rights, then, by any standards, the intervention was an utter disaster.

But no serious person ever believed it was really about that. NATO – with Britain leading the charge – was concerned about Gaddafi’s growing influence on the African continent, his role as a bulwark against US and UK military encroachment, and the money he was pouring into financial institutions explicitly designed to reduce African dependence on the IMF and World Bank. As with the previous intervention in Iraq, however, the goal was not only to remove this particular thorn-in-the-side but in fact to prevent the country from ever again re-emerging as a strong, unified independent power. The goal was not to change the government, then – but to prevent effective government altogether. To this end the leading NATO powers have consistently acted to ensure the country’s hundreds of rival militias are empowered and remain at war with one other. From this point of view, the West’s Libya policy has been a roaring success. But by 2015 it had come under serious threat.

Under the tutelage of the NATO-imposed government, the years following the 2011 bombardment saw the power of the militias entrenched. Rather than disbanding them, or attempting to bring them under a unified chain of command, the new regime began arming them and paying their salaries. Faced with few other prospects, young people flocked to join, and the number of militiamen grew from a maximum of 25,000 who fought in 2011 to 140,000 two years later. Naturally, those in charge of these armed gangs – accountable to no one but themselves – grew in power as their numbers and resources swelled, and turf warfare was common. The rule of the gun had become institutionalised.

By 2014, Libyans were sick of it. Seeing as the government was effectively toothless, hostage to the militias it had empowered, elections were largely seen as a waste of time at best, a process with no other function than to legitimise a dysfunctional status quo. Turnout in the 2014 elections was estimated at less than 20%, down from 60% two years earlier. Yet the result was nevertheless a blow to the militias, with their political sponsors – Libya’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood – the biggest losers. The militias’ parliamentary patrons had suffered a decisive defeat; and one they did not accept. In July 2014, they launched an attack on Tripoli to drive the new government out of the capital. By August they had succeeded, and the newly elected House of Representatives was forced to relocate to Tobruk in the east. But the House of Representatives had two major assets on their side. Firstly, the Libyan National Army (LNA), the country’s largest and most effective single fighting force – had pledged its allegiance to them. Over the year that followed, the LNA made steady gains, and by the end of 2015, after almost two years of fighting, were on the verge of retaking Benghazi from a coalition of militias led by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia. Secondly, as the elected parliament, they were internationally recognised as the legitimate government of Libya.

To add to NATO’s headaches, supporters of the pre-2011 government were growing in strength. Despite criminalisation – the notorious Law 37 had made open support for Gaddafi a crime punishable by life imprisonment – the ‘Green Resistance’, as it became known, was becoming ever more emboldened and popular. The stark difference between the relatively prosperous and stable lives people had led under Gaddafi, and the disaster which they were living now, became harder and harder to ignore. By August 2015, as a kangaroo court handed down death sentences to 8 former ministers, including Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, the green movement was openly leading large public demonstrations across the country, even in ISIS-occupied Sirte. At the same time, the east of the country was moving towards a reconciliation with the Green Movement, with the House of Representatives allowing Gaddafi’s widow to return from exile, and the LNA openly recruiting Gaddafi loyalists, including Gaddafi’s Tuareg commander General Ali Kanna, into its forces.

And finally – particularly worrying for the forces of disorder that had unleashed chaos on Libya – an end to the civil war between the two parliaments even seemed to be finally in sight. The two warring sides – Operation Dawn, which supported the General National Congress, the parliament of the defeated militias, and Operation Dignity, the Libyan National Army-led operation in support of the elected House of Representatives – had signed a ceasefire in January 2015, and by November of that year had made substantial progress towards a compromise resolution of their differences.

If NATO wanted to stop these moves towards unity, reconciliation, and defeat of the militias, they would have to act fast. That’s where the UN came in.

The UN had created UNSMIL (the UN ‘Support Mission in Libya’) in 2011, ostensibly to promote reconciliation between the various militias which had emerged, and UNSMIL had then set up the ‘Libya Dialogue’ in September 2014, following the fall of Tripoli to the Libya Dawn faction. Clearly dominated by Libya’s conquerors – its meetings often took place in London or Rome, under the watchful eye of British, Italian, US and IMF officials – it was rejected by Libyan nationalists, who instead favoured direct negotiations, without outside interference. Thus, in December 2015, there were two parallel sets of negotiations taking place – the UNSMIL Libya Dialogue (boycotted by the GNC parliament) and the the so-called ‘Libya-Libya Dialogue’ involving direct, unmediated discussions between the heads of the two parliaments. Whilst the UNSMIL version seemed to be getting nowhere – with both sides sceptical of its Western overlords – the direct negotiations were bearing serious fruit. Meeting in Malta and Muscat in December 2015, the heads of both warring parliaments endorsed an initiative to create a unity government appointed by a prime minister and two deputies chosen in turn by both parliaments. But a workable agreement between Libyan parties, based on a principled rejection of outside interference, was the exact opposite of what the UN’s controllers were seeking. For over a year, UNSMIL had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the two parliaments to support their own deeply flawed plan, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). Now, as the Libyans’ own process was gaining momentum, desperation was growing amongst Western officials that their plan was becoming marginalised.  As one EU diplomat candidly admitted, “the pressure to sign the accord came from Political Dialogue members who feared that the Libya-Libya initiative could gain popular traction”. Unsurprisingly, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), “the most engaged Security Council permanent members – the U.S., UK and France – were particularly vocal in pushing the UN to finalise the deal”. The very powers who had destroyed Libya four years earlier were desperate that they not be sidelined by an independent Libyan initiative.

Fear of the rival negotiations gaining momentum was not the only thing driving the west’s urgency to impose a ‘deal’, however. There was also real fear that the LNA might actually win the war. As one Western official told the ICG: “Not signing and endorsing the accord would have been a major defeat for those like us who had been advocating a negotiated power-sharing deal as the only solution to the Libya crisis. It would have meant a failure of the principle of negotiations, and that would have allowed those governments that throughout 2015 had advocated direct unilateral action in support of the HoR and its government to declare victory.” This is a clear admission that the LPA was aimed at giving a shot in the arm to the flailing militias, to bolster them and prevent their defeat in the face of a unified National Army representing the elected parliament.

The problem for supporters of the western-drafted LPA remained, however, its lack of support amongst Libyan stakeholders. For a start, neither parliament endorsed the agreement; indeed, said the ICG, “A substantial HoR majority opposed the military and security provisions” whilst the GNC were boycotting the talks altogether. Furthermore, the real powers on the ground – the armed groups actually in control of Libyan territory – were not consulted, and were mostly opposed to it. The ICG concluded that “In retrospect, proponents inflated support for the accord within the rival legislatures to justify going forward.  The claim of majority backing was factually dubious – many members supported an agreement in principle but differed widely on details – and politically misleading, since key opponents were outside the HoR and the GNC and had military power to intimidate supporters”.

Lacking support for its deal, but anxious to impose it to prevent the possibility of either a LNA victory or a Libyan-led negotiated settlement, the UN simply cobbled together a handpicked group of willing members from each parliament to sign up to their flawed blueprint (It was fitting that the man brought in to do this was named Martin Kobler). Thus, the Skhirat Agreement, as it became known, was signed by an arbitrary group of unrepresentative Libyans in Morocco on December 17th 2015. It was instantly anointed the holy bible of Libyan politics by the Western powers.  And yet, “There is no real political agreement”, a senior UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) official admitted. “This is an agreement to support those who seem trustworthy for the sake of saving the country”. Saving it, that is, from unity and independence. This was naked colonialism of the pure and shameless nineteenth century variety.

Nevertheless, the western-imposed LPA did initially manage to gain some degree of support, or at least acceptance, both within Libya, and amongst non-western powers abroad. Khalifa Haftar, leader of the LNA, whilst not officially endorsing the deal, did cooperate with it at first, meeting Kobler the day before its signing and proposing a close associate, Ali Qatrani, for the Presidency Council it created. Aguila Saleh, head of the House of Representatives, gave tentative support to the deal on 31st December 2015, two weeks after its signing. On the GNC side, the Misratan leader Abderrahman Swehli gave last minute support to the deal, bringing with him a large number of the Misratan militias, a move which, according the ICG, “changed the force balance in the deal’s favour”. And at the UN, Russian and Chinese support ensured the deal achieved Security Council endorsement on 23rd December.

The LPA’s support from Saleh and Haftar (briefly) and Russia (more long term) warrants closer scrutiny. After all, in hindsight at least, the LPA has functioned effectively to bolster and legitimise the very militias which Haftar’s Russian-backed LNA is fighting. In practice, the sole function of the GNA (Government of National Accord) which was created by the ‘agreement’ has been – much like that of its Syrian cousin, the erstwhile Free Syrian Army – the provision of international recognition, funding and weaponry to any militia that pledges nominal allegiance to it, without actually having to submit to any unified chain of command. The GNA truly is a Government in Name Alone.

Yet this was not necessarily obvious at the time. Not unlike Security Council 1973 which paved the way for NATO intervention in 2011, the LPA’s drafters made sure to include many tempting concessions to its potential opponents, safe in the knowledge they could simply be ignored once the deal was signed. In the case of UNSC 1973, provisions were made for negotiations to take place before any military action began, and for any intervention which did occur to be strictly limited to a no-fly zone and preventing the Libyan army retaking Benghazi. Much to the humiliation of the African Union, which had predicated its endorsement precisely on these measures, all of them were ignored by NATO even before the ink had dried.

In the case of the LPA, on paper, it looked like it was biased, if anything, towards the House of Representatives, not the militia-backed GNC. This was not entirely surprising, given that the HoR had participated in the ‘Libya Dialogue’ talks which preceded it, which the GNC had boycotted. Under the terms of the LPA, the HoR would remain the official Libyan parliament, and creation of any new government would be conditional on HoR ratification: effectively the HoR was granted power of veto over any arrangements which would emerge. For the HoR, and its supporters in the LNA and outside Libya, then, on the face of it, there was nothing to lose.

As with UNSC 1973, however, these provisions were to be entirely ignored. Under the terms of the agreement, a Presidency Council would be formed, made up of nominees from both parliaments. This Council would then appoint a government, which would be dependent on approval by the HoR. Yet, the UN Security Council itself violated the agreement within a week of its signing, by ‘recognising’ a government which had not only not yet been formed, but which, according to the terms of the LPA, could not be formed without HoR approval. This approval has never been granted; yet the GNA’s Cabinet was nonetheless created on January 2nd (where, lacking support in Libya, it operated from Tunisia) by the Council President, Fayez al-Sarraj, triggering a boycott of the Council by two of its (eastern) members. Given that under the terms of the LPA security decisions could only be taken by the Council with the unanimous support of its five deputies, the PC thus no longer had the authority to make these decisions. This too was simply ignored.

Another sticking point emerged in March 2016, when the GNA moved to Tripoli, opposed by both the GNC and the HoR. According to the LPA, to be integrated into state security forces, militias were required to give up their weapons. Lacking any enforcement power of its own, however, the GNA simply ignored this provision too, and effectively paid a cartel of, mostly Misratan, militias to provide it with protection. Meanwhile British, Italian and German warships were stationed off the city’s coastto cow incalcitrant forces into acquiescence, reportedly sending text messages to the various militias warning them not to attempt to resist the GNA’s imposition. Nevertheless, the GNA still only managed to gain control of three of the country’s ministries, with most of the ‘government’ operating from the city’s naval base. Unsurprisingly, it was once again “Most notably the U.S. and UK,” notes the ICG, who “were lobbying for moving the Presidency Council to Tripoli and recognising the unity government as the legitimate government as soon as possible, even without formal HoR endorsement”.

A report in the UK newspaper The Independent later that month revealed why these governments were in such a rush. On 25th March 2016, it reported on a leaked briefing from King Abdullah in Jordan confirming that British and American special forces were on the ground in Libya, working with the Misratan militias. Granting such militias pseudo-legitimacy through their association with the GNA was crucial to provide a semblance of legality to these operations – which were, after all, military operations in support of armed gangs at war with the country’s elected parliament.

The following month the takeover of the GNA by the western militias was formalised by the appointment of Abderrahman Swehli, representing a bloc of Misratan militia, as President of the High State Council. The High State Council was created by the LPA as an ‘advisory body’ to the GNA, to be composed of former members of the GNC, the parliament which had lost the 2014 elections. Swehli, says the ICG, was viewed by “many Libyans… as the architect of the July 2014 “Libya Dawn” operation and the “Libya Sunrise” siege of eastern oil terminals later that year.” He was the man, in other words, who had initiated the armed overthrow of the elected government following the 2014 elections.

Thus, what looked on paper like an arrangement favouring the HoR – who would retain a veto over appointments – against the GNC – whose role was supposed to be ‘advisory’ – came in practice to be a means of transferring legitimacy from the elected HoR to the (electorally defeated) Tripoli and Misratan militias backing the GNA, with the provisions relating to the HoR’s role simply ignored.

It did not take long for the US and UK to utilise this transfer of legitimacy to start channelling arms to their favoured factions. Within days of Serraj announcing in May that the GNA was ready to start work (triggering the resignation of another four ministers, given the blatant illegality of operating without approval from the elected parliament), the UN Security Council declared it would start arming the GNA (that is, the militias now working under its banner, but not its command). It is worth noting here that the UNSC had consistently refused to lift the arms embargo on Libya when the HoR was the internationally-recognised government, battling Al Qaeda and ISIS-aligned forces in Benghazi (forces which often had tacit support from the GNA).

Indeed, the very next month, Britain successfully lobbied the UNSC to adopt a resolution mandating existing EU anti-migrant naval operations in the Mediterranean (‘Operation Sophia’) to also enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya. Now that the embargo on the GNA militias had been removed, this meant specifically cutting off arms to the LNA.

Thus the LPA, and the GNA it created, have served to legitimise the militias that have laid waste to Libya, whilst delegitimising the Libyan National Army and the elected parliament. Part of the reason for this was the desire to see that the LNA did not take Sirte.

For years, the LNA had been at the forefront of the fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya, and had completed its liberation of Benghazi from their affiliates in February 2016. The militias aligned to the GNA, meanwhile, had generally been at best ambivalent about such groups. If Britain and the US were to keep Libya out of the hands of the LNA, therefore, it needed to ensure its own favoured militias retook ISIS territory, and not the LNA. Top of the agenda was Sirte. The city had fallen to ISIS in May 2015, and, following its successful Benghazi operation, the LNA then began the march to retake Sirte. This was when British special forces were inserted to make sure this did not happen. Ultimately, Sirte did fall to the British-led Misratan militias and not to the LNA, in an operation more or less completed by the end of the year.

Thus, the LPA – and the Government in Name Alone it created – achieved NATO’s goals of both scuppering the Libyan-led dialogue then underway, and arresting the progress of the Libyan National Army. It has done so by transferring legitimacy from the elected parliament to the various rival militias vying for control of western Libya – and in the process, it has bolstered and entrenched militia rule.

A recent report by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs gave a stark outline of the impact this has had on Tripoli. Titled “Tripoli’s Militia Cartel: How Ill-Conceived Stabilisation Blocks Political Progress, and Risks Renewed War”, it is worth quoting at length. The report wrote that, on its arrival in Tripoli, “The Presidency Council rapidly fell under the influence of the militias protecting it and made little effort to reach out to others”. Within a year, a cartel of four militias had established themselves as an effective oligopoly, running most of central Tripoli. “The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) backed the militias’ expansion with its tacit approval,” the report adds, “as well as with advice to GNA officials who liaised with the armed groups…Under the Presidency Council’s watch, the militia oligopoly in Tripoli has consolidated into a cartel. The militias are no longer merely armed groups that exert their influence primarily through coercive force. They have grown into networks spanning politics, business, and the administration….To pursue [their] fraudulent practices, commanders in Tripoli’s large armed groups began placing agents throughout the administration. Since late 2016, new appointments in ministries and other government bodies have been overwhelmingly made under pressure from the militias. Through their representatives in the administration, the networks associated with the militias are increasingly able to operate in a coordinated manner across different institutions. According to politicians, militia leaders, and bureaucrats in Tripoli, the Presidency Council and the GNA have become a mere façade, behind which the armed groups and their associated interests are calling the shots.” By establishing protection rackets, kidnappings, and extorting local banks to help them operate black market currency rackets, these militias are becoming ever more wealthy. Yet these very wealth opportunities – created by the takeover of the GNA – make the ‘capture’ of Tripoli (and the GNA) an ever more attractive prize for the country’s other militias. Thus, concludes the report, “the militia cartel threatens to thwart the UN’s ongoing attempts at brokering a more viable political settlement and risks provoking a major new conflict over the capital”.

Indeed, it is pertinent that the report, published last April, predicted not only last summer’s violence in Tripoli – when the Seventh Brigade of Tarhouna (also a creation of the GNA), allied to discontented Misratan militias, attacked the capital in an attempt to wrest control from the cartel – but also the very locations from which it would occur:

“The stranglehold over the administration exerted by the militia cartel means that the profits from the pillaging of state funds now benefits a smaller groups of actors than at any point since 2011.Unsurprisingly, this is fuelling serious tensions. A handful of Misratan militias are also present in Tripoli and support the status quo there, but the bulk of that city’s armed groups, and many of its politicians, increasingly resent their marginalisation by the Tripoli cartel. In Zintan, which hosts the second largest forces in western Libya, after Misrata, such resentment is combined with the long-held desire to return to the capital and efface the humiliation suffered in 2014, when Zintani forces were forcibly dislodged from the capital by a Misratan-led coalition. The recent appointments of Zintani figures in senior positions in Tripoli are not sufficient to assuage these ambitions. Yet another force with designs on the capital is based in Tarhuna. Throughout the first months of 2018, actors from these three cities have attempted to build an alliance to enter Tripoli by force. The complexity of the alliances around the capital and engagement by UNSMIL have, to date, prevented such an offensive from happening. But the longer the current situation in Tripoli persists, the more likely it is that such forces will start a new conflict over the capital.”

The GNA is absolutely not a Government of National Accord. It does not govern, it is not national, and it does not promote accord. Rather, it is a Government in Name Alone, a colonial imposition designed purely to legitimise western support for destabilising militias at the expense of the country’s elected parliament and most effective unified force. It is time for Libya’s factions to return to their own negotiations – and to reject, once and for all, the interference of the foreign powers which have destroyed, and continue to destroy, their country.

 

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Drug smuggling is HSBC’s raison d’etre

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HSBC Tower in Hong Kong; the cannons are pointed at the Bank of China Tower. 

31st January 2016 

HSBC are in the news for attempting to suppress a report into money laundering. This is no surprise as the company’s entire history, right up to the present day, is one of financing drug cartels.

HSBC are not known for their transparency. Britain’s wealthiest company, with a stock market valuation of $215billion, has enough advertising muscle in the British press to ensure that critical investigative pieces have been spiked in both the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph – in the latter case, causing that newspaper’s chief political commentator to resign in protest. Then last year, the bank’s friends in the Swiss government sentenced the whistleblower who exposed the bank’s massive facilitation of tax avoidance to five years in prison, the longest sentence ever demanded by the country’s public ministry for a banking data theft case. And back in 2011 HSBC was revealed to be the UK financial sector’s most enthusiastic user of tax havens, with no less than 556 subsidiary companies based in offshore jurisdictions. Tax havens, as leading expert Nicholas Shaxson notes, “are characterised by secrecywhat they are fundamentally about is escape – escape from the rules, laws, regulations of jurisdictions elsewhere. You move your money offshore and you can then escape the laws that you don’t like”. This is clearly an institution with much to hide.

So it should not have surprised anybody when, earlier this month, it was revealed that HSBC are now seeking to block the publication of a report into HSBC’s compliance with anti-money laundering laws. After all, it was only three years ago that HSBC were hit with a massive $1.9 billion fine for laundering around $1 billion on behalf of some of the world’s most vicious gangsters. According to US assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer, “from 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia, and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA. These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard.” This is putting it mildly; in fact HSBC went to great lengths to facilitate the drug cartels. As Matt Taibbi wrote in his definitive piece on the scandal, HSBC “ran a preposterous offshore operation in Mexico that allowed anyone to walk into any HSBC Mexico branch and open a US-dollar account (HSBC Mexico accounts had to be in pesos) via a so-called ‘Cayman Islands branch’ of HSBC Mexico. The evidence suggests customers barely had to submit a real name and address, much less explain the legitimate origins of their deposits.” The bank did have a system in place to identify ‘suspicious activity’; but it routinely flouted it. As Nafeez Ahmed has written, “By 2010, HSBC had racked up a backlog of 17,000 suspicious activity alerts that it had simply ignored. Yet the bank’s standard response when it received its next government cease-and-desist order was simply to ‘clear’ the alerts, and give assurances that everything was fine. According to former HSBC compliance officer and whistleblower Everett Stern, the bank’s executives were deliberately ignoring and violating anti-money laundering regulations.” Taibbi wrote that “In one four-year period between 2006 and 2009, an astonishing $200 trillion in wire transfers (including from high risk countries like Mexico) went through without any monitoring at all. The bank also failed to do due diligence on the purchase of an incredible $9 billion in physical US dollars from Mexico and played a key role in the so-called Black Market Peso Exchange, which allowed drug cartels in both Mexico and Colombia to convert US dollars from drug sales into pesos to be used back home. Drug agents discovered that dealers in Mexico were building special cash boxes to fit the precise dimensions of HSBC teller windows”. HSBC’s customers – cartels like Colombia’s Norte del Valle and Mexico’s Sinaloa – were at the time involved in mass murder and abuse of the most psychopathic variety, including beheadings and torture videos. The official death toll from these groups in Mexico alone is 83,000 over the past decade. That they have the capacity to carry out violence on such a

massive scale is the result of the massive financial growth of their industry. And that growth was wilfully facilitated by HSBC. 

Given that this has all now been established in court, were the rule of law actually applied, the bank’s Charter would have been revoked, and its directors (including former UK Trade Minister Stephen Green) would now be in jail. The reason this did not happen is that the sheer size of HSBC’s operations make it too strategically important to close down. “Had the US authorities decided to press charges”, explained Assistant Attorney General Lenny Breuer, “HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking licence in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilised.” That is to say, HSBC’s wealth and power put it officially above the law. Even its $1.9 billion fine, massive though it might seem, amounted to a mere five weeks profit for the bank.

But all of this is entirely in keeping for a bank whose roots lie precisely in illegality, drug trading and massive violence.

HSBC’s website notes that it was formed in 1865 to “to finance trade between Europe and Asia”, whilst the official 763-page history of the company explains that “the expansion of international trade with China had inevitably led to demand for trade finance and money-changing facilities – demand that the traditional Chinese banks, the quianzhuang, had been unable to meet”, with HSBC kindly stepping in to help. Yet neither source deigns to tell their readers of exactly what this trade consisted. 

The previous century had seen a huge growth in UK imports of tea from China; indeed, these were growing so large that Britain’s silver supplies were draining away to China to pay for them. The problem for Britain was that it had nothing China wanted to buy in return; as Emperor Qian Long explained in a long letter to King George III in 1793, “our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.” But the traders of the British East India Company, which had taken control of Bengal in 1757, came up with an ingenious solution. They would force the dispossessed peasantry of India – starving and desperate following the Company’s destruction of their textile industry through extortionate taxes, plunder and the imposition of ‘free trade’ – onto newly founded opium plantations, and sell this to the Chinese. This was entirely illegal; but that posed no problem for the British, who simply bribed corrupt Chinese officials to turn a blind eye to the trade. By the 1830s the trade had reached 40,000 chests per annum; selling for up to $1000 per chest, the trade became, according to Frederic Wakeman, “the world’s most valuable single commodity trade of the nineteenth century”, and accounted for almost two thirds of British overseas trade with China. But this tidy little scam came under serious threat in 1839. By that time, the trade had grown so large that China’s silver was now draining away to Britain to pay for the drug, and the Emperor decided to launch a crackdown. As the Le Monde Diplomatique recounted recently, “a senior Chinese government official, Lin zexu, known for his competence and moral standing, issued a warrant for [British opium trader Thomas] Dent’s arrest in an attempt to close his warehouses” and eventually forced the British superintendent of trade to surrender 10,000 chests, which were then destroyed. China’s flagrant attempt to protect its citizens and enforce its own laws was deemed an affront too far for the British, who responded by sending gunboats to the coast of China, and opening fire. Town after town was destroyed by cannonfire, and then

looted by British troops; indeed, according to historian John Newsinger, “it was during this war that the Hindi word ‘lut’ entered the English language as the word ‘loot’”. In one town alone, Tin-hai, over 2000 Chinese were killed, with the India Gazette reporting that “a more complete pillage could not be conceived…the plunder only ceased when there was nothing to take or destroy”. This destruction continued for three years, until the Chinese agreed to the British terms: handing over Hong Kong to the British, opening more Chinese ports to British trade, paying the full costs of their own bombardment, and fully compensating the opium traders for the loss of their property.

A second war followed, lasting from 1856 to 1860. This one was even more destructive, with British warships advancing up the Peiho river to Beijing itself, eventually reaching the Emperor’s majestic Summer Palace. Captain Charles Gordon explained that his troops, “after pillaging it burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal manner most valuable property…everybody was wild for plunder.” One of the items looted was the Emperor’s pet Pekinese dog, taken as a present for Queen Victoria. She called it Looty.

This time, the Chinese were forced to legalise the opium trade. Over the decades that followed, the trade would reach dizzying heights, with British opium exports climbing to 60,000 chests per year by the 1860s, and 100,000 in the 1880s, making it, according to the Cambridge History of China, “the most long continued and systematic crime of modern times”, with millions of Chinese addicts paying the price.

This was the trade which HSBC were created to facilitate. Thomas Dent – the opium trader whose arrest hepped trigger the first of the ‘opium wars’ – was one of its founders. Another was Thomas Sutherland, the Hong Kong superintendent of British shipping company P and O and chairman of Hong Kong and Whampoa dock; opium accounted for 70% of maritime freight from India to China at the time.

As the British research group Corporate Watch have shown, “After the second round of wars the Chinese government could only pay off its massive war fines by turning to such merchants as the Hong King and Shanghai Bank. According to one historian, ‘They…had the effect of placing the revenues of China almost totally in foreign control.’” In other words, then as now, the sheer overwhelming dominance of the bank and its backers created an economic dependency on it which effectively put it above the law.

The combined impact of Chinese government’s dependency and the growing opium trade created profits which catapulted HSBC to the position of most profitable British bank (either overseas or domestic) within 25 years of its foundation. It would stay at or near this position right up to the present day.

Following legalization, Chinese opium production took off, eventually eclipsing even British imports, which ended in 1917. But by this time, HSBC was fully embedded in the Chinese economy, able to position itself as chief financier of the new Chinese entrepeneurs. When this production itself was wiped out by the victorious Communist Party in 1949, production shifted to South Asia (with help from the CIA, according to Peter Dale Scott). HSBC followed. According to Richard Roberts and David Kynaston in their official history of HSBC, The Lion Wakes: “In search of new business, the bank expanded operations elsewhere in Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, it extended its branch network in Singapore and Malaysia, and for the first time opened branches in Borneo.”

Today, drug profits form a major part of the entire global financial system. According to a 2005 UN report, the illegal drugs trade was worth £177 billion per year, equating to a staggering 8-9 % of total world trade; the latest UN figure is £320 billion per year. Of this, Alain Labrousse of Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, estimates that around 80% of the profits end up “in the banks of the wealthy countries.” Indeed, so dependent has the financial system become on the illicit trade that in 2009, the UN drugs tsar testified that it was

only laundered drug money that kept the global economy from collapsing during the crisis of 2007-8.

Little wonder, then, that wherever you look – from Afghanistan, to Kosovo, to Libya, to Mexico to Colombia, and even ‘at home’ – the policies of the world’s leading financial centres serve to boost the production, distribution and profitability of the drugs trade. And little wonder that HSBC are still keeping their ‘money laundering checks’ to themselves.

 

This article was originally published by RT. 

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Refugees don’t cause fascism: liberalism does

October 2nd, 2015

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Europe needs to fascisise its policies, because if it doesn’t – fascism will grow. This was the message from Frans Timmerman, Vice-President of the European Commission following last week’s fraught negotiations over the so-called refugee crisis. “We have to patrol our borders better”, he told reporters on Thursday. “If we’re not able to tackle this issue, if we’re not able to find sustainable solutions, you will see a surge of the extreme right across the European continent.”

Sustainable solutions are, of course, available, and always have been; namely 1) stop destabilising Africa and the Middle East: which means, precisely, stop arming sectarian insurgencies (Syria, Libya and Somalia), stop sabotaging diplomatic solutions by insisting on one side’s surrender as a precondition to talks (‘Assad must go’) and stop forcing vulnerable economies to adopt regressive neoliberal policies which impoverish small producers (‘structural adjustment programmes’ and ‘free trade areas’); and 2) implement the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and give refuge to all those fleeing persecution and war. If tiny Lebanon – with its population of 4.5 million and a GDP of less than one third of one percent of that of the EU – can take in 1.5million refugees, one would have thought the EU – more populous and wealthier than any country on the planet – could manage a few hundred thousand.

But this is not what Timmerman is talking about. Having failed to reach consensus on taking in even a token fraction of the refugees arriving on Europe’s shores, the talk is now of a more or less formal acceptance of the ‘Hungarian solution’ – razor wire fencessurrounding fortress Europe. “After weeks of condemnation over the border fence,” noted the Daily Telegraph last week, “EU officials now appear to concede that [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban has a point”.

Using the spectre of the far right to justify the wholesale adoption of their policies is nothing new, with elections across Europe increasingly resembling ‘racist auctions’: each party trying to outbid the others in their hostility to migrants, and always on the grounds that, if they do not, the far right will reap the benefits. ‘We will ban their benefits for two years’ announced the Labour party manifesto before this year’s election in the UK, ‘Well we will ban them for FOUR years’ rebuffed the Conservatives – neither divulging that the proportion of migrants actually on benefits is barely 1/20, compared to 2/3 of all British families.

Besides, Timmerman is profoundly wrong. Refugees do not cause the growth of the far-right any more than Jews ‘caused’ Nazism. InThe Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton argues that fascism rests on“popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot and their rightful predominance over inferior people.” More precisely, he describes it as a mass emotional response to national humiliation and decline which blames internal enemies for weakening the nation’s power. This humiliation is usually caused by military defeat and a decline in global status and power, and is accompanied by economic upheaval for previously privileged sections of the ‘masses’, who resent being pushed into the ranks of the proletariat, and seek to restore their previous position.

This was obviously the situation in 1930s Germany and Italy. Italy, although on the winning side of World War One at that war’s conclusion, was denied the fruits of victory it had been promised by its allies – an outcome blamed by the nascent fascist movement on the socialists and communists who had weakened the nation sufficiently to make it ripe for bullying by the other ‘Great Powers’. At the same time, it was suffering from economic crisis and unemployment – especially amongst former soldiers – again blamed on ‘communist disruption’. Germany was in a similar position, forced by its vanquishers to sign a humiliating peace treaty, and was by the 1930s suffering some of the highest levels of unemployment in Europe. Both calamities were blamed on ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’ who had, the Nazis claimed, stabbed the army in the back with their ‘unnecessary’ surrender at Versailles, and then subsequently wrecked the country’s economy with their control of both high finance and the trade unions.

The key in both cases was that fascism tapped into an emotional pride that could not accept that national decline was simply the result of the nation’s relative weakness. There had to be another explanation – an enemy within that had weakened the nation by diluting its inherent strength. National strength could, following this logic, be rejuvenated so long as the internal enemy was extinguished. This is the core of fascism. And very similar objective conditions to those that facilitated the growth of fascism in Germany and Italy in the 1930s are also present across Europe today.

Europe today – having spent five hundred years building up a self-aggrandising mythology of itself as the font of civilization and all that is good in the world – is now in the throes of a multi-pronged crisis, at once political, economic, military and ideological. On the political level, the rise of the BRICS countries, and especially China, is threatening the world’s domination by Europe and the European settler states (the US, Australia and Canada), and this threat is increasingly manifest in every global institution – from the IMF to the World Bank and the UN. On the economic level, global capitalism is still in the throes of the crisis whose latest phase began in 2007-8, with the result that long term mass unemployment is now a permanent and growing feature of every European country at the same time as the welfare safety net for the jobless is being ever more viciously slashed away. And whilst the military defeat of Britain and some of its European allies in Afghanistan and Iraq is hardly the same level of trauma as defeat in world war, it is worth noting that the main fascist street movement in Britain today, the English Defence League, has its roots precisely in the rituals around returning soldiers from Afghanistan.

The result is that the masses of Western Europe – who have, since at least 1945, enjoyed a highly privileged position amongst the global working class – are now seeing their economic privileges evaporating, their nations’ power being challenged across the globe, and their armies being forced into unseemly retreats everywhere they venture.

All of this is the inexorable unfolding of global capitalism – whose development compels the whole world to simultaneously adopt its techniques (resulting in national competition and the rise of new global powers), lower its costs, cut its workforce – and thereby also cut the demand that underpins the whole system. This ultimately is what caused the dislocations both in the 1930s and today.

Not to the fascist, though. For the fascist, national decline must be caused by the presence of the enemy within – a ‘foreign body’ infecting the national purity which, if regained, will again restore the nation to its rightfully privileged global status. A scapegoat is essential to fascist ideology.

But this scapegoat has to be very precisely chosen. It must at once symbolize the new powers deemed to be usurping the chosen people’s rightful place in the global hierarchy, but simultaneously be vulnerable enough to be the target of attacks at home. For Hitler, the Jew met both these criteria, representing the powerful external ‘Soviet threat’ (of ‘Jewish Bolshevism’) whilst being a group easy to persecute on home soil. Likewise, the scapegoat must represent the middle class fear of expropriation from both ‘above’ and ‘below’ – once again, for Hitler, the Jew worked perfectly, symbolizing the threat to small businesses represented by big business and banking and by communism – for, in Nazi mythology, the Jew controlled both.

In today’s Europe, the Muslim plays precisely the role played by the Jew in the 1930s. The Muslim fills the ranks of the despised poor in Europe’s inner cities – always on the verge of rebellion and political radicalism, the ‘Jewish Bolshevik’ of his day – but is also the ‘Arab tycoon’ – buying up London, pricing out ordinary folks, and manipulating oil prices. The Muslim is the internal enemy, weakening the national spirit from within, whilst also representing the rising powers abroad.

This is the fascist worldview. The objective conditions for its acceptance are relative national decline; economic crisis, poverty and unemployment; and military defeat. The subjective conditions are hundreds of years of ideological brainwashing that Europe is the font of civilisation, uniquely innovative and progressive, destined to dominate the world and entitled to permanently privileged living standards. Refugees are not responsible for any of these conditions, Mr Timmerman. But you, and your entire political class, have exacerbated all of them.

This piece was originally published by Counterpunch

 

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Libya’s relentless decline represents a continuation of the NATO war

New opinion polls, economic statistics and human rights reports from Libya point to one conclusion: western policy to keep Libya weak and divided is a resounding success.

Line graph. The percentage of Libyans who are thriving dropped from 31% in 2012 to 19% in 2018.

A poll released by Gallup this week demonstrates the increasing desperation facing Libyans even before the latest round of fighting began last month. The poll, based on telephone interviews with over a thousand Libyans conducted over July and August last year, reveals that record numbers of Libyans lacked money for food and shelter over the previous year, and a record low are deemed to be ‘thriving’. 43% said they lacked money for food at some point over the previous year – a number which has been consistently rising since the annual poll began in 2015 – whilst 37% said they had lacked money for shelter, almost double the 22% recorded in 2012. Respondents were then asked to give a rating between nought and ten for both their life today, and their expected life in five years, and were classified as ‘thriving’ if they gave an answer of at least seven and eight respectively. Only 19% did so.

 

A majority of 52% said their local economies were getting worse, quadruple the 2012 figure of 13%. Most damningly, perhaps, over a third of Libyans now say they would like to leave their homeland permanently.

 

The Gallup poll, however, is but the latest in a plethora of reports detailing Libya’s unrelenting decline since 2011. The UN’s Human Development Index, published annually, ranks 169 countries according to measures such as life expectancy, access to education, and healthcare. Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya stood at an impressive 53 on the scale, in the top third of countries worldwide and officially classified as ‘high human development’, with the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates on the African continent. Since then life expectancy has dropped three years, from 74.5 to 71.6, under pressure of ongoing warfare and the collapse of public services, whilst the country’s overall ranking has dropped 55 places to 108, almost into the bottom third of countries overall.

 

Another indicator of decine comes from the UK Foreign Office’s biannual economic factsheet. The latest, published last month, reveals that Libya has an annual inflation rate of 23.1% – that is, its currency is losing a quarter of its value every year – whilst it ranks 186 out of 189 countries for ‘ease of doing business’, one place ahead of Yemen. Per capita income has fallen every year since 2011, and now stands at $6,692, a little over half its pre-invasion level of $12,250.

 

Amnesty International’s annual report makes even more devastating reading. In 2010, their Libya report did not record any ‘grave’ or ‘serious’ human rights violations, such as torture or extrajudicial killing,  that year. Fast forward to 2018, however, and we read that “torture was widespread in prisons, where thousands were held without charge,” adding that “many detainees had been held since 2011 with no judicial oversight or means to challenge the legality of their detention.” In particular, “migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers were subjected to widespread and systematic serious human rights violations and abuses at the hands of state officials”. The report adds that “Up to 20,000 people were held in detention centres in Libya run by…the Ministry of the Interior of the GNA. They were held in horrific conditions of extreme overcrowding, lacking access to medical care and adequate nutrition, and systematically subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, severe beatings and extortion.” In addition, “armed groups and criminal gangs ran thousands of illicit holding sites throughout the country as part of a lucrative people-smuggling business”, some of whom, it noted, were selling off their detainees in open slave markets. Meanwhile “armed groups and militias abducted and unlawfully detained hundreds of people because of their opinions, origin, perceived political affiliations or perceived wealth,” including “political activists, lawyers, human rights activists and other civilians”. Whereas the 2010 report noted that “freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be severely curtailed”, there was no suggestion that journalists’ lives were at risk. By 2018, however, “Journalists, activists and human rights defenders were particularly vulnerable to harassment, attacks and enforced disappearance by armed groups and militias aligned with various authorities of rival governments.” Overall, “an environment of impunity continued to prevail, leaving perpetrators of serious abuses emboldened and without fear of accountability”.

 

This massive deterioration of all aspects of Libyan society since NATO’s 2011 war – whether in terms of social welfare, economic conditions or basic human rights – has necessitated some serious intellectual contortions by its defenders. According to them, Libya’s collapse has nothing to do with NATO’s destruction of its state apparatus, but rather result from either Gaddafi himself (still causing havoc from beyond the grave) or from subsequent ‘mistakes’. Florence Gaub, for example – who, in a clear nod to her colonial intellectual lineage, calls herself ‘Florence of Arabia’ – argues in her book, The Cauldron, that “NATO’s intervention in Libya was soundly conceived and executed”. The reversal of all development indicators since 2011 is, for Gaub and co, attributable to policies before 2011 and after 2011, but never to the fateful events of 2011 themself; indeed, for such analysts, the intervention set the country up for a success which it foolishly squandered.

 

Yet the link between that intervention and Libya’s current problems is hard to deny: after all, it was precisely NATO’s war that destroyed the state’s security and public service infrastructure, and left power fragmented in the hands of the rival militias now slugging it out. Whilst Gaub and others are right that decisions taken since then – such as the ill-fated move in 2012 to pay militia wages without integrating them into a unified command structure, or the law the same year granting effective immunity from prosecution to militiamen – have helped entrench instability and factional rivalries, the reality is that this is not a divergence from, but rather a continuation of, 2011. When it comes to western policy towards the global South, Clausewitz gets inverted: politics truly is war by other means. And the aim of that war – as was clear in 2011 and has since become ever clearer – was nothing less than the permanent prevention of Libya’s re-emergence as a strong, unified, independent state.