The Grey Zone

Make no mistake, Guantanamo Bay is a stain on the sullen face of democracy.  For 11 years a  joint British and Saudi Arabian citizen has been held at this American base without being charged.  Despite the protestations of the British government, a lack of critical evidence and numerous protests, Shaker Aamer remains locked up in Guantanamo Bay, deprived of his basic human rights and subject to degrading torture.

Despite the hope of President Obama calling for the closure of the prison, based on Cuban ground, the prison is still operational, still torturing and still being run in defiance of basic human rights.  Amnesty International has repeated called the prison a ‘human rights scandal‘, The International Committee of the Red Cross found repeated detainee abuses when it inspected the camp in 2004, and Human Rights Watch has stated that ‘(the US) has refused to apply the Genevea Conventions to prisoners of war from Afghanistan, and has misused the designation of ‘illegal combatant’ to apply to criminal suspects on U.S. soil” in a 2003 report.

The world is currently in turmoil, thousands are dying in a vicious and bloody war in Syria, protests are on-going in Turkey, Brazil has had numerous large scale demonstrations de-crying the state for its lack of improving social issues, and Greece is under the boot of austerity, with the rise of the Golden Dawn party becoming a worry for Greece’s citizens and Europe.  It is time for a strong moral and ethical backbone.  Guantanamo Bay exists to facilitate the prisoners of war carried out in the wake of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attack in the US.  I believe that prisoners should be treated fairly and equally, that they should face legal justice where guilt is in evidence.  I do not believe torture and the de-basing of human rights is the correct, moral or ethical approach.

Shaker Aamer is currently on hunger strike, as are many of his fellow prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who protest their ill treatment, torture and abuse.

When you dehumanise the enemy, you dehumanise yourself.

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Atos Incompetence

The benefit system in the UK is to undergo a major change in April 2013, with a Universal credit system replacing the variety of options at the minute.  However a bigger change is also underway, the way in which disabled people are tested for work.  Atos, a French company, have been given the contract to review every disabled person the UK, whether they are on ESA (Employment Support Allowance), or DLA (Disabled Living Allowance).

“The French multinational Atos was brought in by Labour in 2008 to assess 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit to see if they were fit for work, for which it was to be paid £110m a year. To do this, it used a so-called “logic integrated medical assessment”, which critics claim makes it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgment. It’s computer-based and has little or no regard to the complexity of the needs of severely disabled or sick persons.

This is why the British Medical Association has condemned the WCA as unfit for purpose. Those who have been assessed often feel the opinion of their own health professionals have been overridden or ignored. As Iain McKenzie, Labour MP for Inverclyde, put it: “It is ridiculous to have people making an assessment based on a tick-list that looks like it should be used for an MOT on a car.”

You could dismiss this as conjecture: but these are the facts. There are 1.6 million claimants on incapacity benefit, assessed at a rate of 11,000 every week. On average 40 per cent of challenged decisions are overturned at tribunal – one in ten of the total assessed. It has cost £60m thus far to assess the appeals. Some 1,300 people have died after being placed in the “work-related activity group” for those expected to start preparing for an eventual return – 2,200 died before the assessment process was completed.” (Bold emphasis by me).

Read more from this New Statesman article by Alan White here.

Shockingly Atos were also the sponsors of the London 2012 Paralympic games.  You can’t make this shit up.

Disparate Reactions to the Loss of Life

Following the tragic recent mass murder of school kids and teaching staff in America, there has been a small flurry of essays and articles detailing the media reaction to mass murder in comparison to the on-going war on terror, particularly mentioning drone strikes and their impacts on Muslim countries.  For me personally this is a conflicting emotion, as these subjects are so often split into a dichotomy between left and right, republican and democrat, right and wrong etc.  Often the vitriol that spits up on both sides from arguments demeans the complex and thoughtful points made by both sides.

However, there are articles that are worth reading as they often highlight the nuances in how different cultures and societies react to death, both near and far away.  In particular there is a strong and emotive essay on differences in cultural/societal perceptions on the deaths of children in different countries, wrote by Glenn Greenwald in a  recent article for the Guardian newspaper.  Equally eloquent is George Monboit’s article in the same paper, entitled ‘In the US, mass child killings are tragedies.  In Pakistan, mere bugsplats‘, the bug splats being the nickname of the victims of drone victims.  Of course it could be argued that the very title of Monboit’s article incites liberal froth, but the details do make for disturbing reading regarding the actions, and outcomes, of US drone attacks in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  It often seems they enter into a very grey are legally.  As he goes on to say “Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom at least 64 were children”.

As Greenwald concludes he states that “As Monbiot observed: “there can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people” in Newtown. The exact opposite is true for the children and their families continuously killed in the Muslim world by the US government: huge numbers of people, particularly in the countries responsible, remain completely untouched by the grief that is caused in those places. That is by design – to ensure that opposition is muted – and it is brutally effective”.  We must state here that this in no way belittles the families and friends affected by the Newtown tragedy, it is a clearly heart wrenching and heinous act, and one that hopefully may never happen again.

The tragedy is not seeing the people on screens in the drone control centres as humans, as much as part of humanity as each and every child is throughout the world.  Dehumanisation is an essential part of war, and in the effort to kill the opponent and to view those oppressors of the state as less then human in mass media helps to sanction untold drone attacks on victims up and down the Muslim world, and never to mention the victims, to never put a name to those that have died or to why they have died.  Unfortunately governments across the world will engage in amoral and stupefying actions, designed not just to silence an enemy, but to  make them disappear as if they never existed.

Disgust

A lot of the time I am proud of the country that I was born in, but sometimes it frankly disgusts me.  No doubt you too have this feeling sometimes about your own countries.  For me, the following three links highlight something that is fundamentally wrong with the governing forces in my country, and actually make me worry for the future.

Please make the people responsible for the economic crisis pay, if they can be found to be held accountable.  Don’t force short sighted plans and cuts onto my beautiful country, and don’t target the young, disabled, or poor, as the ruling classes so often and ruthlessly do.

I am acutely aware of the broad range of crises in other countries, and that in context, my worries are largely superficial.  I do believe that in the next decade or so we will face possible drastic changes in the world, certainly in Europe and the Middle East, that will continue to impact the shape and structure of societies, and of countries, for a long time to come.  However, we can, as individual citizens of various countries, air our own thoughts and help bring our protests and views to the top of the food chain.  This year has seen radical change, and the effect of people power throughout the globe.

A few sites of interest are the following-

  • Avaaz are a worldwide community of activists that help to bring people-powered politics with petitions and various support projects around the world.
  • Wikileaks is a whistling blowing website and not-for-profit media organisation that deals with both companies and governments across the world.