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News in Brief
On 2 November, All Souls Day, five Christian peace activists carried out a “Ploughshares” action against Trident nuclear missile submarines at the Kitsap naval base in Bangor, WA, USA. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, 81; Susan Crane, 65; Lynne Greenwald, 60; Steve Kelly, 60; and Anne Montgomery, 83, made their way through two fences, and were about to enter the Strategic Weapons Facility-Pacific when they were arrested, carrying a banner saying: “Disarm Now Plowshares: Trident: Illegal + Immoral”.
Bangor contains the largest single US stockpile of nuclear warheads, housing more than 2,000 nuclear warheads, approximately 24% of the US arsenal.
On 4 November, Maria Gallastegui and two other protesters were arrested at the Cenotaph, opposite Downing Street in London, while trying to hold a 229 minute vigil for the 229 British soldiers who have died in the war in Afghanistan.
The arrest was under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, that prohibits unauthorised demonstrations in the vicinity of parliament.
Meanwhile, at USAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, Lindis Percy, of the Campaign for Accountability of American Bases, was arrested on 29 October inside the airbase under section 128 of SOCPA, which deals with national security “designated sites”.
She was waved into the base after showing her driving licence as ID. The attorney general had yet to decide whether to prosecute, as PN went to press.
Construction has finally begun on the long-awaited $120m garden and 28-foot high statue of African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr in central Washington DC, following the granting of permits on 29 October. (They still need $13m.)
Members of King’s family charged the National Memorial project $761,160 to use his image and his words in its fundraising materials (but not for the memorial itself).
Alarm was raised about the state of the Nepali peace process on 20 November, the third anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which brought ten years of bitter civil war to an end. Karin Landgren, head of the United Nations Mission in Nepal, warned: “Day-to-day politics, including internal party politics, have consumed so much energy that it has left major issues on the back burner.”
13 Western governments (and the EU) signed a joint statement stating: “We are increasingly concerned that progress on implementing the agreement has stalled.” The constituent assembly has fallen behind schedule in drafting a new constitution.
The diplomats also pointed out: “The rehabilitation and integration of former Maoist combatants, and determining the structure of Nepal Army, as was agreed three years ago, is still not underway.” This issue is reaching boiling point, with fresh provocative remarks from defence secretary Bidya Devi Bhandari, who said on 21 November that the Nepali army would soon be recruiting 5,000 new soldiers.
She called the large-scale inclusion of Maoist guerrillas into the army, as required by the CPA, “an unlikely proposition”. Meanwhile, the Maoists continue are threatening an open-ended general strike from 20 December.
As PN went to press, Western Sahara human rights activist Aminatou Haidar was entering the second week of a hunger strike at Lanzarote airport. Haidar was protesting against her deportation from her homeland by Morocco, which has been illegally occupying Western Sahara since 1975.
Moroccan authorities arrested Haidar on 13 November on her arrival from Spain’s Canary Islands, as she returned from a human rights prize award ceremony in the US (see PN 2515).
Haidar, who is called the “Sahrawi Gandhi” for her nonviolent resistance to the Moroccan occupation, refused to declare her nationality as “Moroccan” on the airport arrival form, putting her address as “Western Sahara”.
Immigration officials confiscated her passport and immediately deported her to Spain, which then refused to let her leave Lanzarote for Morocco without travel papers.
Haidar spoke to a conference from Lanzarote airport by telephone, saying: “It is true that this hunger strike is about the individual right of one person to return to her home and her family but it also about the collective right denied to the Saharawi people to live freely in their native land.”
Western Sahara Campaign UK, 01974 282575; www. wsahara.org.uk
Armed police patrols on foot, motorbike and by car in London’s gun crime hotspots (see PN 2515) were suspended by the commissioner of the Metropolitan police at the end of October after criticism from local community leaders and the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) about the lack of consultation. Officers from the CO19 firearms unit had previously announced that the patrols were becoming routine.
Sir Paul Stephenson said: “There was a failure to recognise the significance of this tactic by officers. They were well meaning, but didn’t recognise the potential view that this represented a step change in routine policing.”
Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the MPA, said: “The real worry is that CO19 is a law unto itself and can make this sort of decision…. The commissioner said that they were ‘desensitised’, which means that retraining is urgently needed.”
Last month a London police officer cleared of racially assaulting two teenagers was identified as one of six officers involved in a “serious, gratuitous and prolonged” assault on a Muslim man – for which the Metropolitan police paid £60,000 in damages.
Mark Jones, 42, cleared of the racial assault, was a member of the territorial support group (TSG) unit that arrested terror suspect Babar Ahmad at his home in south-west London in December 2003. Ahmad was punched, kicked, stamped on and strangled during his arrest. A High Court judge later ordered the damages payment for “gross brutality”.
The Met admits that the six officers involved in the arrest have been the subjects of at least 77 complaints involving black or Asian men since 1992. Despite a finding by the independent police complaints commission that there was a case to answer for excessive force against Ahmad, the crown prosecution service declined to prosecute and the Met’s internal disciplinary tribunal ruled that there was no case to answer.
Babar Ahmad’s family said: “This is reflective of a culture that exists in the UK whereby police officers are able to behave as brutally as they wish with full knowledge that they will not be held to account by the authorities.”
Black police officer Amechi Onwungbonu supported the allegations of racial assault made by the teenagers, and said Mark Jones had later told him the treatment was justified because the TSG were “vigilantes”.
Jones was given glowing testimonials – including by inspector Paul Davis, one of the six officers in the Ahmad arrest, and supervisor in the van where the assault against the teenagers took place, two facts not revealed to the jury.
Neither the Ministry of Defence nor British Aerospace properly accounted for nearly £1bn paid by the MoD to the arms company as part of the al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation kept secret for 17 years.
The Sunday Telegraph published details of the NAO findings on 15 November, based on correspondence it had seen between the NAO and the MoD.
The NAO also criticised as “irregular” a £30.3 million management fee paid to BAe (now BAE Systems), despite the fact that there was no “legal or contractual obligation” to do so. Incidentally, an MoD manual on keeping secrets was recently leaked to the Wikileaks website: < ahref=“http://www.tinyurl.com/peacenews191”>www.tinyurl.com/peacenews191
In early November, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Children’s Fund published the first in-depth investigation of the effect of war on forces children, The Overlooked Casualties of Conflict. 60% of spouses say their children had increased levels of fear and anxiety when husbands or wives went to war, and 57% reported increased behavioural problems.
The report includes the story of an eight-year-old boy who found the images of body bags on the news so overwhelming that he hanged himself.
Separately, it was revealed in mid-November that the MoD has been paying as little as £3,000 compensation to mentally traumatised soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. 4,916 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been identified in returning British soldiers. 67 have committed suicide since 2003.
Peter Doolan, 28, diagnosed with PTSD in 1999, after serving in Kosovo, was medically discharged in 2007. Despite having hallucinations, severe depression, and a tendency to violence – even when sleeping – he receives compensation of just £60 a week.
Doolan told the Sunday Times: “They have no bloody idea what it’s like for us. I think they must hate soldiers.”
Meanwhile, US soldiers are committing suicide at the highest rate since records began in 1980. Suicides in the army alone have passed last year’s record of 140, in addition to 71 suicides of soldiers taken off active duty.
Puzzlingly, a third of those committing suicide had never been deployed in combat.
Global warming is likely to be “at the top end of the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] scenario”, according to professor Corinne Le Quéré of East Anglia university, leader of a Global Carbon Project study into the Earth’s (declining) capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.
“If the agreement [at Copenhagen] is too weak, or the commitments are not respected, it is not 2.5C or 3C we will get: it’s 5C or 6C – that is the path we’re on,” said Le Quéré on 17 November.
A rise of 6C above pre-industrial levels would lead to “a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles,” according to author Mark Lynas, who pooled the available scientific literature in 2007. Professor Le Quéré said: “The timescales here are extremely tight for what is needed to stabilise the climate at 2C,” regarded as a safe rise in global temperatures.
Only 41% of Britons accept that climate change is largely human-made, according to a Populus poll for The Times in early November.
Only 28% of Britons believe climate change is “far and away the most serious problem we face as a country and internationally”.
Despite this scepticism, there is a clear majority of 69% to 26% supporting limits on CO2 emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if this results in higher prices for goods and energy.
Meat production is responsible not for 18% but 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by a former lead environmental adviser to the World Bank and a current adviser. In a Worldwatch Institute report, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang argue that the methane, land use and respiration impacts of billions of farm animals have been underestimated .
They estimate that farm animals cause 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, more than the combined impact of industry and energy. Lord Stern, former adviser to the British government on the economics of climate change, supported vegetarianism to lower carbon emissions.
Civil disobedience “has a role” in opposing climate change, says former US vice-president Al Gore, talking to the Guardian: “Civil disobedience has an honourable history, and when the urgency and moral clarity cross a certain threshold, then I think that civil disobedience is quite understandable, and it has a role to play. And I expect that it will increase.”