As a US student spending a semester abroad, British coverage of my own country has been an eye-opening experience. Everything from November’s tumultuous mid-term elections to the national joke that is Glenn Beck gets airplay on this side of the pond, usually with a bit more perspective than the knee-jerk coverage we get back home. Perhaps a little distance is necessary to provide proper context.
So I’d like to return the favour. So here’s an outsider’s perspective on the most interesting news PN has dug up this past year and what’s happened since our initial reporting.
PN covered the illegal US prison camp in the December/January issue this year, with Aisha Maniar pleading for Barack Obama to fulfil his promise and close the facility by 22 January 2010. Nearly a year later, such pleas remain unanswered, as Guantánamo Bay’s doors are still open and the New York Times predicts the camp is unlikely to be closed before the president’s first term expires in January 2013.
Guantánamo Bay continues to make headlines, as in November the British government agreed to pay out millions of pounds in a settlement with twelve former detainees for its alleged compliance with the US government in their treatment at the camp. Former US president George W Bush maintained his defence of Guantánamo in his memoir, Decision Points, admitting to “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the camp, but insisting those tactics are not tantamount to torture.
Last March, my fellow intern Matthew Biddle discussed the possibility of the first Green MP being elected. Two months later Caroline Lucas did indeed become the first Green Party member elected to parliament, securing her seat from Brighton Pavilion by slightly more than 1,250 votes over Labour. Lucas was one of record 335 candidates the party put forward this election season, but the only one to win a seat. In her time in office, Lucas has prioritised environmentalism, campaigning for a green economy.
In May, Matthew Biddle speculated on the effect a hung parliament would have on war and peace. He cited opinion polls leading up to the 6 May election that hinted at the possibility of gridlock and spoke to a variety of anti-war activists who said that such a stalemate could put the Liberal Democrats in a position to affect real change.
The election did indeed result in a hung parliament, but its effect on the peace movement is dubious. The experts PN consulted counted on the third party taking a forceful stance, pushing for military cutbacks directly while also angling for electoral reform that could make further changes more likely. That simply did not happen
In the biggest political story of the year, the Lib Dems caved to the Tory government. In their time in power, the third party has been complicit with the coalition government’s plans to dramatically slash funding for the welfare state, most recently coming under fire for its decision to renege on its pledge to prevent university tuition hikes.
In PN’s last double-issue, this July-August, we reported on the arrest of Bradley Manning, a 22-year old US army intelligence analyst accused of passing classified video of American troops. The video showed troops opening fire on journalists and civilians from a helicopter in a July 2007 attack that resulted in a dozen deaths.
The footage, released in April, is particularly significant in that it shows the callousness of mechanized warfare. The soldiers can be heard celebrating after shooting down citizens and reporters, and when surveying their slaughter, one exults: “Look at those dead bastards”. When a van stops to help the wounded, another crewmember pleads, “Come on, let us shoot!” The team justifies the attack by insisting that the camera of a Reuters reporters is actually a weapon, calling out: “I’ve got an RPG”.
Manning is charged with leaking the video, along with thousands of documents, to Wikileaks, a site designed to make it easy for whistleblowers to come forward with official wrongdoing. Supporters staged demonstrations calling for his release this September in the US, Canada and Australia.