Monthly Archives: October 2012

Adam Curtis On Muammar Gaddafi


Col Gaddafi – a real threat or a pantomime clown?

The BBC is having a rough time right now because of the Jimmy Savile scandal and if the reports of what happened in the Newsnight offices are correct then deservedly so. At the same time it would be a great pity if right-wingers in the Cameron government use it as an excuse/opportunity to do what some Tories have long wanted to do to the BBC, which is to dismantle,  privatise and effectively destroy it. How fortunate that at this moment the one man who could make that happen, Rupert Murdoch, is hobbled by his own scandal.

Adam Curtis, a BBC jewel

If there is one reason why the BBC deserves to survive it is because it gives a home and an outlet to journalists and film-makers like Adam Curtis. His mammoth, epic study of neoconservatism and Islam, The Power of Nightmares – released in 2004, a year after the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq – gave a cogent and mesmerizing explanation for events since 9/11, in particular the need of both, especially the neocons, to create the myth of a dangerous enemy. Now that is not exactly a new idea – what was the Cold War about? – but he put the hypothesis together in a very convincing, revealing and absorbing way.

Curtis has returned to the theme of how a myth shapes history with a long essay, illustrated by some fascinating BBC archive material, on Colonel Gaddafi, the deposed and assassinated Libyan leader, a subject that readers of this blog will know has long fascinated me. “He’s Behind You”, which appears on a BBC blog, outlines Curtis’ theory that Gaddafi created a myth about himself that the West happily co-opted and which sustained and benefited both. The myth was that Gaddafi was a seriously dangerous threat to the West while the reality was that the Libyan leader was really a clown, a pantomime character as Curtis calls him, whose antics enabled leaders like Reagan forge a more aggressive US foreign policy more or less cost and risk-free, paving the way for where we are now. In return Gaddafi acquired a status as an international trouble-maker out of all proportion to the threat that he really posed, and strutted the world stage in a way that otherwise could never have happened.

I have to say that I think he is spot on. Two episodes stand out. The first in 1986 was the bombing of a Berlin disco which killed an American serviceman. Reagan used that attack to launch a bombing raid on Tripoli, facilitated by Margaret Thatcher, which targeted Gaddafi himself and allegedly killed his adopted daughter. It is now widely believed that Syria was really responsible for the disco  bomb not Gaddafi, but Syria was a close ally of the Soviet Union and any reprisal on Damascus could risk a much more serious confrontation with Moscow. How much easier to blame Gaddafi and flex  American muscle as a warning to others in the region?

The other incident was the downing of the PanAm flight over Lockerbie in 1988. Curtis, like others who have examined the evidence, clears Gaddafi of any responsibility and lays the blame at the feet of Iran and Syria. Iran had a motive – revenge for the downing of an Iranian airliner by the US Navy – and Gaddafi did not. And Syria, still allied to the Soviet Union, was Iran’s closest friend in the Arab world. Again, on the flimsiest and most doubtful of evidence, Gaddafi was blamed but the sanctions against Libya and the isolation of Gaddafi that followed set a precedent for treating the West’s Middle East enemies that was applied to Saddam, Iran and now Assad, a precedent that more often than not has led to the overthrow of the despised leader.

If I have one criticism of Curtis’ approach it is that he skimps over the period following Gaddafi’s rehabilitation by the West, led by the noxious Tony Blair but soon joined by a gallery of rogues and scoundrels, from Berlusconi to the neocon savant Francis Fukuyama, all eager to plunder Gaddafi’s oil treasury. Nor does he dwell much on the dubious circumstances of the revolt against Gaddafi, which has all sorts of interesting aspects worth investigating, not least the fact that Western corporations will soon have access to Africa’s – and possibly the world’s – largest underground source of water. And water, as they say, is the new oil. But all in all, a fascinating piece of work by Adam Curtis and a tribute to the BBC for sponsoring it. Read, watch and enjoy!

Victory At The Supreme Court!

Our lawyers, Eamonn Dornan, JJ Cotter and Jonathan Albano have won a fantastic victory at the US Supreme Court with the approval of Justice Stephen Breyer that our request for a stay of the handover of interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College be granted and extended until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case. Here is the text of the decision:
“IT IS ORDERED that the mandate of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, case Nos. 11-2511 and 12-1159, is hereby stayed until November 16, 2012. If the applicants file a petition for a writ of certiorari on or before that date, then the mandate of the First Circuit is further stayed until the petition is resolved by this Court. Should the petition be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court. If the applicants do not file a petition for certiorari on or before November 16, then the stay shall expire at 5 p.m. that day.”

Congratulations to Eamonn, Jim and Jonathan!!

What Do Lance Armstrong, Jimmy Savile and Jerry Sandusky Have In Common? They Founded Charities To Hide Their Crimes

It is a striking feature of the three scandals. Each of them founded charities and used the consequent acclaim and public admiration to deflect, rebut or even assist them in their criminal pursuits. It worked for all three because nobody could quite believe that someone who did so much free work to help others could be guilty of such terrible things. They had to be good people. But they weren’t.

Lance Armstrong founded Livestrong, a charity founded to raise funds for cancer research. Livestrong dovetailed perfectly with Armstrong’s narrative, the cancer survivor who battled the odds to emerge as a sporting phenomenon. It meant that the aura of doing good for other cancer victims armored Armstrong against prying skeptics who doubted his story and for many, many years it worked. Go ask David Walsh.

Likewise Jimmy Savile donned the garments of the charity-worker to bullet proof himself against investigation and in the process used his fund raising at hospitals like Stoke Mandeville to gain access to more under age sex victims. In his case suspicion about his activities existed for far longer than Armstrong yet thanks in no small way to his charity work, he survived serious scrutiny until after his death.

The former football coach at Penn State University, Jerry Sandusky founded his charity, The Second Mile, way back in 1977 to serve the needs of underprivileged and at risk youth in the state. Some 100,000 youngsters a year received help from the charity and some became objects of sexual gratification for Sandusky until he was uncovered as an abuser in 2011. His charity work, like Savile’s, protected him from scrutiny and provided him with victims.

So the moral of the story? Any public personality who cloaks him or herself in the respectability of charity work should be looked at askance. Just in case. They might be hiding some awful secret. They might not. But they might.


Will CBS and Sunday Telegraph Defy PSNI Demands For Dolours Price Material?

This weekend a number of news reports claimed that the PSNI has requested that journalistic material from the US broadcaster CBS and the British newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph concerning Dolours Price and the abduction and ‘disappearance’ of Jean McConville be handed over to detectives investigating her death.

The Telegraph interviewed Dolours Price about her alleged role, inter alia, in the disappearance of Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972. It is believed that the paper’s reporters tape-recorded their interviews with her. She said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had given her the order for these operations which included the 1973 bombing of London, for which she was arrested and imprisoned. CBS News’ London bureau also interviewed Dolours Price and an item based on the interview was broadcast on national US television and radio. It is likely that the PSNI are seeking film that was not broadcast.
If past practice is a reliable guide, it is likely that the PSNI have requested that this material be handed over voluntarily by these two organisations and if they refuse will then serve them with subpoenas. It remains to be seen what the response is from The Sunday Telegraph and CBS but hopefully a voluntary handover is not on the menu at either organization!. More crucially, what will they do if, having refused to hand over the material voluntarily they then are served with subpoenas? Will they move in the courts to quash them? Not to do so will set an alarming and dangerous precedent because this will entail two of the foremost media concerns in the Western world accepting the unbridled, unchallenged right of the police to use journalistic material in criminal investigations while implicitly accepting that journalists can and even should work alongside police detectives to supplement their work. Where CBS and The Sunday Telegraph go today, others will follow tomorrow.

It is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge. It would end by cementing the police and the Fourth Estate together as partners, the latter collecting information for the former to use, degrading the supposed independence of the media in a most disconcerting way and undermining its ability to hold society and its institutions, including the police, to account and under scrutiny. With the Leveson inquiry due to recommend tighter state oversight of the media, this move by the PSNI holds great destructive potential for a free society in Britain. In the US, CBS’ capitulation would mark another depressing waypoint on a post-911 journey that has seen civil liberties erased and media independence eroded. These are bad days for this to happen.

The nature of the crime under investigation, the “disappearance” of alleged British Army informer, Jean McConville by the IRA some forty years ago may tempt CBS and the Sunday Telegraph to hand over the material, on the grounds that the crime was so monstrous that nobody could stand in the way of bringing the matter to a just end. While not wishing to minimise the sheer wrongness and wickedness of what happened to Jean McConville, it would be unfortunate if that did happen and both institutions should reflect on a number of realities before contemplating that path.

They should remember that there were many, many monstrous crimes committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and quite a few of them were carried out by the state. Those crimes however remain uninvestigated and untouched by the same police force that now seeks to discover what happened to Jean McConville. They were carried out by the PSNI’s predecessors, the RUC, by British Military intelligence and by the Security Service, MI5 – the gory details are well known in Northern Ireland – yet no subpoenas are ever slapped on their desks. And we all know they won’t be. There are double standards at work here.

Secondly, for the most part of the last forty years neither the police nor any other security force agency cared a damn about Jean McConville, to the extent that only recently did they even classify her death as a murder, even though their intelligence files must have been bursting with information about her fate .

If the IRA is telling the truth and she was an informer who was caught but then let go with a warning before resuming her work for the British military, then the Army has some hard questions to answer, not least why they continued to use an agent whose life they must have known was in danger. And is it only coincidence that the state’s new found concern for Jean McConville comes when the Provo leadership has no more peace process cards to play, has disarmed and defanged the IRA and presents a great electoral threat to the Southern establishment parties? When the PSNI embarked on this investigation, with subpoenas served only when Gerry Adams was no longer a member of the British parliament and a potential source of embarrassment for that institution, they knew full well that all paths in their investigation would lead to his door. In these circumstances we are entitled to ask whether the opportunity to wreak revenge against a long-time foe rivals any concern for the death of Jean McConville.

Finally, CBS and The Sunday Telegraph, should bear in mind that no matter the distressing circumstances of Jean McConville’s abduction and death, it is the principle that matters above all, that the media should be and must stay independent. It is this that is at stake in this matter. Today it is Jean McConville but tomorrow it may be opponents of war or people protesting the power of Wall Street or the City of London. The day the media accepts without protest or effort to deny in the courts, a role as an active partner with the police, no matter the justness of the cause, is the day they cease to matter and the rest of us lose a crucial if erratic bulwark of freedom. We are too close to that as it is. If, finally, both outlets must hand over the material it can only be after a fierce fight to protect their independence and to reassure their readers and viewers.

The following is a statement I issued in the wake of the weekend reports:
“I view with great concern and no little alarm this effort by the PSNI to further intrude upon media rights by seeking interview material from CBS News and the Sunday Telegraph. It is clear that in the light of recent court decisions in the United States and Belfast, the police feel encouraged to raid for journalistic material rather than conduct investigations under their own steam, as they had many opportunities to do in this case.

“I sincerely hope and trust that neither CBS nor the Sunday Telegraph will voluntarily hand over material to the PSNI and in the event of a subpoena being served on either organisation they will have my complete and unqualified support in resisting it. It is vital to remember that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a robust bulwark against incursions into freedom of speech and I trust both organisations will seek its protection against this effort by the PSNI.

“Clearly this case is developing into a major assault on privacy. Not content with assailing academic rights, the PSNI are now set to lay siege to the media as well. Where will this stop? The right and duty of the media to report fully and freely without having to look over their shoulders for prying policemen has to be protected if the media is to perform its role of holding society to account.

“There are a number of points I wish to make about this issue:

“It is clear that the PSNI is substituting the efforts of journalists for basic detective work. I cite one glaring example. In August 2010, Dolours Price, who lives in Dublin, appeared in a Northern Ireland court on a minor charge. The court was full of policemen at the time and the authorities were well aware in advance of her appearance. The PSNI had a perfect opportunity to question her about the allegations in the Irish News and Sunday Life but did not do so. The questions must be asked, why not? And why should media and academic organisations now be asked to pay the price for police incompetence?

“I also wish to point out that notwithstanding a recent decision in the Belfast High Court I am firmly and unalterably of the view that if these interviews from Boston College are handed over, the risk to the life of BC researcher, Anthony McIntyre will be very great indeed. The IRA will view him as someone who encouraged living, fellow former members of the IRA to break their rule of silence in circumstances that could lead to criminal charges against living IRA leaders and members. As someone who has covered IRA matters as a journalist for many years, I know what the penalty for that is. Thankfully, none of the journalists from CBS or the Sunday Telegraph are likely to face the same consequences.

“The speed with which the PSNI have acted against CBS and the Sunday Telegraph is in sharp contrast to its complete inactivity when similar reports surfaced in the Irish News and Sunday Life newspapers in February 2010. One of those reports wrongly claimed that Anthony McIntyre’s interview with Dolours Price contained details about the disappearance of Jean McConville. It did not but that did not stop the PSNI from issuing subpoenas more than a year later against Boston College. Had the PSNI conducted basic due diligence in 2010 those subpoenas would never have been issued.

“In this regard it is worth noting that this move against CBS and the Sunday Telegraph is the first time since this case began that the PSNI has sought to obtain allegedly similar materials through domestic channels.”

US Supreme Court Grants Temporary Stay On Boston College Handover

Press release – October 1st, 2012
Contact Sabina Clarke: +1 215 509 2345; +1 215 908 7960

(Updated/corrected 16:21 EST)

United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has today granted a temporary stay on the handover of interviews from the Belfast Project at Boston College to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The stay will be in place until at least October 11th, when the US government, which facilitated the subpoenas, is due to formally respond to an application from Eamonn Dornan, JJ Cotter and Jonathan Albano, attorneys for Belfast Project researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, that the handover be stayed until the Supreme Court decides whether to hold a full hearing on the case.