Articles on Attack on Alternative Medicine 23/5/06

[The following is a response from eminent health journalist Martin J
Walker to a recent call for the NHS to stop paying for complimentary
and alternative therapies Full text of the letter to trust chief
executives –,,2
2191985,00.html ]


From MARTIN WALKER – Author of Brave New World of Zero Risk and
Dirty Medicine: Science, big business and the assault on natural
health care

Every time there is an attack on alternative medicine people write
similar letters in response, defending these therapies but always,
there is a lack of analysis, historical or otherwise. This means
that although the number of replies and combative responses is
growing and we are ‘learning’ in that sense, no one seems to be
describing the supporters of orthodox medicine in their context and
drawing attention to conflict of interest and vested interest.
Consequently it always looks as if these critics are serious people
with important things to say, rather than shallow half wits guided
entirely by vested interest.

Dr Michael Baum was a founder member of the Campaign Against Health
Fraud (now called HealthWatch http://www.healthwatch ). HealthWatch, which is linked to important
US lobby groups CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation
into Claims of the Paranormal) and ACSH (American Council on Science
and Health) has been responsible for a whole serious of attacks on
alternative health, CAM and especially homeopathy.

Other signatories to the Times letter also have links with
HealthWatch, most particularly Ernst who over the last decade has
campaigned consistently against alternative medicine (and can most
accurately be described as the only Professor of alternative
medicine in Britain who argues the case for pharmaceutical
medicine). Ernst spoke at the 15th Annual meeting of CSICOP held in
London where he delivered a quite childish but supposedly humorous
deconstruction of alternative medicine to the assembled twenty odd
anoraks in the audience. At that meeting amongst his own people,
Ernst made no attempt to be even vaguely academic or supportive of

Within the last two years, HealthWatch has been taken over – it has
been floundering for years – by the new industry-backed lobby
groups, The Science and Media Centre and Sense About Science (SAS),
these groups are backed with bundles of money from the Association
of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) as well as individual
drug manufacturing companies. They are linked to some of the most
avid de-regulating ‘libertarian’ US lobby groups.

The founder of the Campaign Against Health Fraud (HealthWatch)
Caroline Richmond, has been writing for these lobby groups over the
last couple of years and providing information for  Mike
Fitzpatrick  who is both a member of SAS and makes journalistic
contributions to Spiked, the online news vehicle of the ex-
Revolutionary Communist Party members who are now deeply embedded in
the pro-science Lobby Groups.

It was the above organisations working out of the Royal Society,
which send a letter to the Times with a list of signatories
protesting about critics of GM crops. In this case however,
environmental organisations and journalists like George Monbiot (the
Guardian newspaper) organised with considerable effect against them.
Why, oh why, can’t supporters of alternative medicine do the same!
Apart from my two books, Dirty Medicine ( ) and Zero
Risk ( ) , no one has come forward to
organise web sites with an ongoing critique of these industry-backed

One last point, Prince Charles is to be congratulated for his
continuing and committed support for alternative medicine but if I
was him I would certainly get frustrated at the lack of serious
support. In the early 1980s, it was Charles who opened and became a
patron of  the Britsol Cancer Help Centre. In 1990, the Centre was
wrecked by a bogus scientific paper published in the Lancet, which
claimed that women with breast cancer who attended the Centre died
more quickly and in greater number than those who had orthodox
treatment. The unfortunate response to this attack, was again,
constant picky academic arguments about whether or not the paper’s
writers had got their statistical analysis correct.

What there should have been was a full blooded political assault on
HealthWatch and its associates, the writers of the paper and the
connivance of the Lancet in its publication. Fifteen years later
alternative medicine is coming under increasing attack from
industrial vested interests but we are unfortunately responding in
the same piecemeal manner. It’s time that supporters of CAM and
alternative medicine, really did get their political act together.
While environmentalists, greens, anti-corporate critics and
pharmaceutical company critics, have all formed political fact
gathering organisations and write consistently about the corporate
lobbies which are managing skewed news, the practitioners of
homeopathy and other valuable therapies, appear utterly unable to
organise against the threat they are facing.

Anyone who wants to read in greater depth about any of the above,
should obtain copies of my books Dirty Medicine and Brave New World
of Zero Risk and perhaps visit the websites: and

If we don’t make ourselves aware of the history of these attacks we
will never be able to combat them and they will gradually incur
increasing damage.

Regards, Martin Walker

Published in: on May 28, 2006 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

EU Food Watchdog Whitewashing Aspartame: Cancers Not Due To Sweetener

EU Food Watchdog Whitewashing Aspartame: Cancers Not Due To Sweetener

Rome, 5 May 2006 – The European Food Safety Authority today has performed its ritual to whitewash aspartame, an artificial sweetener made of two amino acids and methanol. In a well organized press conference in Rome, attended by an international group of health journalists and streamed live on the internet, the food watchdog explained its reasons for disregarding the study published last year by the prestigious Ramazzini Institute.

Dr Iona Pratt, the head of the working group that examined the study, acknowledged the serious nature of the Institute’s work but explained that the tumors researchers found in the rats may well have been "due to other reasons" than aspartame intake.

Dr Pratt also made reference to other, previous studies, that had found no cancer risk, to sustain the panel’s view. A special mention went to a recent "large study of over 500.000 people in the US" that found no aspartame-cancer link. Perhaps she should have added that this study was a diet assessment, not designed to evaluate the effects of aspartame, and in contrast to the "life time" study of the Ramazzini institute it assessed only one year’s worth of diet with no specific questions relating to aspartame intake.

In what seems to amount to a leap of faith, the panel recommended not only to leave aspartame well alone because "it does not cause cancer", but also stated in its recommendations that there is no reason to look further. This is somewhat akin to the US Department of Agriculture’s refusal to allow testing for mad cow disease – bury your head in the sand and the danger will go away. After some time, Jane and Joe public will have forgotten…

The recommendation to not look further into aspartame safety drew some questions from the journalists present. In response, the huge amount of data from consumers, collected by the FDA, was cited as proof for the sweetener’s safety. But when pressed as to why not look, Sue Barlow, the Chair of the the EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Food Additives and Flavourings said it would be hard to collect data from consumers and expect an evaluation of those data not to be biased.

It would seem that as long as consumers say that aspartame is great, that would be just fine, but when they start to complain, that shows bias.


Sepp Hasslberger
Friday May 5 2006
Published in: on May 5, 2006 at 12:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why I Quit HIV

Why I Quit HIV

As I write this, in the late winter of 2006, we are more than twenty years into the AIDS era. Like many, a large part of my life has been irreversibly affected by AIDS. My entire adolescence and adult life – as well as the lives of many of my peers – has been overshadowed by the belief in a deadly, sexually transmittable pathogen and the attendant fear of intimacy and lack of trust that belief engenders.

To add to this impact, my chosen career has developed around the HIV model of AIDS. I received my Ph.D. in 2002 for my work constructing mathematical models of HIV infection, a field of study I entered in 1996. Just ten years later, it might seem early for me to be looking back on and seriously reconsidering my chosen field, yet here I am.

My work as a mathematical biologist has been built in large part on the paradigm that HIV causes AIDS, and I have since come to realize that there is good evidence that the entire basis for this theory is wrong. AIDS, it seems, is not a disease so much as a sociopolitical construct that few people understand and even fewer question. The issue of causation, in particular, has become beyond question – even to bring it up is deemed irresponsible.

Why have we as a society been so quick to accept a theory for which so little solid evidence exists? Why do we take proclamations by government institutions like the NIH and the CDC, via newscasters and talk show hosts, entirely on faith? The average citizen has no idea how weak the connection really is between HIV and AIDS, and this is the manner in which scientifically insupportable phrases like "the AIDS virus" or "an AIDS test" have become part of the common vernacular despite no evidence for their accuracy.

When it was announced in 1984 that the cause of AIDS had been found in a retrovirus that came to be known as HIV, there was a palpable panic. My own family was immediately affected by this panic, since my mother had had several blood transfusions in the early 1980s as a result of three late miscarriages she had experienced. In the early days, we feared mosquito bites, kissing, and public toilet seats. I can still recall the panic I felt after looking up in a public restroom and seeing some graffiti that read "Do you have AIDS yet? If not, sit on this toilet seat."

But I was only ten years old then, and over time the panic subsided to more of a dull roar as it became clear that AIDS was not as easy to "catch" as we had initially believed. Fear of going to the bathroom or the dentist was replaced with a more realistic wariness of having sex with anyone we didn’t know really, really well. As a teenager who was in no way promiscuous, I didn’t have much to worry about.

That all changed – or so I thought – when I was twenty-one. Due to circumstances in my personal life and a bit of paranoia that (as it turned out, falsely and completely groundlessly) led me to believe I had somehow contracted "AIDS," I got an HIV test. I spent two weeks waiting for the results, convinced that I would soon die, and that it would be "all my fault." This was despite the fact that I was perfectly healthy, didn’t use drugs, and wasn’t promiscuous – low-risk by any definition. As it happened, the test was negative, and, having felt I had been granted a reprieve, I vowed not to take more risks, and to quit worrying so much.

Over the past ten years, my attitude toward HIV and AIDS has undergone a dramatic shift. This shift was catalyzed by the work I did as a graduate student, analyzing mathematical models of HIV and the immune system. As a mathematician, I found virtually every model I studied to be unrealistic. The biological assumptions on which the models were based varied from author to author, and this made no sense to me. It was around this time, too, that I became increasingly perplexed by the stories I heard about long-term survivors. From my admittedly inexpert viewpoint, the major thing they all had in common – other than HIV – was that they lived extremely healthy lifestyles. Part of me was becoming suspicious that being HIV-positive didn’t necessarily mean you would ever get AIDS.

By a rather curious twist of fate, it was on my way to a conference to present the results of a model of HIV that I had proposed together with my advisor, that I came across an article by Dr. David Rasnick about AIDS and the corruption of modern science. As I sat on the airplane reading this story, in which he said "the more I examined HIV, the less it made sense that this largely inactive, barely detectable virus could cause such devastation," everything he wrote started making sense to me in a way that the currently accepted model did not. I didn’t have anywhere near all the information, but my instincts told me that what he said seemed to fit.

Over the past ten years, I nevertheless continued my research into mathematical models of HIV infection, all the while keeping an ear open for dissenting voices. By now, I have read hundreds of articles on HIV and AIDS, many from the dissident point of view but far, far more from that of the establishment, which unequivocally promotes the idea that HIV causes AIDS and that the case is closed. In that time, I even published four papers on HIV (from a modeling perspective). I justified my contributions to a theory I wasn’t convinced of by telling myself these were purely theoretical, mathematical constructs, never to be applied in the real world. I suppose, in some sense also, I wanted to keep an open mind.

So why is it that only now have I decided that enough is enough, and I can no longer in any capacity continue to support the paradigm on which my entire career has been built?

As a mathematician, I was taught early on about the importance of clear definitions. AIDS, if you consider its definition, is far from clear, and is in fact not even a consistent entity. The classification "AIDS" was introduced in the early 1980s not as a disease but as a surveillance tool to help doctors and public health officials understand and control a strange "new" syndrome affecting mostly young gay men. In the two decades intervening, it has evolved into something quite different. AIDS today bears little or no resemblance to the syndrome for which it was named. For one thing, the definition has actually been changed by the CDC several times, continually expanding to include ever more diseases (all of which existed for decades prior to AIDS), and sometimes, no disease whatsoever. More than half of all AIDS diagnoses in the past several years in the United States have been made on the basis of a T-cell count and a "confirmed" positive antibody test – in other words, a deadly disease has been diagnosed over and over again on the basis of no clinical disease at all. And the leading cause of death in HIV-positives in the last few years has been liver failure, not an AIDS-defining disease in any way, but rather an acknowledged side effect of protease inhibitors, which asymptomatic individuals take in massive daily doses, for years.

The epidemiology of HIV and AIDS is puzzling and unclear as well. In spite of the fact that AIDS cases increased rapidly from their initial observation in the early 1980s and reached a peak in 1993 before declining rapidly, the number of HIV-positive individuals in the U.S. has remained constant at one million since the advent of widespread HIV antibody testing. This cannot be due to anti-HIV therapy, since the annual mortality rate of North American HIV-positives who are treated with anti-HIV drugs is much higher – between 6.7 and 8.8% – than would be the approximately 1–2% global mortality rate of HIV-positives if all AIDS cases were fatal in a given year.

Even more strangely, HIV has been present everywhere in the U.S., in every population tested including repeat blood donors and military recruits, at a virtually constant rate since testing began in 1985. It is deeply confusing that a virus thought to have been brought to the AIDS epicenters of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles in the early 1970s could possibly have spread so rapidly at first, yet have stopped spreading completely as soon as testing began.

Returning for a moment to the mathematical modeling, one aspect that had always puzzled me was the lack of agreement on how to accurately represent the actual biological mechanism of immune impairment. AIDS is said to be caused by a dramatic loss of the immune system’s T-cells, said loss being presumably caused by HIV. Why then could no one agree on how to mathematically model the dynamics of the fundamental disease process – that is, how are T-cells actually killed by HIV? Early models assumed that HIV killed T-cells directly, by what is referred to as lysis. An infected cell lyses, or bursts, when the internal viral burden is so high that it can no longer be contained, just like your grocery bag breaks when it’s too full. This is in fact the accepted mechanism of pathogenesis for virtually all other viruses. But it became clear that HIV did not in fact kill T-cells in this manner, and this concept was abandoned, to be replaced by various other ones, each of which resulted in very different models and, therefore, different predictions. Which model was "correct" never was clear.

As it turns out, the reason there was no consensus mathematically as to how HIV killed T-cells was because there was no biological consensus. There still isn’t. HIV is possibly the most studied microbe in history – certainly it is the best-funded – yet there is still no agreed-upon mechanism of pathogenesis. Worse than that, there are no data to support the hypothesis that HIV kills T-cells at all. It doesn’t in the test tube. It mostly just sits there, as it does in people – if it can be found at all. In Robert Gallo’s seminal 1984 paper in which he claims "proof" that HIV causes AIDS, actual HIV could be found in only 26 out of 72 AIDS patients. To date, actual HIV remains an elusive target in those with AIDS or simply HIV-positive.

This is starkly illustrated by the continued use of antibody tests to diagnose HIV infection. Antibody tests are fairly standard to test for certain microbes, but for anything other than HIV, the main reason they are used in place of direct tests (that is, actually looking for the bacteria or virus itself) is because they are generally much easier and cheaper than direct testing. Most importantly, such antibody tests have been rigorously verified against the gold standard of microbial isolation. This stands in vivid contrast to HIV, for which antibody tests are used because there exists no test for the actual virus. As to so-called "viral load," most people are not aware that tests for viral load are neither licensed nor recommended by the FDA to diagnose HIV infection. This is why an "AIDS test" is still an antibody test. Viral load, however, is used to estimate the health status of those already diagnosed HIV-positive. But there are very good reasons to believe it does not work at all. Viral load uses either PCR or a technique called branched-chained DNA amplification (bDNA). PCR is the same technique used for "DNA fingerprinting" at crime scenes where only trace amounts of materials can be found. PCR essentially mass-produces DNA or RNA so that it can be seen. If something has to be mass-produced to even be seen, and the result of that mass-production is used to estimate how much of a pathogen there is, it might lead a person to wonder how relevant the pathogen was in the first place. Specifically, how could something so hard to find, even using the most sensitive and sophisticated technology, completely decimate the immune system? bDNA, while not magnifying anything directly, nevertheless looks only for fragments of DNA believed, but not proven, to be components of the genome of HIV – but there is no evidence to say that these fragments don’t exist in other genetic sequences unrelated to HIV or to any virus. It is worth noting at this point that viral load, like antibody tests, has never been verified against the gold standard of HIV isolation. bDNA uses PCR as a gold standard, PCR uses antibody tests as a gold standard, and antibody tests use each other. None use HIV itself.

There is good reason to believe the antibody tests are flawed as well. The two types of tests routinely used are the ELISA and the Western Blot (WB). The current testing protocol is to "verify" a positive ELISA with the "more specific" WB (which has actually been banned from diagnostic use in the UK because it is so unreliable). But few people know that the criteria for a positive WB vary from country to country and even from lab to lab. Put bluntly, a person’s HIV status could well change depending on the testing venue. It is also possible to test "WB indeterminate," which translates to any one of "uninfected," "possibly infected," or even, absurdly, "partly infected" under the current interpretation. This conundrum is confounded by the fact that the proteins comprising the different reactive "bands" on the WB test are all claimed to be specific to HIV, raising the question of how a truly uninfected individual could possess antibodies to even one "HIV-specific" protein.

I have come to sincerely believe that these HIV tests do immeasurably more harm than good, due to their astounding lack of specificity and standardization. I can buy the idea that anonymous screening of the blood supply for some nonspecific marker of ill health (which, due to cross reactivity with many known pathogens, a positive HIV antibody test often seems to be) is useful. I cannot buy the idea that any individual needs to have a diagnostic HIV test. A negative test may not be accurate (whatever that means), but a positive one can create utter havoc and destruction in a person’s life – all for a virus that most likely does absolutely nothing. I do not feel it is going too far to say that these tests ought to be banned for diagnostic purposes.

The real victims in this mess are those whose lives are turned upside-down by the stigma of an HIV diagnosis. These people, most of whom are perfectly healthy, are encouraged to avoid intimacy and are further branded with the implication that they were somehow dreadfully foolish and careless. Worse, they are encouraged to take massive daily doses of some of the most toxic drugs ever manufactured. HIV, for many years, has fulfilled the role of a microscopic terrorist. People have lost their jobs, been denied entry into the Armed Forces, been refused residency in and even entry into some countries, even been charged with assault or murder for having consensual sex; babies have been taken from their mothers and had toxic medications forced down their throats. There is no precedent for this type of behavior, as it is all in the name of a completely unproven, fundamentally flawed hypothesis, on the basis of highly suspect, indirect tests for supposed infection with an allegedly deadly virus – a virus that has never been observed to do much of anything.

As to the question of what does cause AIDS, if it is not HIV, there are many plausible explanations given by people known to be experts. Before the discovery of HIV, AIDS was assumed to be a lifestyle syndrome caused mostly by indiscriminate use of recreational drugs. Immunosuppression has multiple causes, from an overload of microbes to malnutrition. Probably all of these are true causes of AIDS. Immune deficiency has many manifestations, and a syndrome with many manifestations is likely multicausal as well. Suffice it to say that the HIV hypothesis of AIDS has offered nothing but predictions – of its spread, of the availability of a vaccine, of a forthcoming animal model, and so on – that have not materialized, and it has not saved a single life.

After ten years involved in the academic side of HIV research, as well as in the academic world at large, I truly believe that the blame for the universal, unconditional, faith-based acceptance of such a flawed theory falls squarely on the shoulders of those among us who have actively endorsed a completely unproven hypothesis in the interests of furthering our careers. Of course, hypotheses in science deserve to be studied, but no hypothesis should be accepted as fact before it is proven, particularly one whose blind acceptance has such dire consequences.

For over twenty years, the general public has been greatly misled and ill-informed. As someone who has been raised by parents who taught me from a young age never to believe anything just because "everyone else accepts it to be true," I can no longer just sit by and do nothing, thereby contributing to this craziness. And the craziness has gone on long enough. As humans – as honest academics and scientists – the only thing we can do is allow the truth to come to light.

Published in: on May 3, 2006 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Big Brother Watches Britain

Big Brother Watches Britain

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

One of the oddest and most eerily prophetic passages in 1984 finds Winston Smith, unwisely searching for a key to the lost past, entering a sordid alehouse in a proletarian quarter. There he sees an old man, a survivor of former times, trying to order a pint of beer, once the standard English measure. The barman either does not understand him or pretends not to do so. “What in hell’s name is a pint? Litre and half-litre, that’s all we serve,” he says.

England, likewise, has ceased to exist, and its sophisticated currency has been replaced by the standardized decimal dollars and cents of Oceania. In Brave New World, the dystopia is different in almost every way, but the drug soma is prescribed in metric grams, and England has also disappeared, this time into a globalized Fordist state, governed by ten world controllers. Mass production and advertising have brought into being the borderless, godless world dreamed of by Karl Marx, in which German and French are dead languages and Trotsky a common surname.

Both Orwell and Huxley, perhaps only half-consciously, recognized that national independence is one of the most important components of liberty and that local, particular culture was an obstacle to arbitrary power. And they were quite right. Their books were until very recently read here in Britain as enjoyable fantasies of the unthinkable. We could shiver as we read them, then put them down with a happy feeling that this was what we had avoided through the luck of our geography and the good sense of our forebears. Only some colossal, unimaginable catastrophe—Orwell talks vaguely of a nuclear surprise attack, Huxley of the Nine Years War—could connect our gentle, reasonable world with either of these howling nightmares.

Yet in the last few years there have been a number of events and developments in Britain that suggest no such cataclysm is necessary, but that James Madison was correct when he said, “There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”

There is now, for instance, an official campaign in Britain to use the law to abolish traditional English measures—hence the special eeriness of Orwell’s alehouse prophecy. A market trader, Steve Thoburn, was filmed secretly by City Hall officials as he sold bananas to his customers in Sunderland, an industrial town in the north of England. They then prosecuted him because he had made the sale in pounds and ounces, rather than in kilograms and grams. There was no question of him giving short measure or of having done anything dishonest. His offense was to continue to use traditional measures, well-known to all his customers, rather than the global ones now preferred by authority. He was quite ready to sell his bananas in kilograms to anyone who asked. But they never did.

Mr. Thoburn was not exporting his bananas to a country that used the metric system, and bananas are not a medicine or a high-technology product whose precise mass might be crucial to a patient’s health or an international space project. His prosecution was part of the forcible imposition of one culture upon another, as is usually done to conquered peoples to remind them of their subjugation or to the people of a revolutionary state who need to be told firmly that there is a new order. The case was taken all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, one of two foreign supreme courts that now outrank the highest tribunals of English law, including Parliament itself. The court, which usually concerns itself with upholding the left-wing liberties of “minorities,” unsurprisingly upheld the fine levied on Mr. Thoburn. It is hard to see what the law in a free country should have had to do with such a private transaction. But in an unfree country, that is what the law is for: telling people who is in charge.

Pints of beer, currently spared from this process, will sooner or later suffer the same fate, and the words “litre and half-litre, that’s all we serve” will eventually be heard in the proletarian alehouses of England. Those who thought this episode was trivial were like those who do not connect clouds with rain. For in the years that have followed, it has become clear that a deep and worrying change is taking place in the laws and police forces of England.

The difficulty lies in explaining how serious it is without falling into the language of panic. So I shall simply list some developments as dispassionately as I can. We have a Civil Contingencies Act that, once an emergency has been declared, gives the government the power to cancel existing laws, to order citizens to move or to stay where they are, in short, to act like a dictatorship. We have a succession of Terrorism Acts that give police officers enormous arbitrary authority they never had before, a power they have already begun to abuse. During a recent convention of the governing Labour Party in the seaside town of Brighton, this law was used dozens of times against people doing such dangerous things as wearing T-shirts bearing anti-government slogans. Notoriously, the police gave it as their excuse for helping to eject an elderly protestor from the convention hall after he heckled a member of the government.

Police officers in Britain have, by long tradition, sworn an oath to uphold the law and are servants of the Crown, not of the government. This means that they are legally obliged to refuse an unlawful order from a superior, technically loyal to the law but not to the state or the government of the day. Parliament has also resisted the creation of a national police force, and there has been no direct ministerial control of the police, as exists everywhere on the European continent. But late last year a new Serious and Organised Crimes Agency was created, whose officers are ordinary government servants and who are directly employed by the central state. Meanwhile, there are plans to merge the remaining local police forces into far larger units, which are only one step away from a national organization. The normal police are also being supplemented by large numbers of poorly trained Community Support Officers, as yet with limited powers of arrest, who like the grander SOCA are ordinary government servants, not sworn constables loyal to Crown and law.

While these changes proceed, the government also presses fiercely ahead with a scheme to compel all British citizens to register for identity cards. Officially, this is voluntary, but from 2008 anyone who renews a passport will be placed on the register and compelled to have his eyeballs scanned, his fingerprints taken, and his personal details compulsorily recorded—a fate hitherto reserved mainly for convicted sexual offenders and cattle. He will then, at great personal expense, be presented with an identity card for which he has not asked, though for an unspecified period the issue of the actual card will be optional. Registration will be increasingly inescapable. In a small country where most people take holidays abroad quite frequently, this will rapidly compel millions to take part in the allegedly non-compulsory scheme. Once this has happened, general compulsion and an obligation to carry this breathing license at all times will probably follow. Challenged to justify this measure, the government has claimed in turn that it will fight crime, Terrorism, and identity theft. But these arguments have been repeatedly slashed to pieces in both Houses of Parliament. There is no good evidence that such cards will achieve anything of the kind and much evidence that they will increase official interference in private lives, as well as undermining the fundamental principle of free societies—that the state must justify itself to the citizenry rather than the other way round.

Meanwhile a measure passed in 1986 in a panicky attempt to curb bad behavior at soccer matches, the Public Order Act, is increasingly being used to prosecute people whose public statements are thought by police officers to be likely to cause offense to others. In several cases, objectors to homosexual equality laws have been prosecuted or threatened, in one case after a broadcaster on the BBC voiced criticisms of laws allowing homosexual couples to adopt children. Even Tony Blair has been investigated over published allegations that he was once rude about the people of Wales in an entirely private context.

Other measures include a law allowing terrorist suspects to be detained for 28 days without charge, a straightforward breach of Magna Carta. This revolting change is probably what the government always intended when it asked Parliament for a 90-day detention law. Yet Charles Clarke, the home secretary, whose cozy title conceals a would-be minister of the interior, publicly continues to press for 90 days and recently said that he preferred the continental system of justice to the Anglo-American model. No wonder. The only surprise is that he does not prefer the old Soviet system. It has been clear for years that the leaders of both our major parties find jury trial and the presumption of innocence highly inconvenient. The accused man’s right to silence was dispensed with some years ago, and the protections against being tried twice on the same charge have been fatally weakened. Should you wish for more to alarm you, then anyone with access to the Web may study the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, whose jaw-crackingly dull title conceals an astonishing plan to allow government to bypass Parliament altogether and to make and change many laws at will, without even the excuse of an emergency.

Most British citizens assume that liberty grows wild in their country and needs neither cultivation nor protection, and they are unmoved by these events because they think that tyranny cannot happen here. Perhaps they are right, but if a tyranny does arise here, it will find all the weapons it needs conveniently to hand, sharpened, polished, and oiled. As our overstretched, under-equipped soldiers pursue the mirages of freedom and democracy in Iraq, real liberty and law go undefended in the nation where they first saw the light.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the London Mail on Sunday and his blog can be visited here/.

Published in: on May 3, 2006 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Seen through a Syrian lens, ‘unknown Americans’ are provoking civil war in Iraq


Seen through a Syrian lens, ‘unknown Americans’ are provoking civil war in Iraq

By Robert Fisk

April 28, 2006


In Syria, the world appears through a glass, darkly. As dark as the smoked windows of the car which takes me to a building on the western side of Damascus where a man I have known for 15 years – we shall call him a "security source", which is the name given by American correspondents to their own powerful intelligence officers – waits with his own ferocious narrative of disaster in Iraq and dangers in the Middle East.

His is a fearful portrait of an America trapped in the bloody sands of Iraq, desperately trying to provoke a civil war around Baghdad in order to reduce its own military casualties. It is a scenario in which Saddam Hussein remains Washington’s best friend, in which Syria has struck at the Iraqi insurgents with a ruthlessness that the United States wilfully ignores. And in which Syria’s Interior Minister, found shot dead in his office last year, committed suicide because of his own mental instability.

The Americans, my interlocutor suspected, are trying to provoke an Iraqi civil war so that Sunni Muslim insurgents spend their energies killing their Shia co-religionists rather than soldiers of the Western occupation forces. "I swear to you that we have very good information," my source says, finger stabbing the air in front of him. "One young Iraqi man told us that he was trained by the Americans as a policeman in Baghdad and he spent 70 per cent of his time learning to drive and 30 per cent in weapons training. They said to him: ‘Come back in a week.’ When he went back, they gave him a mobile phone and told him to drive into a crowded area near a mosque and phone them. He waited in the car but couldn’t get the right mobile signal. So he got out of the car to where he received a better signal. Then his car blew up."

Impossible, I think to myself. But then I remember how many times Iraqis in Baghdad have told me similar stories. These reports are believed even if they seem unbelievable. And I know where much of the Syrian information is gleaned: from the tens of thousands of Shia Muslim pilgrims who come to pray at the Sayda Zeinab mosque outside Damascus. These men and women come from the slums of Baghdad, Hillah and Iskandariyah as well as the cities of Najaf and Basra. Sunnis from Fallujah and Ramadi also visit Damascus to see friends and relatives and talk freely of American tactics in Iraq.

"There was another man, trained by the Americans for the police. He too was given a mobile and told to drive to an area where there was a crowd – maybe a protest – and to call them and tell them what was happening. Again, his new mobile was not working. So he went to a landline phone and called the Americans and told them: ‘Here I am, in the place you sent me and I can tell you what’s happening here.’ And at that moment there was a big explosion in his car."

Just who these "Americans" might be, my source did not say. In the anarchic and panic-stricken world of Iraq, there are many US groups – including countless outfits supposedly working for the American military and the new Western-backed Iraqi Interior Ministry – who operate outside any laws or rules. No one can account for the murder of 191 university teachers and professors since the 2003 invasion – nor the fact that more than 50 former Iraqi fighter-bomber pilots who attacked Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war have been assassinated in their home towns in Iraq in the past three years.

Amid this chaos, a colleague of my source asked me, how could Syria be expected to lessen the number of attacks on Americans inside Iraq? "It was never safe, our border," he said. "During Saddam’s time, criminals and Saddam’s terrorists crossed our borders to attack our government. I built a wall of earth and sand along the border at that time. But three car bombs from Saddam’s agents exploded in Damascus and Tartous- I was the one who captured the criminals responsible. But we couldn’t stop them."

Now, he told me, the rampart running for hundreds of miles along Syria’s border with Iraq had been heightened. "I have had barbed wire put on top and up to now we have caught 1,500 non-Syrian and non-Iraqi Arabs trying to cross and we have stopped 2,700 Syrians from crossing … Our army is there – but the Iraqi army and the Americans are not there on the other side."

Behind these grave suspicions in Damascus lies the memory of Saddam’s long friendship with the United States. "Our Hafez el-Assad [the former Syrian president who died in 2000] learnt that Saddam, in his early days, met with American officials 20 times in four weeks. This convinced Assad that, in his words, ‘Saddam is with the Americans’. Saddam was the biggest helper of the Americans in the Middle East (when he attacked Iran in 1980) after the fall of the Shah. And he still is! After all, he brought the Americans to Iraq!"

Published in: on May 3, 2006 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment