Thursday, May 18, 2006

Censorship: Law Firm Carter-Ruck Attack Internet Freedom

Freedom of speech on the internet? Forget it – if a recent vendetta involving libel lawyers Carter-Ruck goes their way. The firm was upset by negative comments made by a former client who held a grudge due to having allegedly been pressurised by his own lawyers to accept miniscule damages in a case against the Telegraph so that they could walk away with hundreds of thousands of pounds in cost awards. Instead of writing to their former client, however, the libel lawyers went for the jugular and threatened his internet service provider with legal action should they not remove the offending material immediately.

If anyone gets a demand from a law firm threatening legal action, what will their first reaction be? Will they ask themselves whether they have done anything wrong or whether the demands are justified? Unlikely. The first thing going through the mind of the recipient of a legal threat is whether they can afford being drawn into litigation. Law firms know this and use this weariness to their advantage.

Carter-Ruck objected to Adam King of news portal calling them "greedy" and having "pressurised" and "screwed" clients. For months these allegations stood unchallenged, probably because they are rather meek and, as he asserts, he has proof to back them up in court. Then suddenly Carter-Ruck appear to have had a brainwave and decided to demand the removal of these allegations together with other material making reference to them from his internet provider, GreenNet.

GreenNet, according to their own promotional claim are "geared to the needs of non profit organisations, activists and people working for social change" and "dedicated to supporting and promoting groups and individuals working for peace, human rights and the environment, through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)". However, faced with the red letter from Carter-Ruck, they asked their client to comply with the law firm's demands.

Reluctantly he did so, but made an entry on his internal Wiki pages, informing his own network about what had happened. Unfortunately for him he used the words "unprincipled", "arrogant", "avaricious" and "sloppy" when referring to them, prompting them to send another letter to GreenNet to remove those Wiki pages, too. On the removed pages he placed a notice that they had been made temporarily unavailable due to censorship demands by Carter-Ruck. Carter-Ruck demanded that those notices be taken down also, since the claim that they had demanded censorship was in itself "defamatory".

One should think that the lawyers at Carter-Ruck never heard a word spoken in anger, given their sensitivities. Yet a simple search reveals that they were, and are, called much worth things by most respected publications. The main Wikipedia entry for the firm tells the story of a famous client who (if I understand it correctly) alleged that they told him "a string of lies" in order to enrich themselves to the tune of over forty thousand pounds by withholding information and giving him bad advice, making him loose his case. There is little chance that the firm will start libel action against Wikipedia since, unlike GreenNet, they are big enough to afford the legal costs.

The satirical magazine Private Eye also never gave in to demands to stop calling the firm's founder "Carter-Fuck". Instead they added the variety "Farter-Ruck" to their repertoire. Nor did the Guardian worry when it called Carter-Ruck a "dedicated liar", his letters "menacing" and his fees "exorbitant" in a most damaging obituary written by one of the law firm's former partners. Two year's ago, in Adam King's case against The Telegraph, even the Court of Appeal in London called Carter-Ruck's fees "extravagant" and demanded them to be capped in future cases.

To be certain that you will never be liable to pay damages for libel, you should 'refrain from writing, printing or publishing or distributing any written matter of whatsoever nature', says GrumpyOldBookman in his blog entry about the law firm where he doesn't mince his words either. But then owners Google are a little bit too much to chew for the litagatious lawyers. Reassuringly, my own blog is not hosted by GreenNet!

There are wider implications, however, in the fact that this infamous law firm with its apparently dreadful reputation can go and demand from an ISP to remove content without having to provide any evidence that such content breaches any of its rights or the law of the land. The freedom of expression on the internet is at stake, and soon we won't even be allowed to tell "lawyers' jokes". Others watching the supine and spineless response by GreenNet will take heart. Next time anybody is going to complain about any practice by any company on a website or forum, the company will demand unfavourable comments to be removed by their ISP. Maybe this is the new market Carter-Ruck is hoping to make a killing on.

Groups and organisations supporting and campaigning for free expression on the internet need to pick up the baton and test the law in this case. Carter-Ruck's unjustified demands are a little like asking a telephone company to cut off the line to one of their clients because they didn't like what he said to them over the phone. No libel firm should be allowed to threaten an ISP without even having approached the author of the content first. ISPs cannot judge the veracity of statements made on web pages, nor should they have to. If this attack on internet freedom goes unchallenged, it heralds the death of alternative media.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

British Immigration use Racial Profiling

After ex-home secretary Charles Clarke's blunder with regard to not keeping track of released foreign prisoners, the immigration department have stepped up their activity. As with police stop and search actions, the Muslim community is to bear the brunt of it through the process of racial profiling. Here is an example of a recent raid where ordinary members of the public were held hostage by police and immigration officers.

At just after 20.00 hours on 11 May 2006 a total of 7 uniformed officers from the immigration service and police entered the premises of Chicken & Pizza Zone, a take-away restaurant in Netherfield, Milton Keynes, and whilst permitting customers of non-Asian origin to leave the premises refused the same privilege to those who looked Asian. Approximately 45 minutes passed before the first customer was permitted to leave. People's identity documents were taken and checked by mobile phone, they were not informed of any rights, they were not given access to a solicitor or to an interpreter; no paperwork was issued afterwards to confirm that a detention had taken place. In my view the law enforcement agencies clearly broke the law.

My understanding of article 130 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 is that immigration may enter and search premises without a search  warrant only to look for a specific individual they suspect of having broken  and law and where they have reasonable cause to believe that the individual  may be present there. This does not give them the right to detain and deprive of their freedom other people, especially when it becomes apparent to them from their identity papers that they are not the specific individuals  sought. I cannot imagine immigration raiding a McDonalds branch and closing it down for almost an hour, nor can I imagine them  holding all white-skinned people because they might be looking for an individual from Eastern Europe.

I telephoned the responsible immigration authority on 01234 821600 and asked to speak to their press officer about the "immigration raid" and was told by the switchboard operator, after taking down my details  and press credentials, that she was only willing to tell me that they did not do "immigration raids" but only "enforcement visits" and that they were not prepared to talk to any media; instead a written request for information would have to be made to the home office. So much for "open government".

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ahmadinejad and the Propaganda War

When Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad took the unprecedented step to write to American President George W. Bush I was eager to read its full content which now, thanks to Mathaba, has been made available. There are no large surprises with regard to the points raised in the letter, but it is nonetheless most revealing in other respects, most importantly its style. I shall share with you my disappointment.

As to be expected, the Iranian president raises the issue of Western double standards including American support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine, points to the dishonesty in the justification of the illegal attack against Iraq whilst applauding the departure of Saddam Hussein, argues for the right to scientific, including nuclear, development for peaceful ends, hints at possible American government collusion over the 9/11 hijacks and derides America for their lack of human rights, citing Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition flights as examples.

During much of the lengthy letter the Iranian president refers to Christian values and the teachings of Jesus, Moses and Muhammad. Given that George Bush sees himself closely in touch with the Almighty such references to religious morals are not entirely out of place, but the repeated rallying cry to unite upon the common values of the monotheistic faiths misses the secular nature of Western society. From a Muslim viewpoint, of course, it seems that Ahmadinejad wants to cast himself into the role of continuing the tradition of the prophet of Islam himself, who also wrote letters of invitation to accept the truth to the rulers of his era.

If only Ahmadinejad had also copied the brevity of the messages from prophet Muhammad, peace be with him, instead of delivering what the American administration called a "lengthy lecture". This is what the prophet wrote to Heraclius, ruler of Byzantine, for example:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This letter is from Muhammad the slave of Allah and his Apostle to Heraclius, the ruler of the Byzantines. Peace be upon him who follows the right path. Furthermore, I invite you to Islam and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward, and if you reject this invitation of Islam you will be committing a sin by misguiding your subjects. And I recite to you Allah's statement: “O People of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship none but Allah and that we associate nothing in worship with Him, and that none of us shall take others as Lords beside Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims (those who have surrendered to Allah)."
It is brief and to the point. The Iranian president's message, on the other hand, runs into more than a dozen pages.

I have great respect for Mahmood Ahmadinejad for not being cowed into subservience to Western demands, for daring to point out the inconsistencies in the American rhetoric instead of simply being defensive, for speaking up for the Palestinians and putting publicly on record that 9/11 would not have been possible without prior knowledge by the American security services. In its lengthy and flowery style, however, the letter loses its effect and becomes almost unquotable.

In this regard the letter tells us much about Iran's inability to understand the nature of Western propaganda. The Iranian president remarks in his letter that he is a teacher. As a teacher he would need to deliver his message with clarity and in such a way that the recipients can grasp it. In this he fails utterly. The English text of the letter appears to be a straight translation from the Persian. More appropriately the text should have been rewritten to express the intended meaning in a language and style suitable for the targeted audience. In its crudeness it lacks the sophistication you would expect at the highest level of a country's administration.

What the letter tells us, and the Americans, is that Iran lacks competent advisors familiar with the Western mindset. The end product indicates a lack of expertise to draft refined wording with powerful effect which has become the hallmark of British diplomacy and that of other English speaking countries. Whilst the warmongers are spending weeks in formulating a UN draft resolution designed to open the doors for future military action without explicitly having to say so, the Iranian president sends a letter not much different from what one might expect to receive from a colleague or relative writing back from a trip around the world.

Let's hope for Iran that their military preparations for an American attack are not as dilettantish as their diplomatic efforts. If American planners were to judge Iran on the merits of this letter they would think it a walk-over. The importance of the propaganda war cannot be understated. Long before the first shot is fired a steady stream of disinformation ensures that both sides to the conflict are cast in a particular light in the eyes of the public. This is not a small matter. To deal with this verbal onslaught as much skill should be employed as in the defence of a country's physical borders. A high level message from the Iranian president, bound to get the media's attention due to its unprecedented nature, should have been fired with as much precision as a missile in order to send an unmistakeable message to the other side whilst at the same time forcing the media to take note of its salient points.

Maybe Iran needs to divert some funds from its defence budget into hiring competent communications experts familiar with the workings of modern media and advertising. The Iranian president's letter to George Bush has been yet another missed opportunity of which there are so many due to the lack of effort being made to understand one's opponents before attempting to talk to them. If he wants to save his nation from destruction Ahmadinejad needs better advisors. I wonder whether I should offer him my consultancy services.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Monkeys in Parliament

Members of Parliament can rejoice: The government has won an appeal against single-handed anti-war protestor Brian Haw who had previously argued successfully that an exclusions zone around parliament, within which no visible protests would be allowed, did not apply to him since he had already been a regular feature outside the Houses of Parliament well before that legislation had been introduced. You could say, he had become part of the street furniture of Westminster, and since he did not adopt the livery colours of the war criminals and supporters of the illegal invasion of Iraq on both sides of the house, MPs who had to walk past him on their way to work considered him an eyesore.

This resounding victory for unchallenged authority has removed our "representatives" even further from visible criticism and widened the gap between them and the electorate, most of whom no longer bother going to the polls. Like the three monkeys who close their eyes, ears and mouths they can now enjoy the perks of office at Westminster without ever having to look the consequences of their actions into the eye.

Nonetheless, Brian can take heart that he managed to stand up to authority for a whole five years and they only got rid of him by specifically introducing a legislation in the Serious Crime and Police Act 2005 which was designed to remove him, as had been admitted by those pushing for the new law. And we can all take heart that when a government considers a placard-bearing individual to be a "serious security risk" – as they argued in court – then it is unlikely to last much longer.

Meanwhile the abbreviation for Member of Parliament, MP, has gained a completely new meaning reflecting the ridiculous farce of their presence in the Commons: Monkey in Parliament.

Monday, May 01, 2006

United 93: When the FBI meddles with time

When I wrote about the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) transcript presented at the al-Moussaoui trial being a hoax every attempt was made to discredit my post, and because the BBC in their report had messed up and described the opening passage where the alleged hijackers announced having a bomb on board as being in Arabic (something they later corrected on their news website) a punter by the blogger name of Lenbrazil who busily tries to salvage the lost credibility of the official 9/11 story on numerous sites, thought he could turn this confusion into proof positive that I hadn't done my homework. I have therefore decided to revisit the topic to show that the evidence has been doctored.

Since all information relating to 9/11 flights has been classified and none of the actual ATC and CVR recordings have been released there is very little evidence to go by, but the US government cannot hide behind this fact since all they have to do to dispel any accusations is to release the material. At the moment, courtesy of, we have a recording of communications between Cleveland Air Traffic Control and Flight 93 plus  some other flights sharing the same frequency together with a transcript of the same recording courtesy of Joe Vialls, whose website unfortunately disappears when clicked, but which has been preserved by And we have the cockpit voice recorder transcript submitted by the prosecution during the al-Moussaoui trial.

I had made the point that what Air Traffic can record and what the onboard cockpit voice recorder picks up will not be the same. The CVR will only pick up ATC communications to the aircraft and those from other aircraft if they have been switched to loudspeaker. Air traffic control, and other aircraft sharing the frequency, will only hear what is said inside the cockpit when the PTT (push to talk) button on the control column is being pressed. If we look at the CVR transcript it appears that the hijackers confused the PTT switch with the intercom switch for making public announcements to passengers. This would explain why their announcement about a bomb on board is picked up by air traffic control. So let's assume this is what happened.

There are only two occasions where what was said on the flight deck of United 93 is being heard on the ATC tape, and on both occasions the alleged hijackers would have had to press the PTT button whilst not doing so at other times. However, since we can hear ATC communications from Cleveland and from other aircraft also at other times, those must have been switched to loudspeaker throughout. This implies that everything which can be heard on the ATC recording must also be recorded on the CVR. If some phrases don't match exactly we could put this down to difficulties in transcribing a tape of poor sound quality, although if you listen to it you will find that everything is quite clear and audible. But how do you explain missing bits? The exchange between Cleveland and Executive Jet 956, for example, is a lot lengthier on the ATC recording than on the CVR, including some heading instructions to move the aircrafts apart. Did the CVR record selectively? Was it editing what it heard? The CVR transcript provided by the prosecution has a continuous time stamp, so we must assume that it is the complete recording. Therefore, there shouldn't be any missing bits.

But it is the time stamp which lets the authors of the transcript down badly. Not only does the CVR recording stop 3 minutes before impact as pointed out by Philadelphia Daily, on this occasion it also manages to alter time altogether! There are two occasions where the hijackers talk about having a bomb on board and they appear on both transcripts. Both start with "this is the captain" indicating that they were meant to be announcements to the passengers. If you listen to the recording, a total 50 seconds pass between them. According to the CVR transcript, however, the first announcement was made at 09:31:57, the second at 09:39:11, thus making the gap between them 7:14 minutes. In other words, whilst 50 seconds passed on the ground, seven minutes and fourteen seconds passed in the air. It is true that added the following warning to the recording they made available: "Please note that this tape is not chronologically accurate; periods of dead air (silence) have been removed for brevity". It is impossible, however, to find anywhere in those 50 seconds of recorded ATC communications where gaps as long as six minutes could have been, given that this is a period of heightened excitement and activity. After the first bomb announcement air traffic ask for confirmation from flight 93, no doubt straight away, and then Executive 956 tells them that they heard something like there being a bomb on board. I am sure it didn't take them more than a few seconds to relate that information. This is followed by an exchange between Cleveland and Executive 956 which runs without interruption. Then there is a traffic warning to another aircraft, followed by the next bomb announcement. This is the time least likely to contain any periods of silence. Can you imagine an aircraft announcing a bomb on board and everybody going on a tea break?

So there are two crucial discrepancies, the timing and the fact that the CVR recording only picks up a fraction of what can be heard having been said on the ATC tape. Now if these transcripts had been the result of somebody taking notes it would be understandable that they may have missed one or the other remark, but we are talking about recording machines which cannot suffer from selective memory. I say it again: There is only one way the US authorities can dispel the charge that they are doctoring the evidence or telling outright lies, and that is releasing the actual recordings. There is no valid reason why they should not, except – to judge by the sloppy transcript job – that they will end up with even more egg on their faces.

Charles Clarke's double standards on foreign prisoners

British Home Secretary Charles Clarke is currently under fire for having allowed the release of numerous serious criminals of foreign nationality back into society without even keeping trace of them. Some of them have since re-offended. There are calls for Clarke to step down, fuelled also by the desire to turn his difficulties and those of deputy prime minister John Prescott into a defeat for the Labour government at the local elections to be held in a few days time.

What is being missed by the same commentators milking the topic in the media at the moment is that it is the same Charles Clarke who refuses to give reprieve to a number of foreign nationals he is holding in high security prisons in violation of the Human Rights Act without giving them an opportunity to even be presented with the alleged crimes they are said to have committed. Held in limbo without charge or trial, cut off from the world, and without any idea how long they will be in this state of uncertainty, many of these so-called detainees have started to develop serious mental health problems. A number have been put under house arrest following the criticisms by Britain's Law Lords of the unsatisfactory nature of their continued imprisonment, but many remain, forgotten in Britain's own Guantanamo Bay: Belmarsh and Woodhill Prisons.

The contrast is stark: On the one hand there are foreign nationals who happen to be Muslims suspected of links to terrorist organisations. The fact that no charges have been brought against them is a strong indication that the case against them is too weak to secure a conviction; in fact they haven't even been questioned about their alleged crimes. On the other hand there are foreign criminals, convicted of heinous crimes, who are free to live in the UK and re-offend because home office policy is not really driven by a desire to protect the public.

There will be a conference in support of those unjustly detained, "to voice their silence", in Blackburn on Sunday afternoon 7 May, at which I will be speaking in my capacity of former Imam of Woodhill prison. Other speakers include Martin Mubanga and Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo Bay detainees, Barbar Ahmad's father Ashfaq Ahmad who has been tirelessly campaigning to stop his son from being extradited to the United States, Dr Adan Siddiqui from Cage Prisoners, and Yvonne Ridley, political editor of Islam Channel.

Tickets (£7) for the event at Blackburn's King George's Hall are available from the box office website or by phone on 01254 582 582. Come and give your support.