Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No Secret Inquests (at least not yet)

Secret inquests plan is dropped

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Plans to allow ministers to order inquests to be held in private on security grounds have been dropped.

Ministers withdrew clauses from the Counter-Terrorism Bill which would have allowed the government to remove juries and the press from inquests if it was thought in the public interest.

The government claimed the powers were needed to prevent sensitive information, such as details of phone-taps, falling in to the public domain.

But opponents, such as the families of military personnel killed in battle, said the change could be used to restrict access to important information about how their loved ones died.

There were also warnings it could affect cases like that of Dr David Kelly, the weapons expert who killed himself in 2002 after being identified as the man the government believed was the source for a BBC report on Iraq.

Ministers said they would push ahead with the plans but introduce them in future coroners' court legislation.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: 'The House of Commons and House of Lords have expressed a desire to debate the coroners' proposals within the context of wider coronial reform.'

A spokesman for pressure group Inquest welcomed the decision, saying: 'Deaths in custody and those involving issues of national security should be subject to particularly close scrutiny.'

Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne said: 'It would have been far too convenient for the government to be able to hide a proper and independent inquiry into cases like the death of Jean Charles de Menezes or Dr David Kelly.'

The Tories also welcomed the move. Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'The counter-terrorism bill was no place for this controversial measure, which should be in the Coroners Bill.'

Monday, October 06, 2008

"We’re not going to win this (Afghan) war."

From The Sunday Times

October 5, 2008

War on Taliban cannot be won, says army chief

Christina Lamb Helmand, Afghanistan

Britain's most senior military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said the British public should not expect a "decisive military victory" but should be prepared for a possible deal with the Taliban.

His assessment followed the leaking of a memo from a French diplomat who claimed that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul, had told him the current strategy was "doomed to fail".

Carleton-Smith, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan, said it was necessary to "lower our expectations". He said: "We're not going to win this war. It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army."

The brigadier added: "We may well leave with there still being a low but steady ebb of rural insurgency . . . I don't think we should expect that when we go there won't be roaming bands of armed men in this part of the world. That would be unrealistic and probably incredible."

Carleton-Smith insisted that his forces had "taken the sting out of the Taliban for 2008". But his brigade has sustained heavy losses in the southern province of Helmand in the past six months, with 32 killed and 170 injured. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he added his voice to a growing number of people arguing that the conflict in Afghanistan could be resolved only through a political settlement that could include the Taliban.

"We want to change the nature of the debate from one where disputes are settled through the barrel of the gun to one where it is done through negotiations," Carleton-Smith said.

"If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that's precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this. That shouldn't make people uncomfortable."

Last week Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said the Taliban controlled more than half the province despite the increased presence of British forces.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

British Ambassador quoted on Afghanistan - "acceptable dictator" best option

Afghan ‘Dictator’ Proposed in Leaked Cable


Published: October 3, 2008

PARIS — A coded French diplomatic cable leaked to a French newspaper quotes the British ambassador in Afghanistan as predicting that the NATO-led military campaign against the Taliban will fail. That was not all. The best solution for the country, the ambassador said, would be installing an “acceptable dictator,” according to the newspaper.

“The current situation is bad, the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust,” the British envoy, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was quoted as saying by the author of the cable, François Fitou, the French deputy ambassador to Kabul.

The two-page cable — which was sent to the Élysée Palace and the French Foreign Ministry on Sept. 2, and was leaked to the investigative and satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, which printed excerpts in its Wednesday issue — said that the NATO-led military presence was making it harder to stabilize the country.

“The presence of the coalition, in particular its military presence, is part of the problem, not part of its solution,” Sir Sherard was quoted as saying. “Foreign forces are the lifeline of a regime that would rapidly collapse without them. As such, they slow down and complicate a possible emergence from the crisis.”

Within 5 to 10 years, the only “realistic” way to unite Afghanistan would be for it to be “governed by an acceptable dictator,” the cable said, adding, “We should think of preparing our public opinion” for such an outcome.

Sir Sherard, as quoted, was critical of both American presidential candidates, who have vowed, if elected, to substantially increase American military support for Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

In the short run, “It is the American presidential candidates who must be dissuaded from getting further bogged down in Afghanistan,” he is quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, General David D. McKiernan, the senior American military commander in Afghanistan, called on NATO to send more troops and other support as soon as possible to counter the insurgency.

British officials said that the comments attributed to Sir Sherard were distorted and did not reflect official British policy.

“It’s not for us to comment on something that is presented as extracts from a French diplomatic telegram, but the views it quotes are not in any way an accurate representation of the government’s approach,” said a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, who, like other French and British officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.

The spokeswoman confirmed, however, that the two men did have a meeting, but said that the British ambassador’s comments were taken out of context. But Sir Sherard, a British career Foreign Service officer who has served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Israel, is known for his frank talk, and other British officials who know him say that his words ring true.

Mr. Fitou, meanwhile, is considered a responsible and precise diplomat who would be unlikely to misreport a conversation, a senior French official said. The cable did not say whether the two men spoke in English or French.

French officials, who said they were deeply embarrassed about what they called a serious leak, criticized the broad dissemination of the cable and have started a leak investigation.

The senior French official described it as a “diplomatic disaster” that could put French soldiers at more risk.

Reached by telephone, Seyamak Herawy, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, attributed Afghanistan’s problems, in part, to the “multiplicity in the viewpoints of the international community about Afghanistan.”

Claude Angeli, one of the executive editors of Le Canard Enchaîné and the author of the article, defended its publication.

“This is not the first time we have been the target of a leak investigation,” he said in a telephone interview. “The cable is authentic, and we reported its contents accurately.”

The pessimistic British analysis comes as France has increased its troops in Afghanistan amid concern over a further erosion of popular support for French troops present there.

At the last NATO summit meeting in April, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he would send an additional 700 French soldiers to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, bringing the total to about 3,000. He was criticized by the Socialist opposition, criticisms that grew louder after the deaths of 10 French soldiers in a Taliban ambush in August.

The deaths represented the highest death toll suffered by France in a military attack since the bombing of a French barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 58 French paratroopers.

In his cable to Paris, Mr. Fitou quoted the British ambassador as saying that the reinforcement of military troops “would have perverse effects: it would identify us even more strongly as an occupation force and would multiply the targets” for the insurgents.

The cable also quoted the British envoy as saying that despite public statements to the contrary, “the insurgency, although still incapable of a military victory, has the capacity to make life more and more difficult, including in the capital.”

Acknowledging that there is no option other than supporting the Americans in Afghanistan, the ambassador reportedly added, “but we must tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one.” The American strategy, he is quoted as saying, “is destined to fail.”

Sarah Lyall contributed reporting from London, and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 4, 2008, on page A8 of the New York edition.