Paypal and Bradley Manning

Friday, 25 February 2011

Yesterday the online payment company Paypal froze the account of an organisation raising money for Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking confidential military documents to WikiLeaks. Since 2006 the San Francisco-based organisation, Courage to Resist, has been using Paypal to raise funds for “military objectors” who have refused to participate in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The group says there were no issues, however, until supporters were recently encouraged to donate to help fund a "Stand with Bradley Manning" campaign.

Late last year, Paypal made the news after they similarly froze the account of WikiLeaks. A short statement from the company at the time said that WikiLeaks had violated its Acceptable Use Policy, and pointed to a clause stating “our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.”

This time, according to Courage to Resist, Paypal – whose annual revenue in 2010 was $3.4bn (£2.1bn) – made no reference to any clause in its terms of service. Instead, they restricted the group’s account pending “organisational verification.” Paypal executives then asked questions about “the intended use of the funds being solicited in support of Bradley Manning” and requested details of purchases made with funds received via Paypal. Eventually, the executives concluded that the appropriate course of action was to freeze the Courage to Resist account.

They were not legally obliged to do so. Rather, the decision was taken on the basis of an “internal policy” that they refused to divulge. As a private company, Paypal are of course entitled to shut down accounts as they see fit. But it is a problem when a company of such size and influence chooses to adopt an overtly political stance on an explosive, controversial issue like Bradley Manning with little explanation.

After Paypal’s decision was publicised yesterday morning, an internet backlash ensued. Within a few hours, 10,000 people had signed a petition calling for them to reinstate the Courage to Resist account. Likely realising they had a public relations disaster on their hands, Paypal promptly obliged. “This decision had nothing to do with WikiLeaks,” they said in a statement. “We have decided to lift the temporary restriction placed on their [Courage to Resist's] account.”

Yet the implications of their initial decision remain highly significant, and had there not been a huge backlash the Courage to Resist account would still be frozen. It is a serious matter of concern that by refusing to facilitate payments to a support fund raising finances for Bradley Manning’s legal aid – albeit temporarily – Paypal participated in what equates essentially to an act of political repression.

The question is: who next? If Bradley Manning is a policy problem for Paypal, technically every person accused of a crime is at risk of having their account frozen, especially if politics is involved. A quick Google search reveals prisoner support funds for animal rights activists, G20 protestors and even former Guantanamo Bay prisoners, all using Paypal to raise money. If the company is to take issue with Manning, then surely by extension of their own logic it is only a matter of time before they clamp down on others.

There is no going back for Paypal now. By adopting what appears to have been a political stance on an issue that should be far beyond their remit as an online payment provider, they have shown themselves to be cut from the same cloth as draconian forces at the highest echelons of American power. They have engaged in what it is difficult to conceive of as anything other than a kind of corporate McCarthyism, backpedalling only after thousands of voices boomed a chorus of discontent.

Ten days ago, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech in which she condemned political censorship in China, Iran, Burma, Egypt, Vietnam, Cuba, Tunisia and Syria. Though as this latest revelation in the Bradley Manning saga illustrates, Clinton could do worse than look closer to home for pertinent examples of repression. “Our commitment to internet freedom is a commitment to the rights of people,” she said at the time, “and we are matching that with our actions.” In the wake of their experiences with Paypal, it is very much doubtful the Stand with Bradley Manning campaign would agree.

This article originally appeared at:

Clegg, Cameron and Privatisation

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was the opening keynote speaker at the the Guardian’s Public Services Summit in St Albans 12 days ago. A two day discussion of “structural challenges facing the country”, the summit was attended by “public service deliverers” including “forward thinking chief executives, elected members [and] civil servants”.

Clegg, who had been greeted by protesters on his way to the summit, took the stage to fairly muted applause before setting the tone of his speech. “How can we reinvent and strengthen our public services at a time of anxiety and stretched resources?” he asked. “And how can we preserve the public sector ethos as we move to a more plural, diverse and personalised way of running our public services?”

He went on to propose that the answer was “modernisation”. Quoting from the Beveridge Report, he stated his belief that public services were about “co-operation between the state and the individual.” Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s NHS reform would readdress an uneven balance between state and individual, he said, by putting power back “in the hands of those who understand patients, the GPs.”

Then after talking at length about scrapping the burden of bureaucracy and target culture from the public services, he came to a crucial point. He wanted to reassure those “anxious about the claims that what the government is doing is privatising for ideological reasons."

“New and alternative providers – from the private, community and voluntary sectors – have a vital role to play in our public services,” he said. “But I will also take a hard line against the kind of blanket privatisation which was pursued by governments in the past. Because replacing a public monopoly with a private monopoly achieves nothing but reduced accountability.”

Most of Clegg’s speech – about “diversifying” and “modernising” public services – was familiar, and his use of similar language has been questioned on ourKingdom before. However his claim that he would take a “hard line against blanket privatisation” was a significant revelation.

And here’s why. Just ten days on from Clegg’s speech, David Cameron wrote a piece in the Telegraph. In it, he explained how his government plans to implement privatisation on a level that even Margaret Thatcher on her wildest nights would never have imagined possible. “We will soon publish a White Paper setting out our approach to public service reform,” Cameron wrote. “It will put in place principles that will signal the decisive end of the old-fashioned, top-down, take-what-you're-given model of public services.”

Appearing to directly contradict the words of his deputy days earlier, what Cameron outlined was a radical picture of what can only be understood as blanket privatisation.
“The grip of state control will be released and power will be placed in people's hands,” Cameron asserted. “There will be more freedom, more choice and more local control.”

His words were chosen very carefully, with euphemism adopted to conceal the gravity of the plans. Instead of privatisation, he refers to “diversity”; and he makes no mention of capitalism or marketisation, rather “freedom”.

“[We have] a vision of open public services – and we will make it happen by advancing some key principles,” Cameron says. “The most important is the principle of diversity. We will create a new presumption … that public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service.”

At his summit speech days earlier, Clegg had said: “there will be no for-profit providers in our publicly funded schools system.” But not according to Cameron.

“Of course there are some areas – such as national security or the judiciary – where this wouldn't make sense,” Cameron says. “But everywhere else should be open to diversity; open to everyone who gets and values the importance of our public service ethos.”

The prime minister and his deputy, then, do not seem to share the same vision of the future under these plans. Clegg admits there will be privatisation, but not on the scale proposed by Cameron. And while the differences between the two are currently simmering under the surface, they will surely soon begin to boil.

In no uncertain terms, the Open Public Services white paper will, as it stands, tear down the last vestiges of the public sector. Almost everything will become fair game as the profit-driven interests of private enterprise gradually swallow up public services. With the implementation of market principles, services that ‘fail’ – including hospitals – could be made bankrupt. Oliver Huitson has argued elsewhere that the market relies upon such failure; it is simply an economic eventuality. Under similar plans, for instance, the government owned Forensic Science Service has already been made to close in 2012, as it runs at a cost not a profit.

David Cameron says that the coalition’s plans are not ideological. “We need a complete change,” he argues. Yet as far back as 2006, doctors were asserting that they did not want to see more privatisation of the NHS in England. Since then widespread dissaproval has remained prevalent across the health sector, and as Allyson Pollock has recently noted, the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing and the NHS Confederation have all opposed the coalition's plans. Privatisation is “not in the best interests of the staff and patients," said Karen Reay of the Unite union last week. This government, however, does not appear to care – and neither is it willing to listen.

But amid the cacophony of voices shouting about the coalition's proposed reforms, cuts and all the other tumultuous changes rippling across the world at present, Clegg has offered a quiet assurance that he will “take a hard line against blanket privatisation.” This time, unlike his renege on tuition fees, he must stick to his word. If he is to retain the waning credibility of both himself and his party, he should now step out from behind Cameron’s shadow and oppose the changes proposed in this white paper. Because public services cannot be bought and sold; they are not commodities, they are necessities.

This article appeared originally at:

What WikiLeaks has told us

Friday, 18 February 2011

Since 2006, the whistleblowers' website WikiLeaks has published a mass of information we would otherwise not have known. The leaks have exposed dubious procedures at Guantanamo Bay and detailed meticulously the Iraq War's unprecedented civilian death-toll. They have highlighted the dumping of toxic waste in Africa as well as revealed America's clandestine military actions in Yemen and Pakistan.

The sheer scope and significance of the revelations is shocking. Among them are great abuses of power, corruption, lies and war crimes. Yet there are still some who insist WikiLeaks has "told us nothing new". This collection, sourced from a range of publications across the web, illustrates nothing could be further from the truth. Here, if there is still a grain of doubt in your mind, is just some of what WikiLeaks has told us:


Thursday, 17 February 2011

There are parts of Salford, Greater Manchester, that feel like a ghost town. Entire streets are lined with dormant, boarded up houses; old magazines are submerged in puddles by the side of cracked pavements; and there are piles of red brick where buildings once stood strong. The only sign of life is the occasional stray cat and the dull, ceaseless hum of engines roaring on the nearby motorway.

It was not always like this here. Salford was once a thriving hub of the industrial revolution. It was home to cotton factories, silk weaving mills and a bustling dockyard on the Manchester ship canal. Between 1812 and 1900, the city’s population increased from just 12,000 to 220,000 as thousands of families came seeking work. But with boom, eventually, there came bust.

Like so many industrial towns, when the factories closed, thousands of workers were left unemployed. The city was overcrowded and impoverished, leaving a legacy of social deprivation that has continued through to present day. As a result, Salford has been tainted by what one government report labelled an “image problem”.

In recent years, however, Salford Council has taken steps to regenerate and rejuvenate the city. “During the last decade, massive investment, more jobs, greater economic prosperity, improved environment quality and lower crime levels are changing the perception and image of Salford for the better,” says the Salford Council website. “More people are now choosing Salford as a place to live, work, invest, visit and study than ever before.”

Private developers have renovated old mills in the area into award winning accommodation and a state of the art ‘Media City’ is being built on a former industrial wasteland at Salford Quays. But behind the glossy veneer of the ongoing regeneration scheme, the city remains haunted by a darker narrative.

An astonishing 1500 of Salford’s streets have approximately been demolished in the last 50 years – many of which were torn down as part of an ongoing Housing Market Renewal scheme that aims to regenerate areas with low demand for housing. In order that these houses could be demolished, several residents were forcibly removed from their homes. Controversial compulsory purchase orders, which give residents no option but to sell their property, were issued to those who refused to move.

“We see casualties of this regeneration every day,” says Stephen Kingston, editor of the Salford Star, an award winning online publication that has spent five years researching the expenditure of public money on Salford’s regeneration. “People [are] living in derelict streets full of tinned up houses where developers have not shown interest . . . In all this time all we have seen is houses being knocked down, developers getting money chucked at them and not a lot of difference in the city's well being. By any statistics or analysis, Salford is still one of the most `deprived' areas in the country – which says it all really.”

Many of those whose homes were demolished under the redevelopment plans have now been moved to a 'regeneration zone' named New Broughton. Residents have complained, though, that the new houses are not up to the standard of their old homes. One survey recently conducted by New Broughton Residents Association (NBRA), for instance, found that 62% now felt they were worse off in their new accommodation.

“Everything about this place was done for outside appearance,” says Val Broadbent, one of the first to move into a New Broughton housing scheme called Supurbia, developed by Countryside Properties. “People passing comment on how nice it looks but living here is a different story.”

Val describes her new neighbourhood as “Toytown”, and says she was happier in her previous home – a 22-year-old ‘eco-friendly’ property, designed by Salford University, that has since been demolished by the council.

“I was very happy there, with everything I needed,” says Val. “Here we have been stripped of everything and given the very basics in housing. My old house had a secure driveway with lockable gates. Here I have a parking space in a communal car park that was sold to us as secure parking with electronic gate entry and monitored by CCTV. The gates never work and are wide open 24/7 and the CCTV never happened.”

According to the NBRA, there have been recurring problems with drainage, while several residents have reported damp and leakages. For the first 15 months after she moved into her Supurbia home, Val’s kitchen flooded every time it rained, eventually forcing her to get her entire kitchen ceiling replaced.

“It's just been a catalogue of errors,” she says. “Light fittings in the wrong place so that the light bulbs smashed when you opened the door, illegal plug sockets and even light switches missing. The aerial fell off the roof and the shower packed up . . . The front gardens are sinking and the paths need constant repair.”

Such problems are not unique to properties in New Broughton. A report produced by the Audit Commission in 2009 found that one in three homes across Salford is in poor condition, equating to a total of approximately 29,000. In 2001 the New Labour government set a target that all social housing would be ‘decent’ (warm, weatherproof and with reasonably modern facilities) by 2010, but Salford Council estimates it will be another five years until all of the city’s homes are up to this standard.

Yet even despite the high number of homes in Salford that are considered of poor quality, there is an 18,000 long waiting list for social housing in the city. Around 60 properties come available each week, and all prospective buyers must lodge a ‘bid’ against any they are interested in. On average, for every 60 properties that go on the market, more than 3000 individual bids are placed.

According to the housing charity Shelter, the huge demand for social housing in Salford illustrates that the council is not investing enough in affordable homes. In 2010, Shelter say, Salford council needed to build 1,327 houses to keep up with demand, though only 167 were actually delivered.

This is a problem that has been exacerbated by the ongoing recession. Rent prices are on the increase, while the coalition government plans to cut 60% – £4bn – from the affordable housebuilding budget. And though Chancellor George Osborne announced in his October comprehensive spending review that up to 150,000 affordable homes would be built by the government over the next four years, Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb says this is not enough.

“The proposed figure of up to 150,000 affordable homes over four years represent less than a third of what this country urgently requires to bring the housing system from its knees,” said Mr Robb. “The government must urgently set out its long term vision to solve our entire housing crisis or accept responsibility for the impact these policies will have on entire generations for years to come.”

Meanwhile, as private developers continue to build new housing schemes in Salford, the city’s residents remain unhappy about both the quality of the new homes and the way they have been treated by the council. The ghostly Salford backstreets, once full of life and activity, now serve for many only as a tragic, nostalgic reminder of better days.

“We are facing difficult times,” said Salford council leader, John Merry CBE. “It is inevitable that severe budget cuts will impact on some of the services we provide, but I stand by my commitment to this city and will deliver the best possible services to people in Salford with the remaining budget available."

I wrote this piece in late 2010, not long after the comprehensive spending review was announced. It formed the basis of a report I later put together for the Big Issue magazine, in January 2011.

The Plight of Bradley Manning

Thursday, 3 February 2011

For the last seven months, Bradley Manning has spent 23 hours every day in a prison cell six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

The 23-year-old soldier, who stands accused of leaking classified military documents on a historic scale, has not yet received so much as a preliminary hearing and remains subject to a strict Prevention of Injury (POI) order against the advice of military psychiatrists. Unlike other prisoners in the Quantico military brig where he is being held, as a result of his POI order Manning is not allowed contact with other detainees and is not permitted to exercise in his cell. For one hour every day he is taken to an empty room for exercise time where he can walk but not run. He does not have a pillow or sheets in his cell and when he goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his underwear and surrender his clothing to the guards.

The brutal treatment of the young soldier, who has not been convicted of any offence, has been described by Amnesty International as “unnecessarily severe”, “inhumane” and “repressive”. It is widely believed US authorities are treating him harshly to obtain a plea bargain that implicates WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Julian Assange as a co-conspirator. But there is a twist to this tale. Bradley Manning is a dual UK-US citizen under the right afforded to him by jus sanguinis. His mother is Welsh and his father American; he was born in Oklahoma though sat his GCSEs at a Welsh secondary school. He should therefore be entitled to consular assistance.

As according to a guide issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) called “Support for British Nationals”, the UK would not normally offer consular support to dual citizens unless the citizen is a minor, facing a capital sentence, or if “having looked at the circumstances of the case, we [the FCO] consider that there is a special humanitarian reason to do so.”

Manning is not a minor, and nor is he facing a capital sentence (though some prominent US politicians have called for a treason charge, which could result in the death penalty) but his situation is certainly of serious humanitarian concern. Given the severity of Amnesty International’s condemnation of Manning’s treatment, and the additional involvement of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, it seems clear that Manning has a “special humanitarian” case. A spokesperson for the FCO said that they could not comment on individual cases, however confirmed that “in instances of mistreatment, we would potentially look to intervene.”

According to Professor Philippe Sands QC, author of Torture Team: Cruelty, Deception and the Compromise of Law and one of the world’s leading experts on international law, the UK could be obligated to help Manning. Sands said: “If he [Manning] is a British national he is entitled to expect the British authorities to ensure that his minimum rights under international law are respected.”

And though the UK may wish to keep a distance from Bradley Manning for political reasons, UK authorities – whether they like it or not – were implicated in the investigation from the beginning. In July last year, shortly after Manning was charged, American ‘officials’ reported to be F.B.I agents made an unannounced visit to the Welsh home of Bradley Manning’s mother, Susan. Accompanied by a Detective Sergeant from Dyfed-Powys police force, they are believed to have searched Bradley’s old bedroom. Earlier this week Dyfed-Powys police would not confirm or deny this – saying only that they “facilitated a request from an American agency to accompany them as they conducted their investigation last year.”

It appears then that while UK authorities have been happy to comply with the Americans on UK soil as they seek evidence to prosecute Manning, they remain reluctant to get involved in an issue that has the potential to put serious strain on the notorious “special relationship.”

For one concerned UK citizen, however, silence is simply not an option. 31-year-old Naomi Colvin read an article by American lawyer Glenn Greenwald on the treatment of Manning, and upon discovering he had dual UK-US citizenship decided that she had to take action. Colvin, who works in publishing and lives in London, promptly started a campaign called UK Friends of Bradley Manning.

“The simple truth is that I ... felt obliged to start this campaign out of pure humanitarian concern,” she said. “We have the case of a British citizen here – a UK citizen who I also believe to be a prisoner of conscience – being treated extremely badly in pre-trial detention in the United States ... this is clearly an acute humanitarian emergency.”

Meanwhile, as concern grows over the treatment of Manning on both sides of the Atlantic, back in his tiny cell at the Quantico brig in Virginia, his condition continues to deteriorate. David House, a friend of Manning and one of the few individuals on his “approved visitor” list, has described how the soldier has both physically and psychologically suffered.

“I have noticed that his condition, psychologically, has been degrading,” House told CBC radio two weeks ago. “When I visited him last December, physically he had big bags under his eyes, very ashen in his face, he’d lost a lot of weight. He looked like someone who had not had exercise in several months, which in his case is true.”

Along with publisher Jane Hamsher, House recently tried to deliver a 42,000 signature petition to the Quantico brig Commander, however was prevented from doing so by military officials. The number of signatures on the petition continues to grow, as does awareness of Manning’s mistreatment. Yet even in the face of seven months of solitary confinement and the consequential physical and psychological deterioration, what emerges is a picture of a principled young soldier who cannot, and will not, be broken.

“When I look in Bradley’s eyes, I see a man who is a very ethical individual, who is very humble and – above all else – very resolved,” says House. “Despite the fact that Bradley has gone through all this utterly barbaric treatment from the US Government, he tells me he is able to meditate, at some points, and this centres him and gives him some sort of internal strength. He told me that he is able to maintain his resolve in the midst of this.”

In unverified chat logs with Adrian Lamo prior to the alleged leak, Manning’s strength of character again shines through. According to the logs, Manning says he witnessed war crimes and realised he was “actively involved in something that I was completely against”. “If you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time,” he asked Lamo, “and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

If Manning was indeed the leaker of the military files, in the end he made the right, noble and principled choice – and history will be on his side. For the foreseeable future, though, the iron fist of Barack Obama’s velvet-gloved administration will continue to hammer down on him with ceaseless force every minute of every day. “Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal,” Obama said in 2008 . . . But as the treatment of Bradley Manning so tragically illustrates, these words have long since been rendered meaningless.

The young soldier's future does not look bright. He could serve the rest of his life in prison, and the clock continues to tick. As citizens of the United Kingdom we must therefore be clear: if the UK government is in a position to offer consular assistance to Bradley Manning, then in the name of liberty, justice and humanity, now is the time for it to act with urgency.

This article originally appeared at: