Welcome to Bennett's World: a collection of articles and references covering a wide variety of topics in which I am involved. I am a very political person but I have no allegiance to any political party. Follow me on twitter @colinhove

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Hunger Strike that the BBC Ignores...

The latest news is that the hunger strike has been called off after an agreement was reached between the Israeli authorities whereby Palestinian prisoners receive family visits and medical attention. I do not know more at this moment.

Join the day of solidarity with the hunger strike.
View this email in your browser (http://mailchi.mp/palestinecampaign/its-time-to-votepalestine-452073?e=ab86d850da)
Tuesday 30 May Solidarity Fast and Vigil for the #DignityStrike

Join us in protesting the lack of UK media coverage of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. Today marks the 40th day without food, and the strike remains woefully under-reported. We will be holding a vigil in solidarity with the prisoners from 17.00 – 19.00 on Tuesday 30th May outside the BBC headquarters. Click here to find out more (https://www.palestinecampaign.org/events/solidarity-vigil-hunger-strike/) .

Other events (https://www.palestinecampaign.org/events/) are taking place around the country, including in Birmingham, Mailbox Square, 6pm.

Solidarity Fast

Show your solidarity with the hunger strikers by fasting for one day, until sundown, on Tuesday 30th May.

For those already fasting for Ramadan, and all others fasting for the day, in solidarity with the hunger strikers, please join us:

- Share graphics (https://www.palestinecampaign.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/dignity-strike-square-logo.jpg) and solidarity messages online, on social media.

- On Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/1512536478816531/?active_tab=discussion)  and Twitter, use the hashtags  #DignityStrike and #PalHunger

- Take the #SaltwaterChallenge – the only sustenance the strikers have survived on the last 40 days of the strike. Share a message, video or picture about this (https://www.palestinecampaign.org/events/solidarity-fast-hunger-strike)  on social media.
Are your candidates supporting Palestinian Human Rights?

If you have not already done so, please contact your Parliamentary candidates - we want to make sure that they are all contacted before the General Election on the 8th June. They need to know how important it is to #VotePalestine.

PSC have put together a list of questions on Palestine for each candidate to answer. It only takes a couple of minutes for you to send a letter to your candidates. Please make sure to share the responses with campaigns@palestinecampaign.org and we will publish them very soon.

Please take action here (http://palestinecampaign.iparlsetup.com/lobby/votepalestine17) :
Contact your local candidates now! (http://palestinecampaign.iparlsetup.com/lobby/votepalestine17)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Message We've All Been Waiting For

At last Chelsea is free. It's been a long fight and she's only 29 years old. I'm sure we'll all celebrate this release and help her adjust to her new life. I did hear that she was thinking of not retiring to a private life but campaigning - no doubt after a break. According to this rumour, she wants to campaign for transgender rights. I feel that this would be a mistake. We all know about her sexual orientation but I'm not alone in thinking this is a private matter. What is more important on the world stage is Chelsea's brave decision to make available to Wikileaks those hundreds of thousands of emails that show the duplicity of US actions overseas. I think she should be celebrated as a whistle-blower and a campaigner for openness and against war and imperialism. Perhaps the rumour is wrong and she will do those things keeping her private life well... private.

Some welcome news

It is interesting that BBC Radio 4, which has never to my knowledge mentioned Chelsea Manning, deigned to mention Chelsea's release yesterday.

Below is the text from Chelsea's most recent blog post (https://www.luminairity.com/chelsea-manning-release/)


For Immediate Release: May 17, 2017

Ryan Karerat, rkarerat@aclu.org
Christina DiPasquale, christina@balestramedia.com 
Chelsea Manning, Legal Team Confirm Chelsea’s Safe Release from Military Prison

Today, Chelsea Manning was safely released from U.S. military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Said Chelsea Manning:
“After another anxious four months of waiting, the day has finally arrived. I am looking forward to so much! Whatever is ahead of me, is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now–which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me.”

Chelsea Manning has released her first photo, of her first steps as a free woman on Twitter @xychelsea, and on Instagram @xychelsea87

The post accompanying the photo reads: “first steps of freedom!! ^_^ #chelseaisfree.”

Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, Manning’s clemency and appellate lawyers, said in a joint statement:

“We are able to confirm that Chelsea Manning has been released safely from military prison. Thank you to everyone for ensuring her safe release and respecting her privacy as she starts to adjust to life outside of prison and rebuild her life following seven years of confinement. Chelsea has expressed her deep appreciation to her supporters and looks forward to the future.”
Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU, had the following reaction:

“It is incredible to witness Chelsea Manning’s freedom after having seen and worked with her behind bars for four years. We can all finally truly celebrate the strength and heroism she has shown in surviving and sharing her truth and life with all of us. Through extended periods of solitary confinement and up against the government’s insistence on denying her medical care and existence as a woman, Chelsea has emerged with grace, resilience, and an inspiring amount of love for others. I am humbled to fight alongside such a fierce advocate for justice.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

BBC Reporting of Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack in Idlib, Syria on 4 April 2017

This exchange of emails between me and the BBC will be of interest to many readers. 

1. My complaint dated 9 April 2017.

2. The BBC's reply dated 19 April 2017.

3. A transcription by a very competent audio typist of the relevant parts of a BBC Radio 4 programme called The World Tonight (10pm) in which the events of 4 April 2017 are discussed. At this stage I invite readers to absorb this transcript and draw their own conclusion about the veracity of the events described therein.

People will see that the BBC does not mention the OPCW which is the recognised authority on chemical weapons. The BBC also glosses over the fact that, as yet, there's no credible evidence of what happened on 4 April 2017, if anything. The BBC uses relayed audio and video broadcasts from people who claim to have witnessed events but as former UK Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, points out do not stand up. There have been no western reporters admitted to the area yet.

Subject: BBC Complaints - Case number CAS-4308614-DPH5XL
Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2017 12:35:06 +0100
From: bbc_complaints_website@bbc.co.uk
To: Colin Bennett

Dear Mr Bennett
Thanks for contacting the BBC. This is to confirm we’ve received the attached complaint sent in this name. We’ve included the text of the complaint and a case reference for your records (see below).
Please don’t reply to this email because it’s an automated acknowledgement sent from an account which can’t receive replies. If you do need to get in touch, please use our webform instead at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints, quoting your reference number.
We’ll normally include the text below in our overnight report to producers and management of all the complaints and other reaction we receive today (with your personal details removed). This means it will reach the right people by tomorrow morning.
We’ll do our best to reply as soon as we can, but the time needed depends on the nature of your complaint. If we can’t reply as soon as we’d like (usually within 10 working days) we’ll let you know. For full details of our complaints process please visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/handle-complaint/.
Here are the details of your complaint:
Complaint Summary: Biased reporting of chemical injuries in Idlib
Full Complaint: Early on Friday 7 April 2017 I heard on BBC Radio 4's Today programme of an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian Government in Idlib, allegedly at the town of Khan Sheikhun. At that time and ever since then BBC Radio has reported this event as if it were the Syrian Government that dropped chemical weapons. No evidence was adduced. According to Peter Ford there have been no Western reporters in the area. We have heard various voices on the radio purporting to come from Idlib and purporting to give reports of these "attacks". It's indisputable that the area is completely under the control of anti-Government forces. The Government has no presence there. The BBC has made no effort, it seems, to judge the truthfulness of these anomalous reports. It would be sensible for the BBC to make contact with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to get their view. There have been similar allegations before trumpeted by the BBC without any evidence being provided. I have email correspondence with the OPCW which clearly shows that Organisation's scepticism about BBC coverage and Mr de Bretton-Gordon. In recent days the BBC has referred to the "red line" crossed by the Syrian Government at Ghouta claiming that the attack was made by the Syrian Government. No evidence has ever been produced that this is so or indeed whether there was any chemical weapons attack at all. Those making this claim, including the US and UK Governments, stated that there were between 281 and 1,729 casualties. No credence can be placed on such a large range especially as no medical evidence was produced. Those supporting this claim were highly partisan including the UN which had been supportive of the "rebels" from the beginning. The OPCW, the obvious impartial arbiter, did not support these allegations. The Syrian Government gave full access to the area to investigate the allegation. This is in stark contrast to the lack of access afforded to the site of the Idlib tragedy.
Thank you again for contacting us,
BBC Complaints Team

Subject: BBC Complaints - Case Number CAS-4308614-DPH5XL
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:23:05 +0100
From: bbc_complaints_website@bbc.co.uk
To: Colin Bennett
Dear Mr Bennett

Thank you for contacting us about our coverage of the alleged chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April. We appreciate that you feel our reporting of this story was biased against the Syrian government.

BBC News covered the suspected chemical attack in Syria, which killed more than 80 people, comprehensively and in depth. Our reporting featured eye-witness accounts, detailed analysis of evidence of the use of chemical weapons, reaction from organisations such as the UN, and the facts surrounding the incident.

At no point have we stated that the Syrian government launched this attack, but our coverage has reflected the assertion by many Western powers that the Assad regime was responsible. When covering this story, we have always included the Syrian government’s denial of their involvement. We have also reported the explanation from Russia, Syria’s ally, for this event.

We will of course continue to report the political and diplomatic ramifications of this alleged chemical attack, presenting impartial and accurate facts to our audience, and reflecting the viewpoints of the main powers involved.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team

Transcript of BBC Radio 4's "The World Tonight" broadcast 4 April 2017:

Ritula Shah:
Many people would have been asleep when the planes hit the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun which is about 30 miles south of the village of Idlib. 

Images on social media showed people lying on the ground and rescue workers hosing down almost naked children squirming on the floor. This appeared to be a chemical attack in which at least 58 people died. Later, activists said aircraft fired rockets at local clinics treating survivors. This part of Northwest Syria is a rebel stronghold and it's been under heavy bombardment by pro-Government forces but Syrian Government forces are suspected of being behind today's attack; a claim they've denied.

"Anass" is a member of the White Helmets, a Syrian rescue organisation. He described what he'd seen. His words have been translated by a member [name not disclosed] of the BBC Arabic Service.

At 6:30 in the morning warplanes targeted civilian areas with four rockets. These warplanes are from the [indistinct] 22 and they are from the Syrian Army.

Ritula Shah:
After those air strikes, what happened?

The air strikes targeted the northern neighbourhood and then a rescue team arrived with the ambulances to tend to the wounded. What happened is that this rescue team were affected by the gas that was over there and so they had to send another rescue team to save the first rescue team which were choking and then to tend to the other wounded.

Ritula Shah: 
What were the kind of symptoms that people were showing?

People directly knew that it was a gas attack because there were some symptoms like coughing, heart shaking, suffocation, eye redness and they had some stuff coming out of their mouths.

Ritula Shah:
And this was early in the morning so presumably people were asleep.

Yes, it's true most of them were still at their homes and they had to go in and rescue them. Some of the injured just came out to the streets and they were tended to at the streets but then they had to send a rescue team of about 12 people to the houses and save other people that were affected by the gas attack.

Ritula Shah:
And those people who were then taken to medical facilities, how are they being treated?

There aren't very good medical equipments to tend to the wounded. Some of the civilians, they volunteered and they tried to rescue others. What they tried to do is to try to help people on their way to the hospital by undressing them, by putting some water on them so that they won't be contagious and then when they reach the hospital they give them some spray through the nose.

Ritulah Shah:
There have been many pictures of children suffering. Give us a sense of who has been worst affected by this attack.

Around 200 injured from this attack. Most of them are children and women. Children screaming and crying and there are around 70 people dead and it's expected that the number will rise.

Ritulah Shah:
Well, pro-Syrian Government journalists have reported that there was an explosion at a rebel-held poison gas factory. The UN believes that today's attack came from the air. The rebels don't have access to an air force. The Syrian Government does but a member of the Syrian Parliament, Faraz Shahabi denied that Government Forces were responsible.

Faraz Shahabi:
We are used to these fabrications and fake news for six years now. We don't need to use chemical attacks. Actually, we gave up our chemical arsenal two years or three years ago. What we know for sure, that we don't use any chemical weapons because we don't have and we don't need to use chemical weapons. We have enough destruction power to [indistinct] any place we attack. We don't need to use chemical weapons.

Ritula Shah:
If confirmed, this would be one of the deadliest chemical attacks in Syria's civil war. It's been widely condemned by, among others, the French and British Governments. The Trump Administration has repeatedly said that it doesn't want to see the end of the Assad Government as a priority but today it called the attack “reprehensible” and in a brief statement the White House Spokesman, Sean Spicer, blamed the attack directly on the Government of Bashar al-Assad.

Sean Spicer:
Today's chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilised world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past Administration's weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.

Ritula Shah:
The United Nations Special Envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said the UN, possibly in the form of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW, would try to find out what had happened.

Staffan de Mistura:
We have not yet any official or reliable confirmation. What we have understood, it was a chemical attack and it came from the air. We are being, and we will be, stimulating all those who have the capacity of finding out, technically, what did happen. OPCW is an obvious, for instance, candidate for doing so in order to be able to be much more precise. What we do know is that it was a horror.

Ritula Shah:
Well, Ralf Trapp is a former senior official with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and is now an independent consultant on disarmament of chemical and biological weapons. I asked him what conclusions can be drawn from the evidence we have so far about the attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

Ralf Trapp:
This is very difficult to say. I mean, the evidence is certainly consistent with the use of a toxic chemical and I've seen speculations in the media already that this may have been sarin. Now, this is not easy, in fact it's impossible, to establish simply from the video images but it clearly looks like the use of a toxic chemical. It looks like a large amount has been used because the numbers that we've heard about victims are significant. The symptoms that are described which include things like fainting, vomiting, foam building, constricted irises and so on, they're all consistent with an organophosphate or something similar, an agent that acts on the nervous system.

Ritula Shah:
How then is it possible to find out what may have been used. Which nerve agent?

Ralf Trapp:
I understand that the number of the victims have in fact been brought to Turkey for medical treatment. That means that they are accessible to investigators so you can undertake a medical examination and you can take blood samples and other types of biological samples and if it was indeed sarin then it will be possible to establish that from a chemical or biochemical analysis of the blood with a very high degree of certainty.

Ritula Shah:
Is there anything that can be drawn from the fact that so many people appear to have been affected?

Ralf Trapp:
Well, that suggests that it was not an isolated incident. It was not a single weapon that was used and that a significant amount of material was involved which, again, is indicative of a well planned operation and something that involved significant amounts of toxic material.

Ritula Shah:
There are suggestions that because this was an air attack that the finger is being pointed at either Syrian Government forces or possibly a Russian plane but yet in 2013 it was suggested that actually Syria had given up its chemical weapon stockpiles as part of an international plan. How do you reconcile all those disparate facts?

Ralf Trapp:
It's not easy to do that. What we do know is that the material, the weapons as well as the equipment that Syria declared in 2013 when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, they all have been verified, they have been inventoried and they have been destroyed so it's none of those weapons or pieces of equipment. Whether the Syrian State has kept some of its stockpile hidden, whether in the meantime somebody else has started manufacturing these items, that we can't simply tell from the information we have so far.

Ritula Shah:
There have been previous chemical attacks in Syria. What do we know about those?

Ralf Trapp:
Well, we know quite a bit about the attacks in 2013. That was thoroughly investigated by the UN Secretary General and his mechanism and that of course has, as you already said, led to the decisions to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program. Beginning in 2014 we then had allegations of the use of chlorine gas and also of mustard agent in Syria. These have been investigated by the OPCW in the form of a fact-finding mission and, on a number of occasions, they could in fact confirm the use of either chlorine gas or an agent that would release chlorine and also, in one case, the use of [indistinct] mustard in a situation where it was highly likely that it was used by ISIL. In fact that was confirmed by the joint investigation mechanism. So, the use of these improvised chemical devices, even after the removal of the Syrian chemical weapons program, is fairly well documented but so far what we've seen where relatively small incidents and improvised devices which had an impact but they are, as far as I can see from the numbers, they are not the same scale as this incident today where apparently significant numbers of people were killed or injured.