Maltreatment of prisoners by the Americans

The papers have had plenty to shout about recently. It seems that the Americans in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq have been badly mistreating prisoners. There are investigations to determine how far up the chain of command the authorisation to do this goes. Donald Rumsfeld, the defence minister and a hard line character, seems to have at best turned a blind eye to what has been going on.

The military intelligence have been putting pressure on ordinary soldiers to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation and it has gone much too far. We haven't heard much at all about mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan because it has been kept secret but because of Guantanamo Bay and now Iraq, Afghanistan is under scrutiny too.

America's enemies in the Balkans and the Middle East kept prisoners in very basic conditions, starved them and then murdered them quickly. An American civilian hostage was beheaded last week in Iraq but it didn't appear that he had been tortured first. The Americans have adopted slower and painful techniques, not as bad as those Saddam Hussein used but completely inhumane nevertheless.

The first batch of photos showed prisoners naked and hooded, chained to prison grilles or in odd sexual positions. Some were forced to run while hooded until they crashed into a wall. Others were chained in a stressed crouching position for hours, others were humiliated by being forced into sexual contact in various ways, others were just badly beaten over the head while hooded.

Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the American base on the coast of Cuba, were paraded naked in front of prostitutes who molested them. Where did these girls come from? Cuba? Hardly likely. Were they imported from the States just for the maltreatment of prisoners or were they there already for the benefit of the camp guards? Other Guantanamo prisoners were kept hooded for 72 hours at a time and often beaten according to two British men recently released and flown back to Britain.

Most softening up procedures have now been banned, like sleep deprivation for more than 72 hours, but that means that some softening up is still allowed.

I'm always amazed that private Jessica Lynch wasn't raped. She was the diminutive blonde American reservist who was injured and captured at the start of the war. She was taken to an Iraqi hospital where a spy told Americans that he thought she was going to have an amputation, so the Americans stormed the hospital and rescued her to give her less drastic treatment. There were rumours that she had been raped while in hospital but it seems these reports were false. Middle Eastern men go crazy over blondes, but she seems to have been safe in the hospital. In this instance the Iraqis behaved correctly but I wouldn't trust the Americans in a similar situation. I remember how the Americans operated in Vietnam, raping constantly.

Maltreatment of prisoners by the British

The first pictures of prisoners hooded and beaten in the back of an army truck proved to be fake, having been posed by soldiers in a barracks in Lancashire. The clothes were too clean, the soldier's floppy hat wasn't of the type used in Iraq, the gun was the wrong type and too clean with no sling, the truck was too clean (no sand or dirt) and it was a particular type of truck that had never gone to Iraq. The actual truck was identified from scratches.

Piers Morgan, editor of the Daily Mirror, stood by his statement that the photos were true, then said that they truly represented what was happening in Iraq, but was nevertheless sacked. It isn't known yet why the photos were staged, but it may have done some good in highlighting that British troops have also been mistreating prisoners, although on a lesser scale than the Americans. Our troops don't seem to have been under the same pressure from American military intelligence but have just been much too rough, beating prisoners.


London's Olympic Games bid

Initially I was against London's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games because it was to be in Hackney which has the worst transport links of any London borough. It has no tube line, is served by old crowded trains from Liverpool Street station and has atrocious road congestion. I had visions of athletes struggling in traffic to get to the most important race of their life in time.

However, it seems the waste land earmarked for the games has enough room for an athletes' village and provided they can all be within walking distance of the stadiums this should be fine.

A new tube line has been planned to go through Hackney for many years and there should be just about enough time to build it in eight years provided it is started now. The Jubilee Line was late for the Canary Wharf office workers and they had to struggle through road traffic or use a very small Docklands Light Railway for years until it was finished. Even then it had an old signalling system because there was no chance of getting the newer and better system installed and tested in time.

I am now very much in favour of the bid and I hope all the work can be completed in time. Athens has obviously not managed to get everything ready for August this year so the games there will be probably staged somehow in a building site.

Since we have only been short-listed and won't know if we have been selected until 2005, building work wouldn't start until well after that. This would still leave enough time for stadiums and a village to be built, but the tube line ought to be started now. It is needed whether we win the bid or not.


Are UK's parliaments and assemblies irrelevant?

A few years ago we just had a Westminster parliament covering all the UK and local councils. Now we have the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and Stormont for Northern Ireland as well which is just more bureaucracy and cost.

In a week's time there will be three elections in London, one for the local councils, one for the mayor and one for European MPs - all this and it still excludes the Westminster MPs.

I realise that in an expanded Europe there is a need for a European Parliament to harmonise strategic pan-European issues such as company law, food standards, human rights, maximum lorry weights and sizes and so on and we still need local councils to organise street cleaning and other local issues, so where do the other parliaments and assemblies fit in?

I have heard that food labelling such as salt and sugar content is likely to be standardised at European level. This is another example of the whittling away of the Westminster parliament's powers.

Another complication is that Scottish MPs can still vote in the Westminster parliament on issues concerning England, Wales and Northern Ireland but Westminster's non-Scottish MPs cannot vote in the Scottish parliament. The argument is that Scottish MPs need to vote on Westminster issues that affect Scotland and other joint issues like tax and defence, but it is still duplication to some extent and they aren't excluded from voting on non-Scottish affairs.

There is so much argument between the Westminster parliament and local councils over funding, rate capping and the level of the central government grant that it might be better to get rid of the Westminster parliament altogether. It won't happen of course because it is too powerful to get rid of itself.

Defence would still be a problem because most people wouldn'tt want it under European control, so some form of joint defence committee formed from the district councils would be an answer. All other matters would be handed down to local level or up to European level.

Taxation is another issue that people wouldn't want controlled at European level. Local authorities already have the ability to raise taxes and control health, education and other major issues so all taxes would be raised at local level, giving flexibility for the regions. There would be a levy by the European parliament for their funds.

We don't have a federal system like the United States, but there the states have strong powers and varying laws and taxes quite successfully. We could do the same. Most people wouldn't want taxation, VAT, education and health to be determined at European level, except possibly in regard to overall standards.

We increasingly see judgments in our courts disputed at various levels right up to the House of Lords then taken to the European Court as a last resort. This is undermining the authority of our courts especially when our laws and judgments are often found to be wrong, out of date or in conflict with European law.

It would have another effect of giving more choice. Presently if you don't like the taxes or laws in the UK you have to move abroad to live and work in a very unfamiliar environment and a different language. If control was more in the hands of local councils you would not have to move far to experience different taxes and laws, possibly still being near enough to commute to your original job.

It seems that the influence of the European parliament and European courts will increase every year, so the conflicts with our UK parliament and courts will also increase. Something has to give.


D-Day 60 year celebrations

The weather was fantastically good at Arromanches and other places along the coast of Normandy for the celebrations.

The Americans were at Omaha Beach and the British at their beaches with a parade in Arromanches later.

I admired the stamina of our veterans. Some said they had been up late the previous night talking to old friends after travelling. In the morning they had gone to cemeteries before the main event then attended the British parade during the afternoon.

President Chirac's helicopter was delayed by early morning fog so everything was delayed about an hour. The veterans were kept standing while waiting to march. President Bush, Tony Blair, the Queen, President Putin and other heads of state including the German chancellor Schroder were there.

There was a main parade in late morning for all nations and President Chirac gave a speech then handed out Legion D'Honeur medals. There were flypasts and gun salutes from a British warship. Other warships including the big French aircraft carrier cruised off-shore.

In the afternoon the Mayor of Arromanches gave a speech of about seven minutes which was then repeated in English by an aide. The Queen then gave her speech. All the time the veterans who had taken part in the parade were standing in the sun.

I was a little surprised that the Queen made no mention of Arromanches and didn't thank the villagers who had tended the wounded, provided food and shelter and were so welcoming to our troops sixty years ago. He had been full of praise in his speech and thanked the Queen. She stuck rigidly to praise of the veterans.


Venus traversed the sun on 8th June 2004

Yesterday for about six hours in the morning Venus traversed the sun for the first time since 1882. The next traverse is in 2012 visible in the pacific and the next after that will be in 2247 - 243 years from now.

The sun shone all morning and I got an image through my binoculars onto a piece of paper at about 8.30 am. The small black dot was in the top right part of the sun. When I saw images on TV they generally showed the black dot in the lower left part of the sun. I was reassured however that one did show the dot in the top right as mine had and it was one that displayed the image onto a screen like mine.

If I remember my school physics correctly the image through binoculars would normally focus at the eyepiece which only produced a tiny bright image of the sun so I moved the paper away and got a larger clearer image about three feet away. The image must have inverted when I went away from the normal focal point.


Guantanamo Bay detainees seek US court ruling that they are illegally detained

I'm amazed that the US has managed to keep people arrested in Afghanistan and held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for so long without giving them access to lawyers or the courts. They have been held for over two years now. A few have been released to Britain but the British authorities had to assure the Americans that they would be arrested here. They were arrested but immediately released. No doubt the Americans realised this would happen but didn't want to appear to be freeing them.

The freed men told of bad treatment and torture of inmates and I don't think charities or aid agencies have been allowed to see the inmates much. Contact with relatives has been minimal, if at all. They have been kept in seclusion like animals in a cage. The UN has been generally quiet except for very mild criticism. No doubt the UN is very aware that it depends on the US for money and resources so it can't be too critical.

Most countries have a law which only allows authorities to hold a person for a short time before he has to be brought to court except in the case of terrorism when indefinite arrest is possible but the Americans have taken it too far. The UN should make all countries aware that trials should always begin within a few weeks in these situations. If there is no immediate evidence people should be released.

What do the Americans think will happen in the long run? Even if they sentence all detainees to prison for long periods these men when released in many years time will still be terrorists and will have a big incentive to carry on fighting. They must also realise that there is little evidence against many prisoners who will have to be released. These people will have a real grudge.

It must be true that holding suspects for long periods without trial just encourages others to become terrorists and sets a bad example. The Americans had some justification for fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan but have looked like bullies throughout the whole Iraq affair and in the treatment of prisoners from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Only now have lawyers managed to start an action in the US courts to determine whether the detentions are justified. The actual trials of detainees haven't started and don't seem to be imminent.


England beat the West Indies resoundingly at Lord's

England got 568 and 325, West Indies 416 and 267 so England won by 210 runs.

It was dull and cloudy on the first morning and Brian Lara put England in to bat hoping for some quick wickets. It was a mistake as the sun came out quite soon and it was good weather right through until Monday evening.

England got going well in their first innings with Robert Key finally showing some form for England. He has always looked nervous in the past but is presently top of the county batting averages and got a superlative 221 in this test's first innings.

Andrew Strauss also looked solid and got 137 then Michael Vaughan got going and scored 103.

Flintoff came in when Graham Thorpe was out in the last over before lunch on Friday. Geoff Boycott was commentating and was incredulous that Lara was spending so much time with Banks over the field placing. He said it was obvious they should pull everyone in around the bat as Flintoff would just play carefully until lunch. Flintoff straight drove his first ball over the bowler's head for six and Boycott said he should have known Flintoff would be different. Flintoff cut the next ball onto his stumps and Boycott said he had been right; Flintoff should have played for lunch.

The West Indies suffered two bad umpiring decisions by Rudi Koertzen in their first innings. Gayle was given out when he wasn't and so was Lara when a ball snicked his pad but not his bat on its way to the wicketkeeper. Boycott said he was in favour of nearly all decisions going to the third umpire to check the television replays and I agree. If the West Indies had got a big score in their first innings the outcome could have been very different. Instead they were on the back foot from then on.

Chanderpaul got his head down and scored an unbeaten 128 runs but the West Indies fell short at 416.

Robert Key was getting going again in England's second innings when Vaughan called him for a run but he was a bit slow, Vaughan hesitated, Key hesitated then Vaughan continued and Key ran on to be easily run out. Commentators blamed Key even though Vaughan was the first to hesitate because Key was ball-watching rather than watching Vaughan and he wasn't totally committed to the run.

Vaughan went on to get his second century of the match with 101 not out; a feat not achieved at Lord's for many years. Vaughan and Thorpe needed to get as many runs as possible on Sunday afternoon to get an unassailable lead and pushed on with frequent quick singles which are Thorpe's trademark. When Thorpe was out Flintoff got a fast 58 including two big sixes.

In the West Indies' second innings Chanderpaul was blatantly out when the ball hit the middle of his glove before being caught by Key but Rudi Koertzen gave him not out. It was too late in the game to make much difference even though Chanderpaul went on to get 97 not out so that he was unbeaten in both innings.

Ashley Giles left the off side temptingly open and got Lara out with a beautiful ball. Lara took two steps out to drive Giles through the covers but got bowled middle stump through a wide-open gate. The West Indies had a remote chance of getting the runs and Lara in particular likes to push along and not be defensive. After that they had to play for a draw.

Tino Best, one of the fast bowlers, has a reputation for saying nasty things to the batsmen and staring at them and had given Flintoff some stick. When Best was batting he took a wild swipe and missed completely. Flintoff came up behind him and said "Mind the windows, Tino!" The television cameras and stump microphones give a brilliant account of the game nowadays. A few balls later Tino took another wild swipe and was stumped by a mile. Flintoff wasn't just laughing; he was guffawing like a teenager.

The last two wickets were very slow to get. A huge dark cloud was coming but the wind was very light. When there was only one wicket to fall it looked as if the game might be called off as a draw because of bad light but Flintoff got the last wicket before the cloud reached the ground. If Tino Best had batted sensibly they might have forced a draw.

Batting averages: Key 118, Vaughan 103, Strauss 86, Flintoff 32, Trescothick 30.5, Thorpe 28.5. Bowling averages: Giles 5 for 81 and nine in the match. He was man of the match.


Olympic women's triathlon near Athens

This was the first time I have watched a triathlon more or less from start to finish. It took place early in the morning but the temperature rose to the high eighties Fahrenheit during the cycle ride and run.

At the end of the 1500 m swim around a bay in warm water without the usual wetsuits the swimmers were fairly close together. An Australian girl called Loretta Harrap was second at the transition where they put on helmets and get on their bikes which already have the shoes fixed onto the pedals.

Loretta and another girl led for the whole of the 40 km ride. They exchanged the lead to help each other keep ahead of the pack. There were five circuits of eight kilometres and near the start of each circuit there was a long 1 in 6 hill then a short flat stretch then a short 1 in 5 hill.

Most of the girls were quite slight in stature, slim with hardly noticeable breasts showing through their swimsuits which they wore for all events. They had lovely thighs and buttocks, especially Loretta, and these were shown in close-up during the bike ride by the camera on the motorcycle escort.

The girl Loretta was with on the cycle ride seemed to have something wrong with her leg or ankle which slowed her at the end of the ride and Loretta pulled ahead at the end of the last lap. The other girl pulled out of the race during the run.

Loretta was well ahead during the whole of the 10 km run which was three circuits of relatively flat road near the bay. She wasn't in any trouble and may have been coasting to victory. She didn't realise that Kate Allen who was tenth I think at the start of the run was catching up fast. Kate passed the second and third place runners easily towards the end of the third lap and closed on Loretta. She overtook Loretta at a sprint during the last fifty yards. As many runners find at the end of a long distance race Loretta could only manage to keep her steady pace. Kate made up three minutes during the run. Kate literally came out of nowhere and Loretta obviously had no idea that Kate was gaining on her at all, let alone so fast.

Everyone felt very sorry for Loretta, including me. She must have thought the gold medal was really in the bag. During the men's triathlon the next day a commentator said that the competitors are normally briefed by a coach about the gap between them and another runner but Loretta was obviously completely in the dark or badly informed, possibly because Kate made up so much ground during the last lap well away from the transition area where most of the coaches were.