US appoints investigator into CIA abuse

Special investigator appointed as a new report revealing 'inhumane' treatment of terror suspects is

The US attorney general has appointed special prosecutor John Durham to investigate allegations of abuse of terror suspects. The appointment was made after an internal CIA report released yesterday revealed new allegations of abuse against detainees in Guantanamo Bay and at other secret prisons around the world.

The report outlined treatment of prisoners as "unauthorised, improvised, inhumane and undocumented". Interrogators reportedly used a power drill and handgun during questioning and staged mock executions in adjoining cells to terror suspects. They also made aggressive threats to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man behind the September 11th attacks claiming "we're going to kill you're children" and threatening another key suspect that his mother would be sexually abused in front of him.

The report also outlined a separate incident in July 2002 where an unnamed agent pressed his fingers into a detainees neck, causing him to pass out and then shaking him awake repeatedly to continue questioning.

The report was made in 2004 but CIA officials have fought since then to keep it secret. After court action from a civil rights group a heavily censored version was released yesterday.

CIA Director Leon Panetta has announced that it is "in many ways an old story" and that he would make "no judgments on the accuracy of the report or the various views expressed about it". He said his primary concern was "to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the president's position, too."

Under the direction of Durham the Justice Department is reported to be reopening about a dozen prisoner abuse cases.The announcement of Durham's report comes as President Barack Obama appoints a special team to interrogate terror suspects. The 'High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group' includes members of the FBI and will be supervised by National Security Adviser James Jones.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.