Lord Ahmed accused of blaming Jewish media owners for his prison sentence

Labour suspends peer after he is alleged to have blamed Jews "who own newspapers and TV channels" for his conviction for dangerous driving.

 

Update 2: Ed Miliband has now responded to the story. Interviewed by ITV News, he said: "The comments reported by Lord Ahmed are disgraceful comments, there's no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and frankly anybody who makes those kind of comments cannot be a Labour lord or a Labour member of parliament." 

That last point ("a Labour member of parliament") could be read as a reference to the Lib Dems' handling of David Ward. Ward accused "the Jews" of "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians … on a daily basis" but was not suspended from the party. 

Update: Labour has now suspended Ahmed pending an investigation. A party spokesman said: "The Labour Party deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-semitism. Following reports in the Times today we are suspending Lord Ahmed pending an investigation."

At the time of writing, Lord Ahmed is still a Labour peer but, if today's reports are accurate, it is hard to see him remaining one. The Times writes that Ahmed blamed his prison sentence for dangerous driving on pressure placed on the courts by Jews "who own newspapers and TV channels". He said: 

My case became more critical because I went to Gaza to support Palestinians. My Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels opposed this. 

Ahmed is also accused of claiming that the judge who jailed him for 12 weeks was appointed to the High Court after helping a "Jewish colleague" of Tony Blair's during an "important case". The quotes are taken from an Urdu-language TV interview Ahmed gave in Pakistan in April last year. The peer, who was ennobled by Blair in 1998, has said that he has "no recollection" of giving the interview. "I've done a lot of interviews. If you're saying that you have seen this footage then it may be so but I need to see the footage and I need to consult with my solicitors before I make any comments in relation to this

Labour has responded to the story by stating that it "deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-Semitism" and that "it will be seeking to clarify these remarks as soon as possible". It previously suspended Ahmed from the party after he was alleged to have offered a £10m bounty for the capture of Barack Obama and George Bush. It later revoked the suspension after the peer's actual comments emerged. He said: "Even if I have to beg I am willing to raise and offer £10m so that George W Bush and Tony Blair can be brought to the International Court of Justice on war crimes charges".

It is notable that Ahmed has denied the latest allegations less vociferously than on that occasion. In response to the "bounty" claims, he said that he was "shocked and horrified that this whole story could be just made up of lies". With Ed Miliband already under pressure to withdraw the whip from Ahmed, the party is likely to act swiftly to establish the facts. 

 

Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who became Britain's first male Muslim peer when he was ennobled by Tony Blair in 1998.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.