The Spectator - 18 September 2010
Go on Tony, try telling Ramze Ahmed that things have got better in Iraq
Ihave begun to worry about Tony Blair. His face has thinned considerably in the last five years, the skin stretched tautly across the bones of his face, his eyes deathlessly weird and protuberant. Facially, he has come to resemble a Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), that species of mid-sized, polyandrous falcon much beloved by American handlers because it is preternaturally amenable to their bidding. And then there’s the drinking. Tony revealed in his autobiography that during the last five years of his tenure in Downing Street, he took to the bottle. Or, at least, the carafe. He downed ‘half a bottle’ of white wine over dinner and sometimes enjoyed a cocktail in the late afternoon. Hell, he’s almost Charles Bukowski. Hey, barkeep, what’s keeping ya, it’s seven o’clock — gimme a lightly chilled Sancerre and hold the ice.
Those of us who think that half a bottle before Thought for the Day comes on is probably OK — providing we don’t have a stiffener before Woman’s Hour —have been forced to re-evaluate our behaviour: what if, as a consequence of our drinking, we suddenly invade a sovereign country, or destroy the British economy, or become friends with people like Bernie Ecclestone and Robin Gibb? What if we too come to resemble a Harris Hawk? Alcohol, huh. Responsible for so much misery in the world.
The idea that quite a few people in the w estern hemisphere drink even more than Tony gained force when it was revealed, this week, that Mr Blair has been awarded the coveted Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Centre (NCC) in Philadelphia ‘in recognition of his steadfast commitment to conflict resolution’. In satirical terms, this easily beats Kissinger winning the Nobel Prize for Peace. Or Dappy from N–Dubz being made Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Tony Blair bilaterally began an illegal conflict and then, conspicuously, failed to resolve it; that much is surely uncontentious, even if you don’t care about the illegality bit.
The number of Iraqis who died as a consequence of the invasion varies, for sure, according to who you ask: 650,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, or 654,000 according to a 2006 report in the Lancet. Then again, if you talk to Mark Steyn orWilliam Shawcross the answer is somewhere in the region of ‘seven’ (and they all deserved it). So I suppose the jury is still out on that one. But just as a definition of an award, that citation — conflict resolution —we are surely in realms which could not have been envisaged even by Lewis Carroll.
Tony’s old friend Bill Clinton presented him with the award, but it would have been better, for satirical purposes, if the NCC had got hold of Ramze Ahmed instead to do the honours, although they’d have needed to spruce him up a bit first. Ahmed is the British pensioner —he’s 68 years old — currently being held in an Iraqi prison without trial or even charge. He’s been there since December 2009 and, according to his family and also Amnesty International, has suffered various interesting forms of torture, including electric shocks administered to his genitals and suffocation with a plastic bag over his head, while being held at the secret al-Muthanna prison. You may remember, during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, that useful backbench idiot Ann Clwyd MP assuring her colleagues that Saddam had loads of political prisoners whom he would regularly feed into paper-shredding machines, acid baths and so on, or just had peremptorily shot. Some of her claims were later suspected to be absurd exaggerations, just useful propaganda for the government the spectator | 18 September 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk
—but I don’t doubt for a moment that Saddam was monstrous, I don’t doubt the numbers of political prisoners he imprisoned or killed, nor would I doubt the breadth of his sadistic appetite.
Did he kill more or less than the 30,000 political prisoners alleged by the various NGOs to be held in Iraqi prisons without trial right now? Probably more over the course of his horrible presidency, if we’re honest —especially at the time when he had our tacit support (and indeed arms) in his war against Iran.And I suppose paper-shredders and acid baths are slightly more bestial than a mere few thousand volts transmitted through the old fella, or a plastic bag over the head — at least these tortures are being inflicted by a democracy; they are democratic and thus consensual forms of torture. So things are better now, the Steyns and the Shawcrosses (and the Blairs, or at least one of them) might argue, availing themselves of a singularly Panglossian defence. A triumph for liberal evangelism; hell, nobody expected Iraq to become Sweden overnight, but things have got better. Things have got so much better.
Ramze Ahmed travelled to Iraq in order to get help for his son, Omar, who was arrested on unspecified terrorist charges and who also languishes in some no doubt equally democratic prison cell. I have no more details about his case and nor, so far as I can see, does anyone else, there being no charges etc. I wouldn’t stake my life on them both being dyed-in-the-wool secular democrats, nor do I think they would be my ideal dining companions. It is possible that we might not have a lot in common. But it’s simply the case that one of them, at least, is a British subject held without charge in a foreign jail and, according to several sources, repeatedly tortured, and that he is far from alone in having been subjected to this.
You can sign up to petition William Hague about Ramze Ahmed via Amnesty International, or simply pelt Tony Blair with rotten vegetables when he is next nominated for some award, or beatified.