Monday, September 18, 2006

THEIR VERDICT WAS IGNORED: Speaking truth to power, jurors in the London ricin trial protest overturning of justice

In April 2005, a jury in England destroyed one entire plank in Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council on why Iraq was a terror menace to the United States.

It had been long in coming and was not sexy. It was a complicated and annoying finding to those who desire a smooth narrative of clear cut good and evil in the war on terror.

Powell's presentation, recently addressed here, presented a "UK poison cell" as connected to the terrorist al Zarqawi, who was connected to al Qaeda, which was in league in some way with Saddam Hussein. Information in the Senate intel report, released recently, confirmed what had been revealed in an English courtroom between 2004-2005, information that had been kept from the public.


The jury's verdict contradicted Powell's assertions -- and by extension, the American government's -- on anything having to do with the "UK poison cell."

But the American newsmedia, so hip to cover the story when ricin was allegedly discovered in London prior to the invasion of Iraq, was not at all eager to correct the historical record when the jury verdict reversed all such claims in April of 2005.

As GlobalSecurity.Org senior fellow, DD was the only person who wrote about it in detail. I was consulted during the course of the trial by the defense and given access to evidence, proceedings and thoughts that were going on in the case before the legal gag order came off in the United Kingdom.

And when I published on GlobalSecurity.Org on April 11, 2005, the US newsmedia essentially ran the other way. [And GlobalSecurity.Org is very well known to journalists, who --as a group -- publish their use of it daily as a valued source of military and security information. As many have come to realize, however, 'information' often has to be just the right kind, something that doesn't demolish previously received wisdoms.]

I was on the phone as the end of the trial came in and quickly discovered it was an embarrassment that American journalists hadn't bothered to attend it. The result was the press published all the risible claims made by the UK police and government prior to the trial, claims and assertions which in no way reflected what had just transpired.

The news that the reporting of a ricin positive in London, evidence of an al Qaida gang preparing for a chemical attack, was a negative -- a false positive -- was unwelcome.

That the mistake was a product of professional bungling which in turn had formed part of an elaborate mythology/hoax presented as a piece of the larger embarrassment of Colin Powell's UN speech was more shunned news. Even more appalling was that alleged key intelligence in the case had been derived from tortured informants.

A well-known reporter for the Washington Post growled at me over the telephone that I had put "them" in a awkward position by publishing the results of the trial before the newspaper could get to it and develop its own confirming sources.

"How dare you!" was the implicit message.

Since then, the newsmedia has neglected to return to the history of the London ricin trial, even when in the UK press, it has had a great deal to do with the mixed British reaction to the plot of the airplane liquid bombers.

Perhaps it is considered a small thing here.

It has, however, always been a significant undercurrent to the war-on-terror beat in the English press.

"When a buff envelope containing a jury service summons drops on the doormat, most people can look forward to spending two weeks in a local court. Our experience was different: in April last year we completed seven months at the Old Bailey sitting on a terrorism case, the so-called ricin trial," wrote jurors in the trial today, for the Guardian.

"The crown alleged a conspiracy by Algerian men, all loosely linked through the Finsbury Park mosque, to produce poisons, one a deadly toxin called ricin. We found one guilty and four not guilty. But there was a problem: despite hysteria in the media, no ricin was found. And rather than accept the fact that they were not conspirators, there was an assumption that those acquitted "got away with it.

"We were annoyed after the trial at the amount of misinformation in the news, but this turned to anger when the government announced that the acquitted men were to be deported to Algeria, where they could face imprisonment, torture or death. We took an unusual step in talking to the media about our concerns over the deportations and how we felt our verdicts had been disregarded. Two of the men from the trial were arrested last September and put in Belmarsh prison, labelled a threat to national security. They were 'released' on bail four months later on condition that they wore electronic tags, limited their movements to a small area and observed a curfew, among other measures."

The entire piece, on the overturning of legitimate justice, is here.

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