Basically…

Jaimie Grant meets with veteran peace campaigner Lindis Percy to discuss the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases

December 1, 2008
4 min read

It was announced at the end of June that the last of America’s nuclear missiles had finally been removed from the UK, the end of a 54-year-old arsenal. But the US military retains a major presence here, and intelligence-gathering at the numerous US bases around the UK has been stepped up – as too too have restraints on the scrutiny Britain has over these operations.

The national debate over civil rights has been focused on 42-day detention and ID cards. Yet the ability of the US military to obtain personal information on private individuals and to obscure public scrutiny of its operations has become a growing concern for communities confronted with its presence.

Activists such as the long-time peace campaigner Lindis Percy, working through the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), are attempting to raise awareness of the way the US military is permitted to operate outside British law. A recent court action Percy brought against US airman Frank McDonald of the base at Croughton, Northamptonshire, illustrates the point. Percy initiated a private prosecution against McDonald and two Ministry of Defence police officers in connection with a 2006 incident in which she was allegedly roughed up by McDonald while being detained. The case was taken over and promptly dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service earlier this year after the US authorities entered a certificate saying that, under the Visiting Forces Act 1952, the English court had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Officially the case was dropped on the grounds of insufficient evidence, despite the clear medical evidence of assault.

Whatever the facts about this particular case might be, there is clearly a wider issue of British sovereignty at stake here, says Percy: ‘Officially, if we [the UK] want them to go we can send them away. But the Visiting Forces Act and the Status of Forces Agreement aren’t tight enough. American bases are really beyond the control of the British government; they do what they like.’

In such circumstances the public can be forced off a site unlawfully and assaulted without any comeback. ‘There are no meaningful legal protections, and furthermore many of the bylaws protecting US bases are invalid and so they don’t bring them to court,’ says Percy. ‘They haven’t arrested under them for years. It’s a con.’

While the nuclear arsenal may have gone, the US military presence is as entrenched as ever, and the central nervous system of US missile operations remains without check or balance. Indeed, the US has been installing new surveillance equipment at Menwith Hill, the world’s largest electronic monitoring station outside the US itself, located eight miles from Harrogate, and has introduced an enhanced radar system at RAF Fylingdales in north Yorkshire.

The current aggressive US strategy, which includes proposed new missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, is being made operational from the heart of the UK countryside – a process that was expected to go unnoticed and unquestioned. Formal permission was only granted to the US military to use the Menwith Hill base in the summer of 2007, after years of informal use, in an announcement made two days before the parliamentary recess tucked away among a collection of 45 other written statements. An all-party foreign affairs select committee report condemned the way this had been announced without discussion in parliament.

The government has probably been encouraged in this approach by an apparent dwindling of activism on such issues since the end of the cold war. ‘Protest culture has changed,’ acknowledges Lindis. ‘It’s now harder than it was. At Greenham Common there were so many imaginative and creative forms of protest, but it’s become more difficult as the authorities have brought in more controls.’

On a sunny 4 July, CAAB held its annual ‘Independence From America Day’ protest at the Menwith Hill base, this year incorporating an ‘I Spy A Spy’ theme, complete with protesters in ‘evening spy dress’. Lindis Percy, now 66 and with more than 150 previous arrests to her name for peaceful protests at US bases, was arrested yet again for breach of bail conditions.

She refuses to give in, though. ‘Our rights and security need not be set against each other like this, nor are they forever irreconcilable,’ she says. ‘Our quiet submission is not an option.’

For more information about the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases, visit www.caab.org.uk


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill