Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright