Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rights & Democracy? Right!

OTTAWA–Opposition leaders are rejecting the government's pick of a new president to head Montreal's troubled Rights and Democracy, calling him a partisan choice that risks further upsetting the agency.

In a letter rejecting the choice of Gérard Latulippe, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused the Conservatives of trying to hijack arm's-length government agencies.

"Your government has demonstrated time and again that it aims to impose on our country's independent institutions the most extreme views espoused within your own political party," Ignatieff wrote.

"And when this approach is applied to an independent organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy, it is particularly offensive."

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon's pick of Latulippe was ostensibly meant to bring stability to the government-funded agency, which has been rocked by questions of funding, a revolt by staff against the Conservative-appointed board, and the suspension of senior employees.

But Latulippe's past political ties have only fed opposition suspicions that the government is trying to engineer a takeover at the independent rights agency, which has an $11 million budget to foster democracy and human rights around the globe.

Latulippe, currently the resident director for the National Democratic Institute in Haiti, was a one-time candidate for the defunct Canadian Alliance.

Latulippe was also an adviser to Stockwell Day when the Treasury Board president was Canadian Alliance leader.

He also served alongside Cannon when they were Quebec Liberal MNAs in the 1980s.

Ignatieff notes that Latulippe's resumé circulated to the opposition leaders seemed to omit the more partisan points of his career.

"It seems counterproductive, to say the least, to appoint as its president an individual like Mr. Latulippe who has such strong ties to the government and its ministers," he wrote.

Cannon had called Latulippe "exceptionally qualified" when he named him for the job Monday.

Ignatieff said Rights and Democracy deserves better, saying its reputation "has been seriously damaged by the current chaos that has befallen the organization."

In his letter to Cannon, NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the government to delay any appointment until after the agency's woes have been given a full hearing before the Commons foreign affairs committee.

"The problems relating to the board of directors of Rights and Democracy are complex and will not be adequately addressed by prematurely appointing Mr. Latulippe," Layton said.

The opposition objections can't legally block the appointment but would put the government in the position of defying their concerns – and convention – if it pushes ahead.


* Memo provides insights on turmoil
* What were burglars looking for?
* Travers: Crisis born of broken pledge, shift in Mideast policy
* Siddiqui: PM's Gang of Seven provides a glimpse of Reform politics
* Rights agency probe urged
* Siddiqui: How the Harperites ambushed the rights agency
* Liberals, NDP failed to contest rights appointees, documents show
* Siddiqui: Harper remains silent on rights agency fiasco
* Editorial: Row over rights group
* Siddiqui: Stephen Harper's homegrown human rights problem
* Rights group rift turns ugly after tragedy
* Tory appointees 'unfit' for rights agency board, staff says

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Orca Resistance

Orca Resistance at Sea World
The Struggle of Nootka and Tilikum


Editors' Note: Counterpunches can be landed in a variety of ways. In November 2006, Kasatka, the Sea World Orca, attempted to drown her trainer. Yesterday, it was Tilikum’s turn—killing his aquarium trainer. This fall, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance, will be published by AK Press/CounterPunch Books. Below is a poignant excerpt from the book, which details the decades long struggle of two notable orcas: Nootka and Tilikum.

--AC / JSC

It was the first time that a trainer had ever been killed by a group of captive killer whales. There had been previous attempts, a great many actually. But the trainers involved, whether through rescue by other employees or a stroke of luck on their part, had always managed to survive. This attack, however, proved to be different and fatal. It occurred on February 21, 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific.

That day’s final performance had just ended at the Victoria, British Columbia based aquarium and the audience was pleased. They got to watch three killer whales, Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum, perform tricks, including one trick wherein a young female trainer rode on the back of one of these great sea mammals. It seemed to be wonderful fun—that is, until that particular female trainer fell into the water. As she attempted to climb out, an orca latched on to her. “The whale got her foot,” an audience member recalled to reporters, “and pulled her in.” We do not know which orca it was that started it, but all three, Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum, took their turns dunking the screaming woman underwater. “She went up and down three times,” another visitor continued. The Sealand employees “almost got her once with the hook pole, but they couldn’t because the whales were moving so fast.” One trainer tossed out a floatation ring, but the whales would not let her grab it. In fact, the closer that such devices got to the young woman, the further out the whales pulled her into the pool. It took park officials two hours to recover her drowned body.

Responding to the death, Sealand dismissed any claims that the whales had hurt the woman on purpose. “It was just a tragic accident,” the park manager lamented. “I just can’t explain it.” A few of the trainers speculated that Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum might have been playing “a game” that simply went wrong, and their coworker was mistakenly killed in the process. There was, however, precedent for a different interpretation.

In 1989, there had been two violent incidences involving Nootka. The first occurred in April. A trainer was in the middle of a routine activity, scratching the orca’s tongue, when that orca decided to turn the tables. Nootka “bit her hand and dragged her into the whale pool.” The woman had to be rescued by a fellow employee. Sealand, for its part, chose not to notify the authorities or the press. It believed that, although the trainer received lacerations and needed stitches, Nootka did not really intend to bite the person, and the situation remained in control. The trainer thought differently. Citing “unsafe conditions,” she quit her job.

Nootka struck again later that year. A tourist was taking pictures, when he accidentally dropped his camera in the water. The orca quickly noticed the object and put it into her mouth. When a trainer tried to retrieve the camera, Nootka used the opportunity to grab a hold of the man’s leg and jerk him into the pool. The trainer had to be rescued. Sealand administrators chose, once again, to deny that there was intentionality behind Nootka’s actions. No one needed to know about this incidence. Nevertheless, more trainers did resign their positions. Nootka, they believed, was purposeful and dangerous in her actions.

Elsewhere in Canada, other theme parks were having their own troubles. About a decade earlier, the Vancouver Aquarium had its hands full with Skana and Hyak. Both orcas were described by their trainer as “moody.” Working with the former was particularly precarious, as the female whale could switch from an obedient disposition to a rebellious one “in minutes.” “Skana once showed her dislike,” a Vancouver employee explained, “by dragging a trainer around the pool.” “Her teeth sank into his wetsuit but missed the leg.”

For Marineland, near picturesque Niagara Falls, it was the same but only with a different pair of whales. There was Kandu. She once yanked a trainer around the pool by the leg after the man fell off his back during a stunt. The employee was sent immediately to the hospital and a pale audience stumbled out of the stadium in disbelief. Than there was Nootka, a similarly named but all together unrelated orca to the one at Sealand. During a mid-1980s performance, she struck a trainer in the head with her pectoral fin. Aquarium administrators pronounced that it was an accident. Her trainers knew better. As one of them disclosed, Nootka often leapt out of the water in order to punch her trainers directly in the chest. She wanted to hurt people.

Interestingly, to date, there have been a total of five orcas named Nootka. Sea World had one. Marineland had another. And Sealand actually had the other three. Its first was captured in 1973 off the western Canadian coast. She died after nine months. Sealand tried again in 1975 with another female brought from the same waters. She did not fair any better and died within the year. Less than a decade later, Sealand decided to make one more attempt and flew in a young Icelandic female. She, miraculously, survived. Indeed, the average life expectancy during this era for captive orcas stood between one to four years. Aquariums often went through a whole series of whales before just one of them made it into adolescence. Today, that life expectancy has improved: rising to about ten years. Yet it is still a far cry from the thirty to sixty years that orcas can live in the ocean.

Sea World, for instance, has had fifty-one Shamus. The original was captured in 1965, after animal collector Ted Griffin harpooned the calf’s mother in Puget Sound. Betting with the odds, Sea World would only lease the animal at first. Who knows how long she would last? But, when the young orca made it through the year, the park bought her outright for $100,000. Sea World made Shamu the central figure in its operations. All marketing from this point forward was geared towards her. There would be Shamu commercials. There would be Shamu shows. There would be Shamu dolls and t-shirts. Shamu became, in the words of one director, the park’s “Mickey Mouse.” This orca did, however, have the power to disrupt these well-laid plans.

In 1971, during a publicity stunt, Shamu was being filmed with bikini-clad women riding on her back. Suddenly, she tossed the woman off and began dunking the person underwater. There were two divers in the small pool, but Shamu shrugged them off like little insects. The chaotic scene continued for a few minutes: a hysterical woman, divers tumbling in the wake, and trainers at the poolside desperately holding out poles. The individual would, eventually, be rescued. But the deed was done and the images made the local news. Shamu, apparent to all, was not near as friendly or cooperative as the amusement park would have liked us to believe. Sea World had its first major incident. At the end of the day, though, the orca’s actions were not enough to bring down the park. Operations would continue and, fifty-one Shamus later, Sea World has thrived. It has become a flagship vacation destination with three current locations: San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio. They have hotels, restaurants, roller coasters, merchandise, and special events. They have adventure camps for grade school and high school students. They have a multitude of animal exhibitions and performances. They have extensive breeding and research programs. Shamu has made Sea World’s owners very rich.

Back at Sealand, the situation was not as rosy. The attack by Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum left the park in a public relations freefall. Administrators promised changes. New safety procedures would be initiated. Physical contact between the trainers and whales will no longer be allowed. Guardrails will be installed along the poolside to prevent slips or bites. But the public pressure would not let up. Between the daily protests at the park’s front gates, national demands that the orcas be released back to the ocean, and the city council’s entrance into the debate, Sealand’s will crumbled. In August of 1991, the park reached a startling decision. “After a lot of thought and discussion,” the director clarified, “it was decided killer whales should be phased out.” Less than one year later, Sealand shut down its entire operations. The twenty-nine year old institution had closed permanently.

The three whales, including Haida’s newborn calf, were sold to Sea World for five million dollars. The decision was made in secret, and the export permits were granted behind closed doors. The public at-large was not allowed into the conversation. Tilikum was shipped out under the cover of the night to Orlando, where he still resides. Nootka would soon follow him. She died in 1994 at the age of thirteen. Haida and her calf, Ky, went to San Antonio. Three years after the death of his mother in 2001, Ky made news of his own. That July, during a performance in front a thousand people, the orca jumped on top of his trainer and repeatedly pushed the man underwater. Sea World, afterwards, tried to pass the incident off as rough play, saying that at no time was the trainer in danger. Witnesses did not buy it. As one of them explained, “the whale was staying between the [exit] ramp and the trainer and finally the trainer jumped on top of the whale's back and leaped over him and another trainer caught him.” At that point, “the whale turned around and slammed down on the ramp and he was pretty upset that the trainer got out of the pool.” Yesterday, the trainer did not escape.

Jason Hribal is the co-author of The Cry of Nature: an Appeal for Mercy on Behalf of Persecuted Animals. His new book, Fear of the Animal Planet, will be published this fall by AK Press / CounterPunch Books.

He can be reached at:


Canadian Commander says Kandahar Operation Will Mimic Marjah

Despite Taliban activity in Helmand, NATO won't alter Kandahar plans
During a medevac mission in Marjah, Afghanistan, U.S. soldiers prepare to use a backboard to extricate a wounded Marine from inside an armored vehicle disabled minutes earlier by a planted improvised explosive device, on Feb. 23, 2010.

Publicity meant to prepare civilians for large-scale attack has given insurgents time to plant makeshift bombs in the hundreds, Canadian commander says

Josh Wingrove

Kandahar, Afghanistan — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail Published on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 7:22PM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 9:25AM EST

Although the publicity-heavy military strategy NATO adopted ahead of its ongoing offensive in Helmand province allowed the Taliban time to plant “hundreds” of makeshift bombs that are slowing troop progress, a similar operation planned in Canadian-led Kandahar province will largely use the same tactic, its commander says.

The Canadian commander of the coalition's Task Force Kandahar, Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard, said troops in Helmand have come across about 400 or 500 of the improvised explosive devices in 10 days since the start of the big attack, dubbed Operation Moshtarak.

“The IED capability of the insurgents remains very real,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said, hours after the coalition declared in a statement that the improvise explosive devices “remain the greatest threat to security forces.”

Asked about comments from another regional commander, who said last week that IED finds were only in the “dozens,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said they were “for sure” in the hundreds. The result was not unexpected, and has not swayed Brig-Gen. Ménard, who suggested the soldiers in Kandahar – including the bulk of the Canadian troops in the country – will be able to learn from what their peers have seen in Helmand.

“It just confirms that [the Taliban's] tactics and their procedures have not actually changed that much. They're improving, they're very agile, very agile. But we are also very agile because we are learning from every time we find something. It's as simple as this,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said.

A day earlier, United States Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said IEDs have “been a real challenge,” slowing down American-led troops in Helmand province.

“By all accounts, the Taliban's resistance has been, at best, disjointed, but we have experienced difficulties. In some places the enemy fights harder than expected. The IEDs he has planted along the roads and at intersections, though crude, are still deadly,” Adm. Mullen said.

If the coalition goes ahead with the same game plan this summer in Kandahar, which has been made possible by the arrival of additional American soldiers, it will also include an emphasis on Afghan participation and an effort to limit civilian deaths.

Brig.-Gen. Ménard said Operation Moshtarak's civilian death toll – at least 16 killed according to the coalition, with human rights groups pegging it around two dozen – is “not bad” considering the scale of the operation, adding “one [civilian death] is too many, that I agree 100 per cent,” he said.

“But when you actually fight where the population is, the chances are that there could be some collateral damage. When you have [thousands of] troops coming down and conducting an operation like we have seen, with the number of civilian casualties we have seen, it's not bad,” he said.

“When you have a motorcycle that is driving towards you, and you actually make the sign to stop and suddenly he doesn't stop... even if he doesn't carry any [bombs], you don't know,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said.

“These are things that are happening all the time.”

Kandahar's massive operation this spring will use “a lot of checks and balances” to minimize civilian deaths, he said.

Public perception of Operation Moshtarak has been plagued by a spike in unrelated civilian deaths across the region, which damper claims that the new attack is meant to protect the Afghan people. The most recent unrelated incident came in Uruzgan province Monday, when as many as 27 civilians were killed by a NATO air strike meant for a group of insurgents.

The commander also said the recent arrests of high-profile Taliban leaders in Pakistan may only make a short-term difference for coalition soldiers. The arrests of Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and eastern Afghanistan insurgency commander Maulavi Abdul Kabir will only “have a limited impact in time and space” before “the vacuum gets filled rapidly,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said.

But, replacement commanders with less “experience and credibility” could ultimately dilute the power structure of the Taliban, working in the favour of coalition forces, he added.

“The problem for them is that the quality of the individuals that they replace them with always degrades,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said. “Yes, they are replaced, but it is certainly hurting them in a big way. So, by default, it's helping all of us.”

He offered scant new details of his summer operation in Kandahar, which has been publicized with a May start date and is made possible by the arrival of additional American troops. Brig.-Gen. Ménard said those extra soldiers will allow the coalition to dictate the terms of fighting with insurgents, who typically return from Pakistan once the weather is warmer, leading to increased fighting.

“We will be this year, for the first time I believe, in a very proactive [role]. We will decide where we will fight them, and when. And that is something where we've not had a chance in the past to do, because we just did not have enough troops to do it. Now that we have a lot of troops, we are in a position to dominate this ground and area,” Brig.-Gen. Ménard said.

Kandahar's governor has said he is already preparing to roll out government services in areas that are cleared of insurgents.

Brig.-Gen. Ménard also said that such “preparation with the Afghans remains essential” and a “key to success” in the region.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Clown Assassins

Gwynne Dyer: Mossad's latest blunder

Everybody assumes that Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, carried out the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander, in Dubai last month.

The Israeli government will neither confirm nor deny it, but the average Israeli citizen is sure of it, and quite pleased by it. After all, who else was going to go after him?

Well, theoretically it could have been the rival Palestinian political organization, Fatah, which has been more or less at war with Hamas for almost three years now. (Fatah runs the West Bank; Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.)

Proponents of this theory argue that the Dubai hit was too clumsy and sloppy to have been a Mossad operation.

Would any serious spy agency put 11 people on a hit team? Why would seven of them be travelling on British passports borrowed or stolen from British-Israeli dual citizens resident in Israel? Would they let themselves be caught repeatedly on video surveillance cameras as they set up the killing? This was just not a professional operation.

It certainly was amateur night in Dubai, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Mossad was not behind it. The Institute for Espionage and Special Operations, to give its proper name, may be “legendary”, but some of its past operations have been anything but professional. Take the case of the Norwegian waiter.

In the 20 years after Palestinian terrorists massacred eleven Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Mossad killed more than a dozen people it suspected of involvement in the operation. Most of them had some link to it, but Ahmed Bouchiki had none at all.

Bouchiki was a Moroccan immigrant to Norway who worked in a restaurant in Lillehammer. Mossad mistakenly thought he was Ali Hassan Salameh, the planner of the Munich atrocity, so an Israeli hit team murdered him as he walked home with his pregnant wife.

But the two killers committed the elementary error of driving to the airport 24 hours later in the same car they had used for the getaway (which had been spotted by the police).

They were arrested, and the woman of the pair broke down and confessed that they were working for Israel. The man had a telephone number on him which led the police to the safe house where the other three members of the team were staying. One of them had a list of instructions from Mossad on him, and they all ended up in Norwegian jails. Amateur night again.

Or take the Mossad attempt in 1997 to kill Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Meshaal. It happened in Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, but the Mossad assassins travelled there on Canadian passports borrowed from Canadian-Israeli residents with dual citizenship.

They broke into the building where Meshaal was sleeping and injected poison into his ear, but two were captured by Jordanian police and the other four took refuge in the Israeli embassy.

Jordan’s outraged King Hussein demanded the antidote to the poison, and the Israeli government reluctantly handed it over. In response to Canada’s furious protests about the use of its passports, Israel promised never to do that again. Just as it promised Britain in 1987, and New Zealand in 2004.

This time the hit team, though ridiculously large, was less incompetent: the victim died, and they all got out of Dubai safely. The fact that they left enough evidence behind for the Dubai police to figure out what happened does not exclude Mossad from consideration: it has bungled operations before.

The Dubai police say they are now “99 percent if not 100 percent sure” that Mossad was behind the murder, and most Western governments assume the same.

Four Western governments are especially angry: Britain, France, Germany and Ireland, whose passports were used in the operation. Israel will doubtless promise once more never to do that again, and the fuss will eventually die down.

The Dubai police chief, Lt.-Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, has asked Interpol for a “red notice” on Mossad head Meir Dagan, the usual preliminary to an arrest warrant, but Dagan need not stay awake worrying about it. What should be causing him sleepless nights is the fact that all these killings are counter-productive.

Killing off the leaders of Hamas—and of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance movement—does not improve Israel’s security. For example, it assassinated Hezbollah’s leader, Abbas al-Musawi, in 1992, and got the far more formidable Hassan Nasrallah as his successor.

It also got the revenge bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina, which killed 29 and wounded 242.

The leaders who get killed are replaced by others of equal competence, the cycle of revenge gets another push, and Israel’s reputation as a responsible state takes another beating. True, Israel does nothing that the United States, Russia and several other great powers have not done when fighting insurgencies, but they are shielded by their great-power status. Like it or not, there is one law for the great powers and another for the others.

Smaller countries are expected to obey the rules. Many Israelis think they don't need to worry about this because everyone hates them anyway, but the wiser ones realise that the state’s security and prosperity still depend heavily on the goodwill of Western countries. Actions like the Dubai operation, when they become public, erode that goodwill. But the wiser Israelis are not currently in the majority.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Abominable Mr. Brown

Gordon Brown criticised by anti-bullying chief

The row over Gordon Brown’s treatment of his staff has deepened after an anti-bullying charity said several Downing Street employees had called its helpline seeking advice and counselling.

Christine Pratt, founder of the National Bullying Hotline, claimed the charity had received "three or four" calls in recent months from staff in the Prime Minister’s office.

She said she had personally spoken to at least one of the callers, who complained of a "bullying culture" at Downing Street and of the "stress" it caused.

Mrs Pratt added that she was "appalled" by No 10’s "outright denial" of the allegations and insisted they should be investigated as the Government’s attempt to dismiss the claims would only "compound the stress of those who believe they are being bullied".

Her extraordinary intervention came after senior ministers tried to counter damaging allegations about Mr Brown’s behaviour and treatment of his staff in a new book.

The book, by the respected a political commentator Andrew Rawnsley, suggested that the Prime Minister’s volatile temper, his allegedly foul-mouthed abuse of staff and outbreaks of physical violence had left No 10 civil servants and aides suffering a culture of fear and intimidation.

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, led the Downing Street attempt to rebuff the allegations. He insisted that the Prime Minister was not a bully, and that he was only "inpatient" and "demanding" of his staff.

However, the public relations counter-offensive was derailed by Mrs Pratt, who disclosed that several Downing Street staff had sought confidential help from her charity.

The Conservatives said the disclosure suggested a "Government cover-up" over Mr Brown’s behaviour.

The row comes only days after Mr Brown attempted to make his character an asset in the general election with an emotional ITV interview, in which he discussed his children and his marriage at length.

It also overshadows the launch of Labour’s general election campaign on Saturday, where Mr Brown had asked voters to "take a second look" at him and his party.

In denying the bullying claims yesterday, ministers attempted to make a virtue of the Prime Minister’s personality, but Mrs Pratt undermined that strategy when she claimed she had personally spoken to No 10 staff about bullying in his office.

"Staff in his office, working directly with him, have issues and have concerns and have contacted our helpline," she said. "Some have downloaded information; some have actually called our helpline directly and I have spoken to staff in his office."

She added: "I have personally taken a call from staff in the Prime Minister’s office, staff who believe they are working in a bullying culture and that it has caused them some stress.

"We would have hoped Gordon Brown would lead by example. If an employer receives complaints they should investigate.

"I am not saying Gordon Brown is a bully, I am not a judge. But I am appalled at the outright denial that is going on without due process being followed."

In all, there had been "three or four" calls from No 10 staff to the helpline, she said.

Mrs Pratt later told The Daily Telegraph that by dismissing the reports of bullying, No 10 could be breaching employment law.

"If an employer receives any allegation that there is a culture of bullying or stress, they have a legal obligation to investigate, a duty of care to employees. It appears that due process is not being followed here," she explained.

A Downing Street spokesman was unable to comment last night on a separate report that one member of the Downing Street staff was currently on stress-related sick leave.

Many of yesterday’s revelations about Mr Brown’s behaviour had been rumoured at Westminster for several years, but they were formally published for the first time in a book by Mr Rawnsley, serialised in a Sunday newspaper.

The book alleged that on several occasions, Mr Brown’s anger had led to physical violence against Downing Street staff.

The book also claimed that Mr Brown’s treatment of Downing Street officials was so bad that Sir Gus O’Donnell, the head of the Civil Service, felt moved to investigate the concerns of staff members.

It was reported that having heard from several "frightened" and "bruised" officials, Sir Gus privately raised Mr Brown’s conduct with the Prime Minister, telling him: "This is no way to get things done." Mr Rawnsley said he based his report on the eyewitness accounts of many officials and politicians.

No 10 denied there had been any incidents of violence against staff and described the allegations as "malicious."

However, it did not challenge the wider picture of Mr Brown’s character and temperament.

Ministers said Mr Brown’s occasional outbursts and impatience were merely proof of his driven nature and his determination to do a good job.

Lord Mandelson said of the Prime Minister: "He does not like taking no for an answer from anyone. He will go on and on until he’s got a policy or an idea in the best possible form. Yes there is there is a degree of impatience about the man." But he insisted: "He doesn’t bully people".

In a statement last night, No 10 said: "At no time has the National Bullying Helpline contacted No 10 about these allegations. We have rigorous, well established procedures in place to allow any member of staff address any concerns over inappropriate treatment or behaviour. The Civil Service will continue to have a no tolerance policy on bullying."

Downing Street aides questioned the credibility of Mrs Pratt, suggesting her group was a "Tory front group."

Ann Widdecombe, a Tory backbencher, is a patron of the charity, and its Reading office is in the same business park as a local Conservative association.

However, Mrs Pratt last night denied any connection to the Conservatives. "We are non-political, I am non-political," she said.

The Conservatives seized on the charity’s disclosures. A Tory spokesman said: "This development suggests that there could be a cover-up at the heart of government over the prime minister’s behaviour."

In a statement last night, the Cabinet Office also contradicted the claim’s in Mr Rawnsley’s book about Sir Gus.

A spokesman said: "It is completely untrue that the Cabinet Secretary ever gave the Prime Minister a verbal warning about his behaviour."

The book also recounts efforts by Mr Brown’s aides to undermine Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, and allow the Prime Minister to replace him with Ed Balls, a long-standing ally.

Maggie Darling, the chancellor’s wife, was quoted as saying Mr Brown’s team were trying to "stitch up" Mr Darling. The Chancellor himself was reported to have confronted Mr Brown over media briefings against him.

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said the allegations "raise questions about the Prime Minister’s judgment and behaviour" and proved Mr Brown was "not cut out" for the job.

Mr Hague said: "I don’t think he has ever shown that he can lead a happy team and a successful team. That is one of the reasons he has struggled."

He added: "The people who work in Number 10 or at the top of other government departments work round the clock, they are very hard working and dedicated and not very highly paid considering their hours and their responsibilities,"

"They are entitled to expect the highest standards of behaviour and courtesy and politeness from the ministers and the prime minister they serve."