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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY 61: 6 September 2005



Robinson Fluffs It / Blair May Fluff It / Law, War, Jaw-Jaw / Israel


Anti-Clarke / Anti-Chatham House / Anti-Anti-Sanctions / 'Would have happened anyway'.




Nick Robinson, the new political editor for the BBC, interviewed Tony Blair in China yesterday (Today programme, 0731am). He raised the 7/7 bomber video, only to ask the most inane question: did the video not demonstrate a failure of intelligence, in that Khan was not known to the security services beforehand? Blair batted away the question, and tried to counter Khan's words by saying that no one was persecuted for their beliefs in Britain. This is irrelevant to what Khan actually said, which was that Britain was party to atrocities against Muslims around the world.

Robinson did not ask about the link between the war in Iraq (and the war in Afghanistan) and the heightened risk of terrorism in Britain. He did not counter the Prime Minister's misleading reference to freedom of religion in Britain itself.



Mr Blair also admitted in the same interview yesterday that his proposals for deporting Muslim 'extremists' may be illegal. Solution? Change the laws, he suggested. Not so simple:

'In the past, judges have refused to deport foreign extremists to countries such as Jordan and Algeria, even when they were suspected of involvement in terrorism, because it is illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights to expose someone to the risk of torture.'

The Convention is not British law, and cannot be amended by British law. Article 3, which protects people from torture, is not negotiable. Signatories to the Convention cannot 'derogate' (suspend or withdraw from) this human rights obligation. Article 3 reads, in its entirety:

Article 3 Prohibition of torture
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

That's it. (Download the whole Convention as a pdf here.)

'Asked why no deportations had yet taken place, the Prime Minister said: "You can serve the orders for deportation swiftly, but the legal process then takes some time to determine." '

' "But there's a major question as to whether, on the basis of understandings with countries to which we want to return these people, we will be able to within the courts." '

'Speaking in Beijing, at the start of a four-day tour of China and India, Mr Blair said the Government might have to amend the law to stop judges blocking its deportation cases.'

It's not clear how this could be done.

But it doesn't matter to the Prime Minister. It's a win-win situation. If he deports these men to torture and abuse, he will be seen to have acted strongly and decisively. If he doesn't manage it, he can blame 'the judges'.

Either way, it distracts attention from his Achilles heel: the link between the war in Iraq and the heightened risk of terror in the UK.




Peter Quayle, legal adviser to the Civil Division European Office of the US Department of Justice, adds to the bulging literature criticising the concept of a 'war on terrorism' - this time from a legal point of view. Mr Quayle argues that, 'The law of war is a hindrance not a help, in fighting terrorism'.

Mr Quayle is rather confused (or at least his article is confused). He writes:

'The laws of war — the Geneva Conventions and customary international law — anticipate a contest between states and their armed forces for the purpose of overpowering the other so as to impose such terms as the victor pleases. Terrorists seem mismatched by this measure.'

But, as Mr Quayle knows very well, the laws of war were amended in 1977 specifically to cover situations where one of the combatant forces was not a 'state'. The new nations who won their freedom through decolonization struggles succeeded in passing 'Additional Protocols' to the Geneva Conventions, which created new laws of war for non-state actors, for popular movements and groups who had not (yet) captured control of a state.

Before 1977, all such armed struggles were simply, inherently, illegal, under the old laws of war. With the Additional Protocols, armed struggle could be (but invariably was not) conducted in a lawful manner.

Mr Quayle knows all about this, because he quotes Article 51 of Protocol I:

'2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.'

Mr Quayle comments:

'But, for terrorists, this isolated crime is their whole war.'

For al-Qaeda, this is to a considerable extent true (though there are the attacks on military, government and diplomatic targets to be considered also).



What should one make, in this context, of the latest revelations from Israel?

According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, 3,269 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in almost five years. About 1,700 are believed to have been civilians and 654 minors.

Now Israeli soldiers are speaking out about some of these deaths. The Guardian reports:

'From a distance of 70 metres and through the sight of his machine gun, Assaf could tell that the Palestinian man was aged between 20 and 30, unarmed and trying to get away from an Israeli tank. But the details didn't matter much, because Assaf's orders were to "fire at anything that moved".'

'Assaf, a soldier in the Israeli army, pressed the trigger, firing scores of bullets as the body fell to the ground. "He ran and I started shooting for a few seconds. He fell. I was a machine. I fire. I leave and that's that. We never spoke about it afterwards." '

'It was the summer of 2002, and Assaf and his armoured unit had been ordered to enter the Gaza town of Dir al Balah following the firing of mortars into nearby Jewish settlements. His orders were, he told the Guardian, "'Every person you see on the street, kill him'. And we would just do it." '

'It was not the first time that Assaf had killed an innocent person in Gaza while following orders, but after his discharge he began to think about the things he did.'

' "The reason why I am telling you this is that I want the army to think about what they are asking us to do, shooting unarmed people. I don't think it's legal." '

'Assaf is not alone. In recent months dozens of soldiers, including the son of an an Israeli general, all recently discharged, have come forward to share their stories of how they were ordered in briefings to shoot to kill unarmed people without fear of reprimand.'

'The soldiers were brought into contact with the Guardian with the assistance of Breaking the Silence, a pressure group of former soldiers who want the Israeli public to confront the reality of army activities. The group insisted on anonymity of its witnesses to protect the soldiers from persecution and prosecution.'

Other stories are told in today's Guardian. It is clear there is a culture of impunity, in which the deliberate killing of unarmed children is acceptable.

'Another soldier, Moshe, told the Guardian he and his colleagues came under pressure to obey illegal shoot-to-kill orders. As part of his sergeant's training course, he and his fellow trainees were ordered to set up ambushes in Jenin in May 2003. He said there was "pressure to get kills".'

'Before the operation, the soldiers were briefed that they were on the lookout for armed men. But their targets also included children and teenagers who habitually climbed on armoured personnel carriers as they lumbered through the narrow streets. On a few occasions, machine guns had been stolen from APCs.'

' "We were expressly told that we were just waiting for someone to climb on an APC, and ordered to shoot to kill," said Moshe. "After a day or two, a 12-year-old climbed on one of the APCs. There were a lot of guesses about his age. First they said he was eight, later that he was 12. In any case, he climbed on an APC, and one of our sharpshooters killed him. The neighbouring company also had an incident with a kid or teenager who was killed." '

'The statistics collected by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group show that on May 14, Diya Gawadreh, 13, was killed by a live bullet. Kamal Amjad Nawahda, 13, was shot by Israeli soldiers on May 22. He died on May 27.'

'After Moshe returned to his paratroop unit, he said there were several incidents when children and teenagers were killed after bullets aimed at their legs hit their chests. The attitude was, he said, "so kids got killed. For a soldier it means nothing. An officer can get a 100 or 200 shekel [£12.50-£25] fine for such a thing." '

'A common theme in the soldiers' testimony was the desire to avenge Israeli casualties and inflict collective punishment on Palestinians.'

'Acts of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population'?




Times columnist David Aaronovitch deploys his formidable talents to scything down Ken Clarke and Noman Lamont for attacking the war in Iraq: 'The Comfy Ken philosophy: sit back and things won't turn out too badly'.



Along the way, Mr Aaronovitch has a knock at the recent Chatham House report linking the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the risk of terrorism in Britain. He takes issue with the central conclusion:

'Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.'

The problem, according to Mr Aaronovitch, is that this sentence 'doesn't stand up to examination':

'First, ask yourself, had the UK not ridden "pillion", would that have automatically meant no US invasion? If not, then the stuff about US and Iraqi lives and the damage done to counter-terrorism etc doesn't hold.'

Aaronovitch is right to point out the buried assumption that British withdrawal from the invasion would have derailed the assault. He wrong to draw the conclusion that the sentence therefore 'doesn't stand up to examination'. It may or may not stand up to examination, if there actually is examination of the likely consequences of British non-co-operation with the invasion effort.

Aaronovitch makes no attempt at such an examination. He assumes the result without the investigation.



Now the attack on Chatham House moves up a gear, and segues into an attack on Kenneth Clarke's withering critique:

'But beyond that lies a bigger ponderable: what would have been the situation had there been no invasion? Saddam would be there, or maybe Uday, or if we got lucky, Qusay.'

'Perhaps we would have continued the baby-killing sanctions on Iraq, believing (as Robin Cook did) that they contained Saddam’s military ambitions, or else — given that the sanctions regime was crumbling — we would have abandoned the measures and faced the prospect of Iraqi rearmament.'

So, the options were invasion (illegal and immoral), comprehensive economic sanctions (illegal and immoral), or lifting the economic sanctions and using military sanctions to restrain Iraq's rearmament (a policy that was neither illegal nor immoral).

Well, that is a killer argument for war, Mr Aaronovitch.

As for the rule of Saddam, Uday or Qusay, it would be just as fair to pose this 'ponderable': Perhaps the lifting of sanctions, economic regeneration and national reconstruction would have led to a flood of confidence, and a successful popular revolt against the dictatorship.



Mr Aaronovitch continues with his pondering:

'Maybe Libya would have maintained its WMD programme, maybe the reform movements in the Lebanon and elsewhere — partly energised by the Iraqi elections — would not have been so strong. At the humanitarian level the actuarial calculation is difficult. Continuing subjugation for the Shia (better to live in bondage?) and attacks on the Kurds by Ansar al-Islam.'

Too much here to unpack it all. We should note in passing, however, that the Iraqi elections were not an intended, nor a welcome, outcome of the invasion from the US/UK point of view. The elections were forced on President Bush and Prime Minister Blair by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, using the popular pressure of the Shia masses. (See JNV Briefing 78.)

Next sentences:

'Possibly London wouldn’t have been bombed. Or maybe it would have been bombed for something else.'

London might still have been bombed if there had been no invasion, but the controversy is over whether the invasion of Iraq made it more likely that London was bombed.

Ken Clarke put the matter fairly in his launch speech:

'The war did not create the danger of Islamic terrorism in this country, which had been growing internationally even before the tragedy of the attacks on 9/11.'

'However the decision by the UK Government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists.'

London might have been bombed anyway, because of its involvement in the occupation of Afghanistan, because of its discreet support for Russia's brutal war in Chechnya, for any number of reasons. The question under discussion is whether invading Iraq made Britain more likely to suffer terrorism.

Mr Aaronovitch seeks to duck this question. He moves on:

'Perhaps all that would indeed have been better, but you can no more look to Ken Clarke’s recent speech about terror and Iraq for thoughts on these questions, than you can look to the Chatham House report. The Clarkey/Chatham view seems to be that if we’d done nothing but carried on what we were doing before, then nothing very much would have happened. Consult your own short-term interests and tinker about a bit and it’ll be OK. The long term can take care of itself.'

Firstly, Ken Clarke has focussed his comments very firmly on the future: what should be done now. It is not possible to say what he thinks we should have done in 2003. David Aaronovitch provides no evidence that Mr Clarke believes that nothing very much would have happened (in terms of terrorism) if we had not invaded Iraq.

Secondly, the Chatham House report (which was an interim report), was also not focussed on policy alternatives to war in 2003, but policy alternatives for countering terrorism - now in 2005. David Aaronovitch provides no evidence that either of the two authors of the Chatham House report believes that nothing very much would have happened if we had not invaded Iraq.

Thirdly, if there was anyone in this disaster who acted with no thought for the long-term security of this country, it was Tony Blair.

Mr Aaronovitch finishes his attack with these words:

'Clarke is an attractive man, a latterday comfy-bummed Stanley Baldwin; his motto — like Baldwin’s — being “safety first” in a world in which there is no safety.'

When we turn to Mr Clarke's launch speech, we find this:

'... the decision by the UK Government to become the leading ally of President Bush in the Iraq debacle has made Britain one of the foremost targets for Islamic extremists.'

'Personally I would have accepted that increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed that we were driven to go to war for a just cause and a British national interest that could be pursued in no other way.'

'I reject the notion that fear of terrorist reprisals should ever deter a British Government from pursuing an honourable and necessary cause.'

'I had previously supported every war embarked upon by a British Government of whatever party throughout my Parliamentary career.'

'This was not such a case. The reasons given to Parliament for joining the invasion were bogus.'

Mr Clarke can take care of himself. The point of this brief discussion is to demonstrate the intellectual level required to resist realism about the 7/7 bombers.



JNV welcomes feedback.


This page last updated 6 September 2005





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