London Blasts: Media Review
61: 6 September 2005
Robinson Fluffs It / Blair
May Fluff It / Law, War, Jaw-Jaw / Israel
DENIAL - AARONOVITCH
Anti-Clarke / Anti-Chatham
House / Anti-Anti-Sanctions / 'Would have happened anyway'.
ROBINSON FLUFFS IT
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
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.
BLAIR MAY FLUFF IT
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
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:
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.
LAW, WAR, JAW-JAW
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
'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
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
'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
DENIAL - AARONOVITCH
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
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
Aaronovitch makes no attempt
at such an examination. He assumes the result without the
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
WOULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWAY
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
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
'Possibly London wouldn’t
have been bombed. Or maybe it would have been bombed for
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
'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
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.'
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
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.'
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
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