the Disillusioned kid: July 2004
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Saturday, July 31, 2004

Mea Culpa

Part of the reason I started this thing and try and keep it going was to develop my analytical and writing skills. For the most part I don't think I've done to badly on the writing part, the analysis is perhaps not so strong. Most of the best analysis is either borrowed from others' ideas or heavily based on them. When I decide to come up with my own stuff it isn't always as successful. What I'm trying to say, is I think I got something wrong. Rather than consigning it to the Memory Hole I thought I'd have a go at writing a correction. So here goes.

Back in mid-June I wrote a post about the US decision to reduce aid to Uzbekistan's. My basic thesis was that the reduction only constituted a small part of the money. I based this on figures for 2003, which was all I could find at the time. While looking for information on the country in the aftermath of Friday's bombings I stumbled across this article from May which states:
Of the $55 million Uzbekistan assistance program for Fiscal Year 2004, three-fourths is for programs not involving assistance to the Uzbekistan government. The rest is for programs with the government and could be affected if the Secretary does not certify progress.
This poses several questions. Uzbekistan is an increasingly centralised country. According to the Guardian, "Tashkent has begun shutting down private businesses, ensuring all economic activity - from the cotton picked by child labour to the gold mines - lines the presidential elite's pockets." This being the case you might suggest that it would be very difficult to be involved in the country without assisting the government. Additionally the $55 million figure seems quite low. The same Guardian article reports that "in 2002, the US aid budget to Uzbekistan was $220 million in total". Is there money coming from another source? Perhaps as part of the "Strategic Partnership and Co-operation Framework". The truth is I don't know, but however I cut it, it looks a lot like I got it wrong.

What I should have said was that the move was a welcome development, but emphasised Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division's comment that, "This decision has been long in coming." I should then have pointed out the conclusions of Maria Brill Olcott, a Central Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who argues, "This is a sign that Central Asia is less important (to the Bush administration) than it was three years ago," because US access to Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase, which was crucial during US actions in Afghanistan in 2001, is less significant now that Washington has established several bases in Afghanistan.

I should also have pointed you in the direction of Rahul Mahajan's analysis, dating from January when the idea of reducing aid to the country was first touted, in which he suggests that the idea "looks like another move in the interminable drama of State vs. Defense, realist vs. neocon, rather than a sudden access of concern for human rights." I should then also have pointed out that he notes further, "Termination of aid to Uzbekistan is likely a reasonable sacrifice right at the moment, when the country's immediate significance is not great and the empire is stretched thin anyway."

I should also have directed you to the statement by Richard Boucher US State Department spokesman, noting that it could hardly be described as unequivocal and doesn't even use the word "torture", citing instead vague concerns about the "lack of progress on democratic reform and restrictions put on U.S. assistance partners on the ground."

I could even have pointed out the differences between US treatment of dictatorial regimes which serve its interests, like Karimov's, and those which don't, like Castro's Cuba.

But of course I didn't do any of that. I'll try harder next time.

Just as an afterthought, it will be interesting to see how the US-Uzbekistan relationship develops in the aftermath of the bombings. It is possible that the US will use the threat of terrorism against US interests in the country as a justification for increasing aid to Karimov's regime. However, this would surely be embarrassing and politically inept. The comments of Avi Pazner, an Israeli government spokesman suggest a possible way of avoiding this. He noted, "The world is confronted with a wave of terrorism. There is an absolute need to unite all efforts to combat this scourge." It is possible to conceive of a situation where the US increases its support for the regime using Israel as a proxy. A situation which echoes Israeli involvement in certain Latin America countries in the 1980s when the political cost to the US government became serious. That's something I hope I'm wrong about.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Explosions in Tashkent Pt. 2

Quick update on the bombings in Uzbekistan:

The effect of the attack on the State Prosecutor's Office (AP/Anvar Ilyasov)

According to Muslim Uzbekistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted on an Islamist website .
A group of young Muslims from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan carried out martyrdom operations today against the embassies of America and Israel and the office of the prosecutor general, which started a few days ago to try several brethren from the group
A reference to the trial of the 15 militants suspected of involvement in the wave of violence in the country in March and April. The statement continues in the style you'd expect:
Martyrdom operations carried out by the group will not stop. They are directed against the injustice of the apostate government and in support of our Muslim brethren in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Hijaz (Saudi Arabia) and other Islamic countries ruled by apostates.
Muslim Uzbekistan point out that the authenticity of the statement cannot be confirmed and I've been unable to access the site to check for myself (which I might not be able to do even if I could access it, as it's likely to be in Arabic or Uzbek, neither of which I can read).

Assuming this turns out to be true, it would rather seem to undermine the claims made by various analysts earlier this year that IMU had been crippled by US action in Afghanistan. Another reason why the war was a good idea out of the window.

If you feel so compelled you can read Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office Minister's response to the explosions couertsy of the Government News Network. He states, "The rule of law is one of our strongest defences against the disorder which terrorists seek to create." Fair enough, but it isn't entirely clear what this has to do with Karimov's regime which demonstrates its respect for the rule of law by boiling people to death.

Chagos Redux

Back on Saturday I wrote a post, urging people (or at least those in the UK) to write to their MP and get them to sign Early Day Motion 1355. This was a motion calling for the rescission of the Orders in Council which prevent the Chagossians returning to the islands which were once their home. Anyway I don't know how many people actually made the effort to write (apart from timx!), but I did and I've now received a response. Let's see what my esteemed representative has to say:
Thank you for your recent letter concerning EDM 1355 which I have read with interest.
This seems to be a pro forma start as I'm pretty sure that most, if not all, of the letters I've got from him start like that, but anyway...
You are absolutely right, I cannot support this because it is not an officially sponsored matter...
He's a member of the Shadow Cabinet you see. Wasn't aware of this rule until he used it as an excuse not to sign an EDM on Colombia. Unfortunately I suppose I've got to take his word on it.
...but I will take up this matter with the relevant Minister at the Foreign Office.
Presumably Bill Rammell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I can already guess what he'll say, having read his contribution to the Parliamentary debate on the issue, and I know I'm not going to like it, but at least he'll be aware that somebody cares (it's all about the small victories).
When I have received a response, I shall, of course write to you again but I should warn you that it can take up to six weeks to receive a Ministerial reply.
I can hardly wait.

Explosions in Tashkent

I've just started using Google News. It's actually pretty good and brings together reports from media around the world. Today's top story is a series of suicide bombings in Uzbekistan, a country I've written about on various occasions before. For anyone who's interested, the following is what seem to have happened.

Most of the reports seem to be based on limited information at the moment, but it appears that suicide bombers struck the US and Israeli embassies and the state prosecutor's office. According to the Uzbek Interior Ministry, "One policeman and one security guard who were guarding the embassies were killed. Nine people were injured. Two of them are in a serious condition." Reuters also cites "sources" who say that one of the dead was the Israeli ambassador's personal bodyguard and the other an embassy guard. It appears however, that the two deaths occurred at the Israeli mission.

The blasts coincide with the trial of 15 suspected Islamic militants accused of involvement in a wave of violence in the country in March and April of this year, which included Central Asia's first suicide bombing. According to the Guardian the suspects have pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism, murder and religious extremism and could face the death penalty. Apparently several of those suspects have also claimed that their intended targets had been the Israeli and US embassies. It's worth recalling at this point that torture in Uzbekistan is widespread and anything said by suspects in detention in the country should be treated in the light.

Israeli government spokesman, Avi Pazner's comment, "An attack has been carried out in Uzbekistan against American and Israeli targets, meaning three different countries are hit today by the same people who hate democracy and freedom," seems a little disingenuous. Quite apart from the reasons for opposition to the policies of the Israeli and US governments, a subject for another post perhaps, to suggest that Uzbekistan is somehow a paragon of "democracy and freedom" is ridiculous. It is instead a de facto dictatorship complete with fully equipped torture chambers. Nonetheless I have no illusions about the kind of groups probably responsible for these attacks.

That these attacks have all the hallmarks of an Islamic extremist groups, goes without saying. The choice of targets is also consistent with the ideology and grievances of these groups. The question arises however, who carried it out? Apparently "a US intelligence official" believes the attacks were carried out by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). However after the March attacks much was made of how IMU had been seriously, perhaps fatally, weakened by US operations in Afghanistan. (The Uzbek government originally tried to pin the blame for those attacks on Hizb-ut-Tahir, another Islamic group, but one apparently committed to nonviolence. These claims do not appear to have been very credible, but may have been an attempt to legitimise a crackdown on the group.) An alternative possibility is suggested by the article in The Hindu which claims that those standing trial for the attacks earlier this year have claimed to belong to a group called Jamoat, which translates as "society" in Uzbek, whose leader fought with the IMU, but later broke his ties with it and formed the new group.

Whoever carried out the attacks it seems clear that the Karimov regimes brutal crackdown on Islamic extremism which has included the incaceration of 7-10,000 suspected Islamic extremists, vicious tortures and the restriction of freedoms has failed to stop the emergence of terrorist groups within the country. It may even have fuelled it. There is, in short, no justification for this kind of brutality. It is time to stop pussy footing around with Karimov and demand that he and his government sort out their act, in the same way we do with governments who don't serve our strategic interests (Iraq, Iran, North Korea etc.). Consider, for instance, the difference between the treatment Castro's Cuba and Karimov's Uzbekistan, pointed out by James S. Henry at Submerging Markets™. Doesn't seem very consistent to me.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Little Brother is Watching

I've got me some new toys! Basically Re-Invigorate and Nedstat allow me to see who's checking out this site. I can for instance ascertain what time people accessed it, what country they're in, what browswer they're using, how they got there and even what operating system they have (at the time of writing 89% of visitors have used Windows apparently). My favourite bit is the refferers tool. Apparently someone got here by doing a Google search on "2004 EMAIL CONTACTS OF BORED OF MANUFACTURING COMPANY IN KOREA". I kid you not. I'm also surprised by how many American readers I have. Welcome! I trust you all like what you see. Apologies if not.

Anyway apart from being all geeky and whatnot, the point of this post was to draw your attention to the implications for security and privacy internet. If I, someone who knows very little about computers, can tell all this just from copying and pasting a few lines of code, imagine what someone who knows what they're doing could achieve. Let alone someone with governmental resources behind them. Kind of scary isn't it? I'm reminded of those screens in George Orwell's 1984 which keep track of what people are up to 24/7. Hmmm. Sounds a little paranoid. But nonetheless, it's something to bear in mind while you wander the information superhighway.

A Frontier Too Far

After operating in Afghanistan for 24 years, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) yesterday announced that they intended to pull out of the country. The decision came after 5 MSF workers, in a clearly marked vehicle, were killed in an ambush on June 2. Tragically 30 humanitarian workers have been killed in the country since the beginning of 2003. MSF have worked in the country through the Soviet invasion and the war with the Mujahideen resistance, the brutal civil war which followed and under the Taliban regime which took control of most of the country. For them to have decided to pull out, the situation must indeed be serious.

Among their reasons for withdrawing they cite the failure of the US-installed government to detain or publically call for the arrest of local commanders who they believe, on the basis of "credible evidence" where behind the attacks. They comment, "The lack of government response to the killings represents a failure of responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers on its soil."

They are also highly critical of "coalition" efforts "to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions":
MSF denounces the coalition’s attempts to co-opt humanitarian aid and use it to “win hearts and minds”. By doing so, providing aid is no longer seen as an impartial and neutral act, endangering the lives of humanitarian volunteers and jeopardizing the aid to people in need.
Indeed a Taliban spokesman who claimed responsibility for the June 2 attack accused groups like MSF of working for American interests and said they were therefore targets and would be subject to further attacks.

Among US attempts to co-opt humanitarian aid is the American-run provincial reconstruction teams deployed across the country to carry out who carry out civillain and military operations, from rebuilding schools to collecting intelligence on insurgents. Aid agenices argue that such a strategy blurs the lines between the military and humanitarian work. More worrying was the distribution of leaflets in Southern Afghanistan which informed locals that the continuation of aid was consequent on them providing information on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The US defends its efforts in reconstruction work as part of a "hearts and minds" campaign, one the ongoing insurgency suggests they may not be winning.

What MSF's decision confirms is something that many of us in the anti-war movement have known for sometime. Contrary to many people's perceptions, intervening in someone else's contry is not easy. Many people seem to accept the line that no news equals good news. Once John Simpson had liberated Kabul and the cameras left, people settled back into their armchairs content that all was well. Reality of course is very different. One can see the same phenomenon regarding Kosovo, which recent events suggest still has serious problems. Iraq seems to have remained in the headlines primarily because of resistance successes in inflicting serious losses on "coalition" forces.

By failing to show us the genuine consequences of our government's actions in other countries the media prevents us from being able to make educated decisions on future interventions. As the picture presented is typically a rosy one (we've "liberated" Afghanistan, all is well etc.) this serves the interests of those who want to take us to war. Worth bearing in mind as the US begins to make noises about invading Iran.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

More on Darfur

This thing seems to go in cycles. I don't write about an issue for ages and then I post about it several times in a handful of days. And so it is with the situation in Darfur, although I think its serious enough to merit the time being spent on it.

As you'll know if you read this regularly I've come to the conclusion that military intervention might be justified in the region, but expressed concerns about what form this might take. Planetshift over at Pessimistic Leftist (clearly someone after my own heart!) has an analysis of the situation and potential responses which tries to say a lot of the things I wanted to, but does it much better. Well done that man.

In the interests of balance I should also point out this article by Simon Jenkins. By far the best argument against intervention I've read so far. It makes a lot of points with which I agree wholeheartedly and somehow I wonder if his conclusions are actually as far from my own as they may initially appear.

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel though. Even as I write I've found this report suggesting that the African Union (AU) may be about to dispatch a "full-fledged peacekeeping mission" to Darfur, with the emphasis on "neutralisation of the Janjaweed militia, the protection of the civilian population and the facilitation of the delivery of humanitarian assistance." Assuming this does happen, it's probably about the best realistic scenario and in my humble opinion should be financially supported by western governments (according to Mandisi Majavu, the AU had $6 million in its peace fund last year, a tiny fraction of the $2.3 billion spent by the UN on peacekeeping on the continent).

In the meantime there are somethings you can do as an individual. Obviously, get informed. It may be a cliche, but knowledge is power. Secondly, look out for protests in your local area and get involved. Thirdly, many commentators allege that oil is either the motivation behind the massacres or at least fuelling conflict within the country. Either way, those of you who drive may want to check out which oil companies operate in Sudan and consider buying elsewhere (of course, you'll probably have to tell them for it to have any impact). Oh, and you can make donations to humanitarian organisations (here, here and no doubt elsewhere as well).

Well? What are you waiting for?

What's Happening in Uzbekistan?

Despite its increasing importance in international relations, people know surprisingly little about Central Asia. Most people could fit everything they know about the region, let alone any of the countries in it, on the back of a postage stamp. To be fair I'm as guilty of this as the next guy, although I do try and keep up with what's going on in Uzbekistan, largely because of its relatively close links to the west. The picture I have of Uzbekistan is probably seriously distorted by the fact that much of what qualifies as being newsworthy about the place will generally emphasise the negative. The human interest stories don't get much beyond the country's borders. Nonetheless there is plenty to be negative about.

The ruling regime of Islam Karimov is a brutal dictatorship. Karimov learnt his trade in the days of the Soviet Union, rising to power as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in 1989 and was named president of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990. After the country achieved independence in 1991, Karimov declared himself President following presidential elections which Human Rights Watch describe as "seriously marred". In 1995 he extended his term in power through a plebiscite and was reelected for what should have been his final term in 2000. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) wouldn't even send observers to that election having decided there was no chance of a free election. They noted it "was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice." Karimov retorted, "The OSCE focuses only on establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press. I am now questioning these values," which says it all really. A referendum in 2002 extended Karimov's presidency until 2007 by amending the constitution to allow 7 year terms.

So democracy in the country isn't so healthy. Unfortunately Karimov's failure in this regard is matched by his atrocious human rights record. Perhaps on of the clearest examples of this is the state of religious freedom in the country. The treatment of Muslims (who make up 90% of the population) has been particularly harsh. This stems in large part from Karimov's concerns about the threat from Islamic extremists. Certainly groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have sought to overthrow the regime, but it has been argued by many commentators (including myself) that his response has only exacerbated the problem. In 1998 he argued that Islamic extremists "must be shot in the forehead! If necessary, I'll shoot them myself?!" While it is unclear how many supposed extremists (often described as "Wahhabists") have been shot in the head, human rights organisation suggest that 7,000 are being held as prisoners, many of them subject to tortures including beatings, having needles driven under their fingernails, being left standing in freezing water for a fortnight and even boiling to death.

The clergy of the Muslim faith are also, unlike their counterparts from other faiths, completely under state control. Forum 18 (a group seeking to promote the universal application of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees religious freedom) note, "The leadership of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims is virtually an agency of state authority." They also comment that the current arrangement is merely an imitation of the one which operated in the days of the USSR "when religious communities were formally separated from the state, but in fact were merely compliant instruments of the communist authorities." Imams are only allowed to preach state sanctioned texts and must pass through nominally independent attestation which in practice is controlled by the state. According to Imams who have passed through the system, questions asked included the number of stars on Uzbekistan's flag and when Karimov was born.

While I was aware Karimov's repression of Muslims, although not the extent of his control, I had not until looking at articles today, realised that state repression and influence extended to other religions as well. While it is a member of the OSCE and has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of conscience, many of the country's laws severely restrict believers' rights. Believers gathering for prayer in unregistered places of worship, for instance, may well face criminal prosecution. Those from religions regarded as "non traditional" in the region such as Protestantism, Jehovah's Witness and Hare Krishna have been a particular focus of attention as government officials seek to prevent their spread. Baptism has even been declared illegal and its practitioners subject to increasing pressure. Bizarrely in my opinion, the regime justify their campaign against "proselytism" (attempts to convert others to your faith) on the basis that given the difficult economic situation the conversion of Muslims to other faiths could lead to riots.

Some commentators have expressed the hope that the recent State Department decision to reduce aid to the country will encourage the Uzbek government to improve its respect for human rights. I have expressed my opinion on this before and it is too early to tell anyway, but the initial signs do not bode well. According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (an excellent source for information on the region and other underreported parts of the world), neighbourhood committees or 'makhallyas' are increasingly being co-opted into the state apparatus. Drawing on the Uzbek tradition of good neighbourliness the bodies have democratically heads and employ a secretary and community police officer. Given that there are 9,789 of them their potential as a tool of state control are clear.

Nazira Ismailova, head of Makhallya No 8 in Bukhara, one of the places targeted in attacks, apparently by Islamic extremists, in March of this year, said that around 10% of the people in her Makhallya were placed on a list following the bombings. In collaboration with the district police officer they compiled a list of "suspects" and placed them in a special folder. She comments, "These people have not yet committed any illegal acts, but we still put them on the list and we target them for crime prevention." Among the "suspects" were two women, apparently selected because they wore hijabs (headscarves). The targeting of women in hijabs is a recurring theme and some women have removed them as a result.

The makhallya have also been implicated in human rights abuses. IWPR note, "Shukhrat Ganiev, a human rights activist in Bukhara, has received 25 accounts of human rights violations by makhallya and district inspectors across the municipality." Many of the repressive functions of the police have been transferred, at least partially to the makhallaya. Personnel from the bodies have even accompanied police during arrests, apparently undermining the Uzbek constitution.

Increasingly makhallya members themselves are becoming the focus of attention. Khalil Shodiev is Deputy president of the makhallya elders association in Samarkand and was regularly summoned to municipal headquarters for talks with representatives of the National Security Service (NSS). "NSS representatives wanted to know if any people in the makhallya were dissatisfied with government policy." They were particularly interested in religious people asking if anyone with extreme views had distributed literature or drugs in the makhallyas.

The emergence of such a society brings to mind Orwellian visions of totalitarianism and is particularly horrific as it undermines people's ability to trust their friends, relatives and colleagues. Anyone could betray you at anytime. As should be clear Uzbekistan is a deeply troubled country. That the plight of it's people is apparently regarded as less important than Sven Goran-Whatsisname's sexual exploits says a lot.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

And For Another Thing...

I realised after posting my article on the morality of intervention in Sudan, I'd forgotten to make an important point. Something that rather takes the shine of our glorious leaders claims to be interested in the welfare of poor Africans and therefore something which receives a fraction of the attention in the corporate media.

I'm referring to the scandal surrounding the availability of life-saving medication in the third-world. Noam Chomsky has noted:
In Rwanda, for 100 days people were being killed at the rate of about 8000 a day, and we did nothing. Fast forward to today. In Africa, about 10,000 children a day are dying from easily treatable diseases, and we are doing nothing to save them. That's not just 100 days, it's every day, year after year, killing at the Rwanda rate. And far easier to stop then Rwanda: it just means pennies to bribe drug companies to produce remedies. But we do nothing.
That's quite apart from the death toll from AIDS which stands at something like 9,000 people a day (this is a global figure, but the fundamental point remains the same). A figure which The Economist has noted is three times the number who died in the World Trade Centre attacks. This crisis has been met by US efforts to prevent third-world countries producing generic versions of anti-AIDS drugs which are cheaper than those produced by Western pharmaceutical giants (for more on this see Zeynep Toufe's blog). The UK government has not been much better. Its rhetoric has certainly been worthy, but this is meaningless without action.

Whatever the consequences of any western intervention in Sudan, claims by our glorious leaders as to their supposed humanitarianism should be treated with a large dose of cynicism until they make serious efforts to tackle these problems. Given the consequences of their failure to do so, action around the issue would seem a prudent response.

War For Humanity?

The situation in Darfur, western Sudan has been propelled into the media spotlight with the launch of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. This is definitely a good thing, the situation is serious and merits attention. Nonetheless, much of the media coverage has been quite superficial and at times confusing. Fortunately there has also been some excellent reporting. Probably the best article I have read looking at the situation, its background and considering possible responses is a piece by Alex de Waal, who is the director of Justice Africa, in The Observer.

For what it's worth I think that discounting the possibility of military intervention in the country would be a mistake. Certainly the consequences of inaction are stark. However believing in the need for some action should not be equated with accepting all possible responses. Although it's a facetious example, dropping an atom bomb on Khartoum might elicit the desired result, but would not (and I think this is more than just my opinion) be a morally justifiable response.

At this point regular readers might contend that this is at odds with my opposition to military intervention in Iraq, also justified by Blair & Co. on humanitarian grounds (although only, I would contend, once all other excuses had been demolished). Perhaps, but I think not. I still believe that military intervention is an instrument of dubious value, even if we accept our leaders claims as to their great moral purpose. It is simply my impression, that in Darfur, that the likely benefits outweigh the likely costs. In Iraq, it was my assessment that the opposite was true, which I believe has been borne out.

My assessment of the merits of intervention in this case assumes only a limited intervention. Probably one focused primarily on protecting aid convoys taking food to those in desperate need and monitoring a ceasefire. This would ideally be carried out primarily by Africans, possibly with financial support from the west, although I'm not in a position to comment on how realistic this is. The key issue is that any justified intervention would fall far short of "regime change". An Iraq style invasion and occupation would require Western powers to administer the entire country for sometime. Quite apart from the numbers of troops this would require, I doubt that such an effort would achieve even the levels of success that the occupation of Iraq has.

In thinking about this issue has been heavily influenced by Ted Honderich's After The Terror(McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal & Kingston and Ithaca, 2003), which I read recently. In this he considers the morality of war and terrorism in different contexts. He advances the "principle of humanity" as a standard and I find his framework compelling (although some of his conclusions are another matter). The principle of humanity holds that an act should be morally judged by the extent to which it saves people from "bad lives". These are those which lack access to the "great goods", those things, the desires for which he believes defines human nature: a decent length of life; material goods such as shelter; freedoms and powers; respect and self-respect; the satisfactions of human relationships; and a culture or way of living.

Clearly, widespread massacres and an at least partially engineered humanitarian crisis means that hundreds of thousands of people will not have a decent length of life and so will be prevented from having access to the other great goods. Therefore an intervention which was likely to substantially reduce the numbers of people dying might be morally justifiable, although the likely benefit would have to be weighed against the likely costs. Other factors must be considered, such as the effect on the north-south conflict which has ravaged the country for some twenty-years and was recently ended with a US-brokered ceasefire. That war is believed to have claimed the lives of 2 million people. If an intervention were likely to reignite it, with the human cost that would entail, this would have to be weighed against those saved in Darfur. The emboldening effect of a "successful" intervention (bear in mind that even in the best case scenario hundreds of thousands will have died) encouraging western governments to intervene elsewhere on spurious grounds, must also be remembered.

Liberals often cite Kosovo as the paradigm example of a humanitarian intervention, but this is not as clear-cut as it is often presented. Just to cite one example, a British government memo written in July after the NATO bombing says that 10,000 people were killed in Kosovo in 1999, while then-Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has confirmed that 2,000 of these occurred before the bombing, meaning that 4 times as many were killed after the bombing began than before. Additionally there is some evidence of attempts to exaggerate the extent of the situation in the region. A full-blown analysis of that conflict is besides the point. (If you're interested in pursuing this point see Z-Net's Resources on the Kosovo War, with analysis dating from the time, or Mark Curtis, Web Of Deceit, Vintage, London, 2003, Chapter 6.) The key issue which the Kosovo situation raises is that simply because those carrying out an intervention say it is being done for humanitarian reasons, it does not follow that it is. Such a claim needs to be proved and can be tested by looking at the actions taken and considering their likely consequences.

In many ways that anti-imperialist movements must confront issues such as this, is merely a sign of their weakness. If they were more powerful, the debate would be more important (because it would have real consequences), but other options might be available. It is possible to conceive of a response along the lines of the efforts of Peace Brigades International or the International Solidarity Movement, albeit on a considerably larger scale.

Quite apart from the "controversies" over military intervention, it seems to me that there are a number of actions which should be fairly uncontroversial. Firstly, a massive increase in government aid, both to support those in need in Darfur, but also to support Chadian efforts to look after the 1.2 million Darfurians who have fled to the neighbouring country. Secondly, a weapons embargo on both the Janjaweed militia, who are terrorising the population in the region, and the Sudanese government who government documents, uncovered by Human Rights Watch, demonstrate are actively supporting and arming the militias. The question of such an embargo has run into problems at the UN Security Council where it is opposed by a number of governments, including Russia who, entirely coincidentally, not only has weapons deals with Khartoum, but has even brought forward the sale of 12 MiG jets by five-months.

These are important issues. Skimming over what I've written I hardly think I've done them justice. I'm not even sure it's coherent. But I'm thinking on my feet here. Perhaps I'll write something more useful in the future. Or not.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Get In Early

Early Day Motions (EDMs) are Parliamentary notices given by MPs which are not normally debated. They are a way of drawing attention to an issue and trying to encourage action. They are supported by other MPs who add their signature to the Motion. Most of them amount to nothing and are virtually unheard of outside Parliament, although some can have wider significance. EDMs about the invasion of Iraq, for instance, attracted considerable attention.

The point of this post, however, is not a general history of EDMs, but an attempt to draw people's attention to EDM 1355 which has been tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. The Motion deals with Orders in Council which prevent the Chagossians, dispossessed from their homes to make way for a US military base, from returning to the islands where they were born. For some reason, EDMs don't have full stops and so the full text is something of a mouthful:
That this House recognises the historical injustice of the removal of all the inhabitants from Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands in order to make way for a US base on Diego Garcia; notes that under the terms of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, British citizenship was granted to the inhabitants and their right of return was enshrined in the Court Order of 2000; is therefore astonished at the publication of the British Indian Ocean Territory (Legislation) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory (Legislation) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004; and calls for the Government to rescind both.
Seems fair enough to me.

Those of you who agree with my assessment and who are unfortunate enough to live in the UK (relax, I'm kidding!) can support the motion but writing to their MP and encouraging them to sign it. If you're not sure what to write, here's what I've just written to my exalted representative:
I am writing to encourage you to support EDM 1355, which deals with the Orders in Council (British Indian Ocean Territory (Legislation) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory (Legislation) Order 2004 and the British Indian Ocean Territory (Constitution) Order 2004) recently passed which prevent the Chagossians from returning to any of the 65 islands in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

These islands formed their home for some five generations until they were removed by the British Government to make way for a US military base. In the recent Parliamentary debate on the issue, the removal and subsequent Orders were criticised by members of all three main parties, as well as the SNP.

A serious injustice has been done these people by Governments from both sides of the house and the Orders in Council only compound this.

I understand that as a member of the Shadow Cabinet you are not able to sign EDMs put by Labour MPs, but this does not preclude you supporting the Motion by other means.

I look forward to your response.
Please feel free to borrow and adapt as necessary. (The membership of the Shadow Cabinet, for instance, is probably unique to my own representative.) They may not agree, they may not sign, but they are obliged to read your letter and will probably reply. If nothing else, you'll make them think about it.

Now if only I was sure anyone read this thing...

Writing On The Wall

The past week or so has seen a resurgence of the controversy over the Israeli "security fence"/"Apartheid Wall". This has been fuelled by the "advisory opinion" of the International Court of Justice (not to be confused with the International Criminal Court, the former is for disputes between states, the latter for cases against individuals) on its legality and the UN General Assembly vote calling for Israel to comply with it. 

I, like most of the world, have no problem with Israel building a wall to prevent or reduce terrorist attacks. If they want to make it a mile high, top it with barbed wire, patrol it on both sides, dig a moat, that's fine with me. I happen not to think it's likely to have the effect its proponents claim (most suicide bombers come from the Gaza Strip, quite apart from those who originate within the more than a illion strong Israeli Arab population living within 'Israel proper'), but that's by the by. The problem is the route which has been chosen. This goes some way into the West Bank and is widely understood as a way of consolidating Israeli control over Palestinian land and resources (including water).

The West Bank was one of the territories along with the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai (later returned to Egypt) captured during the 1967 war. It is almost universally accepted as Palestinian land and would form a Palestinian state, along with Gaza, in a two-state settlement. Many have argued that the wall would form the basis of a border in any future agreement.  

Unsurprisingly the Israeli government have not responded positively to the ruling and subsequent UN vote. They claim, rather bizarrely that only the Israeli High Court has the authority to make rulings on international law. Indeed, that body has already ruled that 30km of the wall northwest of Jerusalem/Al-Quds must be rerouted, because its effect on the Palestinian population in the area. Nonetheless they intend to continue construction of the wall with only limited modifications to its route.

Neither the ICJ ruling nor the General Assembly vote are binding. Only the UN Security Council has the power to impose sanctions or take more serious action and the US would veto any such moves (the five permanent members of the Council have the power to veto any resolution), which means that no-one is likely to even propose such a resolution in the chamber. It is to be hoped that the ruling and vote will increase pressure on Israel, but there is little guarantee that it will have much effect. During the 1980s Nicaragua took the US to the ICJ and obtained a ruling that the superpower's support for Contra paramilitaries, who it was arming, equipping and training to undermine the left-wing Sandinista government, was illegal. The ICJ ruled that the US must cease its actions and compensate Nicaragua. The US, of course, simply ignored the ruling, with the effect that it was consigned to the dustbin of history and it remains little-known outside of dissident circles.

If the Palestinians are unable to have their grievances dealt with satisfactorily in the for a of international law is it any surprise that so many of them support armed resistance to the Israeli action, perhaps even terrorism against civilians? Unless they have some hope of achieving justice through other means, do not the calls of our leaders that they renounce violence sound a little hollow? The primary purpose of the various structures of international law is to reduce the levels of conflict in the world. The preamble to the UN Charter begins, "We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind." Unless there is some hope that the weak and not just the strong can use international law there is little chance of this aim being achieved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

What's Black and White and Red?

Someone who shall remain nameless - although they know who they are - has been pestering me for sometime, encouraging me to write to newspapers and try and get some of my opinions into print. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these efforts have met with limited success. But wait, it's not been a complete failure: I've got a letter printed in the Socialist Worker!

For those not familiar with the intricacies of the British Left, the Socialist Worker (hereafter SW) is the weekly organ of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The SWP is the largest group on the "revolutionary" left and has something like 10,000 members on paper. However the readership of the SW is more or less the same. Given that it is unlikely, particularly considering the efforts some members go to to sell the thing (much to many people's irritation), that the paper is read exclusively by people who are already members, this seems to confirm what many have suspected for sometime, that the active membership is actually far smaller. Long story short: Not many people are going to read what I have to say (although probably more than read my blog). But that's enough red-baiting for now.

The letter, which you can read here, was written in response to an article in the paper on leaflets dealing with asylum and law and order distributed in the run-up to the Hodge-Hill by-election. What they finally printed is surprisingly close to what I actually wrote. I had expected them to edit it much more heavily (or not to print it at all). For those of you interested in making comparisons, here's the full text of my original letter:
I read your article on Labour's recent election leaflets with interest.

If the comments you attribute to them about asylum seekers are accurate then things are worse and Labour has shifted even further to the right than I had realised. You treat such comments with the contempt they properly deserve.

Nonetheless I would like to take issue with your comments on the material's statements on law and order. You seem to dismiss action against gangs as reactionary. In my opinion this is a serious mistake.

The Left has traditionally been seen as weak on crime and this has damaged its support and, as a result, electoral prospects in working-class areas. We should not confuse opposition to reactionary responses to anti-social behaviour with inaction on that same behaviour. Instead we should stand shoulder to shoulder with those in working-class communities being torn asunder by anti-social elements.

We should encourage communities to take back control of the areas where they live and support them in efforts against anti-social elements. This is not a reactionary position. Working class rule for working class areas (to steal the Independent Working Class Association's slogan) could form the basis for some form of dual power and perhaps move us towards the transcendence of the status quo.

The failure to face up to these very serious issues will see the Left regarded as irrelevant by those in working-class communities. Those who must deal with these problems on a daily basis and who may again form the Left's natural constituency if we take steps towards dealing with them.
Interesting to note they took out the reference to the IWCA, perhaps because they represent a potential political challenger to the SWP's current electoral vehicle, George Galloway's Respect Coalition. More intriguing is their removal of the talk of "dual power" and "transcendence of the status quo". Perhaps my choice of terminology was not helpful, but that's my way of talking about what they'd call "revolution" which, at least according to their political programme, is something they are very keen on.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Bush Who Cried Wolf

I assume your familiar with Aesop's fable of the boy who cried wolf? For those with short memories or sheltered childhoods, it's the story of a boy sent by his village to look after a flock of sheep. He quickly became bored and shouted that there was a wolf attacking the sheep. The villagers rushed to his assistance and were, needless to say, a little peeved to discover that there wasn't a wolf and never had been (a fact established after a brief independent enquiry). They chastised the boy and returned to the village. Unfortunately the boy did not learn his lesson and this scene was repeated a number of times with the boy shouting and the villagers coming to his aid to find there was no threat. Sometime later the boy noticed that there was a wolf, a real one, approaching the flock and called for assistance. By this point the villagers had tired of his antics and ignored his pleas with the result that no-one could protect him from the wolf which proceded to savage the child and eat his intestines. The End. (I may have slightly altered the ending for modern audiences, but you get the gist.)

You may be wondering what the point of this literary diversion is. Not, perhaps, without good reason. It is my assertion that the situation of the boy in the story has parallels with US beligerence towards Iraq and Iran. As this is unlikely to make things much clearer allow me to explain: Recent days have seen an apparent upping of the ante against Iran by the US. Bush Administration figures have accused Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, establishing links with Al-Qaeda and serious human rights abuses. Sound familiar? Quite understandably in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle much of the world is going to need a lot of evidence in order to be convinced of these claims.

The accuracy or otherwise of these allegations is not really the point of this post, although I may return to this at some future juncture. For what it's worth, claims that Iran is actively seeking to acquire a nuclear capability seem more credible than were similar assertions about Iraq, while there is little doubt that the country is guilty of a panoply of human rights abuses. The key issue is that we must not take any claims about Iranian actions at face value nor allow the guardians of truth in the corporate media to make the same "mistakes" they did in 2002 and 2003.

As in the story of the boy there are real threats in the world, as was demonstrated starkly on September 11th, but we must not allow our governments to exploit our fear in order to pursue their own agendas. When they shout "wolf" me must take care to subject their claims to scrutiny lest history repeats itself. The dangers are very real. In the world outside my head, our leaders are unlikely to be the ones eaten by the wolf. That fate is reserved for the sheep - the rest of us.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Sanctioning Israel

Last Monday, the Guardian published an article by Gerald Kaufman making the case for sanctions against Israel in order to bring about an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He argues that the situation is comparable with Apartheid South Africa against which sanctions are considered to have been successful. The article has reignited the debate within the activist community (such as it is) over whether we should campaign for the imposition of sanctions against the country. In case anyone's interested, what follows is my contribution to the debate.
I've been wondering about the question of sanctions against Israel for a while and remain unconvinced that they are a tactic which we should adopt. Kaufman's article, while interesting, does not engage in the differences between the South African situation and the Israeli occupation. There are similarities to be sure, but also differences.
The most important difference is that while in South Africa representatives of the country's population, in the form of ANC leaders were calling for sanctions. There is to my knowledge no such support within the Israeli community. Sanctions are a blunt instrument, they hit the population hard, often with limited effect on those in power, witness the regime imposed on Iraq during the 90s which led to widespread malnutrition, the breakdown of the water system and contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Kaufman notes that in Israel "unemployment is at record heights, destitution is hitting large numbers of the Israeli under class", sanctions would only exacerbate this.
It is also important to keep in mind the likely perception of any sanctions regime amongst the Israeli population. If it is perceived as an attack on Israel by an anti-semitic international community this will play into the hands of the right-wing, confirming much of what they have said for years and could serve as a justification for a consolidation of the occupation. At the very least it can be expected to encourage the Israeli population to rally around their leaders, just as would the population of any country which felt embattled.
I wonder if a better strategy would be to continue to educate people on the realities of the conflict (the recent book 'Bad News From Israel' reveals just how little most people know) while seeking to engage with progressive sections of the Israeli community (Gush Shalom etc). It is to be hoped that with some credible international support these groups might be able to increase their political influence (the Israeli left was once one of the largest and strongest in the world) and ultimately bring about 'regime change' in Israel. This may not be an unrealistic hope. There are various reports that the Israeli peace movement has been rejuvenated in light of the Gaza withdrawal plan and a demonstration in support of withdrawal in May attracted anything between 100-250,000 depending on who's figures you believe.
I would stress that none of this is intended as an argument against seeking to impose a ban on arms sales to the country (perhaps even the whole region, as I think John Pilger has suggested in the past) which seems an entirely sensible course of action.

Protests in Palestine

There are reports of serious unrest within the occupied territories with calls for reform of the PA becoming increasingly militant.
Friday saw apparently coordinated abductions of several PA figures including Ghazi Jabali, commander of the Palestinian police in the Palestinian Authority and Khaled Abu al-Ula, commander of the Palestinian liaison in the southern Gaza Strip. The kidnappers demanded that Jabali be removed from his post and tried for corruption and called for reforms of the security organisations of the PA.
This led to a presidential decree yesterday (Saturday) from Yasser Arafat which removed Jabali from his post, established yet another security organisation in the form of the General Intelligence Apparatus and installed Arafat's nephew, Musa Arafat, as the head of Palestinian Military Intelligence which controls most personnel belonging to National Security and Force 17. The appointment of Musa Arafat in particular attracted considerable criticism and brought thousands out onto the streets of Gaza City in protest. Gunmen also stormed an office of the Palestinian intelligence, destroying furniture and burning the building down. Meanwhile Arafat loyalists took control of the TV and radio buildings and the main police HQ in the city.
While all this was happening, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei handed his resignation to Yasser Arafat, describing the state of chaos and kidnappings as "a true disaster, unprecedented, can't be tolerated". Arafat refused to accept the resignation.
Most analysts seem to believe that the protesters and kidnappers are associated with former PA security minister Mohammed Dahlan who has been pushing for reform for sometime. It does not appear likely however that he gave orders for the kidnappings and he did not participate in yesterday's protests. It is unclear how popular Dahlan is among the Palestinian population, although those close to Arafat accuse him (in the words of Israeli commentator Danny Rubenstein) of "being a pet of the Israelis and the Americans."
It is difficult to know what to make of all this. That the Palestinian population are angry at corruption within the PA, particularly among the 'old-guard' associated with Arafat, is hardly news, but it has not been expressed so violently before. The PA's inability to satisfactorily provide basic amenities has created a vacuum which the likes of Hamas are only to happy to fill, a key factor in the group's increasing popularity in the occupied territories.
It is possible that Israel has been involved in some way (possibly using Dahlan as a proxy), it is clear how this might serve their short-term interests, weakening Arafat. In the long-term however such a strategy might not be so conducive to Israeli aims. Whatever moderating influence Arafat wields could be lost and Hamas, already in a powerful position, might well be able to capitalise on any major political developments.
Where these developments will lead, particularly if and when Israel begins to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, is unclear. It is to be hoped that we will see the emergence of a rejuvenate Palestinian leadership who can lead their people to freedom. A less optimistic assessment would see an ongoing conflict, possibly exploited by Israel to consolidate the occupation.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

What the Butler Saw

Isn't democracy wonderful? It means that you are fully entitled to go and read reports examining the inner workings of government like the Butler Report. The whole thing's available online. Problem is it runs to 216 pages, which means printing costs are prohibitive and reading it all online didn't really appeal. You can probably buy one, but no doubt at great cost. Long story short: I've only read the Summary of Conclusions and Lord Butler's opening statement from the press conference onWednesday. Having got that far I don't have any great drive to go and read the rest as there's little of interest.
For the most part everything I'd want to say has already been said better by just about everyone else except The Sun (who apparently thought it showed Blair had acted in good faith, so there!). Basically it was 'sexed-up', people screwed up and Butler doesn't think anyone should take the blame. Not the whitewash of Hutton, but something of a pale (if murky) grey.
Incidentally I discovered while searching for the report on Wednesday night that some wag had hacked the site. The photo of the committee had been doctored so that they all had John Scarlett's face (he's the head of Joint Intelligence Committee who the authors of the report are insistent shouldn't lose his job). They'd altered the style selcetion facility to a spin cycle selector and added a search facility with "Iraqi WMDs" already in the field. When you clicked search it took you to a BBC News report where Blair conceded WMDs may never be found in Iraq. All in all, very impressive.
Returning to the report itself, the one thing I would point out is that reading what I've read (and presumably the rest of the report) it would be easier to forget the 'dodgy dossier', as no doubt many people have. You remember that? The one which included a plagiarised PhD thesis (caveats removed, language 'sexed-up' of course) complete with all the original mistakes. Strange how a review which ostensibly examines the presentation of pre-war intelligence on Iraq should negelect such a clear example of deliberate government misinformation. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
As an aside I think I'm going to take some time off from blogging about Iraq. Every man and his dog's writing about it and I'm not sure I can offer anything original or particularly insightful. In the meantime check out Juan Cole's blog. He's a professor of history specialising in the region and fluent in Arabic so he seems to know what he's talking about. For an alternative view, quite different to my own, check out what 'Combat Doc' a US soldier on the ground in Mosul has to say.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Aiding Uzbekistan

The possibility that the US might cut off it's aid to Islam Karimov's Uzbek government, responsible for a panoply of human rights abuses, has been floating around since February. Reading today's Times leader one might think that this is exactly what has happened. It states that "America is to freeze its aid to Uzbekistan because of the country's abysmal human rights record." This, it argues, is a good thing because it represents "a clear example of Western willingness to take a tough line, even against a strategic power." All of which would be quite right, were it the case.

In fact, as the paper's article on the story makes clear the US is in fact only cutting the aid by $18 million dollars (£9.7 million). In 2003, according to the State Department website, the US provided the country with $86.1 million. If we assume that the projected aid for 2004 was the same (it may very well have been higher), then even if this is cut is taken entirely from the money provided for "Security & Law Enforcement" (it is the agencies responsible for these areas who stand accused of most of the human rights abuses in the country) that would still leave $12.2 million, quite apart from money going to other areas.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that rather then demonstrating "Western willingness to take a tough line, even against a strategic power", what this shows is that in the face of an increasingly embarrassing alliance with a brutal, dictatorial government a cosmetic alteration in policy will allow the guardians of the truth in the corporate media to declare that we have turned over a new leaf and that all is now well, while the underlying policy continues unchanged. I say embarrassing because the country has increasingly come under the spotlight of human rights organisations (notably Human Rights Watch who are an invaluable source of information on the country) and because of outspoken comments made by renegade British Ambassador Craig Murray.

Interestingly Human Rights Watch come to a different conclusion from me. Rachel Denber, Acting Executive Director Europe and Central Asia Division, noted,
This decision has been long in coming. It shows that the United States takes human rights records seriously and means what it says. Now the United States needs to continue its engagement with the Uzbek government and press for human rights improvements.
It is possible that even a fairly limited cut in aid will have an impact, and it is to be hoped that this is the case, but we will only be able to tell over the long-term. More pressingly they challenge
the European Union to become more vocal on human rights in Uzbekistan, noting that even though the European Union is a majority shareholder of the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which earlier this year decided to limit its investment in the country because of its human rights abuses], there have to date been no known consequences of the EBRD?s April decision on EU-Uzbek relations. The European Union has also proven reluctant to push for concrete progress in human rights by leveraging its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Uzbekistan, the framework regulating its relationship with the country. Its voice overall in the face of Uzbek government abuses has been disappointingly weak.
Focusing on the role of the US should not let us forget the culpability of our own governments. Britain is a key player in the EU and also has extensive links with Uzbekistan (at the start of 2003, for instance, Uzbekistan was granted an open licence to import weapons from the UK). It remains to be seen what, if any, steps the UK will take following the US lead.

In other news from Uzbekistan, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reveal that "Uzbek farmers have found themselves an indirect target of the war against terrorism, after a widely-used fertiliser was found to be among the ingredients of explosives used in bombing attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara this spring." As a result of this the government has imposed various restrictions on the sale, transport and supply of the fertiliser. For instance, to transport the fertiliser from warehouses back to their farms farmers must have a police escort. Unfortunately Uzbekistan is 605 agrarian and there are more farmers than policeman. The story would seem to confirm the government's disconnection from reality. Rewriting the whole thing here seems superfluous, but you can read the full report here.

Update 1/8/04: See Mea Culpa

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Parliament Not Complete Waste Of Time Shocker!

Jeremy Corbyn has been a committed campaigner for the rights of Chagossians removed from their homes between 1965-1973 to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia. Last week he was able to secure an adjournment debate on the issue and on the two Orders in Council in the House of Commons which were recently passed which prevent the Chagossians from visiting the island. The debate is now available online. It is long, but well worth taking the time to read. Various MPs (from the three main parties along with the SNP) present thoughtful, considered speeches on the history and background of a major injustice perpetrated by the British Government which continues to this day. There is a huge amount of information presented and a strong case made that something must be done to rectify this injustice.

Among the 'highlights' is Jeremy Corbyn’s opening speech in which he details the suffering he witnessed during a visit to Mauritius when he met several Chagossians and witnessed the conditions in which they live. He goes on to note,
On 10 June this year, which everyone will remember as election day, staff at the Foreign Office were not out ensuring that people were voting. Instead, they were at the palace asking the Queen to sign an Order in Council. When I was told that an Order in Council had been signed, I misheard or misunderstood. I thought that it was a statutory instrument that I would be able to pray against, as I assumed other hon. Members would, so that decisions made by Ministers would be subject to some form of democratic accountability. I had to reconsider, and I spoke to Sheridans' Richard Gifford, the excellent solicitor who has represented the Chagossians for many years. He calmly explained to me that I had misunderstood, and that an Order in Council signed by her Majesty was law. It overrides everything in which we believe about the democratic accountability of the Government.
Note that the Orders were signed on ‘Super Thursday’ which saw local, European and GLA eclections. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was another government attempt “bury bad news”, even though this decision was apparently taken on the basis of legal advice. The clarification of the legal powers and basis of the little-known Order in Council (which I'd never heard of until it arose in this context) is also helpful.

John Grogan notes that one of the reasons cited, in a press relase by Bill Rammel for preventing the return of the Chagossians is
the risk of flooding, I have consulted one or two experts on the level of the land there, and a lot of it is higher than that in East Anglia. We know about flooding in my constituency of Selby, and if we accepted the argument on flooding that the Government are using, half of my constituency would be depopulated. Some outlying islands were inhabited in the past, and some were based on banks that were shifting in storms. There were tall copra trees on the islands and the inhabitants had worked out a mode of living—growing copra successfully, and in some cases raising huts on stilts. The argument does not seem overwhelming to me.
The question also arises as several speakers suggest, that if rising sea-levels as a result of global warming is such a problem on the island, one must wonder if it is really such a good place to be storing very expensive pieces of military hardware like B52 bombers.

Tom Brake's remarks sum up the true significance of the ongoing injustice particularly well:
The issue is a sorry chapter in our past and it is poisoning our present. The Minister can start to repair the damage today; the Chagos islanders deserve an apology, compensation, assistance where they are based currently and a right of return. The Government's claim to be the champions of freedom will sound very hollow unless he can deliver on these promises today.
To most of the world those claims look pretty hollow already, but the reprehensible treatment of the Chagossians merely compounds the point.

Support The Troops?

When the invasion of Iraq began in March last year those of us opposed to the whole misguided imperialist adventure where decried for not "supporting the troops". Although it was rarely stated openly this was exactly the same as supporting the war, but was apparently a national duty now "our boys" were actually killing Iraqis rather than just thinking about it. At the time I pointed out that this was all pretty stupid: how are you supporting someone by endorsing the conflict which may very well see them seriously injured, disabled or even killed? I could have added that our leaders had a strange way of showing their "support" for the troops, equipping them with substandard equipment, like the SA80 rifle, or not giving them enough of little things like body armour which could save countless lives. Of course, this would have been dismissed out of hand because "supporting the troops" was less about the troops then about subservience to power as the treatment of soldiers once they come back from imperial escapades makes clear.

Consider the Falklands/Islas Malvinas conflict in 1982. More soldiers have subsequently committed suicide than perished in the war itself. A Guardian article from January 2002 reported, "The South Atlantic Medal Association, which helps Falklands veterans, knows of 200 suicides among its own members and contacts, and estimates that the total now exceeds the 255 who died in battle" (Guardian, 16/1/02).

In March 2002 254 veterans of conflicts in the Falklands, Gulf, Bosnia and Northern Ireland diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought a claim against the MoD, with another 1,600 would-be claimants waiting in the wings. They brought their claim on the basis that the MoD had failed in its duty of care, not for exposing them to the risk of dying which they had signed up for, but for failing to prepare them for the horrors they would see, not providing debriefings, not screening vunerable individuals from certain areas of combat, not recognising or treating their conditions and not helping veterans integrate back into civilian life.

Those suffering from the various conditions now associated with Gulf War Syndrome were treated even worse. Troops returning from the First Gulf War in 1991 who complained of a range of illnesses were made to feel like the enemy. At an independent enquiry which opened yesterday a former RAF Tornado bomber navigator, captured by the Iraqis in 1991, said, "The men and women you will hear from over the coming days are not the enemy, but many times over the past few years that is exactly how they've been made to feel. They deserve better" (Times, 13/7/04).

Enough of the rubbish about "supporting the troops". If you want to support them, get them the hell out of someone else's country where they aren't wanted, bring them home, provide them with counselling and treatment for any psychological conditions and give them something useful to do. It's not so difficult.

Incidentally, you have to wonder, given the effects of war on soldiers who do at the end of the day get to go home, how much worse must it be for those who don't have that choice and have to live with the consequences of our wars for the rest of the lives. They don't have much hope of getting any treatment for any psychological conditions or successfully suing the MoD and the Western media cares even less about them than it does about the troops it was previously so vocal about "supporting". This presumably isn't something we're supposed to think about.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Turning Up The Heat

Fahrenheit 9/11 is the new film by Michael Moore and has attracted a not inconsiderable amount of controversy. It has been lambasted by the right who see it as an unfair, inaccurate, partisan attack on George Bush. Disney, who owned the film's original distributor Miramax, even made noises about preventing its release. None of this is likely to be news, however, to anyone not being held incommunicado in an "undisclosed location" as it's been all over the media. Less well publicised have been the criticisms from those on the left. The film is clearly not short of critics then. But as with all such works you can't really have an opinion without seeing it yourself and so your intrepid reporter went along to see it.

It is probably worth noting from the start that I am a fan of Michael Moore's previous works and this will no doubt influence anything I have to say. Bowling For Columbine was a fascinating wander through American gun culture, while his previous film Roger & Me, is in my opinion even better. While Bowling... takes a scattergun approach to a widespread problem, Roger & Me feels more focused. It consists of an examination of the social problems which resulted when General Motors (GM) closed down factories in Moore's hometown Flint, Michigan leading to major unemployment and much of the film is taken up with Moore's attempts to meet GM CEO Roger Smith (hence the title) who he holds responsible.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has more of the focus of Roger & Me, being targeted primarily against the Bush Administration, but takes in much more that film, moving from Florida to Flint to Iraq and then on to Washington. It is also noticeable that it has a much stronger message than Bowling For Columbine. While that film examined the effects of gun culture in the States it didn't seem to have a message as such (apart perhaps from move to Canada!). Fahrenheit 9/11 makes no secret of it's agenda: to get Bush out of the White House.

The film begins by looking at the way Bush stole the 2000 election with the help of his first-cousin at Fox News, the removal of black voters from the register, the head of his campaign in Florida Katherine Harris, who certified the vote and his "daddy's friends" in the Supreme Court. In my opinion this is the weakest part of the film because it's dealt with too quickly. I doubt whether it would be very convincing to those to still believe that Bush did in fact get the most votes in Florida in 2000 (which a subsequent recount, buried in the aftermath of 9/11, confirmed he in fact hadn't). He deals with the issue much better in Stupid White Men (Regan Books, New York, 2001, pp. 3-16). However the footage, which I previously hadn't seen, of Congressional Black Caucasus members attempting to object to the disenfranchisement of black voters and the theft of the election, but unable to find senators to sign their objections was a damning indictment of the American system.

Having taken power Bush then proceeded to spend forty-two per-cent of the next eight months on vacation. Moore shows us footage of Bush playing golf, digging holes and playing with his dogs. This does show a human side to a man who has become something of a pantomime villain in recent times, but you also have to wonder if perhaps, just maybe, he should be running the country. Of course, his extended vacation was brought to an abrupt halt by the events of September 11th.

Moore's handling of the terrorist attacks of that day is powerful and imaginative. Rather than showing shots of the planes striking the towers and their subsequent collapse, which we have seen so many times, perhaps becoming immune to them, he focuses on the human side and those involved. He begins this sequence with a black screen. We hear the planes crash, followed by screams and shouts. He cuts to shots of various people looking up, the expressions on their faces saying more than narration ever could. We see people shocked by the horror of the events, pictures of missing family members, friends and loved ones and papers floating in the air.

While all this was happening in New York (and, of course, Washington) Bush was at a school in Florida. He was informed of the first attack, but decided to go ahead with his photo opportunity anyway. Part way through the lesson he is informed of the second tower being hit and told that the US is under attack. His response? Without anyone telling him what to do or whisking him away he just sits there. For seven minutes. What was he thinking Moore ponders? Perhaps that his relationship with the Saudis may come back to haunt him.

Moore reveals how many including several members of the Bin Laden family were whisked out of the country after September 11th while other planes were grounded and argues that this was, at least in part, because of the extensive links between the Bush family and various powerful Saudis. He proceeds to set these links out in some detail. This section of the film is fascinating, but also slightly lacking. Certainly key members of the Bush Administration and family had a relationship with the Saudis, but as Robert Jensen notes (in an article which the movie),
That is true of the Bushes, just as it was of the Clinton administration and, in fact, every post-World War II president. Ever since FDR cut a deal with the House of Saud giving U.S. support in exchange for cooperation on the flow of oil and oil profits, U.S. administrations have been playing ball with the Saudis. (Z-Net, 5/7/04)
Saudi business dealings in the US go far beyond the Bushs, the film suggests that they may amount to an investment of $860 billion which is "roughly six or seven percent of America." It seems fair to ask if Gore would have acted any differently in the same situation. Of course we shall never know, although Jensen's conclusion that he would have done much the same seems credible.

Moore next takes on the war in Afghanistan, which he insinuates was not taken seriously by an administration more interested in Iraq. He does suggest however that the building of a pipeline through the country was a major factor. I am unconvinced by this line of argument, certainly it was a factor and it looks like the pipeline may well be built, but a war for a single pipeline? The key issue was credibility, both because the US had come under attack and those in government felt the need to reassert their power and because they could not simply launch an attack against Iraq as they might like to because it was clear that the attack had been carried out by groups based in Afghanistan and there was no credible evidence of a link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam. In my opinion Moore makes a mistake at this point having counterterrorism official Richard Clarke complaining that the Bush administration's action in Afghanistan was "slow and small", without further comment by Moore. Are we to conclude that it should instead have been fast and large, regardless of the consequences for the already stricken Afghan population?

The film then turns to homeland security. Moore's points out that the US Government were perfectly happy to pass legislation in the form of the PATRIOT Act (which apparently almost no-one had read) which would take away citizen's rights, but had not taken various basic steps to make the US any safer. While peace groups and ageing weight lifters are targeted by the FBI and police as potential terrorists, budget cutbacks mean there are only eight state troopers (state police officers not assigned to towns) on duty in the whole state of Oregon on some nights. Even worse, people are still allowed to take four boxes of matches and two butane lighters onto a plane, apparently because of pressure from cigarette companies keen to ensure that passengers can light up as soon as they land.

At this point Moore turns to Iraq. He shows how the US operates a 'poverty draft' encouraging those from communities destroyed by the impact of capitalism to enlist in the army and defend the very system which has made them destitute. The sight of two marine recruiters in full dress uniforms wandering around the car park of a local superstore (not, Moore emphasises the middle-class one in the suburbs) is slightly comical, but also horrific when you consider that many of the kids they are recruiting could be sent of to kill or even die in Iraq at some point in the not-to-distant future.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the footage Moore has been able to get from Iraq. We see tank crews explain how they like to listen to nu-metal during combat, listing Drowning Pool's Bodies (key lyric: "Let the bodies hit the floor") as a particular favourite. He also shows soldiers humiliating Iraqi they have apparently just captured. One reviewer remarked that this was redundant after the Abu Ghraib photos, however quite the opposite is true. The footage serves to demonstrate how routine and widespread such abuses are. They are, unfortunately, far more than the actions of a "few bad apples". As I've commented before and as Moore suggests when he notes that "immorality breeds immorality", it's not just the fruit that's rotten, but the basket their kept in. We also see US troops bursting into an Iraqi family's house to arrest a male living their. They terrify his family and force him to lie facedown on the floor, a scene intercut with a solider pondering why Iraqis don't appreciate the US's benevolence, something he is apparently incapable of understanding.

One of the problems I have with this part of the film is that it tends to focus more on the effects of the war on US soldiers than on Iraqis who have suffered far, far worse. It was after all their country which was invaded. Iraq Body Count currently calculates that the number of civilians reported killed as a result of military intervention in the country is somewhere between 11,164-13,118. The total numbers killed is likely to be much higher. Not that Moore doesn't show the horrific realities of "collateral damage", but somehow it feels as though this is a secondary concern to the deaths of US troops.

Another criticism I have is, as with the Saudi issue, the lack of context. It would be easy to forget, while watching the film, that the US and UK had been torturing Iraq since the First Gulf War. This took the form of a sanctions regime which may have killed as many as 1.5 million people, most of them children and bombings which continued for years with little or no media coverage in the wider world. Much of this happened under Clinton who conceded recently that the policy "wasn't so great for the Iraqis", something of an understatement. The policies taken by various administrations must also be viewed in the light of US policy in the Middle East since the Second World War which has been to maintain control over the region’s invaluable oil reserves, usually by proxy alongside the wider US policy of preventing the emergence of ‘nationalist’ regimes which try to go it alone rather than take their proper place in the US dominated global system.

Broadly I liked the film, it is not without it's flaws. I have noted my concerns about those things it did address, but one can also think of much that it missed out, the Israeli-US relationship and Christian Fundamentalism the US being only two of the most obvious. Nonetheless there is only so much which can be fitted into one film and it does raise questions about many issues the corporate media, obsequious as ever, has gone out of its way to avoid. For this it is to be praised, even where I disagree about some of the conclusions it draws.

Moore has expressed his hope that the film will inspire people to action, and I agree that this would be a positive development. Nonetheless the action which seems to be suggested is, in my opinion of limited value. The film's message, such as it is, seems to be best encapsulated by one solider, who was injured in Iraq, who notes that he was formerly a Republican, but will now campaign vigorously for the Democrats. Now don't get me wrong, I hate Bush as much as the next guy and he has been an awful president. The arguments for removing him from power are compelling. It is true that he represents a particularly extreme section of the elite policy spectrum (although the differences between him and Kerry are likely to be more obvious in the domestic than the foreign policy arena), but the spectrum is limited. Additionally a movement to get Kerry into office isn't really sustainable in the long term. What happens if and when he's elected? Perhaps ironically Barry Reingold, who appears in the film recounting how he was visited by the FBI after comments he made at the local gym were passed onto the Bureau, has made this very point: "I think Michael Moore's agenda is to get Bush out, but I think it (should be) about more than Bush. I think it's about the capitalist system, which is inequitable." He continued, "I think both of them are bad. I think Kerry is actually worse because he gives the illusion that he's going to do a lot more. Bush has never given that illusion. People know that he's a friend of big business."

Encouraging people to have illusions about the Democrats is, I believe, a serious mistake. Most Democrats supported the war, including Kerry and Edwards whose "solution" to the crisis in Iraq is to send more troops. As I've said before, the best hope for peace and stability, let alone democracy, in Iraq is a complete withdrawal of the occupying forces, perhaps with a limited UN and/or Arab peacekeeping force taking over some of their roles, where necessary. More troops means more chance for conflict, more targets for insurgents, more deaths on both sides, more resentment with very little to show for it.

It would be fair at this point for an American to interject that none of this is really my business. It is for my American comrades to deal with the fallout from the film in their own country and this is quite true. The film raises more complicated questions about potential responses for activists outside the US. It would be easy to be smug about the fact that Bush isn't our president and conclude that we needn't do anything. Indeed many people who see the film may draw this very conclusion. This is a particularly pressing problem in the UK which was and remains the only serious member of the "coalition" other than the US. Focusing too heavily on Bush may encourage people to forget that Blair was just as keen on going to war as his American counterpart, all the nonsense about him being a restraining influence aside. It is unfortunate that Fahrenheit 9/11 does not devote more time to Blair, although this is a shortcoming Moore is aware of. Apparently leaving the British PM out of the film was a tough decision. Moore has remarked, "I personally hold Blair more responsible for this war than I do George Bush. The reason is, Blair knows better. Blair is not an idiot. What is he doing hanging around this guy?" For this reason he is reportedly considering making a film about Blair and the UK's role in the war.

The film has fuelled a debate on the morality of the war and this is something we should use to our advantage. It has reached out to hundreds of thousands of people, all potential recruits for a movement which could effect real change. Such a movement would not concern itself primarily with electoral victories, although this could form an element of its work. Instead it would set itself the task of confronting and dismantling the US Empire, of which Bush is merely the latest incarnation, challenging those national leaders who support it and ultimately tackling the global capitalist system on which it rests. This will not be easy and perhaps I'm getting carried away, but I sincerely hope that the huge numbers of people who see this film are inspired to do more than simply put a cross in one or another box. For the sake of the human race.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Fine Art of Diplomacy

There are a lot of people in the anti-war movement who tend to view the Iraq conflict as Bush's idea which Blair felt compelled, perhaps begrudgingly, in order to try and rein in his over-zealous American colleague. I happen to think this is complete rubbish. Blair was a committed advocate of the invasion, approaching it with messianic zeal in the hope of ensuring his place in history (which he's certainly done, although perhaps not the way he intended). I used to comment, only half-jokingly, that the key difference between Blair and Bush was that the former knew when to smile and how to spell diplomacy. Recent events suggest that I may have been a little generous. He certainly knows how to smile, but perhaps he isn't so strong on the diplomatic front.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius, Paul Berenger, visited the UK yesterday and had hoped to meet with Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He was however denied such a meeting. Berenger had hoped to discuss the question of Chagos and its population, displaced to make way for a US military base. Apparently angered by recent moves to prevent the Chagossians returning to Diego Garcia, the only inhabited island in the Chagos archipelago, Berenger has hinted that Mauritius may leave the Commonwealth and take the UK to the International Court of Justice (not to be confused with the International Criminal Court, the former is for disputes between states, the latter for cases against individuals) in the Hague.

The refusal to meet with Berenger and changes to the law on the eve of the visit, to prevent such a claim being brought, drew criticism from Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth secretary general, who The Times notes, "all but accused Britain of behaving like an old-fashioned colonial power". He rebuked the government, remarking, "You do not hit someone over the head before they come to your front gate." This is the contempt with which our Government treat their foreign counterparts. Are they really any better in this regard than Bush (who incidentally did meet Berenger, as did Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, when the Mauritian PM visited the US recently)? If so we may need to reconsider our moral compass.

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