Month: December 2016

British Foreign Policy Remains Largely Unchanged Since 2003

Theresa May with Saudi King Salman bin Abulaziz Al-Saud at the Gulf Cooperation Council, 2016. Source: Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters.

British foreign policy has not changed that much since Tony Blair was in office. The only real difference seems to be that we are now outsourcing the terror and violence to other countries, so as to create the appearance that our hands are clean. For example, Saudi Arabia, the most fundamentalist Islamic country in the world and our favourite ally in the Middle East, is currently rampaging through Yemen, obliterating schools, hospitals, markets, homes and other civilian infrastructure, and has also imposed a crushing blockade on the country that prevents the most basic supplies from getting in; over ten thousand people have been killed, millions of people have fled their homes and are now on the brink of famine, hundreds of thousands of children are starving to death and much of the country has been entirely devastated. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both found evidence that Saudi Arabia is deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, and is thus committing war crimes.

However, the only reason that Saudi Arabia is allowed to continue massacring civilians in Yemen is that we allow it to do so; since the start of the bombing campaign, Britain has sold over £3.7bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, and an investigation by Sky News found that British military personnel are in the Saudi command centres when targets are being chosen and strikes are being launched. Amnesty International has found evidence that British-made weapons have been used by Saudi Arabia in attacks that have killed civilians, including several children, while Human Rights Watch has documented how British-made weapons have been repeatedly used by Saudi Arabia to target civilian infrastructure. As Angus Robertson, MP for Moray, pointed out in Parliament in 2015: “Thousands of civilians have been killed in Yemen, including a large number by the Saudi air force, and they’ve done that using British-built planes with pilots who are trained by British instructors who are dropping British-made bombs and are co-ordinated by the Saudis in the presence of British military advisers. Isn’t it time for the Prime Minister to admit that Britain is effectively taking part in a war in Yemen that is costing thousands of civilian lives and he has not sought Parliamentary approval to do this?”. We are direct participants in this ongoing assault on the people of Yemen, and not only does our role in this violate domestic British law, but it also violates international law; according to the Arms Trade Treaty, to which Britain is a signatory, no state is permitted to sell arms to a country that is likely to use those arms to violate human rights. However, the extent of our criminality goes much further than this; the fact that British military personnel are active participants in the coordination and commission of airstrikes means that we are co-belligerents alongside Saudi Arabia; David Cameron and Theresa May should both be charged with war crimes.

A key feature of Blair’s foreign policy was international terrorism; Britain was an active participant in the US-run extraordinary rendition program, whereby CIA agents went around the world abducting people and flying them to secret prisons where they would be tortured, many of them in countries run by brutal regimes, such as Libya under Gaddafi, Syria under Assad and Egypt under Mubarak. While the UK government has suppressed virtually all evidence related to the matter, it is extremely likely that the British-Indian island of Diego Garcia was home to one such secret prison, or ‘black site’, where prisoners were held without charge or trial and tortured. Furthermore, UK airports were routinely used by US rendition planes for refuelling, some of them even carrying prisoners at the time. In one of the most notorious and depraved cases, MI6 agents facilitated the kidnap and rendition of two Libyan dissidents and their families, including a child and a pregnant woman, in order to help Tony Blair ingratiate himself with Gaddafi. This was an extreme international terrorism campaign; imagine knowing that on any given day someone could break into your home, place a hood over your head, bundle you into the back of a van and transport you to a secret torture chamber, and that the same thing could happen to someone you love; you would be living in constant terror. The creation of an international campaign of kidnap and torture, one that even targeted women and children, was a way for the US to reassert its dominance after 9/11 and intimidate the world into submission and obedience, and Britain was a willing participant in this campaign, as was much of Europe.

While the extraordinary rendition program has been shut down (at least the most brazenly immoral aspects of it), it has been replaced by the drone campaign; a global assassination campaign that targets anyone who the US suspects of someday posing a threat to Western interests, along with anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity. This is also a global terror campaign; people in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia fear the skies due to these flying harbingers of death; children are afraid to walk to school in the morning and people live not knowing whether their child or their grandmother will be incinerated in the next moment or whether their neighbour will be targeted for assassination. Britain has been an active and enthusiastic participant in this campaign; documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA base at Menwith Hill, UK, where activities are carried out with the “full knowledge and consent” of British authorities and where members of various UK intelligence agencies are stationed, is used to gather intelligence that enables these drone strikes to be launched. Therefore, not only should David Cameron and Theresa May be charged with war crimes, but they should also be tried for international terrorism. It is highly unlikely that this will ever happen; when you’re the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world the law does not apply to you. However, we can still hold them accountable in the court of public opinion, and act to ensure that these crimes, for which we are all responsible, end immediately.

America Bombs Hospital in Mosul, Media Yawns

People run in panic after a coalition airstrike hit Islamic State fighters positions in Tahrir neighbourhood of Mosul
A coalition airstrike hits Tahrir neighbourhood in Mosul, November 17, 2016 (Source: Reuters).

Yesterday, the US military publicly announced that it had bombed a hospital in Mosul, which it claims (without showing any evidence) was an ISIS stronghold. Predictably yet depressingly, the British and American mainstream press have completely ignored this story, with a few minor exceptions, while continuing to scrutinise the Russian/Syrian onslaught against the people of Eastern Aleppo. It is estimated that 600 civilians have been killed so far in the US/British/French/Iraqi assault on Mosul, with almost 100 of those deaths being directly attributable to coalition airstrikes (although that is almost certainly a conservative estimate), including an entire family. Yesterday’s hospital bombing was just the latest grisly addition to this ongoing horror story.

What is so striking about this story is that unlike when the US military bombed an MSF hospital in Afghanistan in 2015 and then farcically tried and failed to excuse and then defend what it had done, there have been no official denials about what has happened this time; the US military has come right out and admitted that it intentionally bombed a hospital. The official justification is that it was used by ISIS as a base from which to launch attacks on Iraqi forces. The US military would only be willing to come right out and own up to committing a flat-out war crime if it was confident that the press would either ignore the story completely or obediently attempt to justify what had happened. And, because our journalists are so submissive to those in power, they have done just that; the media has totally covered up the incident, apart from The Guardian, NPRReuters and the International Business Times, and none of those outlets have described what happened as a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention. It is illegal to target a hospital for bombing. When Russia and Syria bomb a hospital in Eastern Aleppo, we recognise that fact. In fact, our journalists and political leaders can’t stop screaming about it for the next several months. But because it’s our side that has now done exactly that in Mosul, there has been complete silence in the media. Even if it were true that this hospital was an ISIS stronghold, it wouldn’t be legally or ethically justified to bomb it anymore than it is legally or ethically justified for Russia and Syria to bomb a hospital in Eastern Aleppo that is being used as a base by al Qaeda. Civilian infrastructure is never allowed to be targeted, regardless of whether it is being used as a cover by militants. The Obama administration just committed a war crime.

Why would ISIS hide in a hospital (assuming that the US military’s narrative is accurate)? The only reason why they would choose that kind of building as a stronghold is if it were sure to be ram-packed full of civilians. So when US pilots quite happily walked into their trap and blew it up, it’s extremely likely that they murdered many civilians in the process, thus giving ISIS a decisive propaganda victory. Of course, figures about civilian casualties are ‘not known’ at the moment; we don’t bother to count our victims. This incident really sums up our war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria; no accountability for war crimes, no facts or figures about civilian casualties, and no interest shown by our ‘adversarial press corps’. Is it even worth wondering if anyone will remember this when discussing ‘Obama’s legacy’?