Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Bhaskar Sunkara on Blair’s Devastation of the Labour Party

January 25, 2020

The papers and the media have been doing everything they can to attack the left-wing candidates in Labour’s leadership contest and puff the ‘moderates’. That has meant trying to discredit Rebecca Long-Bailey, the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate. She was the subject of a series of smears and untruths last weekend by the Tory press, in which it was claimed that she and her husband were millionaires and so on. At the same time, the remaining liberal papers, like the I, have been promoting candidates like Lisa Nandy. I’ve just heard someone from the Labour party, speaking on a Radio 4 news programme just now, make a few scornful comments about Long-Bailey. He remarked that it was surprising that Keir Starmer and Nandy were so far ahead, considering that the Corbynites had their hands on the centres of power in the party for three years. He was particularly sneering at Long-Bailey for saying that she gave Corbyn ’10 out of 10′. Corbyn, he stated, had lost three elections. And that was the point where I decided to put fingers to keyboard to make a few comments myself, and correct this fellow’s biased and misleading remarks.

For a start, I think Corbyn did exceedingly well, at least initially. The party had lost much of its membership under Blair and Brown. Corbyn managed to turn this around, so that it became the largest socialist party in Europe. Yes, he did lose three elections. But during one of those elections, even though he lost, he won an enormous number of seats from a  low starting point, so that it marked the most gains by the party in several years. And he did this despite massive opposition. This came from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a sizable number of whom were constantly intriguing against him, threatening coups and mass departures. These were aided by the media, including the increasingly far right and wretched Beeb, which did everything it could to smear and vilify Corbyn and his supporters. And then there was the unrepresentative organisations that pass themselves off as the Jewish establishment. These, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish press, did everything they could to smear Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites simply for making perfectly valid criticisms of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

And from what I understand, Corbyn did not have his hands on the mechanisms of power. Or not completely. When he was first elected I was told by a friend that Corbyn had left himself in a very weak position by not purging the party bureaucracy. This was based on a piece he’d read in an online magazine. The bureaucracy were all Blairites, and had been expecting to be sacked. But Corbyn retained them, preferring instead to run his campaign from his own constituency office. If this is true, then he made a rod for his own back. It is certainly true that he had to struggle for control of the NEC and the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, also did his best to undermine and discredit Corbyn at every opportunity. I don’t think any Labour leader could have won elections under these circumstances.

The press and the Labour centre – for whom, read ‘Thatcherite entryists’, are nostalgic for Blair, his neoliberal economic policies of privatisation, including NHS privatisation, and restructuring of the welfare state. New Labour under Blair and Brown was in power for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010. This was because they had the support of the mass media and big business, whom they rewarded with government posts. But their leadership decimated the party itself, and ultimately helped to discredit them.

Bhaskar Sunkara describes how Blair and Brown managed to reduce the party to half its former size in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

The Japanese have a word for looking worse after a haircut: age-otori. Its synonym in English should be Blairism. Despite initial electoral success and some attempts on the margins to solve social issues such as child poverty, Blair and Brown pursued policies that undermined their own social base. When Blair became prime minister in 1997, Labour had four hundred thousand party members. By 2004, it had half that. That year Labour lost 464 seats in local elections. With anger over the party’s privatisation agenda and oversight of the financial crisis, as well as its support for the disastrous Iraq War, Labour was out of power and completely discredited by 2010. (p.209).

Part of the reason Labour lost the north was because, under Blair and Brown, the party ignored its working class base in order to concentrate on winning swing voters and appealing to the middle class. The working class were expected to carry on supporting the party because there was nowhere else for them to go. But that base showed its dissatisfaction by voting for Brexit, and then backing Johnson because he boasted that he was going to ‘get Brexit done’. But Corbyn’s left-wing followers and successors realise this, and are determined to start representing and campaigning for the working class again.

The Blairites, the media and the industry want the Labour party back to where it was – numerically small, and supporting big business and the rich against the working class, the NHS and the welfare state. This is the reason they’re attacking Long-Bailey and the other left-wing candidates, and praising and promoting moderates like Starmer and Nandy. But Blair’s success was only possible because the Tories were even more discredited than he was. And there was no need for his Thatcherite policies. They weren’t particular popular with the electorate at large, and with the massive majority that he won in the year, he could have started putting back real socialism instead. But that would have alienated the Tory voters he was determined to win over, Murdoch and the Tory press, and his backers in business.

Corbyn was defeated, but I don’t believe for a single minute that his policies have been discredited. Rather I think it’s the opposite: Blairism has. And while the Tories now have a massive majority, their policies are destroying the country and its people.

Only a return to traditional, old Labour values and policies will restore it.

Boris – Trump’s Gauleiter of Britain

January 4, 2020

A gauleiter was the Nazi officer in charge of a gau, an administrative district of the Third Reich. After the Italian Fascists’ military incompetence was revealed, and the Nazis had to intervene on their behalf in countries like Greece, they started to refer to Mussolini sneeringly as the ‘gauleiter of Italy.’ For all the Duce’s pretensions to military power and seniority in the relationship between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Hitler stopped telling him his war plans after the invasion of Belgium. This was for the simple reason that after he found out about the planned invasion, the Duce told the Belgians. When Hitler asked him why he had betrayed his plans, Musso simply responded that he wanted them to put up a better fight.

Something similar is, I feel, happening in the relationship between Trump’s USA and Bozo, our clown prime minister. Oh, the Americans have been the dominant partner in the Special Relationship ever since the attempt to retake Suez from Nasser in the ’50s collapsed because the US wouldn’t back it. But a few days ago Trump showed how much he trusted or felt he needed to rely on support from his European allies, including Bozo. He had the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, whacked out by drone without telling us or anyone else. American soldiers are, however, being rushed to Iraq. At the moment Britain and the other Europeans are urging a de-escalation of the situation, which the Iranians have, not unreasonably, described as an act of war. But you can bet that if conflict does break out – and may God help us all if it does – Trump will almost certainly demand the rest of Europe to get in line, and strong arm Britain to do so. Not that I don’t believe Bozo would be only too willing.

Critics of Bozo’s wretched Brexit deal with Trump have pointed out that it could potentially give the Americans ownership of large sections of the British economy and industry. Cheap American imports threaten British manufacturing, specifically the motor industry, and agriculture. But that’s the deal Boris wants.

It could wreck our economy, and make us economically dependent on the US. Just as Trump would demand our military support for his unilateral military adventures.

Just as Hitler eventually reduced Mussolini to puppet dictator of an Italy heavily reliant and dominated by Nazi Germany.

 

Privatisations Not Nearly as Popular as Maggie and the Tories Claim

January 3, 2020

I found this extremely interesting snippet in Oliver Huitson’s chapter on the way the media, including the Beeb, promoted the Tory privatisation of the NHS in Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis’ NHS – SOS. Huitson states that despite the massive media bias and their highly distorted reporting, there was a sizable chunk of the British public that fully understood the issues involved and did not like it one little bit. He goes on to write that trust in politicians is at an all time low – 19 per cent of people trust them, just two per cent above journos at 17 per cent (p. 171). And then there’s this passage in which he explains that privatisation wasn’t as nearly as popular as Thatcher and her poodle press claimed:

It should also be remembered that the public have now had thirty years’ experience of the privatisation of state assets and services, as well as the rhetoric that accompanies such moves, and they are increasingly cynical about the purported aims and efficacy of such ‘reforms’. Margaret Thatcher spent millions of pounds marketing her privatisations to the public, yet polling revealed that support for this policy never rose above 50 per cent. In the wake of the Iraq War, the expenses revelations, the financial crash and the phone-hacking scandal, public trust in the political class as a whole, including in the national media, is extremely low. (p. 172).

For the past forty years we’ve had it rammed down our throats that privatisation was not only necessary, it was massively popular. Everyone was right behind Maggie and Major on the issue, and if you weren’t, you were an evil Commie. But like neoliberalism and austerity generally, it’s a massive lie.

No wonder the Tory media are now screaming that Labour lost because Corbyn was ‘too far’ left, and only a return to Blairism will make the party popular.

Corbyn Demands Change to Foreign Policy to Stop Fuelling Terror

December 3, 2019

This is another story from yesterday’s I that I’ve no doubt is going to alarm some people in certain places. Corbyn has said that it is ‘time to end bad foreign policy fuelling terror’, according to the headline of an article by Will worley.

The article runs

Successive governments have too often fuelled, rather than reduced, the threat of terrorism-with UK leaders having made the wrong calls on security for “far too long “, Jeremy Corbyn said.

Speaking in Yorkshire, the Labour leader said the war on terror has “manifestly failed”, adding that security requires “calmly making the right calls at moments of high pressure”.

Mr Corbyn accused Boris Johnson of being “the world’s leading sycophant” towards Donald Trump.

Mr Corbyn said he warned against the invasion of Iraq. “I said it would set off a spiral of conflict, hate, misery that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, and the misery of future generations. It did and we are still living with the consequences.”

He’s right, and the 1-2 million people who marched against the Iraq invasion also knew it. I’ve read again and again on left-wing news and comments sites that studies have shown that what motivates Islamist terrorists isn’t some kind of jealous resentment of western freedoms or the western way of life – though I don’t doubt that this is a factor for many terrorist atrocities – but anger at western foreign policy. The Iraq Invasion had nothing to do with stopping al-Qaeda. It was a cynical ploy by the American military-industrial complex to overthrow Saddam Hussein and seize his country, and particularly its oil reserves and state enterprises. The Iraqi oil industry is now firmly in foreign hands, and likely to remain so: it’s been written into the country’s constitution. It has also been part of a wider neocon strategy of overthrowing seven different states in the region. These include Libya, Somalia, Syria and Iran. It’s also been suggested, citing documents written by various members of Bush’s cabinet and his advisers, that it’s also part of an American strategy of showing the world where the real military power lies. In the terms of the people who wrote this document, that meant picking up a country every once in a while and shaking. The American military manufactured a foreign policy crisis in order to use it as the pretext for a show of force in order to impress other nations not to buck their global authority and interests. Bush keenly denied that the invasions and wars in the Middle East are against Islam – which is true, as they’ve also been allied to Saudi foreign policy goals of also seizing other nations’ oil wealth and fighting and destroying rival Shi’a and secular Muslim and Middle Eastern states. But nevertheless, this how many Muslims see it, and especially after the flagrant islamophobia spewed by Johnson and the Tories, and their press.

It’s nearly 20 years since 9/11 and British forces are still fighting in Afghanistan, if not Iraq. Instead of pacifying the region, they’ve exacerbated it immensely. And if the neocons have their way, there may be more to come, as they’d dearly love to invade Iran. Which would have exactly the same consequences as the Iraq invasion, if not worse.

Corbyn’s words won’t be welcome to the neocons and certainly not to the Israelis, who are also profiting and seeking to foment wars with some of the Muslim states around them, like Iran. But they’re exactly right. The old foreign policy isn’t working. Perhaps, as John Lennon sang so long ago about the Vietnam War, it’s time we gave ‘peace a chance’.

Labour Promises Inquiry into Deaths Caused by Tory Benefit Cuts

December 3, 2019

Mike put up a very encouraging piece last Thursday reporting that, according to the Disability News Service, the Labour Party will, if elected

“set up an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled benefit claimants linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its private sector contractors.”

This is excellent news. So far, an estimated 130,000 people have died due to victimisation by the Department for Work and Pensions due to the reforms brought in by the Conservatives and their coalition partners, the Lib Dems. Mike, however, points out that this is probably the minimum number, and the real figures almost certainly are shockingly higher.

This is exactly what Mike and the other disability rights activists and campaigners have been fighting for. Mike says he’s been doing so almost since he set his blog up in 2011. And he had despaired of any such inquiry ever occurring. The Tories would definitely try to stop it, just as they did everything they could to prevent Mike getting hold of the information on the number of people, who had died after being declared ‘fit for work’. Mike requested this information under the Freedom Of Information Act, as his readers will recall, and the government did everything they could not to give this information to him. Even going so far as to challenge his appeals to the Information Commissioner. Eventually they released some information, though they interpreted his request in a manner so that they could avoid giving him the precise information he wanted.

Mike states that he felt Labour would also do its best to avoid confronting the problem, and points to the ‘dark days’ when Rachel Reeves was Work and Pensions Secretary. But Jeremy Corbyn’s accession to the leadership of the Labour party has given him hope. Hope that could be fulfilled if Labour gain power. He states that under Labour, we might just see the people responsible for those deaths brought to justice.

He concludes

So if you don’t have any other reason to support Labour, do it for this.

The families and friends of the dead need this.

Vote Labour for justice.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/28/labour-will-hold-an-inquiry-into-all-the-benefit-related-deaths-overseen-by-tories-vote-labour/

And Trev, one of the great commenters on this blog, has pointed me in the direction of a piece by the Disability News Service reporting that a five year long investigation by them into the deaths of five people found ‘fit for work’ – Mark Woods, David Barr, Michael O’Sullivan,  Paul Donnachie and a woman known as ‘Ms DE – has provided them with ‘strong and clear evidence’ for the prosecution of the two ministers responsible for the Tory policies – Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling – and the senior civil servants who share that responsibility – for misconduct in public office.

It’s a lengthy report, going into the circumstances of the deaths of these five people, four of whom killed themselves due to mental health problems and the first, Ms DE, starved to death. I’ve done no more than skim it and am not a legal expert by any means. But it does seem to be a substantial piece of research.

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-the-case-for-the-prosecution/

If this was possible, and actually went ahead, so that IDS and Grayling found themselves in the dock it would be utterly fantastic. I’ve made several comments expressing my utter disgust at their culpability, exacerbated by their flagrant lying and denials, that they should face prosecution for murder. They won’t, but this is clearly the next best thing, and perhaps the best we can hope for.

I’m not sure such a prosecution will ever get off the ground, for the same reason that attempts to prosecute Blair and George ‘Dubya’ Bush for war crimes for the illegal invasion of Iraq were frustrated. But I hope I’ll be surprised. Even if they aren’t convicted, the trial should be very interesting and extremely revealing.

In the meantime, if you want to stop the Tories killing more disabled people, who could be your friends, relatives or even you yourself, then I urge you:

Vote Labour.

Because Tory policies have killed over a hundred thousand victims. And will kill a hundred thousand more.

But your vote for Labour will help stop them.

Boris Johnson Declared Islamophobia ‘Natural Reaction’ to Islam

November 28, 2019

Mike also put up another excellent piece, pointing out that while the Tories are misdirecting people to look for massively over-exaggerated anti-Semitism in the Labour party, they have been actively promoting hatred against Muslims. According to the magazine Business Insider, in 2005 our comedy prime minister wrote in the Spectator that

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.

This was in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, and Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and said that the country must realise that ‘Islam is the problem’.

Mike concludes ‘He’s not my prime minister. He is racist filth.’

Boris Johnson believes Islamophobia is a ‘natural reaction’ to Muslims. Let’s vote this racist OUT

No argument there from me, especially after Mates Jacobs has released a dossier of rabidly islamophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments from the supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and our buffoonish Prime Minister. Not after Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly demanding investigations into islamophobia in her party, and been condescendingly told that there’s little to worry about. Not when an inquiry into it has been pushed back after the General Election – presumably so that it won’t embarrass Johnson when it uncovers massive prejudice and hatred.

Now let’s put Johnson’s comments into their context. Many Brits understandably were worried about the possible danger from Islam after the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground and on buses. This was also a period when alienated Muslim youths marched through the street waving placards against the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, proclaiming that Islam would dominate the West and promising more violence and terrorism. But it is a mistake to claim that this alienation and rage represents true Islam, or comes from the pages of the Qu’ran.

In fact Islamism is the product of a distinct set of social and political circumstances. This includes the economic and political stagnation of Islamic societies, rising poverty and the bewilderment and dislocation felt by many Muslims to rapid modernisation. Some of the problems are due to the adoption of neoliberal economic programmes by secular Arab and Middle Eastern states, like Algeria, which have massively increased poverty. Some of it is a reaction to western colonialism and cultural and economic hegemony. And some of it is a response to real oppression by non-Muslim states around the world. Like there is massive discrimination and organised violence against Muslims, as well as Sikhs and Christians, by Hindu ultra-nationalists in India.

I studied Islam as part of my religious studies minor degree at College. Yes, Islam has expanded through violence and conquest, just as Christianity has. But it has also spread through peaceful contact and conversion. And the problems Islam is experiencing as it modernises aren’t unique to it. Christianity and the West experienced the same process in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were reactionaries in the Anglican Church in the 19th century, who were frightened of the extension of the franchise and political rights to Protestant Dissenters, Roman Catholics, and other religions. In the middle of the century the Papacy placed on its index of forbidden doctrines the idea that Roman Catholic countries should allow freedom of religion and conscience to non-Catholics. But now the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as a whole very definitely are not anti-democratic, despite the attempts of General Franco and Roman Catholic clerico-Fascists during the Second World War. And aggressively atheist states like the Soviet Union have their own bloody history of intolerance. Religion was viciously persecuted in the USSR, and millions of people of faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or shamanist, were killed or imprisoned in the gulags for simply holding their beliefs. Nathan Johnson, surveying the vicious intolerance across secular, atheist as well as religious societies in his books on the mythology of New Atheism, has suggested that such intolerance may be part of human nature, rather than just unique to religion or a specific religion.

Islam also has a tolerant side. Christianity survived in the Balkans after the Turkish conquest because, when the Ottoman emperor wanted to force the Christian peoples to convert to Islam, the majlis, the assembly of Muslims scholars and jurists, told him it was specifically forbidden, for example. And even after the conquest, there were many areas in which Christian and Muslim lived side by side in peace. When Mike visited Bosnia after the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he saw areas where churches and mosques had been built next to each other. Not the mark of an intolerant society, at least, not at that time.

Boris Johnson is, as Mike and so many others have repeatedly pointed out, a vicious racist. This is in sharp contrast to the Labour leader, who is a determined opponent of all forms of racism. Don’t believe him when he smears Labour as anti-Semitic.

And don’t let him get away with smearing Muslims. This is what the Tories are doing and have always done: manufacture hate against an out-group in order to gain power. They are doing it against the poor. They are doing it to the unemployed, to the disabled, to anybody, even working people, who claim benefits. And in the early part of the 20th century they did it to Jews. Now they’re doing it to Blacks, Asians and particularly Muslims.

A better world is possible. Reject the Tories and their prejudice and bigory, and vote for Corbyn and his anti-racism instead.

 

 

‘I’ Article on Allegations of British War Crimes in Iraq and Aghanistan

November 18, 2019

I put up a piece yesterday evening commenting on a trailer for the Beeb’s Panorama programme tonight, 18th November 2019, investigating allegations that British troops have committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is also the subject of an article in today’s I by Cahal Milmo, titled ‘Army and UK Government accused of cover-up in war crimes scandal’. This reads

The Government is facing demands to ensure an investigation into “deeply troubling” allegations that torture and murders – including the killing of children – by British soldiers were covered up by senior commanders and officials.

Leaked documents provided to an investigation by BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times detail claims that evidence of crimes committed by UK troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was not fully investigated.

Amnesty International said that rather than sweeping such claims “under the carpet”, Britain needs to ensure cases are “treated with the seriousness they deserve”.

The claims, which include an allegation that an SAS soldier murdered three children and a man in Afghanistan while drinking tea in their home in 2012, arose from two official investigations into alleged war crimes by British forces. The Iraq Historic Allegations Teams (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor, which investigated alleged incidents in Afghanistan, were wound down in 2017 after a solicitor – Phil Shiner _ was struck off for misconduct after bringing more than 1,000 to IHAT.

Neither IHAT nor Northmoor resulted in any prosecutions, a fact which the Government insists was based on “careful investigation”.

But military investigators told the BBC and The Sunday Times that other factors were responsible. One former IHAT detective said: “The Ministry of Defence had no intention of prosecuting any soldier of whatever rank he was unless it was absolutely necessary and they couldn’t wriggle their way out of it.”

The media investigation uncovered claims no action was taken after military prosecutors were asked to consider charges against a senior SAS commander for attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to the Afghanistan incident. It also found evidence that allegations of beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch regiment did not reach court.

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted all cases had been looked at and “the right balance” struck in terms of court action.

A spokesman for the MOD said “Allegations that the MoD interfered with investigations or prosecution decisions relating to the conduct of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are untrue. The decisions of prosecutors and investigators have been independent of the MoD and involved external oversight and legal advice.”

Underneath the article is a statement in a box that reads Another investigator said ‘Key decisions were taken out of our hands. There was more and more pressure from the Ministry of Defence to get cases closed as quickly as possible.’

As I wrote yesterday, this is something that no-one really wants to hear. We’d love to believe our girls and boys are far better than this. But I’m afraid that for all their training and professionalism, they are just humans like everyone else, placed in positions of extreme fear and danger. Regarding the killing of children, it also has to be taken into account that the enemy in those areas has hidden behind children and tried to use them to kill allied soldiers. This has resulted in allied squaddies having been forced to shoot them to preserve their own lives.

Falling Off the Edge, a book which describes how neoliberalism is forcing millions into poverty worldwide and actually contributing to the rise in terrorism, begins with a description of a firefight between American soldiers and Daesh in Iraq. The Daesh fighters are losing, and one of them drops a Rocket Propelled Grenade in a house’s courtyard. The fighters then run inside, and throw out of the door two little boys. They boys try to grab the RPG despite the American troops screaming at them not to. One of them makes to pick it up, and is shot by an American trooper.

It’s an horrendous incident, but one in which the squaddie had no choice. It was either himself and his comrades, or the child. It’s a sickening decision that no-one should have to face, and I don’t doubt that it will scar this man psychologically for the rest of his life. One of the complaints Private Eye had about the lack of appropriate psychological care for returning servicemen and women suffering from PTSD was that they weren’t put in the hands of army doctors and medical professionals, who would understand the terrible choices they had to make. Instead many were put in civilian treatment groups, who were naturally shocked and horrified by their tales of killing children. It may well be that some of the accusations of the murder of children may be due to incidents like this. I also remember an al-Qaeda/ Taliban propaganda video from Afghanistan that the Beeb played during the Afghanistan invasion. This was intended for audiences elsewhere in the Middle East. In it, one of the fighters hands a gun to another small boy, who waves it around as if he can hardly hold it, and proudly declares that he will gun down the evil westerners. This seemed to show that the Taliban and al-Qaeda weren’t above using small children as soldiers. It’s evil, and banned under the UN Rights of the Child, I believe. But if the Taliban have been using boy soldiers, this might explain some of the murders.

Even so, these are very serious allegations. I blogged yesterday about how an American diplomat in Iraq was shocked at the conduct of US forces. The mess of one division was decorated with Nazi insignia, mercenaries were running drugs and prostitution rings, and shot Iraqi civilians for sport. And the American army was also supporting sectarian death squads. We need to know if there is similar lawlessness among British troops.

And I’m afraid I have no faith in the ability of the British army or the MoD to investigate these claims fairly. Nearly every fortnight Private Eye’s ‘In the Back’ section has yet more information from the Deep Cut Inquiry into the suicide of three squaddies at the barracks now well over a decade ago. There have been allegations that the initial investigation was appallingly inadequate, that detectives and doctors were taken off the investigation, or prevented from properly examining forensic evidence. And reading some of the depositions makes it appear that there may well have been a cover-up. And this also lends credibility to the allegations that the government and MoD are covering up atrocities here.

This needs to be very carefully investigated with complete transparency. And it also shows how profoundly morally wrong the invasion of Iraq was. It was a war crime, and the criminals responsible were Bush and Blair.

 

Panorama Documentary Tomorrow on British War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

November 17, 2019

Okay, I’m sure that this is something that no-one wants to see: allegations of war crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m afraid I’ve only caught a glimpse of it, but there was a trailer tonight for tomorrow’s edition of Panorama, 18th November 2019, which showed that this would be the subject of its investigation.

I understand that much of the curriculum at Sandhurst is about the morality of war, and the British army has prided itself that it uses the minimum of force. And the British armed forces for centuries have been subject to the rule of law. One of the slavery documents I found in the archives when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol was a parliamentary inquiry into allegations of atrocities against women and children by British troops during a slave rebellion in the West Indies.

But the men and women in our armed forces aren’t moral supermen. For all their training, courage and professionalism, they are human beings under immense stress. They were sent in by Blair to fight an illegal war in Iraq, which is already a war crime, though one for which the former Prime Minister and his cabinet and advisers are culpable, rather than the troopers who fought it. There were problems with supplying them adequately with the right equipment, so much so that they were supposedly nicknamed ‘the borrowers’ by the Americans because our troops had to borrow theirs. And the enemy fights dirty. I’ve heard it said that the Taliban in Afghanistan used to smear their bullets in excrement so that people shot by them would become infected in addition to the gunshot wound. I’ve also read reports online of the allied forces coming upon individuals, who it was highly probably had been the very Taliban, who had been firing on them moments before, but who swore they were no such thing. Even when it looked like they were washing their hands to remove the cordite stains.

In the American territory in Iraq, decent conduct seems to have broken down completely. I’ve reblogged pieces from The Jimmy Dore Show and other American left-wing news shows, which described how a former American diplomat to the zone complained about what he found there. The mess of one set of American troops was adorned with Nazi emblems and regalia. The private military contractors – read ‘mercenaries’ – were out of control, running drugs and prostitution rings. They also casually shot Iraqi civilians for fun. The real-life trooper, who was the subject of the Eastwood flick, The Sniper, a few years ago, also claimed to have shot civilians, including women and children. And the American military command also collaborated with sectarian death squads.

In this chaos and carnage I can quite believe that some our troopers would also take out their frustrations and aggression on the very civilians that Blair told us he was sending them in to liberate.

I’ve no doubt that this is going to stir up controversy, and I hope that the documentary is thorough and balanced – much more so than its wretched smear job against the Labour Party. And if it is found that British soldiers and personnel have committed atrocities against civilians, it will also be remembered that the ultimate responsibility for these wars lies with Tony Blair and his fellow war criminal, George Bush.

‘I’ Review of Movie About British Iraq War Whistleblower

October 25, 2019

One of the flicks coming to our cinemas, if it isn’t there already, is Official Secrets, the film about whistleblower Katharine Gun’s attempt to prevent Blair’s illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq by leaking government emails about it. The I printed a review of it by Demetrios Matheou in last Friday’s edition for the 18th October 2019. Entitled ‘Spies, lies and a drama that resonates’, this ran

Early in the political drama Official Secrets, Keira Knightley’s real-life whistle-blower Katharine Gun watches Tony Blair on television, giving his now-infamous justifcation for the impending Iraq War, namely the existence of weapons of mass destruction. “He keeps repeating the lie,” she cries. “Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”

There’s simply no escaping the resonance. The current occupant of No 10 isn’t the first to economical with the truth; the real shock is that we keep on putting up with it. And the power of the film resides in the fact that the idealistic, courageous Katharine Gun would not.

The film opens with Gun about to face trial for breaching the Official Secrets Act – Knightley’s face expressing the sheer terror of someone in that position – before winding back a year to explain how she got there.

Katharine is working as a Mandarin translator at the intelligence agency GCHQ in Cheltenham. One day, she and her colleagues receive a classified email from America’s National Security Agency, requesting that the Brits spy on delegates from the United Nations Security Council, with a view to blackmailing them to vote for the resolution in favour of war.

In the UK, the very idea of the war is historically unpopular with the public. And here is evidence of its illegality. Katharine secretly copies the memo and smuggles it out to a friend who is an anti-war activist, through whom it reaches Observer journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith). 

Until now, the film has been operating on something of a whisper. Once Smith appears on screen – quickly followed by the equally energetic (nay, combustible) Rhys Ifans as fellow journalist Ed Vulliamy – there is a sonic boom. From her, the action switches urgently between the paper’s investigation of the memo’s authenticity and Katharine’s personal hell as the leak is revealed, which includes the threat of deportation from her Muslim husband, Yasar.

Gavin Hood is an intriguing director, alternating between mainstream fare (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and issues-based dramas charting government malfeasance, such as rendition (Rendition) and the use of drone strikes (Eye in the Sky). He is on strong form here, with a film that’s gripping, righteous, relevant, moving – in short, a very good yarn that just happens to be true.

At the heart of it is Knightley, impressively commanding as a woman who is principled and defiant, but also deeply vulnerable as the government cranks up its intimidation. Around his star, Hood has assembled a comprehensively find cast, with a particularly lovely turn by Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer determined to defend Gun against the odds. 

This looks like a brilliant movie, and I’d like to see it if and when it comes to my neck of the woods. Over one million people marched against the invasion, not just Muslims, but also people of all races and religions and none. One of the marchers was a priest from my local church. I’ve reviewed a book on this site presenting a very strong case that Blair’s invasion constitutes a war crime, for which the slimy creature should be prosecuted along with Bush. According to the late William Blum, there were attempts to do just that, but they were stymied by the British and American governments. The demonstrators’ chant is exactly right: ‘Blair lied, people died’. But despite this and subsequent books exposing his venality and legal tax-dodging through a complex mass of holding companies and off-shore tax havens, he still seems to think that he’s somehow the great champion of British politics. He’s been one of the figures behind the attempts to create a new ‘centrist’ party, and every now and again he pushes his head up from wherever pit in which he’s been hiding to make some comment about contemporary politics. Usually about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. 

Hopefully this picture will remind people that ‘Teflon Tony’ wasn’t some kind of visionary statesman. He was a butcher, who backed the illegal invasion of a country for no better reason than the multinationals’ desire to loot their oil wealth and state industries. Oh yes, and cut off Hussein’s occasional support for the Palestinians. Thanks to him and his master, Bush, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and the Middle East have died or been displaced, a country has been wrecked and its secular, welfare state dismantled and reduced to chaos and sectarian violence. This bloody, illegal war has also claimed the lives of good men and women in the forces and in the civilian organisations trying to rebuild the country.

As for the reason why people like Blair keep getting elected – if government in this country had been genuinely accountable, they wouldn’t. It shows a flaw in our political system, a system in which the media must take its share of the blame. Warmongers like Blair get elected because they have the full support, with some exceptions, of the Thatcherite press and Murdoch papers. The same papers that are trying to bring down Jeremy Corbyn. 

 

 

Frustration and Dismay at Private Eye Pushing the Anti-Semitism Smears

October 19, 2019

This kind of follows on from the post I put up on Thursday, criticising a piece in Private Eye by their correspondent ‘Ratbiter’ celebrating Stop Funding Fake News and its attempts to cut off funding from what it considers to be extremist websites. Stop Funding Fake News has been the subject of a series of posts by Zelo Street, which has shown how the organisation is itself deeply suspect. For all its avowed concern to stop fake news, SFFN itself is less than transparent. It won’t tell you who its members are for one thing. And while it has attacked right-wing sites, like Breitbart and Tommy Robinson’s wretched website, as described in Ratbiter’s article, it’s also gone after those on the Left, like the Canary.  They’re also supposed to be extremists sites peddling fake news, but as I pointed out, the Canary’s politics are those of the old social democratic consensus. The consensus that Corbyn wishes to bring back, of a mixed economy, strong welfare state, proper, effective trade unions, a nationalised and properly funded NHS, and proper rights for working people. You know, proper, constructive policies that will save this country and its people from poverty, starvation and exploitation. But Thatcherites, whether in the Tory party, or the Lib Dems and Blairites in Labour, can’t stand any of this. They can’t bear the thought that Thatcher is a goddess who failed, and that neoliberalism has run its course and been found threadbare. So Corbyn and his supporters have been accused of being Trots, Commies, Stalinists and other epithets by the papers and right-wing Labour MPs like Jess Philips.

Israel Lobby Using Anti-Semitism Smears to Suppress Criticism

But these policies are actually popular with the British public, and so the Right has taken to trying to discredit Corbyn and his followers, and more broadly the Labour party, with accusations of anti-Semitism. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, the actual incidence of genuine anti-Semitism in the Labour party is low. Very low. What riles the witch hunters is that Corbyn and his supporters are critics of Israel’s policy of oppression, apartheid and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The Israel lobby’s only defence against these entirely justifiable criticisms is to scream ‘anti-Semitism!’ and demand that their critics should be removed from office, silenced and even prosecuted for hate crimes. And ‘Ratbiter’ and Private Eye itself has been pushing this as strenuously as the rest of the media. In his article about Stop Funding Fake News, ‘Ratbiter’s’ praise for SFFN’s attack on the Canary claimed that not only was the Canary pushing fake news, but it was also anti-Semitic and pushing conspiracy theories about Jews. None of which is true. There is a concerted campaign by the Conservative Jewish establishment in this country to close down debate about Israel in line with the demands of the Israeli government. The Israeli state even as a special government office for promoting this hasbara. This is substantiated fact. But it’s suppressed by the British establishment and media, which wants you to believe that when the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council scream at Corbyn for supporting speeches by Holocaust survivors and anti-Nazi activists, like Hajo Meyer, attacking the maltreatment of the Palestinians, these right-wing organisations speak for all British Jews. They don’t, as is very clear by the number of Jews involved in the Palestinian rights movement, the BDS campaign and who support Corbyn in the Labour party. Still, why bother about awkward facts when you’re the media, eh?

Private Eye Part of Press Smears of Anti-Semitism

I’m particular dismayed and frustrated that Private Eye has joined in with this vilification and smearing. I’m not surprised by the right-wing press – the Fail, Scum, Depress, Times and Sunset Times, as they’ve always lied about and slandered the Labour party and left-wing activists. You only have to go back two years to when the Sunset Times smeared Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Or how it tried to tell the world that Michael Foot was a KGB agent, against all evidence. I’m disappointed that the Absurder, Groaniad and the Mirror have joined in with these accusation. But the Groan is in dire financial straits and has supported the Liberals in several elections. Kath Viner, the new editor, would like to make it a general political newspaper, not tied to the Left. And the Absurder and Mirror look like they’re run by Blairites.

Private Eye’s Liberal Stance and Challenge to Authority

But Private Eye’s support for the smears I find more puzzling and exasperating. OK, I realise that despite its attacks on NHS privatisation, Tory housing policy, the attacks on the disabled, the failings of the privatised water companies, probation service, and outsourcing companies like Capita and Serco, the magazine’s not actually left-wing. Its founders – Peter Cook, Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Auberon Waugh were all thoroughly middle class public school boys. John Wells was the headmaster at Eton. But the magazine does have a proud tradition of standing up for those wrongly accused and questioning the actions of the security services. Paul Foot was a staunch advocate for people he believed were wrongly accused of murder. The magazine is still covering the Deepcut scandal, and what looks very much like an attempt to hide the evidence and protect the guilty by the army and the police. They’ve also covered deaths in police custody and other cases of official incompetence, corruption and wrongdoing. They even published several pieces and then a final report in the mid-90s questioning the official assertion that the Libyans were responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. They believed instead that Syria was responsible, and that blame was placed on the Libyans for political reasons: Major and George Bush senior needed Syria to join their coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. It has also defended asylum seekers, both collectively and individually, from racist discrimination, incarceration, beatings and abuse, and the threat of deportation. It is because the magazine has this proud tradition of questioning authority that I find its current support for the anti-Semitism smears infuriating.

Private Eye also Repeating British Intelligence Propaganda?

I am also aware that, as well as probing some of the actions of the British intelligence agencies, like when they have leaned on journalists to reveal their sources, they’ve also acted to promote them. There is ample evidence that the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012, which overthrew the pro-Russian president, was anything but popular. It was instead a staged coup overseen by the US statement and the National Endowment for Democracy. But from reading the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye dealing with events in that country, you are told that it is all the fault of the Russians and their supporters. It also appears that the magazine does, or at least, did, have connections to MI5. Auberon Waugh was related to one of its directors or senior officials, and Lobster a decade or so ago ran a piece, ‘5 at Eye’, speculating the magazine and particularly Waugh were responsible for running the smear stories about Harold Wilson being a KGB spy. I am also aware that as a magazine that is unaligned to any political party, and which criticises and satirises all of them, it’s going to attack Labour. Corbyn, as head of the party, is fair game. And those attacks are going to come from his opponents. Which include ‘Ratbiter’, real name Nick Cohen, and whichever Blairites used to run the ‘Focus on Fact’ cartoon attacking the Labour leader.

Private Eye Shares Journalists with Other Papers

But nevertheless, I am extremely annoyed at the way it has joined in with the smearing of decent, anti-racist, Jewish and gentile people as anti-Semites. Like the rest of the press and media, they largely haven’t contacted them for their opinion, or given them space to explain how they were smeared. When a letter has been published in Private Eye rebutting their claim that anti-Semitism is rife in Labour, they’ve replied by quoting Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum, who believes it is. And who has been roundly criticised for this by Tony Greenstein. Part of this might just be standard press groupthink. Private Eye, for all its attacks on the press and media in its ‘Street of Shame’ and television columns, is part of it, and some of its anonymous correspondents are no doubt journalists working for other papers. Nick ‘Ratbiter’ Cohen is a hack for the Graon and Absurder, while one of the editors and probably a reviewer for their books page was Francis Wheen, another Guardian journo. The press seem to have decided en masse that Corbyn is an anti-Semite, and for all its professed independence and criticism of the fourth estate, the Eye really doesn’t seem to want to break ranks with them in that regard.

And I also suspect that they don’t want to counter that narrative for geopolitical reasons. Israel’s one of the pillars of our foreign policy in the Middle East, and although the paper has criticised it for its treatment of the Palestinians, its attack on Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites show that there are limits to how far the magazine will go in challenging foreign policy.

Private Eye also Afraid of Being Smeared as Anti-Semitic?

I also wonder if there are more selfish reasons. As Peter Oborne showed in his documentary on the Israel Lobby for Channel 4’s Despatches eleven years ago, the Conservative Jewish establishment and the Israel lobby will smear any and all newspapers and media organisations as anti-Semitic if they criticise Israel. Even, and perhaps especially, when that criticism is justified, as when the Guardian and BBC reported on the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon by the Christian Phalange, who were allied to Israel. The Groan’s former editor, Alan Rusbridger, described how the president of the Board used to troop into his office, with his pet lawyer, demanding the withdrawal of articles critical of Israel on the grounds that they would incite the general public to hate Jews.

The Beeb’s respected Middle East correspondents Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin were also accused of anti-Semitism when they covered the above massacres. When senior Beeb officials like Sir David Attenborough defended them, they too were ridiculously accused. That should have destroyed the Board’s credibility. Instead it seems to have succeeded in emboldening the Israel lobby. Since then Israel has also denounced and lied about the Beeb’s coverage of the blockade of Gaza and the bombing campaign against Palestinians, claiming that journalists were anti-Semitic and expelling them. This does seem to have had a chilling effect at the Beeb. And not just at the Beeb – the Groan and the Absurder have also fallen in line. And I think Private Eye’s determined promotion of the anti-Semitism smears may also be part of this. They’re also, I suspect, afraid of the Board turning up in their offices to accuse them of anti-Semitism. Back in the ’60s and ’70s when the magazine appeared more louche and subversive than it is now, some newsagents refused to stock it. In the 1990s WH Smith withdrew one edition from its shelves because of a joke on the cover about the prurient public interest in the death of Princess Di. I think the magazine is still terrified of some kind of boycott by distributors, which may well be the result if the Board did decide to start accusations of anti-Semitism against them.

What Can Be Done?

So there are a variety of reasons why Private Eye is pushing the anti-Semitism smears. But speculating on their motives doesn’t make it any less infuriating that they’re doing it. I’ve thought in the past of writing letters of complaint to the Eye, explaining that the accused aren’t anti-Semites, and asking for an explanation. But what’s the point? The letter would either be ignored, or a short, edited version would appear in the magazine, which would allow them to reply quoting Lansman or someone else that anti-Semitism is rife, etc. And I might be unfair here to the magazine, but I don’t want to find myself smeared as an anti-Semite in turn and have my name or address passed onto the trolls that appear online to howl abuse at Mike, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein.

And so there doesn’t seem to be much hope of challenging the Eye in its pages. The only option left is to carry on critiquing its lies and those of the rest of the media in the hope that more and more people will realise that it and they are smearing decent people simply for political advantage and to keep a vicious, corrupt government installed.