Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hizbollah , Jesus and Tommy Sheridan

During his recent visit to Lebanon former Scottish Socialist Party leader (and now Solidarity leader) Tommy Sheridan referred to Hezbollah as ""is now the movement the oppressed across the globe will take inspiration from".

According to Sheridan in one village he visited in southern Lebanon a local dignitary Sheikh Qaouk said "if [Jesus] was here he would raise the rubble off the Lebanon children and throw the rocks at Israel".

Now I'm neither a Christian nor a Muslim, nor am I taking sides in the SSP civil war (and if I did i'd take Tommy's side because his policies are more sensible) - and yes I believe the News of the World and possibly MI5 too are out to destroy Sheridan. I admire Tommy Sheridan for sticking to his principles and I agree with him on a lot of things.

Nor was it Tommy who came up with the line about Jesus.

However from what little of the Neew Testament I've read Jesus wasn't continually urging people on to random acts of violent revenge, nor did i get the impression his miracles involved raining rocks down on anyone's heads. Non-violence and forgiveness seemed to figure fairly strongly.

I sympathise with the Lebanese and what they've suffered over the decades - and i understand that Hezbollah also see themselves as defenders and allies of the Palestinians. Their organisation of welfare and public services is excellent - and they had every right to resist Israeli occupation of Lebanon.

However I really hope that the oppressed of the world don't take the Hezbollah path. Attacking members of an enemy military is one thing but both Israeli forces AND Hezbollah targeted civilians in the 2006 war just as in most of the previous conflicts between them.

I don't accept that being the weaker side makes targeting civilians right or war crimes acceptable. Both sides were guilty of war crimes and both should be condemned for them.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Why Dannatt is right that our troops should be brought home from Iraq

General Dannatt, the head of the British army, was absolutely right in his statements that the presence of coalition forces in Iraq is exacerbating, not solving, security problems and that a date should be set for them to be brought home. Our forces’ presence in Iraq is part of the problem and isn’t preventing civil war. They should be brought home now from the impossible situation they have been put in by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

Disbanding the Iraqi army is universally acknowledged to have contributed to mass unemployment and insurgency. What isn’t as widely acknowledged is that every one of our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan means Afghans or Iraqis ending up unemployed because money that could be given to their government to employ them instead goes to our military operations.

Murders and torture by Iraqi and Afghan government forces are an issue. Let’s be honest this is a problem in our own militaries too and a tacit policy of the Bush administration. Abu Ghraib, as many American soldiers have testified to Human Rights Watch – was only the tip of the iceberg and torture has continued since . Amnesty International says the same.

According to Amnesty International torture is also carried out by the forces of the new Iraqi government which is also meant to be preventing it. The Times newspaper has also reported that the Iraqi government is also behind or infiltrated by some of the death squads and militias creating civil war in Iraq. So how can staying to prop up a government that's helping cause civil war possibly prevent it?

There's also the question of why British and American taxpayers are paying billions for ‘reconstruction’ projects handed out in contracts to British and American firms which are failing to reconstruct anything and employ almost no Iraqis? If that money went to the Iraqi government - or future Iraqi governments - to employ Iraqis as foreign aid or war reparations we would at a stroke become seen as generous rather than greedy by Iraqis, as allies rather than exploiters.

True there are corruption problems – but these couldn’t be worse than the level of blatant over-charging by companies like Halliburton given fixed contracts with no competition just because their former CEO is deputy vice president of the US.

Finally the presence of foreign troops in Iraq , the accidental killing of civilians by some and the deliberate killing or torture of civilians by others is strengthening not only Al Qaeda globally but also extreme nationalist and extreme religious groups in Iraq. This does not strengthen democracy in Iraq but weakens it. Democracy is a culture and a system of belief. It can't survive as a set of institutions if no-one in Iraq believes in it. Only when foreign forces have left Iraq and Iraqis are free to decide for themselves what future they want without being open to the charge of being allied with foreign invaders if they support democracy will democracy have any possibility of developing in Iraq.

The fact that Al Qaeda are fanatics or that many of the 'insurgents' or 'resistance' are murderers and torturers cannot change this fact or justify such abuses when carried out by some on our side. Nor can it make such abuses any less inevitable as long as thousands of troops are left in the position of occupiers in a country most of whose people would rather they left.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Unfriendly Fire –
The Killing of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd was not an isolated incident

The public inquiry into the death of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd in Iraq in March 2003 has concluded that fire by US forces unlawfully killed him after a firefight between US and Iraqi forces had ended.

From reports of the inquiry by the UKs Channel 4 there were at least four different groups of witnesses – Iraqi combatants ; western journalists, cameramen and Iraqi interpreters ; a British special forces member ; and the American unit involved.

The western journalists and the Iraqis say there was fire exchanged between an Iraqi pick up truck with a heavy machine gun mounted on it and an American tank. The pick up truck was destroyed. Then the Iraqis commandeered a journalist's van to use as a makeshift ambulance and put the Iraqi casualties and Terry Lloyd who was badly wounded by US fire , into it.

The US tank continued firing on this vehicle and killed Lloyd.

The British special forces member who says he witnessed it too and the US unit claim they didn’t keep firing after the heavy machine gun truck was taken out.

I tend to believe the journalists given that all the other witnesses were combatants on one side or the other and so bound to be biased.

The British and US military story is also undermined by BBC reports that expert analysis of a video of the incident provided by the US unit showed 15 minutes had been cut from the film.

Lloyd’s killing was not an isolated incident but one of many incidents of coalition forces firing on reporters who weren't embedded in a unit according to the International Federation of Journalists.

This may well be another tacit Bush administration policy like the continuing torture policy revealed by the testimony of many US soldiers recorded by Human Rights Watch.Torture continues in Iraq long after the Abu Ghraib scandal supposedly ‘ended’ it

This tacit policy seems to be to fire on non-embedded reporters to scare the others into being embedded and make sure the majority of media coverage is what our militaries and governments want it to be . Though in Lloyd’s case there may have been confusion over which vehicles contained Iraqi fighters and which contained media – particularly as the vehicle he was in was commandeered by fleeing Iraqi fighters as a makeshift ambulance – it is also clear that firing on enemies who were not attacking but fleeing with their wounded might well constitute a war crime in itself. For anyone who would defend such action consider whether you would think Iraqi forces would be justified on firing on fleeing British or American troops who weren’t firing on them any more and were trying to get their wounded and wounded journalists to hospital.

The ambulance was not marked as an ambulance – it was just a commandeered media van - but its fairly clear the second burst of fire from the tank wasn't part of a fire fight but at the least an attempt to kill off any survivors and wounded after the Iraqis were beaten and trying to get away. That on its own would be arguably a war crime. If they knew some of the wounded were media it would definitely be a war crime - whether they knew or not i don’t know - but they do seem to have cut 15 minutes from the tape and the coalition accounts don't fit with the western journalists’ and camera-mens’ accounts and those are the only independent eye-witness accounts and so the most reliable.
Of course it may have been a war crime for Iraqi fighters to take their vehicle into a civilian column and of course insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq have also targeted and murdered journalists but if this in some way makes it right for coalition forces to target them or make little attempt to avoid killing them if they aren't embedded with coalition units i can't see how. Freedom and democracy if they mean anything have to include a free press - not one limited in where it can go , what it can see and what it can report by militaries and governments any more than by terrorist organisations, militias or 'insurgent' or 'resistance' groups.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

John Reid for Labour Leader? What has he actually ever done as a Minister? And how about John McDonnell instead?

I don’t like personalising politics. Politics should be about debating what the right and wrong aims are, what the best or least bad option open to us is and how to achieve them – with everyone getting a chance to put their point of view forward and contribute any expertise or knowledge they have that could help.

Instead most of the media have decided that ‘politics is about personalities’ and this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy too much of the time. So to oppose certain policies it becomes necessary to point out what policies the people the media selects as favourites have actually done or which policies they support – and what the results of those policies are.

John Reid is one example. He’s come across well recently in press conferences and speeches. A couple of his jokes were pretty good as well. I don’t know if someone wrote them up in advance for him if he came up with them himself but either way he delivered them well. His comic timing is excellent.

He’s intelligent and quick witted with a good sense of humour. In every one of the ministerial posts he’s occupied he’s delivered good public relations for the government and the party. The media have decided on this basis that he’s a ‘safe pair of hands’.

His presentational abilities are unquestionable.

Yet what exactly has John Reid ever achieved as a Minister? If you look at the actual results left in his wake the fact is John Reid doesn’t seem to have changed policies at all – and in many cases has left disaster in his wake.

As defence minister John Reid was responsible for British policy in Afghanistan.
As a cabinet member for the last 7 years he could have pushed for a change of policy at any time – or publicly resigned if he felt unable to support its policy.

Instead he allowed the continuation of the disastrous policy of pressuring the Afghan government to destroy poppy crops without providing any alternative source of income for Afghans – many of whom are still starving to death as I type this.

This inevitably pushed many farmers in Southern Afghanistan into the arms of the Taliban or hiring gunmen to protect their crops. After all if the choice is starving to death – and watching your children starve to death - to obey a government that provides you with nothing and seeks to destroy your only source of income – or else disobeying and even defending your crops by force which would you choose?

That’s one of the reasons that British troops are also being killed daily in Afghanistan – because our government wasn’t prepared to consider alternative strategies such as the obvious one - suggested by the excellent Senlis Council report on Afghanistan since the Taliban - of buying the poppy crop and using it to produce painkillers which are in short supply instead. Of course the Bush administration, great abstract moralists (and the Republican party which gets campaign donations from the big pharmaceutical companies who profit from high prices of painkillers due to restricted supplies of opium) haven’t been too keen on this.

If our government , former Defence Minister John Reid and current defence minister Des Browne were really supporting our troops surely they’d be questioning this policy though? In fact they haven’t. ‘Outspoken’, ‘straight talking’ John Reid never uttered a word , never changed the policy.

It seems when it comes to clashing with the Prime Minister or the Bush administration over strategies which are bound to fail and so lead to out troops dying for nothing he just isn’t willing to speak out or talk straight – and isn’t a safe pair of hands at all.

Des Browne – the current defence minister – has emphasised that British troops aren’t carrying out the eradication of poppy crops. That’s quite true. They’re not. The people mainly involved in actually destroying poppy crops are Afghan government forces. The Afghan government’s motives are first that the American and British governments have put pressure on them to end the heroin trade and second that the Taliban and other warlords take a significant share of the profits in the form of protection money used to buy arms and pay fighters.

Yet we’re told that criticising this policy – which was bound to fail from the first (if you destroy the only source of income a country has without providing an alternative they’re not going to all accept it gratefully) is in Des Browne’s phrase ‘undermining the troops’. So continuing to support a self-defeating strategy that’s increasing the number of Afghans who are fighting our troops is ‘supporting’ them – while saying that we should either switch to a strategy of licensing of poppy crops for sale as painkillers and negotiate a peace that stops our troops being killed for nothing is ‘undermining’ them ?

If we offered a better price for poppy crops to produce opiate painkillers than the black market offers for heroin almost none of it would become heroin at all – and half the fighters hired by farmers to protect their crops from us wouldn’t be fighting our troops.

It’s not as though we’re reducing heroin production – in fact it’s increased in Afghanistan by over 1000% since 2001. Past efforts at drug crop eradication in other countries have failed utterly – as in Colombia – or simply led to the relocation of production to other countries (e.g from Turkey to Afghanistan in the 1970s).

Then there was Mr Reid’s job as Health Minister. When Monklands hospital in Mr Reid’s own constituency faced closure he joined the sadly failed campaign to keep it open. However he hasn’t once criticised or opposed the over-priced public private finance initiatives (the new euphemism for PFIs) which were a major cause of its closure – and if Monklands hadn’t closed another hospital would have closed because of the exhorbitant costs of the same PFIs.

As Home Secretary his latest speech referred to the need to put the rights of British citizens above those of terrorists who sought to kill them. The problem with this is that any British citizen could be a suspect. The ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid was born in Britain and grew up here. Equally the police frequently arrest the wrong people – whether citizens or not. Mistakes are inevitable. That’s why we have (or had) a criminal justice system in which people are innocent until proven guilty – so we’ll only send people who are guilty and actually are a threat to the rest of us to jail. If we lose the right not to be jailed without a fair trial – if the government can jail anyone simply by claiming it has secret intelligence proving them to be a terrorist threat – then we’re risking losing democratic rights that took centuries of struggle to get. I’m not saying this government would jail opposition leaders , human rights activists or whistle blowers – but if we bring in these kind of laws what’s to prevent a future government from doing so.

As an orator or a public relations man John Reid excels. If you look at what he’s actually achieved as a government minister or the reality behind his sound bites there’s not really much to say though. Nor does he live up to his reputation for standing up and speaking his mind when he needs to – not when it comes to defending our troops or our NHS patients and staff. He moves from one ministry to another delivering positive tabloid headlines and that’s about it. Disastrous policies like Iraq, PFIs or poppy eradication in Afghanistan aren’t changed but John Reid, like Tony Blair, manages to make speeches which avoid taking any responsibility for the decisions they made to begin and continue those policies.

The only candidate for Labour leader so far who’s been willing to oppose these policies so far is John McDonnell MP. Some of the media seem to have decided he doesn’t have a chance. If they get off with ignoring his campaign that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anyone who actually wants a change of policy could do worse than support JohnMcDonnell for Labour leader – and make it clear that any party that won’t scrap PFIs, bring our troops home from Iraq and oppose the self-defeating strategy developed by the Bush administration in Afghanistan won’t be getting their vote.
Making personal attacks? It’s a safe bet you’ve no policies worth a damn then

Conservative party leader David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne have taken to making personal attacks on Gordon Brown – the man seen currently as the most likely future leader of the Labour party calling him ‘weak’ and ‘tragic’.

No surprise then that Cameron and Osborne have no actual policies on anything then so have resorted to cheap insults. They’ve made lots of vague policy statements on such hopeful sounding things as only using nuclear power as ‘a last resort’ and distancing Britain more from the US – but when questioned on whether this means they’d rule out new nuclear power stations or bring British troops home from Iraq they refuse to answer.

When someone resorts to personal attacks and insults in politics you can take it for granted that they either have no policies they’re willing to reveal to the electorate (or want to distract the electorate from policies they’ve already carried out if they’re in office) or have no real policy differences with the person they’re attacking and are motivated merely by ambition or competition for power and leadership positions.

That’s one reason why the infighting between ‘Brownites’ and ‘Blairites’ has been so personal and petty – the two men have made it clear they both favour more Private Finance Initiatives or ‘Public Private Partnership Programmes’ (the same thing – but they sound nicer) , they’ll both stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with any American President and send our troops into their wars – no matter whether the war is necessary or not, no matter whether the US administration has any viable strategy to win that war or not.