Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hamill, then Nelson, Now McDaid

The murder of Kevin McDaid by a loyalist mob while police looked on echoes the murder of Robert Hamill, another Catholic beaten to death by a mob of bigots in 1997 while police looked on and failed to intervene or summon back-up. No-one was ever convicted of Hamill’s murder and his family’s lawyer – Rosemary Nelson - was murdered in a car bombing after death threats from Unionist terrorists and police officers colluding with them. It can’t be allowed to happen again.

On the 24th of May a mob of bigots who think they’re ‘Protestants’ went on a victory march in Northern Ireland through Catholic areas after Glasgow Rangers beat Celtic in a football match. Their target was any house flying an Irish flag, as many Republicans and Celtic fans do, just as many Unionists and Rangers fans fly British flags. Barricades with Irish flags set up by Catholics to stop the marchers had already been removed after police arrived. Kevin McDaid was one of the men who helped remove some of the barricades (1), (2).

The mob decided to target McDaid’s neighbour’s house though, which had Irish flags outside it. McDaid, tried to calm both sides down. The mob, shouting that they were UDA (Ulster Defence Association – a ‘loyalist’ or Unionist terrorist group), attacked McDaid, his neighbour, both men’s wives and McDaid’s son with their fists, feet and baseball bats, killing McDaid and leaving his neighbour in a serious condition (1), (2).

According to the survivors police sat and watched from their vehicle without intervening. They claim to have been too afraid to try to tackle so many attackers. The political wing of the UDA condemned the attack and police said the UDA had not been involved (1), (2), (3).

This is a terrible enough thing to happen in itself. What’s worse though is that so far it seems to be a replay of the murder of Robert Hamill in 1997, which was followed, after death threats from UDA and RUC men, by the murder of the Hamill family’s lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, in a car bombing in 1999.

No-one with any sense wants to let the death of Kevin McDaid be used as an excuse for revenge attacks. Evelyn McDaid, Kevin’s widow and a Protestant, has bravely called for no revenge to be taken. She’s right, revenge will only leave another family grieving and solve nothing.

This can’t be allowed to become a re-run of the Robert Hamill case though, with another murder for which no-one was ever convicted, in which police colluded with murderers and some of those seeking the truth ended up murdered too. There must not be revenge but there must be justice through a process of law and there must be a public inquiry into how this happened again. The problem is that British and Northern Irish police and courts have a shameful record on dealing with murders and terrorism by Unionists, just as there has been collusion between some Irish police officers and the IRA in the past.

On the 27th of April 1997 a mob of self-styled ‘Protestants’ beat and kicked Catholic man Robert Hamill to death in an unprovoked attack. Four police-men sat in their vehicle and made no attempt to intervene. They could have also brought armed police patrolling elsewhere in the same town of Portadown by contacting them by radio, but didn’t do so. As in the McDaid case they claimed that they were afraid to leave the vehicle and that not enough reinforcements were available to deal with the mob (4) - (10) & (13) - (17).

Though several men were arrested and charged no-one was ever convicted of killing Robert Hamill.

When his family hired lawyer Rosemary Nelson she received death threats from and was harassed by both UDA terrorists and RUC police officers. RUC men also spread false rumours that both Nelson and Hamill were involved with Republican terrorist groups. Nelson was finally murdered in a car bombing in 1999. No-one has been jailed for her murder either. This is partly due to death threats against witnesses by the murderers and the UDA, but also because the killers have become confident that some of the police are on their side (5) – (9) , (11) & (12).

Hamill’s family gave up on the police and the courts and instead asked the British government for a full public inquiry.A public inquiry into the Hamill murder has begun but has not yet been completed.

Northern Ireland Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found evidence that MI5, British military intelligence and Northern Irish police colluded with Unionist terrorists in the Hamill and Nelson murders (5) – (13). After O’Loan called for the arrest of several suspects including an RUC policeman her son was beaten unconscious with an iron bar. He told the BBC that the police made no serious attempt to gather any evidence at the scene of the attack or find the attackers (14).

The Northern Irish police force’s claims to have been too afraid to intervene are made dubious by their failure to immediately call for support from more officers. Their claims that enough reinforcements weren’t available are ridiculous in as heavily policed a society as Northern Ireland, especially as many armed officers are available. It’s also noteworthy that no Protestant has been beaten to death while officers from a predominantly Protestant force looked on and did nothing.

While there have always been decent people as well as bigots and colluders in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the RUC) the force’s record includes too many examples of those colluding with murderers and terrorists not being sacked, tried in court and convicted.

Evelyn McDaid’s call for there to be no revenge attacks is brave, decent and right, but the Northern Irish and British governments owe the Hamill, McDaid and Nelson families justice, both against the killers and against any officers who were negligent or colluded with criminals and anyone involved in government in the present or past who has allowed collusion.

(1) = Times 26 May 2009 ‘Catholic man Kevin McDaid beaten to death 'by UDA gang'’,

(2) = Irish Examiner 26 May 2009 ‘12 quizzed in McDaid mob murder’,

(3) = BBC News 26 May 2009 ‘McDaid murder 'not UDA' – police’,

(4) = BBC News 26 May 2009 ‘Police 'stood by' as man murdered’,

(5) = BBC News 22 Jan 2007 ‘NI police colluded with killers’,

(6) = 01 Feb 2004 ‘'Strong evidence' of collusion in Ulster killings’,

(7) = Human Rights Watch World Report 1999 – United Kingdom – Northern Ireland, , (on Hamill killing and RUC inaction)

(8) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2000 – United Kingdom, , (covers Nelson and Hamill)

(9) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 – United Kingdom,, (covers Nelson and Hamill)

(10) = Amnesty International 01 Oct 1999 ‘The Sectarian Killing of Robert Hamill’,

(11) = Amnesty International 1999 01 April 1999 ‘THE KILLING OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER ROSEMARY NELSON’,

(12) = House of Commons (2004) ‘Cory Collusion Inquiry Report : Rosemary Nelson’,

(13) House of Commons (2004) ‘Cory Collusion Inquiry Report : Robert Hamill’,

(14) = BBC News 15 Aug 2006 ‘Assault gang 'will not be caught'’,

(15) = BBC News 01 May 2009 ‘Hamill suspect had 'RUC contact'’,

(16) = Guardian 11 Apr 2001 ‘Seven held in Ulster mob murder inquiry’,, (one an RUC man)

(17) = BBC News 19 May 2009 ‘Police 'could have saved victim'

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sri Lanka - Power of a Bad example

The killing of civilians in Sri Lankan army’s campaign against the Tamil Tigers – and their denial of it - follows the bad example set by the US and its allies in their “war on terror”

On 10th May the UN reported a Sri Lankan artillery barrage hit a hospital, killing 378 people including 100 children. Human Rights Watch reported Sri Lankan forces had hit several hospitals, continuing to use artillery in an area full of refugees prevented from leaving by both sides, killing and wounding thousands (1) – (4).

The Sri Lankan government follow the example of the US in Afghanistan and Israeli government in Gaza by denying reports by the UN, western media, human rights groups and the International Red Cross on civilian casualties and preventing journalists reporting freely from the war zone. The Obama administration’s denial of the report by Red Cross staff on the ground that NATO airstrikes on one day in May 2009 had killed over 100 civilians including many women and children was just the latest in a long line. The Sri Lankan government can also point to civilians killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan offensives and air strikes when they’re criticised for killing civilians themselves (5) – (9).

For instance on 29th April President Rajaksapa of Sri Lanka, rejecting a ceasefire, said “We have seen how Iraq was bombed. We have seen how Afghanistan is bombed. Those who come to preach to us seen how Afghanistan is bombed. It must be made clear that before accusing others, you must have the strength to know what you do yourself.” (10)

As long as the US, UK, Israeli and Pakistan governments use massive offensives employing air strikes and artillery on settlements against mere guerrilla forces and terrorist groups, combined with denying reports on civilian deaths by independent bodies, their words will carry little weight when condemning similar practices by others.

The Sri Lankan government claim the war is over, just as Bush claimed “mission accomplished” in Iraq in 2003, but all military “solutions” against weak opponents kill so many civilians that they create new enemies seeking revenge and autonomy or independence through guerrilla or terrorist tactics (11).

(1) = ABC News 09 May 2009 ‘Rights Group: Sri Lanka Shelling Hospitals’,

(2) = Guardian 11 May 2009 ‘'More than 1,000 civilians killed' in attacks on Sri Lanka safe zone’,

(3) = AP 11 May 2009 ‘UN Condemns Sri Lankan 'Bloodbath'’,

(4) = Human Rights Watch 12 May 2009 ‘Sri Lanka: Satellite Images, Witnesses Show Shelling Continues’,

(5) = ‘The great “bloodbath” lies: manipulation by media and pro-LTTE pressure groups’,

(6) = Sri Lanka government news 12 May 2009 ‘“Hospital hit” another fabrication – Military’,

(7) = Government of Sri Lanka News29April 2009 ‘Warnings of blood bath unreal - Foreign Minister’,

(8) = ABC News 09 May 2009 ‘Sri Lanka Arrests 3 UK Television Journalists’,

(9) = AP 08 May 2009 ‘US denies 147 Afghan civilians killed’,

(10) = Government of Sri Lanka News29April 2009 No time for ceasefire: time yet for surrender – President’,

(11) = Guardian 18 May 2009 ‘Sri Lanka declares end to war with Tamil Tigers’,

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seven Effective Ways to Defeat Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan

There are less extreme and more effective ways to fight extremism than by huge military offensives which only feed it. The Taliban remain armed, but they have no heavy armaments. If they have to be fought it can’t be with heavy weapons likely to kill as many civilians as fighters. Providing people with education, legal ways to make a living and healthcare are far more effective ways to win any battle for ‘hearts and minds’ than killing people close to them or leaving them homeless.

Legalise opium poppy production for opiate painkillers, as proposed by the Senlis Trust (1). The British and American governments propose poppy crop destruction in Afghanistan, but the British government have legalised their growth for sale as opiates in the UK (2). Opium poppies grown for heroin provides around 38% of Afghanistan’s annual income (3). For comparison the recent credit crisis has led to a reduction in the size of the British economy of around 1.6% in the last quarter. The effects of reducing the income of Afghanistan, a much poorer country, by 38%, would be mass starvation on a scale even greater than that in the famines of 2001-2. Poppies can grow with very little water in poor soil. Due to the destruction of irrigation systems over decades of civil wars and invasions there are large parts of Afghanistan where no other crop is viable. With less than 7% of Afghanistan now arable land Afghans rely on poppies as a cash crop to earn revenue to import enough food (4). Neither destroying nor legalising poppy crops is likely to eliminate the drugs trade in any case – only move production to other countries. Legalisation for painkillers in Turkey succeeded, but then heroin production moved to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US government has funded and pushed pesticide spraying of crops from the air in South and Central American countries with ‘Roundup’, a modern version of Agent Orange, which, like Agent Orange, kills not only coca crops but food crops, animals and people. Despite the ‘eradication’ programme cocaine production in Colombia has increased rapidly (5), (6). In Afghanistan it’s the same. Between 2002 and 2008 heroin poppy cultivation doubled from around 75,000 hectares to over 150,000 hectares. There was a small reduction in the area cultivated between 2007 and 2008 (7).

One possible reason, as discovered by many academics and journalists and confirmed by former US Drug Enforcement Agency officers is that the drugs trade has been used for decades by elements of the US military intelligence and CIA as a means of providing funds for ‘covert operations’ and support to groups which congress has refused funding for. The most famous case was in the 1980s when Colonel Oliver North’s operations which involved smuggling arms to the contras in Nicaragua on the same planes that cocaine was smuggled into the US in. This was discovered in investigations into the Iran-Contra scandal. Obama’s Defence Secretary Robert Gate was a high ranking member of the CIA at the time. Although there wasn’t evidence he was directly involved the inquiry found his statements to it “seemed scripted and less than candid” (8), (9), (10),(11), (12). Given all this any eradication programme is likely to go the way the Colombian one has – becoming a war for control of the drugs trade in that country rather than to end it. The Bush administration backed the Uribe government’s ‘war on drugs’ in Colombia despite Senators close to Uribe having been convicted on charges of involvement in the drugs trade and high ranking members of the Colombian military having been reported by the CIA and Human Rights Watch to be working along with right wing paramilitaries involved in murders and drug trafficking (13), (14), (15). Obama in his Presidential campaign suggested he would change Plan Colombia to focus on social and economic causes of the drugs trade and protecting human rights rather than military aid. The reality remains to be seen though and it’s hard to see how this could be done through a government as corrupt as Uribe’s.

Critics of the legalisation for opiates proposal have claimed that painkillers couldn’t provide the same income to farmers as heroin. That’s not true though – it would provide more. Legalisation for painkiller production is a viable alternative which could provide farmers with at least as much income as illegal drugs would, since they only get around 20% of the final sale price from drugs smugglers (14). In 2004 US state department official Robert Charles claimed heroin could sell for 100 times the price poppy farmers are paid by smugglers (though, like all Bush administration claims, this must be treated with scepticism) (15) If fair trade schemes for farmers growing poppies for painkillers were set up they would be likely to make much more from poppy crops grown for painkillers than poppies grown illegally for heroin. Farmers producing a legal product can demand the government ensures they are paid a fair price for it. Farmers growing an illegal product can’t.

Making poppy production illegal and attempts at poppy crop eradication unnecessarily turn many Afghans into criminals and threaten their main source of income. As a result many farmers and smugglers who would otherwise have no reason to fight the central government are hiring people to defend their crops and income by force. Legalisation for painkiller production could end this problem without any more deaths.

One World Bank and UN report on the benefits of poppy crop eradication in Afghanistan came to the stunning conclusion that “The interdiction campaign should lead to a substantial improvement in the balance of payments. The decline in farmers' income should result in a substantial reduction of aggregate demand, including for traded goods. Moreover, the decline in labor costs relative to the price of tradable goods should boost investment and production in the tradable
goods sector. Overall, the resulting improvement in the licit trade balance would largely offset the deterioration in the illicit balance of payments.”

In other words poppy eradication will reduce the income of Afghan farmers and the wages of Afghan farm workers, so they’ll not be able to afford to buy as much, reducing imports and so improving the balance of payments as imports will be reduced relative to exports. This shows how far many official policies are from aiming at benefiting the majority of Afghans.

Ahmed Rashid has pointed out that farm labourers earn $10 a day harvesting opium poppies – five times the average wage in Afghanistan (17). They could earn just as much from poppies grown for painkillers.

Provide foreign aid to build factories and laboratories to refine the opium paste into generic opiate painkillers. This way Afghans and Pakistanis would get skilled jobs and increased personal incomes and government revenues from this manufacturing and export industry, rather than only the income from the raw materials grown by farmers. Their health services would also get cheaper painkillers for their own patients.

End military offensives, including reducing the use of air strikes and unmanned drones. These result in too many civilian deaths and lose support for their governments and democratic values by associating them with the killing of civilians and foreign forces. Air strikes should only be used to defend against Taliban offensives. A single US airstrike in Afghanistan on 5th May 2009 was confirmed to have killed dozens of civilians by International Red Cross aid workers. It was one of many. President Karzai has repeatedly and publicly asked NATO to end its reliance on air strikes which cause heavy civilian casualties, but has been ignored so far. (See this post and sources for it)

Focus any military effort on defending schools and development projects and areas the central government currently controls, not on offensives to clear the Taliban out of areas they currently control. This would encourage those outside the core areas where the central government’s authority is strong to want to join it voluntarily and get the benefits it offers rather than alienate people by force and violence. This would work on the model of the EU rather than NATO, though it does not need to mean an entirely ‘free market’ approach. One possible exception would be to secure control of main roads to prevent attacks by Taliban or bandits on them and permit trade and development within the country.

Ideally Afghan and Pakistan forces should be trained and equipped to do this. Currently they are hampered by poor equipment, low wages and infiltration by the Taliban. The other measures suggested here could help with these problems. The problem with this is that most of the military forces in Iraq are loyal to one warlord or another, involved in human rights abuses such as torture and even in kidnapping, banditry, murder and theft. This includes many of the poorly paid Afghan police. Foreign aid providing increased pay for police would be one way to reduce this problem.

Increase civilian aid rather than military aid, in order to provide jobs, healthcare and education. That is what could win the battle for hearts and minds which military force has so far lost. Families and children who can get a real education rather than only a religious one in a madrassa are less likely to become extreme in their views. People who are provided with viable livelihoods and healthcare by their government and foreign donors are much less likely to become supporters or members of extremist groups than people who have lost friends and family members in offensives by government and foreign forces. Killing people’s relatives and friends causes them extreme suffering. It should not be surprising that it creates extreme reactions. Much military aid is probably still being used by elements of the Pakistan and Afghanistan militaries as it has in the past for their own aims – such as training Islamic groups such as the Taliban to help counter Indian influence or ‘threats’ in the case of Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence ( 18) – (26).

Make aid to the Afghan and Pakistan governments conditional on increased minimum wages for the poorest. Aid which only benefits the wealthy and powerful will not help or persuade the majority of Afghans and Pakistanis.

Also make aid conditional on increases in wages for Afghan and Pakistani police and soldiers to amounts as high as those currently paid by the Taliban, Al Qa’ida and other warlords. One lesson from Iraq was that people in countries suffering dire poverty will fight for whoever pays most. The Sunni ‘awakening’ militias began turning on Al Qa’ida after the US offered aid to fund pay of $300 a month for each militia member.

Some of them were even former Al Qa’ida fighters, who were fighting more for money to survive than anything else. When this US aid ended in November 2008 there was a resurgence of car bombing attacks against Shia within months Shia.

It should be noted though that while the surge and the ‘Awakening’ militias reduced attacks on coalition forces sectarian killings of Shia by Sunnis and Sunnis by Shia actually increased during it, though they fell after it. The ‘El Salvador’ option of hiring locals to torture and murder the opposition was promoted by many former Pentagon and CIA staff. The fact that occupying powers have always sought to divide the people of occupied countries and turn them against each other to stop them uniting against the occupiers is also worth remembering.

Any solution focusing on the military and policing over political negotiations, peace settlements and social and economic solutions is at risk of making things worse rather than better.

(1) = Senlis Council (2007) ‘Poppy for Medicine - Licensing poppy for the production of essential medicines: an integrated counter-narcotics, development, and counter-insurgency model for Afghanistan’, and

(2) = Herald 03 Sep 2008 ‘UK farmers allowed to cultivate poppies for morphine’,

SUCCESS: Counter-Narcotics Policy in Afghanistan’, page 2,,
Cited by Ahmed Rashid (2008) ‘Descent Into Chaos’ , Chapter 15, page 325

(4) = Ahmed Rashid (2008) ‘Descent Into Chaos’ , Chapter 15, pages 317-319

(5) = Observer 17 Jun 2001 ‘How global battle against drugs risks backfiring’,

(6) = Washington Post 19 Jun 2008 ‘Coca Cultivation Rises In Colombia, U.N. Says’,

(7) = BBC News 26 Aug 2008 ‘UN reports Afghan opium decline’, (see graph of heroin production based on UN figures)

(8) = Levine , Michael (2000) Deep Cover , 2000 (Michael Levine is a former US Drug Enforcement Agency officer)

(9) = Scott , Peter Dale & Marshall , Jonathan(1998) Cocaine Politics University of California Press , LA & London ,1998

(10) = McCoy , Alfred (1991) The Politics of Heroin - CIA complicity in the global drug trade Lawrence Hill , New York ,1991

(11) = Cockburn , Alexander & St.Clair , Jeffrey (1998) Whiteout - The CIA , Drugs & The Press Verso , London & New York , 1998

IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS, Volume I: Investigations and Prosecutions,
Lawrence E. Walsh, Independent Counsel, August 4, 1993, Chapter 16 – Robert M. Gates,

(13) = Guardian 27 Mar 2007, ‘The politicians and the drugs cartels - scandal engulfs Colombia's elite’,

(14) = Human Rights Watch 2002(a) ‘Colombia Human Rights Certification IV’,

(15) = Guardian 18 May 2007, ‘Colombian leader denies link to paramilitaries’,,,2082667,00.html

(14) = UN Office on Drugs and Crime & The World Bank ‘Afghanistan’s Drug Industry’,
(cited by Ahmed Rashid (2008) Descent into Chaos, Chapter 15, p326)

(15) = Voice of America (VOA) News 27 Feb 2004 ‘US Officials See Link Between Terrorists and Narcotics Trade in Afghanistan’,

(16) = UN Office on Drugs and Crime ‘Afghanistan’s Drug Industry’ & The World Bank,
(cited by Ahmed Rashid (2008) Descent into Chaos, Chapter 2, p40)

(17) = Ahmed Rashid (2008) ‘Descent Into Chaos’ , Chapter 15, page 325

(18) = New York Times 09 Oct 2001 , 'Pakistani Is Already Calling on U.S. to End Airstrikes Quickly',

(19) = Ahmed Rashid (2008) , ‘Descent Into Chaos’, Penguin, London & NY, 2008, (hardback edition) especially Chapter 17 and esp 367-368 and note 35 on page 452 (notes for ch17) on June 2006 internal NATO and Afghan intelligence report on Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence training, funding , arming of Taliban in Pakistan for attacks in Pakistan , but also pages 77-78, 48, 50, 114, 116 and rest of Ch17

(20) = Telegraph 06 Oct 2006 ‘Nato's top brass accuse Pakistan over Taliban aid’,'s-top-brass-accuse-Pakistan-over-Taliban-aid.html

(21) = Independent 14 March 2006, ‘Pakistanis accused of aiding Taliban with missile parts’,

(22) = Guardian 19 May 2006, ‘Pakistan sheltering Taliban, says British officer’,

(23) = Times 8 Oct 2006 ‘Britain says Pakistan is hiding Taliban chief’,

(24) = Times 21 Jab 2007 ‘Pakistan accused of backing Taliban’,

(25) = Times 27 Dec 2007 ‘Main suspects are warlords and security forces’,

(26) = IHT 01 Oct 2008 ‘Spanish report ties Pakistan spy agency to Taliban’,

Mistakes from Iraq to Af-Pak

The Obama administration’s offensives in Afghanistan and Pakistan fail to learn the lessons of the failure of the same methods in Iraq in 2004

The Obama administration’s reliance on airstrikes and military offensives in Pakistan and Afghanistan suggest it’s not learned from failures in Iraq in 2004 where the Coalition and Iraqi army ‘won’ in battles for control of Fallujah, Samarra and other cities, without ever making any progress in the war. Any full scale military offensive using heavy weaponry such as air forces and artillery kills at least as many civilians as combatants. This is true whether you look at Israeli offensives in the occupied territories, Russian ones in Chechnya (until a few years ago), Coalition offensives in Iraq or current NATO, Afghan army or Pakistani ones. Of course the fact that armies are frequently ordered to fire on ambulances and anyone else present – as reported by both Iraqis and western journalists and aid workers who were eye-witnesses of the April 2004 assault on Fallujah (1), (2), (3), (4).

The assumptions involved seem to be that anyone left is a terrorist and that if someone’s got to do it’s better that it’s one of ‘them’ than one of ‘our guys’. Whether you choose to blame the militaries for indiscriminate fire or the guerrillas and terrorist groups for hiding among civilians the result is the same though. Military offensives kill at least one civilian for every combatant. Killing the people closest to them is not a great way to win anyone’s heart or mind, nor is such an extreme action likely to make them more moderate in their beliefs or their actions.

That’s why, apart from the obvious moral issues involved in using methods you know from experience will kill as many innocent people as guilty ones, superior military force is worthless in a war against a much weaker enemy.

When fighting irregulars using overwhelming military force each battle won loses the war by killing so many civilians and alienating so many survivors that the insurgents get more recruits and more supporters than they lost. That (plus lots of massacres of civilians using napalm, carpet bombing and ‘free fire zones) is why the Americans lost in Vietnam (5). It’s why the Soviets lost in Afghanistan. It’s why the American offensives in Iraq in 2004 ended up going round in circles taking and re-taking the same cities – Fallujah for instance twice in the same year, first in April and then again in November. It’s one of the main reasons that NATO and its allies are losing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Everyone will be familiar with the condemnation of ‘cowardly’ insurgents for ‘hiding among civilians’. A force that has no air force, artillery or tanks doesn’t stand a chance in open combat against regular militaries that have all three. So it is forced to use guerrilla or terrorist tactics – not wearing uniforms and escaping or blending in among civilians when a major assault by the regular forces arrives. We can condemn this as cowardice if we want but the reality is that it’s the only way a much weaker force can fight a much stronger one and these tactics were used by French and Italian partisans against the Germans in World War Two and by Zionist groups in the British Mandate of Palestine before the foundation of Israel in the 1948 war (6). They do not mark a side as morally inferior or superior, only as militarily weaker. They are a breach of the Geneva conventions, but then so are many of the methods used by regular militaries.

Some claim that the Coalition ended the war in Iraq after General Petraeus’ surge. There was certainly a reduction in attacks on Coalition forces during the surge, but there was actually an increase in sectarian killings by Iraqis of other Iraqis. This was because the surge did not reduce attacks on Coalition forces because there were more of them in Iraq, but because the US began paying Iraqis more than Al Qa’ida or the militias or organised crime could offer to fight for Iraqi government ‘awakening’ militias. Some of the same people joining these militias had previously fought for Sunni groups fighting the Coalition – some of them had even fought for Al Qa’ida (7), (8), (9), (10).

Wars and poverty result in increased support for extreme sectarian ideologies and violent crime replacing jobs as the main source of income. The presence of foreign troops – and ones not of the same religion as the majority in that country - only makes this problem worse, because it boosts nationalism and fundamentalism.

The latest NATO air strike in Afghanistan was confirmed by International Red Cross staff to have killed dozens of civilians. The strikes went on for 14 hours, long after Red Cross staff told NATO there were civilians present, which should have been obvious anyway; and also bombed compounds full of civilians 8 kilometres from ground fighting. There are also reports of the use of white phosphorus wounding and killing civilians. (11), (12), (13), (14), (15), (16).

There are claims from Afghan police that the Taliban forced villagers to stay with them in houses or compounds they’d occupied (17). Even if that turns out to be true it can’t justify razing three villages to the ground with air strikes and killing over 100 civilians in order to kill enemy fighters though. How would we react if, when British and American civilians were taken hostage, our governments responded by having the building they were held in bombed to dust with everyone inside it in order to avoid casualties among those fighting the hostage takers? It’s unlikely we would praise the decision as the right thing to do, so, unless we want to send the message that Afghan and Pakistan civilians’ lives don’t matter to us we shouldn’t do the same there either.

The US military denies reports of over 100 civilians killed by the strikes but they have been proven to have taken place in many other cases in which the US military flatly denied civilians had died or claimed the numbers were lower. Independent investigations by Human Rights Watch and the UN found past US military investigations of other air strikes which killed dozens of civilians were ‘deeply flawed’ and inaccurate (18), (19), (20), (21), (22), (23).

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates felt it necessary to make up a story about the Taliban running from house to house throwing grenades in order to kill civilians and then blame it on NATO air strikes. To be fair he did withdraw this fairy tale later and he’s probably got into bad habits what with having been involved in white-washing CIA involvement in drugs and arms running during the Iran-Contra inquiry and then being part of the Bush administration. (23a), (23b)

President Karzai of Afghanistan has repeatedly publicly demanded that air strikes end after many strikes causing civilian deaths over years, but he’s been repeatedly been ignored. His latest demand was refused on the grounds that it would risk the lives of Afghan Army forces (24), (25), (26), (27). So Afghan civilian lives aren’t a concern and the Afghan government has no right to say what foreign troops can do in it’s country or what methods should be used to fight the Taliban? This makes a mockery of claims that NATO are only in Afghanistan at the request of the elected government and provides more propaganda to the Taliban who can point to Karzai as a powerless puppet of the US. If it really respects the Afghan government as a democratically elected one NATO has to act in accordance with the wishes of the elected President and Afghan public opinion, both of which oppose air strikes.

Making people homeless refugees also kills indirectly through lack of clean water, sanitation, food and medical care. Making people destitute refugees also creates a huge pool of potential criminals, insurgents or terrorists. Hundreds of thousands fled the cities assaulted by the coalition in Iraq in 2004 and a cholera epidemic followed in 2007 (28), (29). Half a million people are now fleeing the Pakistan military offensive in the North-West of the country (30). Since the Soviet invasion in 1979 refugee camps in Pakistan full of homeless Afghans have been the main recruiting grounds for the different factions in Afghanistan. If fighting in Pakistan continues they will be full of Pakistani recruits for Pakistan’s Taliban too, especially as some are grieving family members killed in US missile strikes and Pakistan army air and artillery strikes (31) , (32).

While the Obama administration has now replaced the most senior US general in Afghanistan and announced a new strategy it remains to be seen if that strategy is significantly different from the Bush administration’s, which was also meant to combine non-military reconstruction and development with ‘counter-insurgency’. The new US commander in Afghanistan, General David Kiernan, was involved in ‘special operations’ in Afghanistan and Iraq and was head of Special Operations commanding units involved in torture in Iraq, including at Camp Nama –where methods included punching prisoners in the spine till they passed out and kicking them in the stomach till they vomited (33), (34).

(1) = BBC News 23 Apr 2004 ‘Picture emerges of Falluja siege’,

(2) = Guardian 17 Apr 2004 ‘'Getting aid past US snipers is impossible'’,

(3) = Iraq Body Count 26 Oct 2004 ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’,

(4) = B’Tselem Press Release 31 Dec 2007, ‘131 Palestinians who did not participate in the hostilities killed by Israel's security forces in 2007’,

(5) = Marilyn B. Young (1991), The Vietnam Wars , HarperCollins, New York , 1991

(6) = Benny Morris (1999), ‘Righteous Victims : A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict 1881-1999’, John Murray Publishers, London, 2000, Hardback Edition, pages 147, 173-179

(7) = Guardian 10 Nov 2007, 'Meet Abu Abed: the US's new ally against al-Qaida',

(8) = Sunday Times 25 Nov 2007, ‘American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq’,

(9) = Guardian 20 Dec 2007, 'A surge of their own: Iraqis take back the streets',,,2229892,00.html

(10) = NPR 17 July 2008, 'U.S. Trains Ex-Sunni Militias as Iraqi Police',

(11) = ICRC News Release 06 May 2009 ‘Afghanistan: ICRC confirms dozens killed in air strikes’,!OpenDocument

(12) = Independent 06 May 2009 ‘Afghans riot over air-strike atrocity’,

(13) = Independent 08 May 2009 ‘US denies 147 Afghan civilians killed’,

(14) = IOS 10 May 2009 ‘Patrick Cockburn: Who killed 120 civilians? The US says it's not a story’,

(15) = Independent 06 May 2009 ‘'Dozens die' in Afghan air strikes says Red Cross’,

(16) = 10 May 2009 ‘Phosphorus claim after fatal air strikes in Afghanistan’,

(17) = See (15) above

(18) = PBS 27 Aug 2008 ‘U.N. Says 90 Civilians Killed in Afghan Airstrike’,

(19) = Washington Post 29 Aug 2008 ‘Pentagon Reports U.S. Airstrike Killed 5 Afghan Civilians, Not 90’,

(20) = 28 Nov 2007 ‘US air strikes kill civilian roadworkers in Afghanistan’,

(21) = 11 Jul 2008 ‘US air strike wiped out Afghan wedding party, inquiry finds’,

(22) = Human Rights Watch 15 Jan 2009 ‘Afghanistan: US Investigation of Airstrike Deaths ‘Deeply Flawed’’,

(23) = Human Rights Watch 08 Sep 2008 ‘“Troops in Contact” - Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan’,

(23a) =NYT 07 May 2009 ‘U.S. Admits Civilians Died in Afghan Raids’,

IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS, Volume I: Investigations and Prosecutions,
Lawrence E. Walsh, Independent Counsel, August 4, 1993, Chapter 16 – Robert M. Gates,

(24) = CBS News 31 Aug 2008 ‘Bombing Afghanistan
- Afghan President Tells 60 Minutes That Too Many Civilians Are Being Killed’,

(25) = Washington Post 06 Nov 2008 ‘End Civilian Deaths, Karzai Tells Obama -
Afghan Says Airstrike Killed Dozens’,

(26) = AFP 8 May 2009 ‘Afghan leader demands air strikes end’,

(27) = AFP 9 May 2009 ‘Air strike end would harm Afghan troops: US official’,

(28) = Congressional Research Service 13 Feb 2009 ‘Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced People : A Deepening Humanitarian Crisis’,

(29) = NYT 12 Sep 2007 ‘Cholera Epidemic Infects 7,000 People in Iraq’,

(30) = ICRC News Release 07 May 2009 ‘Pakistan: ICRC priming itself to address escalating humanitarian crisis’,!OpenDocument

(31) = AP / Independent on Sunday ‘Nine killed in US missile strike in Pakistan’,

(32) = channel 4 News (UK) 11 May 2009 ‘Swat valley death toll rises’, ;
(watch video to see interviews with refugees whose family members were killed in army offensive)

(33) = BBC News 11 May 2009 ‘US sacks top Afghanistan general’,

(34) = NYT 19 Mar 2006 ‘In Secret Unit's 'Black Room,' a Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse’,

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thatcher didn’t promote freedom, nor was she a success at anything except getting re-elected

Thatcherism failed as anything but an electoral project based on mindless nationalist demagoguery – it’s no longer even any use for getting re-elected

There have been many paeans to Maggie on the thirtieth anniversary of her election as British Prime Minister in 1979. Some, like Mark Smith’s in the Herald, claim that she was a ‘freedom fighter’ on the grounds that she said she was. Note to political analysts – politicians often lie.

Among all of the rose-tinted eulogies Bruce Anderson’s piece in the Independent stands out for actually praising her for having no knowledge of history, as if that was a virtue. Bruce seems to have little knowledge of even the small part of history which he’s writing about – Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister of the UK.

It’s worth recounting the actual history of 1979 to 1991. Useful sources include ‘Dancing with Dogma’, a book by one of Thatcher’s opponents in the Conservative party, Ian Gilmour MP, who Anderson castigates for only knowing the “history of failure”. Since Thatcher as Prime Minister failed at everything except getting re-elected (and only succeeded in that due to an electoral system which allows parties with a minority of the vote to get a majority of seats in parliament) I’m happy to accept Gilmour as one authority on the period.

Thatcher came into office promising to reduce unemployment – then increased it to an unprecedented figure of over 3 million by a party political manoeuvre, destroying the country’s coal, steel and ship-building industries in order to destroy the trade unions their employees were in, in order to weaken the Labour party. The lie that these industries were going anyway was highlighted by massive imports of coal and steel from abroad.

Nor did she replace them with investment in new industries – like wind, wave, solar or tidal power. Instead we got nuclear, which provides almost no jobs but plenty of costly, dangerous waste to dispose of and plenty of deaths from leukaemia.

Gilmour in his book ‘Dancing with Dogma’ points out that Thatcher only increased the efficiency of Britain’s manufacturing firms by destroying 95% of them, with only the most efficient 5% surviving. Gilmour also showed that average annual economic growth rates from 1979-1990 in the UK, at 1.8%, were actually lower than those from 1968-1979, at 2.2%. So even on Thatcher’s own narrow, blinkered standard of ‘success’ - economic growth and efficiency - she failed (1).

Before the Falklands war the promise of reduced unemployment versus the reality of a massive increase in it had made Thatcher the least popular British Prime Minister since polling began (2). Both Thatcher and the equally unpopular Argentine military junta saw a ‘patriotic’ war over the Falklands or ‘Malvinas’ as a way to restore their popularity.

A couple of years earlier under Callaghan then foreign secretary David Owen had responded to Argentinian sabre rattling over the islands by sending more British warships to the South Atlantic to deter any Argentinian attack (3), (4).

Thatcher in 1982 responded to a similar situation by withdrawing the last Royal Navy patrol ship from the area – a clear signal to the junta that Britain wasn’t prepared to fight for the islands – and a trap. Thatcher and the junta both got their pointless, unnecessary patriotic war and hundreds of people on both sides died so these vain manipulators could gamble on staying in power. Thatcher’s gamble paid off for her. She won the 1983 election at the cost of hundreds of easily avoidable deaths.

Thatcher, like Reagan is also often praised for promoting ‘freedom’ worldwide. In fact Thatcher’s government backed Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile as it tortured and ‘disappeared’ thousands, South African apartheid as it did the same to black South Africans and white dissidents - and Saddam Hussein as he massacred the kurds in the Anfal campaign, right up to Halabja. The Saudi monarchy - corrupt torturing dictators involved in promoting religious fundamentalist terrorism - were another favourite due to lucrative arms for oil deals complete with bribes for the politicians and company executives involved. To be fair they have been a favourite of all British governments for the same reasons.

Reagan’s regime did the same, also backing the terrorism of the Contras and other right-wing terrorists and military dictatorships in South and Central America as they murdered and raped their own people along with American nuns. The Reagan administration did nothing to avenge their deaths.

‘Freedom’ for Thatcher and Reagan meant the same as it meant for Bush junior – freedom for big companies and billionaires – meaning supporting any government that had a free market economic policy no matter how undemocratic and murderous, while condemning and attacking any dictatorship or democracy that tried to run their country primarily in the interests of the majority of their own population – like for instance the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Then in 1991 US President George W. Bush, who, like Thatcher before him, was sinking in the polls due to unemployment, decided to set a trap for his ally Saddam like Thatcher’s earlier trap for Galtieri. The US ambassador to Iraq was directed to tell Saddam that “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait”. Six days before the invasion US State Department Official John Kelly told congress that "the US has no intention of defending Kuwait if it is attacked by Iraq". Then, when Saddam thought he had the green light to invade Kuwait the way he’d invaded Iran with the backing of world powers, the trap was sprung. President George H W Bush rejected any possibility of negotiations with his former ally on an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Thousands of retreating Iraqi forced conscripts were massacred in the Coalition air strikes along with tens of thousands of civilians inside Iraq. Thatcher, on her last political legs after the poll tax and perhaps hoping for another last minute political reprieve through mindless militarism, committed British troops to the Coalition and urged Bush to continue – ‘don’t go wobbly on me now George’. (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), (10)

The Thatcher government, like its Labour predecessor, also approved the use of diplock courts – i.e trial without jury – and torture by the British military in Northern Ireland, with methods like beating, sensory deprivation and the use of dogs which surfaced again in Iraq from 2003. John McGuffin’s book ‘The Guineau Pigs’ is a disturbing eye-opener on this.

Amnesty International reports are among the many sources detailing how British military intelligence and the RUC police force in Northern Ireland also colluded with ‘Loyalist’ or Unionist terrorist groups like the UVF and LVF, handing them hit lists of suspected terrorists along with suspected ‘sympathisers’ and lawyers who had represented suspected IRA members – and also colluding in sectarian murders of entirely innocent parties like lawyer Patrick Finucane, murdered by loyalist terrorists directed to him by British military intelligence in 1989, Catholic man Robert Hamill, kicked to death by ‘loyalist’ thugs – and his family’s lawyer Rosemary Nelson, killed in a car bombing in 1999. Thatcher’s governments renewed the 1974 ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ which allowed indefinite detention without fair trial. The IRA and its political wing Sinn Feinn gained increasing support as a result of these injustices and the Thatcher and Major governments refusal to negotiate with them, despite their own atrocities against civilians. This began before Thatcher became Prime Minister and continued afterwards, but once again makes any claim that Thatcher promoted ‘freedom’ in Britain hard to back up with evidence.

Thatcher shared an ignorance of history with Tony Blair, who also dragged his country into a totally un-necessary war which caused many needless deaths. Blair at least had the sense to realise the Northern Ireland conflict could only be solved by negotiation and compromise, even if he was blind to applying the same principle internationally.

I remember seeing a Tibetan Buddhist tapestry on TV showing Thatcher in one of the inner circles of hell. Given her actions it seemed appropriate.

Thatcher is often lauded for having given Britain it’s ‘greatness’ back in the sense of national pride; so a false sense of the ‘greatness’ and importance of their nation over ‘lesser’ ones combined with unthinking prejudice against people of other nationalities of the kind peddled by demagogues from Napoleon and Hitler to Mladic, Karadzic, Tudjman, Chirac and Dubya.

Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is one of cynical manipulation of false ‘patriotism’, destroying livelihoods and losing lives for purely selfish ends. Even at the height of her popularity though she never even had the support of the majority of British voters. She achieved massive parliamentary majorities on the support of around 40% of voters and about a third of the total electorate (11). Yet, like Tony Blair, she behaved as though the vast majority of the electorate had voted for her; as though this gave her a blank cheque to carry out policies that weren’t even in her party’s election manifesto; and as though the interests, views and beliefs of her critics and opponents were of no consequence. Other people were not there to be persuaded or negotiated with or debated with but to be forced to submit to her beliefs and interests. Some ‘freedom’.

Since then her policies have lost even more supporters. So why do so many politicians still adopt the failed rhetoric and failed policies of Thatcherism when they’re not even vote winners any more? The majority of the public rejected it long ago as the confidence trick it always was. It seems the leaders of the major parties are living in the past, relying on the political equivalent of an actual ‘sunset industry’ which didn’t even work when it was a ‘sunrise’ one. As long as they do that they don’t deserve our votes.

(1) = Gilmour, Ian (1992) ‘Dancing with Dogma’ – Britain under Thatcherism , Simon & Schuster , London , 1992 , p72

(2) = Lenman, B. P. (1992) The Eclipse of Parliament: Appearance and Reality in British Politics since 1914 (London: Edward Arnold)

(3) = Freedman, Lawrence (2005) ‘Official History of the Falklands Campaign Volume 1’,
Routledge, 2005, chapters 8 – 9

(4) = Sunday Times 27 Mar 2005 ‘Comment: David Owen: We all benefited from Jim's honesty and generosity’,

(5) = Bennis , Phyllis & Moushabeck , Michael (Editors) (1992) ‘Beyond the Storm’ ; Cannongate Press , London , 1992, pages 326-355, 391-396

(6) = Aburish , Said K (1997) ‘A Brutal Friendship’ Indigo , London , 1997 & 1998

(7) = Aburish , Said K (2000) ‘Saddam Hussein - The Politics of Revenge’ Bloomsbury , London , 2000 & 2001

(8) = Chomsky, Noam (1994) ‘World Orders , Old and New’ Pluto Press , London , 1994

(9) = Pilger , John (1998) ‘Hidden Agendas’ Vintage , London , 1998, pages 29-30, 49-53 ,614

(10) = Blum , William (1995) ‘Killing Hope’ Common Courage Press , Monroe , Maine , 1995, pages 334-338

(11) = Butler, David (1989) ‘British General elections since 1945’,Blackwell, Oxford and NY 1989

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Not All Heroes

Drowning teenagers and beating waiters to death doesn’t make someone a hero just because they were wearing uniform and obeying orders at the time. Those soldiers who testified against torturers and murderers, despite the threats, are genuine heroes though.

There are even more parades for ‘our heroes’ returning from Afghanistan and Iraq than usual recently.

The trouble is some of those they’re cheering are anything but heroes.

Forcing a teenager who can’t swim into deep water to drown and then throwing bricks at them is not the act of a hero, whether those who carry it out are thugs in Britain or British soldiers obeying orders in Iraq and whether the teenager is Iraqi or British. Neither is beating and kicking someone to death.

Welcoming troops back from foreign wars as ‘heroes’ is blatant propaganda aimed at preventing criticism of governments’ decisions to fight un-necessary wars and approve, order or turn a blind eye to war crimes including murder and torture – and at presenting blind obedience to whoever happens to be in power as a virtue. Nor is just doing whatever you’re ordered to do without question heroic, any more than it is for Al Qaeda suicide bombers or than it was for SS guards who ran concentration camps to obey orders to gas Jews.

Shane Owoo, a 16 year old boy in Britain, was forced into a claypit pool for a ‘punishment swim’ for stealing a bike in 2007. His two tormentors pushed him back into the water whenever he tried to get out and threw stones at him. He drowned. They were both jailed for manslaughter (1).

Ahmed Jabar Karheem, a 15 year old Iraqi in Basra, Iraq, in May 2003, was forced into a tidal canal by British soldiers acting on the orders of their superiors to punish looters. They, like Owoo’s killers, could soon tell that he was unable to swim, but let him drown anyway. One of the four soldiers considered saving Karheem but was persuaded by the other three to let him drown. Some of them threw bricks and stones at Karheem and three other Iraqis they had beaten before forcing them into the canal at gunpoint. Karheem also drowned. All four of the men responsible for his death were released by a British Court Martial without facing any jail sentence. Nor were any of their superiors ever charged for giving the orders – unsurprising since a court martial in which the military cover up for the military bears no resemblance to a real trial (2), (3).

Grant McDonald was kicked and beaten to death by two men in Edinburgh,Scotland in 2005. His murderers were both jailed for 12 years (Not long enough in my opinion) (4).

Baha Mousa, an Iraqi waiter, was one of many Iraqis beaten and kicked for days and nights on end by squads of British soldiers of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, working in shifts as torturers in 2003. Despite members of the regiment and other members of the British armed forces coming forward as witnesses no-one was convicted over his death. No proper trial by jury ever took place, only another Court Martial sham organised by the army and the British Ministry of Defence. The officer who directly oversaw his death was promoted and began training new recruits being sent to Afghanistan. Once again the government line was ‘a few bad apples’ while some of the Conservative party opposition claimed not even the soldiers involved should ever have had to face charges (5), (6), (7),(8),(9).

Can anyone seriously say that the way British troops tortured and killed Iraqis in these cases was heroic, or even justifiable?

I recognise the bravery of risking your life for a cause you believe in. That doesn’t automatically make the cause right, nor any methods used to try to further it right. If it did the July 7th bombers would all be ‘heroes’ too.

I accept our soldiers in Iraq were in a stressful situation. What were Iraqi civilians in? A fun fair? ; Or a situation where they could be killed or dragged off for torture by any side at any time? Being in a stressful situation does not excuse anything and everything.

So, while I won’t shout at entire regiments as if all were equally guilty, or condemn every soldier who ended up firing on innocent people at a checkpoint due to fear of suicide bombers, I won’t give in to propaganda to treat all our soldiers as ‘heroes’ who are beyond criticism and who have done the right thing by obeying orders without question either.

On the BBC and ITV people who had come to the welcome home ceremonies claimed that it wasn’t the job of soldiers or the public to decide whether what they’d been ordered to do was right or not. Their job was just to go where they were sent and do what they were told to do – and the role of everyone else was to support them unconditionally.

Sorry, but that’s how the Nazis got away with so many terrible crimes for so long, because people blindly followed government propaganda and believed what they wanted to believe – that their country and its people were innately good and superior and anyone they were fighting or targeting was innately evil. It wasn’t so much that they had no source of information to tell them otherwise as that they didn’t want to hear anything else, so wouldn’t listen to it.

The British and American governments and militaries have not committed a Holocaust against Iraqis, but they are guilty of systematic war crimes – torture and killing civilians, sometimes by not caring whether they kill civilians (as when firing cluster munitions and new versions of napalm into the middle of cities) and sometimes by targeting civilians (as reported by journalists and aid workers who witnessed it in the assaults on Fallujah for instance).

To obey without question is not the mark of a hero, but of a dupe, an unusually stupid person or a totally amoral psychopath who doesn’t care about right or wrong, only about rewards or punishments. To support any war any government of your country calls for without question in order to ‘support the troops’ (many of whom don’t want to be there) is just as wrong.

Pointing to torture and murders by Saddam’s regime or Iraqi militias or Al Qa’ida does not change or justify any of this – and it never will. The same goes for Afghanistan, where torture and the killing of civilians are also common practice by both sides (10), (11), (12), (13).

If we want to understand why the July 7th bombers and the attempted attack on Glasgow airport took place we only have to follow the same flawed logic our government, military and many of our soldiers have. They beat Baha Mousa to death because a member of their regiment was killed in a roadside bombing and they wanted revenge. So they took revenge on random Iraqi civilians. The people who attacked us did so because other Muslims – like Baha Mousa and Ahmed Karheem – had been murdered by British troops and they wanted revenge – and took it against random British civilians. In both cases the flawed logic is that killings of any members of our group – British citizens or Muslims – can be justifiably avenged by killing any member of the other group. They can’t. British lives are not more valuable than Iraqi or Afghan or Pakistani lives. Muslim lives are not more valuable than non-Muslim lives. All British people are not responsible for the actions of the British government and military. All Muslims or Iraqis are not responsible for the actions of every other Muslims or Iraqi.

The only excuse possible for some of our own soldiers and some Al Qa’ida recruits is that they had been given no education and/or had their heads thoroughly filled with propaganda by the government, their superiors and the lies and half-truths churned out by the British tabloids and their Muslim equivalents. The superiors giving the orders and the members of government and opposition parties who approved their actions or looked the other way have no such excuse.

There are some of our soldiers who undeniably deserve to be treated as heroes - the ones who came forward to testify against those who committed these crimes to try to make sure more innocent people would not suffer torture or death in future.

If they’re treated anything like their counterparts in the US military they’ll be arrested like Captain Ian Fishback, threatened with prosecution like Sergeant Samuel Provance or driven to suicide for “crimes” such as showing empathy with tortured prisoners, like Specialist Alyssa Peterson (assuming it was suicide) (14), (15), (16), (17).

The Obama administration has announced that members of government who ordered and approved torture may be prosecuted. A similar measure in the UK seems unlikely given that the leaderships of both main parties have been apologists for torture sticking to the lie of ‘a few soldiers out of control’.

(1) = Times 26 Apr 2008 ‘Jail for men who stoned Shane Owoo as he drowned in claypit pool’,

(2) = Independent 03 May 2006 ‘Soldiers 'allowed Iraqi boy to drown'’,

(3) = BBC News 06 Jun 2006 ‘Troops cleared over Iraq drowning’,

(4) = Edinburgh Evening News 22 Apr 2009 ‘Sister of man beaten to death tells of her relief at judge's ruling’,

(5) = BBC News 20 Jul 2005 ‘UK soldiers face war crimes trial’,

(6) = Panorama – BBC 15 March 2007, 14:55 GMT - A good kicking: Transcript

(7) = Scotsman 19 May 2004 - ‘Soldiers 'took turns to beat Iraqi captives'' -

(8) = Amnesty International 15 Mar 2007 - ‘United Kingdom Court Martial acquittals: many questions remain unanswered and further action required to ensure justice' -

(9) = BBC News 14 Feb 2007 ‘UK soldiers cleared of Iraq abuse’,

(10) = Amnesty International 2008 Annual Report, Asia-Pacific, Afghanistan,

(11) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2009, Afghanistan,

(12) = Human Rights Watch 8 Sep 2008 ‘Troops In Contact – Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan’,

(13) = HRW 15 Jan 2009 ‘Afghanistan: US Investigation of Airstrike Deaths ‘Deeply Flawed’,

(14) = ABC News 21 May 2004 ‘Military Punishes Abu Ghraib Key Witness’,

(15) = Washington Post 28 Sep 2005 ‘A Matter of Honor’,

(16) = Sunday Times 02 Oct 2005 ‘How America tiptoed into the torture chamber’,,,2092-1806906,00.html

(17) = Independent 26 Apr 2009 ‘US interpreter who witnessed torture in Iraq shot herself with service rifle’,

50% not-for-profit Public banks as a solution to the credit crisis

While bailing out private banks with public money has so far prevented a crisis turning into another Great Depression it does not seem to have restored a flow of credit sufficient to end the recession.

This may be partly because banks have over-reacted by going from being too lax in giving out credit to almost anyone on generous terms to refusing bridging loans to viable businesses and loan applicants; and partly due to the inevitable cycle of boom and bust in a market that’s been deregulated too much.

It may also be partly the result of self-fulfilling prophecies, with the widespread belief that economic disaster was inevitable resulting in a real economic collapse.

However it’s also because private banks do not have the confidence of shareholders or savers and so fear providing much new credit in case that makes stock market traders decide to target them. This is exacerbated by futures trading and hedge funds, both of which basically allow investment firms to gamble on whether the value of a commodity or a company’s shares will rise or fall in future. So if they for instance decide to target a particular bank they can buy shares in it, sell them cheaply, making a loss on that transaction, while simultaneously having bet through futures trading that the share value of that bank will fall sharply – and make a huge profit on this second transaction.

The only institutions which do retain the full confidence of the markets are governments, which retain creditworthiness and a virtually infinite supply of capital from tax revenues and loans.

So why work through the banks as middle-men when it’s not working? Why not have public banks, accepting savings account deposits and providing loans? There would be no need to nationalise any existing private banks. Governments already own public buildings and already have a supply of capital. They would only have to advertise for staff to run public banks – and with the private banks laying off many employees there will be no shortage of applicants.

There are at least two possible counter-arguments. First public banks, having funding from taxation, might put all private banks out of business. Second a public bank might risk control of the entire credit system and so the entire economy by one party in government or one prime minister and their clients, much as in many former Soviet republics.

One simple solution would be to have public banks operating alongside existing private banks and on a different model. Private banks make all loans on a for-profit basis, but public banks don’t have to do so. A public bank could be required to make half its loans not-for-profit ones which provide social or environmental benefits to the whole community. The rest of its loans would be for-profit ones, the profits from which would fund the social loans. Any surplus could go on further public spending or on reducing taxes on people on low incomes.

By requiring public banks to fund all social loans from for-profit loans in each financial year a replay of the credit crisis, this time among public banks, could be avoided. It would make it un-necessary to try to get private banks and other private lending institutions to make a certain proportion of social, or non-profit, loans and mortgage deals, as the Clinton administration did with legislation requiring many American lending firms to provide social mortgages and loans to people who were too poor ever to be likely to be able to repay them. The attempt to present these unprofitable loans and mortgages as potentially profitable was one of the causes of the current crisis – the so-called ‘toxic debts’. (1)

This was not the only cause of the credit crisis – deregulation by governments (lobbied by banks) also played it’s part along with commissions for mortgage brokers.

NYT 30 Sep 1999 ‘Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending’,