Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blair's Recycled Propaganda

Tony Blair has now claimed in a speech to his old ally Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg (the mayor of New York) that people are wrong to think that Islamic terrorist attacks have been “provoked” by our governments (1).

(You can see a video of the speech on this link)

It’s not that Blair’s and Bush’s government’s have “provoked” Islamic terrorist groups. It’s that they’ve created more recruits for them who want revenge for the many thousands of Muslim civilians killed as collateral damage, in war crimes and by systematic torture by NATO and coalition forces. Mr. Blair is fond of claiming that it’s not “our troops” that are killing and torturing civilians it’s the people they’re fighting. In January 2007 he claimed “It's not British and American soldiers that are killing innocent people, we're trying to protect innocent people.” (2)

Yet in Afghanistan this year
NATO air-strikes have killed more civilians than the Taliban
(3). It was British troops who beat Iraqi waiter and father of three Baha Mousa to death and tortured the civilians taken prisoner with him on suspicion of being insurgents (4), (5), (6). Neither that nor Abu Ghraib were isolated incidents as Amnesty International , Human Rights Watch , Iraqis and dozens of British and American veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan report (7), (8), (9), (10), (11). The officer who oversaw Mousa’s torture has been promoted and is training new recruits (12). In the November 2004 coalition assault on Fallujah Iraqis and western journalists and aid workers – said American snipers shot civilians and ambulances (14), (15), (16), (17). Civilians were killed the same way in Samarra, with half the dead women and children (18). More recently 15 civilians including 9 children were killed in a US air strike in Iraq (19). These are just a few examples out of many. US Government Accountability Office statistics show that in the majority of cases neither coalition troops nor insurgents are targeting civilians (20). The fact remains both kill them in large numbers, usually as collateral damage due, sometimes – as in some suicide bombings and the massacre by US troops in Haditha, deliberately (21).

Yet instead of asking forgiveness for their involvement in supporting war crimes and systematic torture Blair and Murdoch pat one another on the back and call for another war on another country. US-led wars are not only killing as many civilians as Islamic terrorists they are also giving these terrorist groups more recruits.

They increase support for Al Qa’ida the same way September 11th gave more support to extreme nationalists like Cheney and Christian fundamentalists in the US. Bombing Iran would also kill civilians and have a similar effect on Iranian public opinion – boosting support for Islamic fundamentalists and extreme nationalists.

As Condoleeza Rice wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2000 nuclear deterrence does work against “rogue states” like Iraq under Saddam and Iran now (22). Saddam did not use chemical warheads for his scuds in 1991 when he did have them because he was deterred by the nuclear arsenals of the US and Israel (23). Iran’s government would never use nuclear weapons on a nuclear armed Israel with a nuclear armed US ally for the same reason, even if it developed them. The “threat” posed by Iran’s nuclear programme is as mythical as that of Saddam’s WMDs.

It would also be nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with controlling Iran’s oil – just like the 1953 coup backed by the CIA and MI6 which overthrew the elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq for attempting to nationalise Anglo-Iranian Oil (now BP) in Iran (24), (25), (26) ; but then Blair doesn’t even know who Mossadeq , the most famous Iranian politician in Iran's entire history, was.

It's not the 20s or 30s we're in Mr. Blair (unless you mean the growing fascist culture on the right of American politics with Iraq as Czechoslovakia and Iran as Poland) - it's much more similar to 1953.

The risks of bombing Iran (not least to Iranian civilians) are vast. The risks posed by Iran developing a nuclear deterrent are non-existent. Iranians are under far more threat of attack by the US and Israeli governments than Israelis are from Iran’s government.

As for Blair’s accusations that Iran is “prepared to back and finance terror in the pursuit of destabilising countries whose people wish to live in peace”, what about the Bush administration’s co-operation with the torturing dictators of Saudi Arabia to fund and arm Sunni terrorist groups like Jundullah in Pakistan in its terrorist attacks inside Iran or for Sunni terrorist groups who target Shia and Christians in Lebanon as reported by ABC News and by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker? (27), (28) For that matter what about US and British forces’ killing and torture of civilians on the orders of their superiors and governments in war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan?

We should remember the thousands of innocent people killed on September 11th. We should also remember the tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people killed since, as many by US and British air-strikes, torture and snipers in Afghanistan and Iraq as by the Taliban or suicide bombers. We should also remember the thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians killed by Israeli bombs and shells supplied by the US via British airbases as much as the Israeli civilians killed by Iranian supplied rockets fired by Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups.

Listening to another word Tony Blair has to say on fighting terrorism and threats to lives and democracy would be as pointless as listening to Bin Laden. These people and their simple minded irresponsible warmongering are the problem not the solution.

If you really want to end the terrorism Iran backs which has been carried out by Hamas and Palestinian groups against Israeli civilians Tony then start opposing the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israeli forces, the killing of Palestinian civilians by them and the starvation of the entire population of Gaza through sanctions which you have supported.

As for Rudy Giuliani trying to link Iran to Al Qaeda that’s about as convincing as the same nonsense about Saddam. Al Qa’ida are Sunni extremists who consider Shia to be apostates who should be killed. The Iranian government are Shia. In the popular American phrase “do the math” Rudy – Iran aren’t aiding Al Qa’ida.

(1) = Guardian Unlimited 19 Oct 2007, 11.30 am update, ‘Blair accuses Iran of fuelling 'deadly ideology' of militant Islam’,,,2195043,00.html

(2) = BBC News 16 Jan 2007, ‘UN marks soaring Iraq death toll’, (see under heading ‘Sectarian Clashes’)

(3) = USA Today 24 Jun 2007, ‘Afghan civilians reportedly killed more by U.S., NATO than insurgents’,

(4) = Amnesty International 15 March 2007 , ‘United Kingdom Court Martial acquittals: many questions remain unanswered and further action required to ensure justice’, (see set of bullet points half way down page)

(5) = Scotsman 19 May 2004 - ‘Soldiers 'took turns to beat Iraqi captives'' - (quotes a soldier testifying in court that he saw soldiers take turns to kick and bunch captives and that their screams kept soldiers in neighbouring barracks awake )

(6) = Guardian 21 Feb 2004 ‘They were kicking us, laughing. It was a great pleasure for them’,,3604,1153011,00.html
(quotes surviving Iraqis tortured along with Mousa)

(7) = Amnesty International 1 Nov 2005 ‘TORTURE AND ILL-TREATMENT IN THE ‘WAR ON TERROR’’,

(8) = Amnesty International 6 Mar 2006 - ‘Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq' -

(9) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 - ‘Torture and Inhumane Treatment: A Deliberate U.S. Policy’ -

(10) = The Independent 27 Feb 2007 - ‘UK troops 'beat relatives of Camp Breadbasket captives'' -

(11) = Washington Post Wednesday, September 28, 2005; A21,‘ A Matter of Honor’,

(12) = Panorama programme transcript BBC One 13 Mar 2007 - ‘A Good Kicking ' -

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

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

(15) = Guardian 17 Apr 2004, ‘Getting aid past US snipers is impossible’,,1193717,00.html

(16) = Guardian 19 Apr 2004, ‘Children hit by 'random shooting'’,,2763,1194878,00.html

(17) = BBC News Online 11 November 2004 , ‘Eyewitness: Smoke and corpses’,

(18) = The Independent 04 October 2004 , ‘Civilians bear brunt as Samarra 'pacified'’, ( Part of 5th paragraph reads ‘Of 70 bodies brought into Samarra General Hospital, 23 were children and 18 women, said Abdul-Nasser Hamed Yassin, a hospital administrator. There were also 23 women among the 160 wounded….. from 6th paragraph ‘Another resident, Mohammed Ali Amin, said: "There were American snipers on rooftops who were shooting people trying to get to their homes. Even at the hospital the Americans arrested injured boys of 15 saying they were insurgents.’)

(19) Guardian 12 Oct 2007, ‘UN calls for US to publish facts on Iraqi deaths’,,,2189559,00.html

(20) = United States Government Accountability Office 23 Apr 2007, GAO-07-525T , ‘STABILIZING AND REBUILDING IRAQ’, - see table on page 7 'ENEMY-INITIATED ATTACKS AGAINST THE COALITION AND ITS PARTNERS'.

(21) = Guardian 22 Dec 2006, ‘Four US marines charged with Iraq murders’,,,329669554-103681,00.html

(22) = Rice, Condoleeza (2000) in Foreign Affairs January/February 2000‘ - 'Campaign 2000: Promoting the National Interest'

(23) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992), ‘After the Storm' , Madison Books , London , 1992 , - pages 211-216 (Nye is a former CIA officer)

(24) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition - pages 27-140
(25) = Curtis, Mark (1995), ‘The Ambiguities of Power : British Foreign Policy since 1945', Zed Books, London & New York, 1995 paperback edition - pages 87-96

(26) = Takeyh, Ray (2006), ‘Hidden Iran', Times Books , New York, 2006 - pages 83-96

(27) = ABC News 03 Apr 2007, ‘ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran’,

(28) = New Yorker magazine ‘The Re-direction’ by Seymour Hersh

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Murky Waters - The Dispute over the British sailors held by Iran is not as clear cut as Blair has suggested

Craig Murray, (who was head of the Maritime Unit of the British Foreign Office from 1989 to 1992), has pointed out that while in theory the Conventions on the Laws of the Sea fix international maritime boundaries at 12 miles from a country's coast , or else half-way between two countries' coasts (whichever is less) in practice this isn't so simple.

Due to disputed sandbanks and islands and the irregular shape of coastlines( which create disputes over what triangulation points to measure from on each coast) the only way to decide where the maritime boundaries between Iran and Iraq are would be through negotiating fixed boundaries – which have not been negotiated in the disputed waters our sailors were taken captive in.

The Royal Navy commander of the operation in which our sailors and marines were taken captive told the BBC in an interview

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were in Iraqi territorial waters. Equally, the Iranians may well claim that they were in their territorial waters. The extent and definition of territorial waters in this part of the world is very complicated.” ( BBC video here )

Murray also points out that an article in the US military's Stars and Stripes Magazine in October last year quoted a US naval task force commander in the Persian Gulf saying “No maritime border has been agreed upon by the two countries”.

The same article says “Bumping into” the Iranians can’t be helped in the northern Persian Gulf, where the lines between Iraqi and Iranian territorial water are blurred, officials said.”

This means all the maps and GPS co-ordinates provided by both the British and the Iranians prove nothing - because any boundary lines they mark are completely arbitrary and could easily be disputed in the absence of a carefully negotiated maritime boundary which does not exist in those waters

Ahmadenijad or the Revolutionary Guards may have planned to swap our sailors for the Iranians held by the US. The US government has ruled this out.

However Ahmadenijad may be looking to gain prestige among Iranians by being seen to stand up to Britain as the former colonial power since he’s under pressure from striking bus drivers and teachers (whose union leaders he has disgracefully jailed after sending police to beat demonstrating teachers) and from political rivals such as Rafsanjani – who has said he and the Guardian Council may take over Iran’s economic policy - which Rafsanjani says Ahamadenijad has failed on.

There is , as Murray says, no excuse for the Iranians holding our sailors as long as they have – but if our government would admit that the waters they were in were disputed and issue an apology of sorts (whether we are morally obliged to or not) we would have a better chance of getting our people back. Prestige may be enough for Ahmadenijad here.

Those who suggest sanctions or military action risk making Ahmadenijad even more popular as many Iranians still distrust the US and UK due to our governments’ role in supporting the Shah’s coup which overthrew the popular elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. The British and American governments also supported the Shah's dictatorship till its overthrow in 1979. The current Iranian government has a bad human rights record - but the Shah was even worse. There are at least some limited elements of democracy in modern Iran - and dissidents, even among the Ayatollahs, who reject the position of the 'Supreme Leader' as un-Islamic and demand more democracy. War or military strikes on Iran would weaken them and strengthen the theocratic elements. It couldn't prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons sooner or later either.

What’s more Israel, with US equipment and training and with considerable armour, artillery and air forces Hezbollah lacked , failed to defeat the Iranian backed Hezbollah and the IDF took heavy casualties in a war over Israeli soldiers taken captive by Hezbollah last year. There is no guarantee the US and UK would do better against Iran which has an air force – particularly with Shia militias and Sunni insurgents in Baghdad and across Southern Iraq behind our forces.

An SAS operation to free the hostages has been one of the wilder suggestions by the British government's critics - though not even the Conservative opposition support it. The way US special forces ended up failing in a similar attempt under President Carter should give pause for though - as should the fact that we still have staff in our embassy in Iran and lots more sailors and marines in the Gulf.

We should do a deal or apologise if necessary (whether we're in the right or the wrong is less important than our sailors' lives are) then get all our troops out of Iraq before the Bush administration or Ahmadinejad can use them as pawns again.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Budget response March 2007 – Stealing from the majority to give to the wealthiest

The minimum wage and the 10% tax rate for low earners were the only progressive things Brown ever introduced as Chancellor.

Now he's scrapped the 10% tax rate - doubling taxation on low earners - in order to give a 2 % tax cut to big companies and a small tax cut to everyone on above average incomes . If that’s fairness I’m the Dalai Lama’s attractive cousin.

Of course Brown will tell you about tax credits for low income families – but the amount of time and trouble involved in filling out the ridiculously complex forms to claim these means that many people on low incomes don’t have the time or energy left after work to complete them – so many ‘tax credits’ never get claimed or paid out

Of course Brown will tell you about tax credits for low income families – but the amount of time and trouble involved in filling out the ridiculously complex forms to claim these means that many people on low incomes don’t have the time or energy left after work to complete them – so many ‘tax credits’ never get claimed or paid out (between 7% and 20% even on the treasury's (biased) estimates).

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee say the tax credits system is complicated and frustratingly arcane . Many low income earners don't claim as a result. Every year billions in tax credits goes unclaimed. It's estimated that
£2.3 billion will go unclaimed this year. If people on low incomes are single and without children they won't qualify for enough credits to cancel the doubling of their tax rates anyway.

The governmenthas even been so confused by the complexity its own system that it paid out too much to some low income families - then demanded it all back , by which time it caused serious financial hardship for people who had budgeted with money the government now told them they didnt have. The over-complicated system also facilitates fraud. The government writes off around £1bn in over-payments and fraudulent tax credit claims each year.

The obvious solution is to cut or abolish income tax for people on low incomes. That would mean they actually got their tax reduced in reality rather than just in treasury theories. It would also eliminate much of the fraud facilitated by a system so complex treasury officials don't even know who is entitled to what.

Brown has made it crystal clear that like Blair and Cameron his only real commitment is to his own ambition by discarding people struggling to make ends meet while he laughs and jokes.

He did nothing to oppose the Iraq war in which so many of our soldiers and so many Iraqis have died for nothing and agreed to provide "whatever it took" in spending to continue that disaster. If that's fiscal prudence then I'm the King of Siam.

The £14bn extra for the NHS would be good if it wasn't going to go straight into the pockets of PFI /PPPP investors and executives and as a result increase annual costs on the NHS so that new hospitals with less beds and staff than the old ones they replace will mean taxes increasing and services being cut again to provide more income for the already over-paid at the expense of everyone else. That is not fiscal prudence. That's subsidising the very very wealthy tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority again. If that’s fiscal prudence or fairness I’m a four-armed six-legged re-incarnation of the Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia reborn in cyborg form with built in anti-aircraft weaponry.

Brown's shown again and again that when the choice is between his ambition and other people's lives or suffering its his ambition he cares about.

Most other current and potential candidates for Labour leader have the same policies - so do Cameron and the Tories. No wonder Brown's 15 points behind even the con man Cameron in the polls.

The most popular candidate for Labour leader who would scrap all these disastrous policies is John McDonnell MP. You can read his response to the budget on the New Statesman website here.

Starving Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban:

Why pushing the Afghan government into a poppy eradication policy won’t end the heroin trade - and the legal alternative that could

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 – shows no signs of changing unless we all put pressure on our governments to change it.

This policy has 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 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. That alternative is to buy the poppy crop and use it to produce opiate based painkillers - which are in short supply. Of course the Bush administration haven’t been too keen on this. They're great abstract moralists (and the Republican party gets campaign donations from the big pharmaceutical companies who profit from high prices of painkillers due to restricted supplies of opium

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. We could even fund the construction of pharmaceutical factories in Afghanistan to give Afghans legal export earnings and jobs in a highly profitable and legal industry.

It’s not as though we’re reducing heroin production – in fact it increased in Afghanistan by over 1000% between the invasion of October 2001 and the start of 2003. 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).

Of course the heroin trade would not be entirely eliminated by supporting a transfer to painkiller production – but it would be reduced greatly without massive loss of life. The current failed strategy has seen increased heroin exports from Afghanistan at a high cost in lives. NATO’s commander in Afghanistan has even said Afghans could turn to the Taliban soon if we don’t start improving their lives rather than making them worse.

Everyone in Britain, France , Canada or the US who can could write to or email their MP or representative and ask them to support a change in this disastrous policy which costing the lives of our troops and Afghans in a war neither side can win – and pointlessly when a legal and beneficial alternative to this pseudo-moralistic ‘war on drugs’ is readily available with the only people likely to lose out from increased painkiller production being pharmaceutical firms who can afford reduced profits a lot more easily than Afghans can afford to starve or be shot or our troops can afford to be killed because of a self-defeating strategy based on tabloid headlines rather than reality.